Eggplant Parmesan



for two

His right hand shook. All the time.

His face was long and narrow. It had lost all its chunk. Looking back at his baby photos now makes me wonder how we can come out of the womb so full of rosy fat cheeks, and then it’s up to us to keep the color in our face.

Even drinking water was hard. Drops of water would spill from the sides of his mouth and onto his heather gray tee, now hanging on him like a husband’s shirt a wife would sleep in. The water left dark spots, elongated rain drops, cascading down his abdomen. We tried to combat the mess by offering him a straw instead, but that failed, leaving shallow white scratches on his lip line and chin from the consistency of missing the straw with mouth.

I began parking in the reserved spaces. His room was on the second floor, but to get there from the normal parking spots, it required us to walk a block down the highway-like side road and cross at the too-shortly timed crosswalk, then across a parking lot and through the empty waiting room. But if you parked in the reserved spaces, you could walk in the back doors, climb sterile stairs and enter the second floor through a window lined and new-ish waiting room, always with a friendly nurse at the desk.

Besides, a parking ticket was worth the money at this point.

I hadn’t been to work in almost two months. Looking back, I’m thankful that I didn’t have a “real” job. I would of course have been fired. And gladly so. Any company that wanted to keep me away from where I really needed to be would have been on my literal shit list.

On the flip side, it wasn’t much better being self-employed. I had no form of income if I didn’t work. I left work that night of January 4th and left piles of undone work strewn about my desk, photos were left uploading from an unnamed import from an unremembered photoshoot. Emails were left not only unread but unnoticed, believing that they would be moved up the list on the morning of January 5th. And unless you knew me personally, and maybe not even then, you wouldn’t know these things. That the desk and inbox and camera would stay exactly as they were for months to come. Collecting dust and memories of “before,” never to be put back the same way again.

I wonder what the unforgiving and unempathetic clients I had then think now. The ones that sent the emails asking why I had dropped off the face of the earth with no warning, using harsh words and a stern tone of voice. Those emails and calls going unanswered, them asking for their deposit back since I failed on my end of the deal.

But I couldn’t give them their deposit back. I had spent it. Living. Spending it on hospital cafeteria food and gas to drive to Santa Clara and so much coffee that motherhood coffee intake even now seems insignificant in comparison.

In a way, I guess I was fired. I was just lucky to have done the work I had done on January 4th, I suppose.

I crawled in his bed with him, and we watched the gag reel from the Big Bang Theory. He laughed, but it wasn’t his laugh. It was hollow and too high pitched.

After dark, the air inside the hospital was stale. The windows never opened, and for some reason, in the daylight it seemed clearer. Like the sunshine could seep through the windows’ weather coating, but after dark, they sealed tighter and that air inside started to roll over onto itself and stopped moving.

The food there was rancid. To get to the cafeteria from his room, you had to walk down a grey hallway, too wide and with bars on the windows that looked down into the bare courtyard on one side and the parking garage on the other. Each time it felt as if we were walking, or wheeling, down the fictional hallway from Shutter Island. Families pushing their loved ones in wheel chairs, blank stares and half-nods of solidarity as you passed. Once in the cafeteria, your choices were slim. The tables something you’d see in a 1970’s schoolhouse cafeteria. Wood veneer, wobbly and lined up like a summer camp.

It was late, and the uneaten dinner on his table in the room next to his bed was now stale and cold. His answer when I asked if he was hungry was just a look. I didn’t need him to speak to understand what he needed.

Days were focused on incremental tasks, such as lifting his foot up to his knee in order to tie his shoe. But the actual tying wasn’t applicable yet. Just get your foot there, bud. Things like learning how to hold a fork, but getting the fork to the mouth wasn’t possible yet. We watched like a hawk as he ate, confirming each bite was the size a toddler might take, ensuring he wouldn’t choke on the too-soft wheat bread and whipped peanut butter.

I had a mere six minutes until the cafeteria closed. Pulling myself out of his bed next to him like a band-aid being pulled off a wound which was not yet healed. Putting the laptop on the bed next to his boney hips, and pushing the bedside button, lifting his head just a few inches higher than his chest.

“I will be back, ok?”

The dinner was eggplant parmesan. Doused in red sauce and cheese that was not quite melted on top. I made two plates in Styrofoam containers, added cold garlic bread and two small cartons of milk, one plain and one chocolate.

I hid the extra container in my purse. The nurses would surely scold me for feeding him something such as eggplant parmesan. After tracking each bite of food and each sip of water and each ice chip sucked on, a real dinner with mediocre marinara sauce would of course throw off their data.

He looked at the dinner like it was Mount Everest. Eyes wide but unwavering. Until this point, we made a point to not eat our own food in his room, as to not upset him. More so not to upset him so much that he would want to say something, and then realize he didn’t know how, and then be more upset.

His left hand reached over his body to grab the fork from my hand. I held the white crunchy container over his chest, close to his chin, and he slowly scooped a forkful of red sauce, making it to his own mouth. He chewed slowly. His eyes closed, his head tilted back, and then he swallowed twice.

His eyes opened and he stared at me. There was red sauce smeared on his right cheek and his left index finger.

His smile was unsymmetrical, lazy on his right side. His teeth were caked in unswallowed marinara sauce. He put down the fork, spilling eggplant parmesan on his brown blanket. His eyes did not leave mine for what felt like eternity. His smile plastered on his face, like that of a school child who was just told they could have more candy.

I slowly helped him eat the rest, plus some of mine.

I threw the containers in the trash can in the hallway four rooms down. If someone was going to get in trouble, let it be someone else.

My shoes, grey Toms that had been worn to unwearable measure, slipped off my feet and onto the floor. I took my hair out of its four-day worn ponytail, and lifted up the brown eggplant parmesan stained blanket and crawled under with him.

We watched the gag reel again, until I heard his breathing slow and his eyes were twitching but closed tight.

It was the only night I spent in the hospital. Breathing stale air and waiting for his 7 am wakeup call to try and walk on his own again.

But he knew. And I knew. He would never have to walk alone.