On Chinese food and Lies
Chinese food is a lie unto itself. It’s nominally different enough to make some people feel exotic when they eat it, but really, it’s just basic American noodles and fried chicken with slightly different spices. Last night, I went out for Chinese with three single, middle-aged women (one of them my mother), three 15-year-olds (one of them my brother), and one horrible child (I’m never having kids). As two hours of conversation about the housing market and iPads and underwear swirled around me and I shoved myself full of Kung Pow chicken in an attempt to fill a different emptiness, the rose-colored glasses of my homecoming finally shattered.
I have to get out of here. Scamper back to Seattle where I can eat good food of my choosing with a book, alone.
When my time came to speak at dinner, I quickly blustered about Seattle’s great food and great weather — ‘I love rain! Sandwiches are yummy! Bikes!’ — and changed the subject. Explaining ten roller-coaster months of mid-20s madness to my mom’s friends and their daughters is not my most palatable aperitif. How could I begin to explain the circuitous path my life is taking without sounding like an after-school special?
‘I got really good grades all through school, and really good grades in college. I made honor roll and Dean’s List and volunteered at nursing homes and worked since I’m 15, and look at me now! I have over a grand in credit card debt, I’m not paying back my student loans and I work at a hotel! Study hard, kids!’
After dinner I went for a walk to clear my head. I felt like I was in high school again, stomping away with my iPod. And just like in high school, I quickly realized I had nowhere to go. My hometown is a mile-long stretch of Main Street where everything closes at 9. So I walked down Main, listening to Grimes, thinking about the mountains and hills and three-dimensionality of Seattle. I cut through a graveyard, wandered through a few parks, and found my way back home.
As bland and boring as my dinner was, it was still better than the Chinese buffet I ate at in Michigan last weekend. Picture chicken fried crispy and then re-softened after resting too long in its own juices, viscous and gloppy mac and cheese the color of a traffic cone, sushi and raw oysters packed on lukewarm ice for unknowable hours.
This was the setting for a family reunion of sorts. I was gathered with my stepmom’s family — aunts, uncles and cousins, along with family members that do not belong to me — for my eldest brother’s quasi-wedding. Quasi because my brother Jeffery has Down syndrome, and this was really a commitment ceremony between him and his long-time girlfriend. Or, really really, the next night’s festivities featured the bunch of us eating Italian food in a hotel banquet room, no ceremony that I could find.
But that night we met at a Chinese buffet. Most of the family sat at one long table; my younger brother, his friend and I huddled around a small table in the back. The two of them are deaf, and the three of us watched everything happen over teriyaki skewers and soft serve with a flavor equivalent to limp blonde hair washed with skim milk.
There was not much going on, neither on my plate nor across the room. I wished my interesting, outrageous, obnoxious cousins had come. I thought about being interesting myself, and then thought this would require me to engage in conversation with people. I stayed quiet. For a while I wanted booze, and then I didn’t.
And that was my weekend. Tepid food, half-explored thoughts, and family I wouldn’t know how to begin explaining the last ten months of my life to, even if they had asked. My aunt said she was glad I was doing well, that the family had been so worried when I was dating and fighting and then breaking up with my ex. I said ‘thank you’ and thought, ‘why didn’t you call?’ Even so, it’s nice to have a reminder that I’m doing better than I was before.