For want of homefires and homefries

It was the week before Spring Break 1994,
and I was hanging out in Jim’s kitchen at 3:30 a.m.
I’m wondering now how I knew he’d be up,
but perhaps he’d been foolish enough to mention it to me the night before.
The lights were low and the most prevalent sounds were of
the bacon sizzling and the scrape of the spatula
as Jim turned the bacon in a cast iron skillet.
He was a good cook and the smells floating around the townhouse’s dark kitchen
were intoxicating. I was transported
to another world. It felt nostalgic, though we hadn’t ever experienced anything like it before
– perhaps because a part of me knew it would never happen again.

Jim was eating heartily to prepare for a cross-country trek to Arizona
with people from Campus Ministry and the general populace who were interested in helping
Habitat for Humanity. They were going to build houses in the desert southwest
on an Indian reservation. I had tried to get into the Habitat trip. I would like to say
that my interest was born of a desire to help the less fortunate,
or even just to go on an adventure with other kids – live life to the fullest
before having to leave college. But, the truth is
that I just wanted to spend time with this adult boy
whom I was trying so hard to convince
to like me, love me, give me value and meaning.
In hindsight,
I’m sure it was a blessing from God Himself
that I could not go.

Instead, Jim and some buddies, friends living in the townhouses like he did,
a sort of earthy/hippy crew who were artistic or foodies like him, would go
and bond further. I had never been a part
of the sacred few whom he really considered friends.
If I came over, I usually invited myself
or one of Jim’s friends would invite one of my roommates. In fact,
ironically enough, my best friend at college, Kim, was far closer to him,
because her freshman roommate, whose name I can’t recall,
had been Jim’s great love interest. I’m ashamed to say now
that I used his interest in her to get to go over to his place.

I did a lot that year of which I’m not proud –
hindsight is always painfully clear.

I’d been seeing Jim off and on all year. Actually, it would be far more apt to say
that we worked together (he was my boss in the school’s “café”),
and we sometimes got drunk and had sex – well,
he got drunk (he didn’t hook up with me when not drunk).
My desperate need to be wanted, to be desired – and for some reason
it had to be him, I believe now because he DIDN’T really want me at all, was
of an insobriety in itself.
There was a wonderful man –
a friend whom even now I don’t deserve –
who gave himself to me freely,
was loving and kind and considerate and so very very funny,
and I treated him so poorly…
I truly and deeply hate that self-loathing person
I was at that time. I wish she had seen herself so much more clearly – even now,
the thought of her brings me near to tears.

So, Jim was cooking bacon,
and I was sitting, legs dangling, on the counter behind him.
I was in front of the open window, where a cool night breeze played with my hair
and brought up shivery goose flesh on my arms and back.

I looked at Jim, at his white t-shirt with its Bud logo, long jean shorts,
and well broken-in Bo’ Sox baseball hat.
He was a round man – tall and broad,
with a big round belly that begged for a smothering hug,
also a round skull with a downy light fuzz of hair covering it.
He was regrowing his hair after shaving his skull bald
in support of his mother who had had breast cancer.
When I learned of this, I wanted to shave my head, too,
in support of Jim’s chivalry and unquestioning love of his mom. God I hate the girl I was then.

At the time, I loved that he was bigger than me.
Although I’d lost a bunch of weight and was as small as I’d been in junior high,
I still saw myself as obese and unlovable.
I saw Jim as the light at the end of the tunnel.
If I could make him love me – endear myself to him, show him
how interested I was in him and his life, how much fun I could be,
then surely he’d want me and surely I’d have worth.

Now the potatoes, in their cubed white bodies, were sputtering and spitting in the skillet’s heat.
Jim had to attend to them more closely so that they wouldn’t become char.
He shuffled them and turned them, moved the skillet around on the burner,
and seasoned them to a mouth-watering savory glory. I wanted to have them!
My mouth was watering and I was espying the fork and plate on the butcher block with a ripe green-eyed jealousy. How to get them?

Jim moved the skillet off of the burner and replaced it with a sauté pan.
He started to crack eggs directly into the heating silver plate and then,
tossing away the broken shells,
grabbed a whisk and whipped the whites and yolks into a bright yellow froth.
He added salt, pepper, some garlic and onion, a pinch of dill and some parsley
– this was the whole package. The bacon was turned one last time
and the home fries stirred again,
and the eggs puffed up and thickened as they became scrambled.
My hands were itching to grab that fork and dive into the hot pans of Nirvana.
Feeding someone is love – it shows care for them as a human needing to eat to survive,
but it’s also an artistic and creative way to say, “Here, I made this for you. Eat of it and be mine.”
Perhaps this point of view is why I truly hate to cook for just myself, but adore cooking
when there are others involved.

Jim took up the plain white plate and measured out equal servings of eggs, potatoes, and bacon.
Then he grabbed a bottle of orange juice out of the fridge and we sat in the living room
– him eating, me watching him eat.
He used a kitchen towel on his pregnant belly as his napkin
and I sipped delicately on my Diet Coke, pretending
that I wasn’t affected by the food or his indifference to my lack of a plate… to me.

Why am I here? I wondered. I watched him slowly and methodically
dissect the food and bring it to his mouth and take it,
chew it like a cow masticating cud, and then finally, swallow,
closing his eyes in bliss.

Give me a break… seriously? What am I DOING here?

After a couple minutes of this and having to feel my stomach convulse in hunger,
I got up, grabbed my Coke, gave him a kiss on the head and told him it was fun,
but I was tired and hungry, so I’d be heading out.

A grunt from him.

I walked back to my dorm in the pre-dawn darkness of the campus. No cars buzzing past
or young adults frolicking on the quad. No Jesuits in their monkey suits
trying to instill greatness among we youthful lesser folk.
No dogs out running from their owners, leashes flying behind them as they tasted sweet, sweet freedom.
No one.

Just me,
lonely and disheartened,
hungry for food and somebody who’d give a damn,
wishing I’d give a damn,
wending my way along the brick paths
back to bed.


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