My twenty-year-old son, Billy, and his girlfriend, Alex, nineteen, cooked dinner for me tonight. Gemelli pasta in a cream sauce with mushrooms, zucchini, garlic and pecorino romano cheese. Delicious. It was late – 9pm. Billy had yelled up the stairs to his younger brother, Steven, when the food was ready, inviting him to come eat. But Steven shouted back that he’d had pizza earlier and wasn’t hungry.
Now, I sit here at my desk, belly full, thinking about our chat at the dining room table. We talked about the drawing of Adam and Eve hanging next to the window, the one my mother drew when she was fifteen years old. We talked about the wallpaper, peeling in strips all around the room, and Billy said he wanted to rip it off and paint the walls turquoise and purple. Alex said she thought that would be cool. She said she’d like to help. “Go right ahead,” I said.
At one point I started to talk as I was swallowing and the food got stuck in my throat, right there at the opening to my windpipe. For a few seconds I couldn’t breathe. Alex, who was sitting across from me, with her perfect young skin – bronze, such a contrast to Billy’s fair, freckled face, a nice complement I think, they’re an engaging couple I think, she’s cute, with her sparkly eye shadow and shining nose ring, her long thick hair in a braid down the side of her head, falling past her shoulder, across her chest down to her hip – Alex sat staring at me as I choked, and I imagined she was thinking I looked quite unattractive as I gagged and nearly retched.Then the food shifted and lifted and I was able to get it down into my stomach instead of inhaling it and dying.
I said, when I recovered my voice, “Wow. That was something,” and Billy laughed as Alex smiled with what I took to be a sense of relief at not having to watch her boyfriend’s mother throw up the dinner she had just cooked, or worse, pass out with my face in my pasta bowl. I think she likes me, or at least is trying. I am attempting to trust her with my son’s heart.
Now Billy, Alex and Steven are together downstairs in the living room, watching TV. This makes me happy.
My husband is at work, at the firehouse until 8:30 tomorrow morning. We spoke on the phone a half hour ago. I called him when I came up to our bedroom after dinner. Just a quick ‘I love you’- all I’d wanted was to hear his voice before settling in for the night.
The four of us live together in our small dilapidated house. It is a very comfortable house. No one who has ever been a guest here has had to worry about getting mud on the runner at the front door or spilling a glass of red wine on the loveseat, which is covered with a throw that has a frayed hole in the middle of one of the stars that surrounds the central sun and moon motif.
I hear the boys’ voices, loud and deep, but I don’t pay attention to the words. Or, rather, I cannot interpret the details of their intonations, as they are lazy with their speech, never finishing the final syllables, skipping over prepositions – often I have to say, “Excuse me?” when they tell me something, or “What?” when they repeat and I still don’t understand. They call me deaf; I tell them they mumble. Two years ago I actually went to my ENT doctor and had my hearing checked. Fine. “They’re mumbling,” Dr. Panegrahi said.
Alex is laughing. Then she lets out a little screech. I think they’re watching a new horror show.
And here I sit, typing, silent and satisfied.