I remember those Wednesday nights like they were yesterday. He’d come home from work around 8, cell phone glued to his ear and smiling as he bent down to kiss me on the cheek. I’d be up to my elbows in bubbles, holding our squirming baby in the giant duck-shaped bath she so adored. He had about 20 minutes with us before he left for his night shift and oh, how I savored those 20 minutes.
I cooked every night, but in those stormy last couple of years I ate alone out of a plastic bowl in front of the TV after nursing our baby to sleep, and he ate whatever was left out on the counter without re-heating it before crashing on the couch at 4:00 a.m.
Except for Wednesdays. Wednesday night was when we’d sit down to dinner together in the dining room, without him being in school or at work or me putting the baby to sleep. Wednesday nights meant two settings at the table, two glasses instead of one – his filled to the brim with freshly squeezed lemonade and garnished with mint; mine filled with water. If I close my eyes, I can still see the earthy, dark red plates I piled high with garlic mashed potatoes and sweet and sour chicken wings, a big leafy salad in a red Ikea bowl in the center of the table.
Wednesday nights meant he was the same wonderful guy he had been in the early days, before the ugliness had taken him over, before the wretchedness that had became our marriage turned every aspect of life to shit.
Wednesdays, I knew, he was always in a good mood.
I was married at 18, a child really, but I felt so very grown up in my role as a wife and woman of the house. I loved to cook for my little family, and every night our cozy 2-bedroom apartment filled with the aromas of steak grilled to perfection, of spaghetti in a rich, homemade marinara sauce, of toasted garlic baguettes and creamy risotto, of heavenly chocolate chip cookies I’d transferred straight from a box in the freezer to an aluminum tray in the oven because, while I do love to cook, ain’t no way in hell I’d prepare a cookie batter from scratch when they taste so perfectly fresh and delicious from a store-bought box.
Those cookies made the whole apartment smell like home.
I’ve always loved everything about food, from picking out the perfect cherry tomatoes and fresh basil at the supermarket to the smell of garlic all over my fingers and the sound of sizzling onions on the stovetop and the colors and the tastes and the flavors. Especially the flavors.
But cooking dinner for my family was more than that. Those late afternoons I spent tossing baby potatoes with fresh herbs and olive oil and rolling identically-shaped miniature meatballs meant so much more to me than just food. I was in MY kitchen wearing jeans I was never allowed to own and listening to music I was never allowed to hear, watching Ina Garten on the flat-screen TV that may as well have been idol worship itself, explaining how to get cream sauce to the perfect consistency.
I was cooking for a man I completely adored and who made me feel like I’m the most amazing cook in the world. A man who (and I truly believed this) loved me more than anything.
(Oh, the lies we scarf down when we’re starving.)
Somewhere along the way, something went terribly wrong and eventually, even his predictable good mood on Wednesdays disappeared. And then one day, he left and my marriage disappeared too. And my home. And my kitchen. And everything that meant to me.
My then-2-year-old daughter and I moved into my parents’ house and for 3 ½ years, I didn’t cook, didn’t buy groceries, didn’t do anything in the kitchen unless it was absolutely necessary. Every night for 3 ½ years, I ate my mother’s food and didn’t even clear my dish off the table. I know she expected me to pitch in, to help with cooking here and there or at least load the dishwasher or run to the store when we ran out of milk.
I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t do any of it. Gossipy aunts called me a princess behind my back and I knew I was being selfish.
But cooking meant loving, and loving meant giving.
And after a one-way 8-year relationship – I had nothing left to give.
I’ve been working hard this year, really hard, on overcoming the trauma and learning to give again. I can’t say I’m not cautious about people that I meet, or about giving of myself, even to the people I care about. But I’m working on it. And I’m a better woman, and a better mother, for it.
We moved out on our own recently. It’s scary, and exciting, and the most independent I have ever had to be in my life. But my daughter and I finally have a home of our own, a real home. With a mother who goes grocery shopping and roasts honey-mustard chicken and puts store-bought chocolate chip cookie dough in the oven and makes blueberry pancakes for breakfast.
In this home, there is nobody who bends down to kiss me on the cheek while my hands are full of bubbles. There’s nobody else to take over the dishes or take out the trash or run to the store when we run out of band-aids.
Thank the good Lord for that.
Because in this home – we no longer tiptoe around somebody else’s mood swings, or try and guess if he’ll be home at 1 a.m. or 3. We don’t need to savor one 20-minute evening a week, like a poor child savoring the pennies being thrown his way.
In this home – there is respect. In this home, there’s honesty. There’s laughing. There’s cuddling. There’s dancing around the living room. There’s movie nights. There’s cookies. And there is endless, endless love.
These days our Wednesdays look just about the same as Mondays and Tuesdays and Thursdays. We watch way too much TV. We do homework way too late. And, of course, we eat way more than we should.
But we’re together. And it really doesn’t matter whether tonight we’re having teriyaki salmon or ordering a pizza or eating cereal with milk. Doesn’t matter whether we have friends over or it’s just the two of us.
All that matters is that we’re home for dinner, together. Even if it’s not Wednesday.