finding joy in the little things.
The highlight of most days is making breakfast for my mother and me.
We’re simple. If there’s sage or maple sausage, I’ll defrost and cook up some of that in our Cast Iron Pan Used Almost Exclusively For Sausage. Or turkey bacon. She’ll have either a piece of multigrain toast with butter or one waffle. The frozen blueberry joints from Club Walmart. She likes her toast darker than I do.
Me, 2–3 days per week: “You want some grits?”
Mom, most of the time: “You having some?”
And then we both have grits. Pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, butter. And usually, a bit of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, because Black. There is always at least one egg. She loves sautéed diced onions and green peppers in her scrambleds, so I try to do that whenever we have them both. Sometimes: a spinach/tomato/cheese affair. If a worthy avocado exists, I’ll mount a few slivers atop her eggs. It’s the little things.
These three months I’ve been alternating between teaching and handling medical shit in Nueva York and pulling it together (including some forced self-care via necessary post-surgery personal Give-A-Damn™) at home in 1998 comprise the longest sustained streak of breakfast eating I’ve had since moving from here to New York three years ago. There is power in a bowl of grits.
We’ve always been some breakfast-eating motherfuckers. Growing up, we ate breakfast together most mornings, but years of tripping and beginning and ending my days in spirit-eroding living situations kept me from my true love. When I got home in September after months of attempting to drive a bus with no gas, I had four goals:
- Don’t kill myself.
- Support mi familia as much as possible.
- Get my shit back on track after losing 20ish pounds in just under a month at the end of the summer from “forgetting to eat.” Waking up, passing “GO!,” and backflipping right into the day, into our then daily GetSomeJoy calls and onto the next thing and to an appointment or training and around the world and back without even an empanada. And, too many times, realizing at 8 or 9 or 10:45pm that I hadn’t stopped spiraling long enough to enjoy a meal yet. Twas the height of self-sabotage.
- Keep it together and don’t kill myself.
Over time, that hasty dinner became obligatory and not soul-caressing as the ancestors intended. Some nights, I had bedtime for dinner. And there was never enough water.
Me. He who plans his day around his next meal. He who has a food-based Instagram and gets tagged daily regarding calorie-rich content. And daydreams about past nut-bustingly delicious dinners and gravies he’d like to try or make. Trying to save the world with coffee and Airheads in my stomach. My shit was all fucked up.
Before my therapist left the practice and the state this summer, she would have asked me if I needed to resurrect my Self-Care Checklist and add “EAT BREFFIS.”
So now, I eat.
In the beginning, after I arrived slimfaced and spiritually ashy, Mom inquired about my weight a few times a week. Moseying out of my room, I’d grunt “Good morning” and retrieve the scale and set it down in front of the Hoveround.
“Still not gaining weight,” I’d say, making a mental note to eat more rice and cheese grits.
After peeling Work off of him, Dad would check in to see if I’d eaten enough in the afternoons. I still had some 4pm ¡oh snap! moments, but they were less frequent. It is hard to skip meals under their snack-positive gaze.
She doesn’t ask anymore. My thighs have thickened once more. Gravy works.
After escorting Mom to the eye doctor for yet another monthly eye injection (fuck lupus), I took a detour on the way home and stopped by China Max inside Patrick Henry Mall. Neither of us had eaten there since they fled their original location inside the Coliseum Mall’s (RIP) food court back before the Black One beat Madame Super Predator for the Democratic nomination.
Many moons and pounds ago in the early 2000s, most Saturdays included three- to five-hour rehearsals with my dance company in the multipurpose room at Northampton Community Center before swarming Cici’s Pizza or China Max’s original location inside the Coliseum Mall (RIP) food court and flirting with rainbow-haired Chinese Bae for extra Bourbon or Orange Chicken.
INT. CHINA MAX COUNTER — DAY
FADE UP ON:
An EXTREME CLOSE-UP on a sauce-covered mound of bourbon chicken. The chicken is delicious. After five seconds, we slowly PULL BACK juuuust a bit to reveal other food court Chinese delights and a pair of gloved hands scooping bourbon chicken into a rice-filled styrofoam tray. We see the hands add a few spoons of extra sauce and shake the large silver serving spoon into the tray with finality, then
Tight on ALEX’s eyes for TWO SILENT BEATS. Lust.
Tight on CHINESE BAE’s eyes for TWO SILENT BEATS. Blink.
Tight on the gloved hands scooping another heaping mound of chicken into the styrofoam tray.
Easing out of the eye doctor’s parking lot, Mom and I agreed they make the best bourbon chicken in town and that the version served at my niece’s old job was a second-rate diva that couldn’t sustain.
It was as good as we remembered.
I decided I need to incorporate some newness into our breakfast moment. This weekend, I peeled, grated, and sliced some sweet potatoes. I squozed out as much sweet potato juice as I could out of them and mixed in two beat eggs and a few tablespoons of flour. Salt, pepper. Dumped some oil from the Nigga Grease Can pon the griddle pan. Formed cute little patties and gave them time and space to reach their highest, crispiest, most delicious form.
Hello, sweet potato hash browns. Sausage, eggs, grits, a cinnamon raisin bagel for her and toast for me. Tea for her, coffee for me. And sweet potato pie (more on this soon) for dessert.
I’d give the hash browns about an 8.75/10. I feel like they deserve a suitable special sauce situation. Not ketchup. Still consulting with the ancestors for guidance. Next time.
I also want to try mangú and have yet to ride our Pammed pan through the magical world of egg muffins. We haven’t baked any bread.
Oh, the possibilities.
Making breakfast for us is therapeutic for me. Overall, I wasn’t doing well in New York and spent three years becoming really good at bringing joy to other people, trying not to project the struggle and save the world while drowning and Harlem Shaking with homelessness and self-hate, feeling accomplished with each passing week that I didn’t ruin a bunch of folks’ day by “falling” in front of an A train. Tasking myself with being a beacon of joy and an ever-ready wellness resource and joking about dying way too casually. Not eating breakfast. I spent most of the summer on the verge of tears.
And the pride. Having a peaceful place to repeat this beloved morning ritual has aided my baby steps out the darkness. I did a bunch of nice things in New York “for the community” but did not know stability or ease of mind for three years up yonder. Having a welcoming palace in which to recharge and soothe my nerves with a rousing round of dishwashing has blessed my soul. As a young tenderoni, I used to dread washing dishes. Now, it calms me and reminds me of home, wherever I am in Saint Damita Jo’s America.
It’s hard to be creative when I’m in survival mode. I struggle to think clearly enough to write creatively or let my mind wander or write beyond my journal if at all when every available scrap of energy goes to stuffing enough Reasons into my pockets to anchor my feet here in the Land of the Living. For now, I’m home with mom most of the time lately, supporting her around the house, cooking whenever possible, and absorbing her culinary glory as often as possible while working my way back towards Less Fucked Up.
And most importantly, not dead. (Reason #25: “Funerals are expensive!”)
I try to anticipate her needs — getting ice for her water bottle, opening boxes and containers, lowering the shower head, retrieving her mug for tea, using the forks that are easier to grip, unfurling her oxygen tube at night — and lighten her load before she asks. We try new recipes and I dance between being hyper-supportive but not too overbearing daily. And bemoaning that I can’t trade my decade of remission from lupus for her decades of autoimmune warfare. Though it feels like a Herculean feat at times when I’m barely holding the fuck on, I try to sprinkle as much joy as I can into days often framed by pain management and appointments.
So I got a library card a few weeks ago. And after she read the inside cover, Mom read Octavia Butler’s Kindred on her Kindle as I stayed up late in the living room plowing through it. (We’ve never done that.) She used to take me to the big library in downtown Hampton, and we would come home with a HAMPTON PUBLIC LIBRARY tote bag full of our books. This time, I went through my Amazon Wish List and my GoodReads situation and have just read my 4th book in as many weeks (Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward, An Untamed State by Roxane Gay, and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones).
Next, I’m reading Teju Cole’s Every Day Is For The Thief, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, and Roxane Gay’s Hunger.
An American Marriage might be my favorite book of the year so far. And this is the most words I’ve written for me all year.
After years of being an embarrassment to the Gold Teeth Clan, my rice is on point. Mom got me together. And, also under mom’s guidance, I made my first soup last night.
Turkey soup with potatoes, sweet potatoes, sautéed celery and onions, peeled tomatoes, bay leaves, mucho turkey (obviously) and other magic. In a majestic broth I made from turkey bones and loved on for hours. With some garlic toast. This time last year, I was keeping it together with tape and glue. Now, I look forward to mornings with mom.
I made my first pot of greens, with smoked turkey legs since the farmer’s market was out of smoked turkey necks. Bastards. Made Thanksgiving dinner (including a trio of wondrous sweet potato pies thanks to our new favorite recipe) for the fam INCLUDING MY GRANDMOTHER for the first time. I haven’t been excommunicated yet. Glory callaloo.
I say all that to say, my bride price just tripled.