a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
[Content warning: eating disorders]
“See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the Bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
And see the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors came out”
Beautiful Day, U2
It’s an eerie feeling to yearn for a time that brought immense pain and sadness to the surface of my consciousness. Not that I didn’t think many of these thoughts before, but it was during this time when I genuinely started to believe them. They consumed my every waking moment. It’s a masochistic feeling to desire a time that felt like I was trapped in an endless tunnel of darkness. I lost my appetite. I lost my mind. I lost myself.
U2 erupted from the mini speaker situated on the dark green Formica countertop, which was chipping at the corners from years of passing children. The Sunday Edition of the New York Times, loose letters from mayoral candidates preaching that “your vote counts!,” and plastic bags from our latest run to the grocery store were scattered across his workspace. My father was in his typical post-run dinner-time uniform: blue long-sleeves rolled up to his elbows, a washcloth thrown haphazardly over his left shoulder, and his “cheaters” perched at the end of his nose. I was always his sous-chef, pitching in whenever required. Every night, I sat in the same seat facing my father while he swiftly chopped vegetables, seasoned the entrée, and squinted his eyes to read the small font on his phone because he always misplaced his cheaters. (They were on his head.)
He cooked, I instructed. I have never liked cooking. I never had the patience for it, but it was always much more enjoyable with my dad by my side, getting excited about this meal or that cocktail. Cooking together was never something my dad and I had time for when I was growing up, so it was nice to slow down and appreciate the little things of our newly quarantined lifestyle. To liven up our dinner prep, I would queue the music while he answered my miscellaneous questions about his life.
“What was the best concert you have ever been to?” Bruce Springsteen, at least five times.
“Who is your favorite band?” U2.
“What is your favorite movie?” Casablanca.
Throughout those lonely months, I craved these spontaneous conversations with my father. They would always prompt long hours of niche conversations... why was a parkway called a parkway and a driveway a driveway, cursing when we notice the chicken burning on the stove. Gradually, the aroma of cooked apple and thyme filled the kitchen as the discussion shifted to his mother, who used to hum Moon River while she was cooking in the kitchen, when my father was in my place.
I miss the unnatural calmness I felt as I watched him make a mess in the kitchen. My father never cleaned off the counter before preparing our nightly meal. He would just slide everything over until he reached the necessary amount of space needed for the job, a habit I have adopted from him. I miss glancing toward my mother, who would periodically pop into the kitchen to ask when dinner would be ready, knowing his disorganized method of cooking and 9 pm dinner time was driving her insane. Rolling her eyes, she would back out of the kitchen to resume her endless list of tasks. My mother functioned very differently in the kitchen. She always cleaned up her mess, put away her ingredients soon after use, and served dinner at a more socially acceptable time.
I loved helping my father cook. I enjoyed watching him prepare a meal that I would promptly get rid of later. I would excuse myself from my family, my mind focused on one thing as I blindly walked up the staircase. While my brother and father debated who was most likely to win the 2020 presidential election downstairs, I watched the bile swirling away in the porcelain bowl upstairs. After walking back to the candlelit table on the back deck, hollow with a fake smile on my face, I would resume my position to the right of my father. With teeth scrubbed raw and acidity burning at the back of my throat, I think about doing it again after dinner. It’s a masochistic feeling to desire playing pretend with my family after staring myself down in the mirror, tears streaming, wondering if they can see the torment on my face. It was our nightly routine and my little secret.
Since I barely helped with the cooking, I automatically assumed the job of dishwasher once dinner was finished. I find it calming, cleaning away the remnants of dinner at the end of
each night. I took advantage of the dish soap, hoping it would help to further mask the evidence of my actions. I weirdly miss feeling the scorching hot water on my hands as I feverishly scraped at the dried grease off the cast-iron, temporarily burning away the pain I felt inside my mind. Behind me, my brother and father discussed the Carter presidency while I
my thoughts away.
Despite all the internal pain I felt, I find it hard to ignore the beauty in it all because when the world stopped moving, it was these moments in the kitchen with my father that made me want to laugh, smile, and dance again. It was these moments in the kitchen learning more and more about my father with every meal that made me a new old friend. It was these moments in the kitchen with my father when the end of the tunnel didn’t feel so far away, and a glimpse of light allowed the flood of colors to come out once more.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.