The first Christmas I returned to the place I’d grown up, nearly four months had passed since I had seen my dad, and everything was different. I was different: four months of middle school in a brand new state really does have an effect. And he was different: new life, new home, new versions of us. Dad and I had to learn to live together, the two “bachelors,” as we’d refer to ourselves later on. At first it wasn’t easy. We seemed to circle each other, like two planets caught in different orbits. And that made sense; he was restoring the fullness to a life once dedicated to an eight-year marriage and I was finding my way through the greyish area of accepting a new kind of independence in a world divided by time zones. My parents were no longer a unit and I had to figure out exactly where I fit in the grand scheme of things. It’s much more confusing to sort out your life when it’s spread across states and rooms and people where it once was altogether.
Following the end of my parents’ divorce, my dad moved into a square with three rooms and a backyard full of furniture that didn’t fit in anywhere. I remember walking outside to see an array of weather-weathered chairs and desks, standing sentient in the snow with nowhere to go. Both the inside and the outside of our tiny house reflected a funny cobbling of mismatched pieces of a once very different life.
I strung streamers from the corners of my unfamiliar tiny room, and it felt good to laugh again with my funny dad at the fact that my bed just barely fit between the two side walls, my dresser letting out an exhausted groan as it was pressed into the only remaining corner of space. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed just being around my him until I couldn’t imagine going back to it being normal without him there.
In all honesty, I was just so glad to be home in a place where I could actually tell you the cross streets. Not even the fact that we had zero ornaments and had lost the stockings somewhere in the move could ruin it. On Christmas Eve we went to BI-Mart and bought tacky golden baubles and ornaments that sang whenever you walked by the tree. On Christmas morning I received the typical “toothbrush and chocolate orange combination” in a grocery bag. We couldn’t help but be kind of proud of this ramshackle Christmas in a tiny home that actually felt like home.
Another three months stretched between my dad and I, but then summer came in its hues of green and pink, the smell of lilacs floating in from a neighboring yard. For the first time, I tasted a different kind of freedom, the freedom of only being traced around my tiny city by one parent instead of two. Our blue box home on Allison St. was opportunely located just above the swell of downtown tourism and the public library. I walked everywhere, savoring every moment of my slice of independence. However, this independence came at the price of lemon pasta.
Whatever kind of cook my father was, prior to marrying my mother, was lost in the background of my mother’s tenacious knack for cooking. Don’t question my use of the word ‘tenacious’ because it fits. My mother doesn’t just cook, she conquers, sure to make her version of the récipe far better than the original. And so a new era began, right around the time my intrepid father purchased a little cookbook called, “The Pleasure of Cooking for One.”
If you’re reading this, Dad, I love you, but let’s be clear that at the very beginning: watching you try to cook for 1.5 people, and more so, eating what you tried to cook for 1.5 people, was far from pleasant. At the forefront of my mind is that goddamn lemon pasta. I get the idea, I really do, but what tried to come across as elegance in noodle form (as the package protested in swirly lemon yellow letters) merely tasted incoherent in my mouth. My dad would make this dish once a week and keep the leftovers for days because nearly every dish in “The Pleasure of Cooking for One” could be served avec un côté de — you guessed it — that lemon-fucking-pasta.The thing is, my dad was so excited to be able to make this ramshackle home built upon rebuilding and leftover lemon pasta. So how could I really complain?
And thus my summer trailed on, days filled with whatever adventure I could find between the library on Gresham St. and the tangled trails of Lithia Park at the base of the plaza. And I could always count on coming home to a strainer of fresh (or reheated) lemon pasta and a few more pictures decorating the walls of our funny little home.
I don’t regret a second of this part of my life. It was hard to rebuild, but both my dad and I learned so very much about the bittersweet taste of starting over again. And yes, that may be the lemon pasta talking, but even that added to the beautiful mess that made up the beginning of life with my dad. In the end I realized that I didn’t need to find myself spread across states, or time zones or rooms; instead I could just count on the feeling of belonging based on the people that filled those places. A place devoid of lemon pasta after I politely asked my dad to stop making it.