Last night, I made macaroni and cheese. I’m not telling you this because anyone on earth cares what I had for dinner. I’m writing of macaroni and cheese because it should contain a warning. That’s right. Macaroni and cheese provokes some serious emotional baggage, I’m telling you. That deliciously rich silvery packet full of golden cheese viciously smited me; locked me smack in the old memory bank I strive daily to keep myself locked out of.
I live alone now and I have little interest in grocery shopping these days. Cooking (the way I love to cook) for one just seems superfluous, so I scoured through my pantry for something on hand that would be quick and filling with minimal cleanup required. Lo and behold: a lonesome rectangular box of mac n cheese! I love mac n cheese and I’ve not had any in years. Literally, years. So….. ummm…. Yay!
Clueless as to what this sneaky little pre-packaged solitary supper in a box was capable of, I put the water on to boil. Innocently, I tore open the box still filled with eager delight that I had the little forgotten treasure on hand. I struggle with opening boxes, but that’s another story and nothing could burst my mac n cheese bubble of gratitude I was floating in at this moment. I managed to open the box and then – only then – did it hit me.
…a f**king tsunami of long held back memories flooded my eyes instantaneously with tears when I caught that first glimpse of the shiny silver packet of cheese inside peeking out at me among the flecks of pasta shells trying to bury it as though to protect me from the acute pain this cheesy treasure would bring. I’m immediately blurry eyed from bushels of salt stinging my eyeballs and instant asphalt-hot tears streaming like two waterfalls down my face. My hands shaking, I carefully pulled out the silver demon of painful nostalgia, regret, and furious anger all tossed together in this silly little cheesy packet. At this point, I’m still fairly confused about the spontaneous cry baby tsunami hitting me. Fuck, I just wanted to whip up some mac n cheese, for the love of God!
But my brain…or was it my heart? My soul?? my spirit???!? I can’t even know, I just know I’m overwhelmed so much that I couldn’t even catch hold of one individual thought/memory/feeling long enough to fathom what shard of my brokenness was cutting the deepest. They all started to cut and dig and the salt in my tears seemed to be scattered instantly inside a billion winds of unidentified mac n cheese puncture wounds.
It was all too brief visits to Daddy’s safe haven where I was so very little and so very safe and happy, gloriously excited for daddy to set that plate down in front of me. I’m only 4 and mac n cheese is my favorite and Daddy actually made it! I never get this at “home”… I’m sitting right next to him on the nubby red loveseat with tv trays in front of us that I can barely reach from sitting, but I wanna be like Daddy and we are watching re-runs of Hogan’s Heroes while we eat. And it’s my favorite because Daddy laughs at the tv so much that I laugh too, even though I don’t even understand what’s funny. I just know I love that sound and I want to hide right there inside those notes of laughter forever. this is the only address for joy and laughter i know. It’s the only residence of the safety to feel at all, much less to allow my very own laughter to bubble up and explode from my belly in uncontrollable giggles. It’s safe to be happy here. It’s safe to be silly. Laughter echoes on these walls long after the literal sound has stopped. Macaroni and cheese is visits to Daddy’s. It’s safety. It’s laughter. It is the home of momentary security and still being young enough that all there was was then, was right NOW. So in those moments, although just flashes, thoughts of sadness and fear and the knowledge that this was only a flash in time before I’d have to return to the real world could not co-exist. When you’re that little, now is all there can be and now is strong enough that all the fears and hurts and worries your 3 year old self normally carry are literally flushed away…in that moment. That moment is all there was…while a 3 year old is in it. And sometimes there was Mac n cheese in it too.
It was a brief flash of college years and making it for my entire meal just because I could… And the childhood memories of comfort it brought back even then while far away from home’and having no friends and no daddy anywhere near. Reminiscing on the flashes of Mac n cheese laughter that thankfully spotted the otherwise chronic pain and confusion of my childhood as spurts of temporary relief from the excruciating loneliness of my reality back then. Reminiscing about those little breaks from the tortures of the cruel prison of childhood and still young enough to almost believe your daddy will live forever, just because he just must.
Mac n cheese was raising two beautiful little toddlers all alone with a physical disability in subsidized housing. It was stretching the pennies of a fixed income to afford to try to feed them the stuff they liked. It was the excitement I felt on the rare days when I splurged to afford the “good brand” for $2.69 rather than the powdery generic .34 cents kind I usually had to buy while their perfectly physically-abled, healthy father made $800k+ a year, lived alone in a gigantic house, drove fancy new cars, enjoying the fortune of freedom and good jobs, and the fun party life of a healthy single man who took his kids for weekends and vacations whenever it suited his fancy or his work and personal schedule.
Mac and cheese is the pang in your gut at the grocery store of the life a traumatic brain injury resorts you to when you’re affected at 26 years old. It’s not having the strength, coordination, or balance to play normally with your little children who so desperately want you to play with them, or bathe them without help from your dad, or run with them on the playground, or brush the tangles out of their hair using both hands to make it easier for their tender scalps.
Mac and cheese is the cheap stuff you feel guilty for serving your children when you know their perfect little grins and glorious giggles, hugs and tiny “I love you Momma’s” so deserve the rich, creamy, delicious kind. The guilt of not having the physical strength to raise them the way you’d always dreamed and work a regular full time job. its not having the strength to pick them up when they reach their tiny arms out and say “hold me momma!”. It’s having the strength to pick them up on good days and fearing you’ll lose your balance and fall with them in your arms, and maybe scar their sense of security or faith in you as a momma, thus creating trust issues you swore your children would never have to battle It’s your words slurring with fatigue on the second bedtime reading of Winnie the Pooh because your brain is unable to formulate words well after a long day… and you can’t hold them both at the same time like they deserve and hold a book too, but they so deserve to hear it a second time.. And they also deserve to be held tightly with two strong arms until they drift of to sleep feeling adored, loved, secure, and safe, the way you never did as a child … Except during the rare Mac n cheese visits at your daddy’s house.
This Mac n cheese was the childhood my children deserved rather than the one I was able to give them.. The one I’d always dreamed of giving them when i had played with dolls as a child and fantasized about what kind of momma I could be someday, promising myself I would you’d be everything my mother never was. My children would not know fear or insecurity. They would not know the desperate longing for a momma that played with them every day and read to them and laughed with them and chased away their bad dreams and allowed them to know security in their environment and security of faith and love in and outside of themselves.
This Mac n cheese was the regret of feeding my children cheap shit so that I’d never have to depend on their dad for money to survive. Not caring about child support rights or entitlement or all the money in the world if it meant having to raise my daughters watching their dad cheat, lie, and abuse me. It meant going without just to not even risk fighting legally or otherwise with him about custody when I knew I didn’t have the money for the battle because he had all the time, freedom, and money while all I ever wanted to have was my children and the ability to raise them with love and understanding, peace and security…and joy. It was choosing to encourage their relationship with the man who abused me after I left him and he had destroyed my dreams and who didn’t care about much other than sex with “strange”, job power, and making money to buy nice things for himself. It was passing on child support for 15 years no matter my disability or how much money he was free to go out and make because love and peace for my kids’ home life seemed more important than buying the good kind of Mac n cheese for them.
Mac n cheese was the ache of remembering when my children loved me in spite of my disability. The excruciating torment of recalling countless nights of guilt at being poor, being disabled, being single, and being afraid of not ever being even close to everything I had always dreamed of being for them… Of the hurt at wanting to give them so much more but literally not being able to. It was The indescribably deep wound that comes from unexpectedly losing the only parent who had loved and wanted me as a child or as an adult.
Mac n cheese is the endless sting of betrayal that my children turned against me, lied about me, negate me as ever being their mother even, crucifying my every flaw and every life hardship, magnifying every mistake big or small, denying any good I brought to their lives. All on top of the years of guilt at already not being enough, not being worthy, not being anything but a disappointment to every one … To Everyone except my dead daddy who has abandoned me once again and finally for forever.
I will never make or eat macaroni and cheese again. That stuff is just vicious.