Friday, June 17, 2011


i am thinking of my father as i chop the onions for dinner. my father taught me to chop an onion. actually, that's not true. he told me chopped onions went into the spaghetti sauce he taught me to make. that and garlic. then the tomatoes, then the spices. meat if you were using it came before the tomato sauce, after the onions. but he never taught me to chop an onion. i watched him chop the onion and make the sauce and the next night i had a knife in my hand and was making dinner.

i learned to properly chop an onion later. when i was an adult. with a child of my own.

i think about this as i throw the onion into the pot and it begins to sizzle.

my father has pancreatic cancer. of all the cancers to get, this isn't one of the 'good' ones. in fact, it just may be the very worst.

somehow this makes me decide that while making dal for dinner i need to make a double batch. as if i'm not 3200 miles away. as if i am going to be feeding more family than just the family here at the little yellow house.

and so far i've remembered i'm doubling the recipe and have enough oil for the amount of onion. isn't it funny how we learn things. remember learning them. i mean i didn't learn to chop an onion from my father, martha stewart actually taught me. but my father was the first to hand me the onion. and then the knife. maybe when we compare and contrast childhood and adulthood and what we remember and what we forget, maybe it's just the world 'properly' we get the most hung up on. maybe it's a simple as that. maybe.

there's a point in the hot oil in which raw onion goes from ingredient to divine. it happens so suddenly it's like a surprise each time i cook. oh. oooohhhhh. and then you add the garlic.

as i wait for the confirmation from the doctor for what i already know i measure out the curry, the garam masala, the cayenne. the voice in my head telling me to listen for the phone, to measure out double the spices, to just keep cooking even as the tears fall. you still have to feed the kids, your voice says. you still have to feed you. keep cooking.

my father and i were estranged for many years. we only just picked our way over that rocky outcropping last summer. and then i had to leave. and move to the ends of the earth. and then he got sick. and now i'm making dinner. and wondering for the millionth time why i had to move so far away. wondering why that doesn't look like enough liquid in the pot. and then i remember, double the recipe. double the water.

the phone rings. it's not the doctor i expect to call. it's another doctor from the 'team.' and i am stirring in the rest of the water as she is confirming what we all knew. i hear words like 'chemo' and 'pallative' and 'hospice' and 'months.' like the spices i have in my arsenal for cooking these are the spices doctors use. have to use.

she is now expressing her sympathies. and it's only then that i realize that all along i've felt like this has been a conversation. that we were equals. trading questions and information. until now. this moment when she's saying she's sorry. because now i know this is not true. we are not equals. because suddenly she's become the responsible adult in the white lab coat and i am an 8 year old kid.

and i'm turning down the pot which has come to a boil. it needs to simmer. and i wonder why i don't just turn off the flame and put it at the back of the stove. at this moment, just take a minute away from pot watching. i know why. it's at a crucial stage. this pot on the stove. and i will regret ruining it by turning away from it.

and it's for the same reasons i can do yoga while the cats chase their toys at my feet and meditate while mario kart music comes tinkling in from somewhere in this little house.

and talk about my father's diagnosis and final time here on earth and make dinner and remember to double the recipe. because no matter what i have to keep going. i still have to feed my kids. my family. i still have to feed me. no matter what you have to eat, right? and if i keep cooking i can keep going. if i've learned anything in the last year of loss that is lasting longer than i thought it ever would it's to just keep going.

we end the call with the knowledge that i will fly there next week and it will be a pleasure to meet her and all the things you say to someone on the phone who has just delivered the worst kind of news and you don't know her and she doesn't know you. and this phone call is just one part of her job that day. and this phone call is your whole life.

and even though you *knew,* having it confirmed is such a surprise. oh. oooohhhhh. just like the onions.

later when the dal is done i set it aside to drive. picking up the husband from work, delivering on a promise to the boybarians (who don't know what i know) of a special drink for the hot day. and on the way reggae comes on the radio.

i think about my father who hates reggae with a passion. even though he's an old hippie. god he could go off forever on his disdain of reggae. it used to make me laugh. i start to cry. and then i stop. because the people out here drive like assholes and tears would be an unwise idea. just because i'm a grieving daughter i can't forget i am a responsible mother. and just like that i feel the beginnings of the pull that starts to happen to people my age. women's magazines write articles about people like me. my god. i've become a statistic. i start to tear up again.

the husband suggests i don't need to finish dinner. it's too much. let him rescue me. let's get something out he says. and i realize i need to finish it. i need to eat food made with love. and maybe a few tears. i need to be comforted and nourished. more than i need a break. more than i need something quick and convenient. more than i can explain.

and when i talk to my father later we agree that there aren't words to fill the space or to capture what we are feeling. and that there don't need to be. and the thing that gets me while i wait for it to sink further in and while i wait for it to get worse the thing that really really gets to me is that he's hungry. but he can't eat. certainly not the food at the VA. which is just as bad as we can all imagine. but even the things he thinks sound good he knows he wouldn't be able to stomach more than a few bites.

what is hitting me the most is that i can't cook for my father. i am simply too far away. even if he can't eat it it doesn't matter. the irony is incredible.

then he asks me what i made for dinner. and i understand and he understands this is not a normal topic of conversation for us, but we understand why. so i tell him indian food. he asks me to describe it. so i do. and i tell him the dal would be good for him and that the pickle i made would probably be way too spicy. he says he would have given it a try.

and then he tells me about some cuban pulled pork he had a few weeks ago. before this. before we knew. when he still had an appetite. he thinks he would like that right now. he mentions it would be wasteful as he couldn't eat more than a bite. and there's no storage for food in his shared room at the VA.

i say it sounds like it would be worth it, though. and the 'though' floats on the air like a net. capturing all the emotion and all the space we agreed had no words.



gojirama said...

My dear sweet silly- I am in tears for you and your father, and yes, I know the healing power of cooking in grief, and how sometimes all you can do for someone is cook for them. I wish we were still close enough for me to cook a meal for you.

Lone Star Ma said...

Thinking of you.

Wendy said...

precious. you have become precious to me.

Shabu said...

Yes. Yes. YES. Keep going and experience this transition as fully as all other transitions: birth, love, loss, change...thank god for all of the lessons in this moment. The profound LOVE that is coming out of this is real and lasting. Blessings and love to you. Shannon