When I close my eyes, I am in my kitchen. I can feel the crisp air from the open windows on either side of the stove. I spy leaves rustling against the stone sidewalk, but otherwise the backyard is still, silent and serene. I gaze at the tiled mural of Positano, Italy on the backdrop of the stove where the brick used to be. I smell the last cup of Keurig-brewed coffee (definitely French Vanilla) and know without looking that it is politely requesting “More water, please.”
The sunflower-painted plates and bowls are in the drying rack, along with the ugly blue-green drinking cups that always remind me of Advil liquid gels. A single mason jar sits in the sink, a layer of pulp circling the bottom of the glass. Mom must have forgotten to buy the pulp-free Tropicana.
I admire my 230-pound Mastiff, sleepy and child-like, for teaching us all a lesson by not being self-conscious of his wrinkles and weight. He is nestled in his usual spot in front of the oven, a trail of slobber leading to the bathroom an obvious sign that he has just refreshed himself with toilet water.
The refrigerator, which many of my friends have described as the biggest fridge they’ve ever seen, is bejeweled in newspaper clippings of the honor roll, my siblings’ names underlined in red ink. There are framed middle school pictures pinched between magnetic school stickers and the steel door, a progressive timeline of each of my siblings with braces, cringy hair bows and acne. Tacky magnets from crowded souvenir shops outline a disoriented map of our family vacations, and without having to lift the silly memorabilia from the refrigerator door, I know each is personalized with the year it was bought in black, fine-point Sharpie.
Dad is standing in front of the stove, confidently flaunting the shredded, musty, dull gray Colgate University t-shirt he’s worn for as long as I can remember. Right on cue, my sister comments on his uncanny fashion choice, but I think to myself that Dad wouldn’t be Dad if he wasn’t concocting a new recipe dressed in what can only be described as the equivalent to a kid’s security blanket.
It is Sunday, which means Dad is making pasta. But it is not just pasta. It is a savory, saucy, delectable creation that is never the same as last week’s and will certainly differ from the next. Bacon grease spouts from the stove, the stench of garlic salt floods my nose. Endless boxes of Barilla pasta are stacked on the counter like a game of Tetris.
Andrea Bocelli’s voice serenades every room as Mom presses play on our ancient stereo. Every day of the week, Mom has to incessantly summon us to the dinner table. But on Sundays, we have been seated at the table, mouths watering, since Dad started cooking.
We sit down at the wood-stained kitchen island amidst growing piles of homework, bills, sticky notes and miscellaneous junk. In front of me rests three heaping spoonfuls of gemelli smothered in chunky tomatoes and creamy sauce, neatly scooped into one of those sunflower-painted ceramic bowls. Dad, always a stickler for table manners, reminds us to place the napkins on our laps.
After a simultaneous eye roll, we comply, but know we’ll need the extra protection against the splatters of red-orange sauce that are attracted to our clothes like magnets. Between slurps and chews, we compare the stresses of sixth grade with the gossip of high school, the scandals from the country club with the rumors from the law firm.
When I open my eyes, I am in a kitchen. It is lit by harsh, fluorescent lighting, it smells of day-old coffee and it is scattered with used paper plates and Oreo cookie crumbs. I glare out the window at the apartment buildings beyond the train tracks.
I miss the trees. I see the lonely Fordham Ram magnet on the miniature refrigerator out of the corner of my eye. I miss Positano. I hear planes roar overhead, I am startled by sirens on the street below, and the smells from across the hall. I miss the sound of Andrea Bocelli’s voice.
I look down at my sad attempt at a recreation of Dad’s special sauce and wipe a tear from my cheek. I check my calendar for the fifth time today, wishing time would move a little faster. I sigh, but I dig in.