On Eating Dinner at Home
Graduation day is over. My dorm room is packed up. I have said goodbye to my best friends, the ones for whom “goodbye” doesn’t really ever apply, even if I’m not sure when I’ll see them again. I am in the backseat of the car and I have cried myself into a nap; when I wake up, my parents are pulling into the parking lot of our favorite deli off the highway. We sit at a table in back, order soda and sandwiches and even dessert. As we talk, I become once more hyper-aware that something in my life has undergone a seismic shift. I am going home, but I am not in college anymore, so I don’t yet know what “home” means.
I am two days into a six-week program at Columbia University. It’s a nice school, but it doesn’t feel like home, and I’m leaving so quickly that it doesn’t matter. That’s what I’m telling myself. I am dragging myself awake from a nap when the text comes in, a new number, my new roommate: “Wanna get dinner at 6?” I smile and respond, “Perfect.” We take the elevator together, and we eat polenta and chocolate chip cookies, and we laugh with a table of girls we have just met. When I call my mom that night, I tell her about my friends.
It’s the Fourth of July. Summer is in full swing, but somehow the Fourth always feels like the season’s start. I am at my best friend’s home. There are six of us, and her parents have barbecued chicken and made a fresh salad with the dressing they know I love, and we are sitting around the picnic table on the patio. The sun goes down, but we stay out there until one in the morning, fending off bugs and playing charades and talking until we could fall asleep.
The only thing in my fridge is a can of red sauce, and the only thing in my cabinet is a box of spaghetti. Which is perfect, because I can’t afford to buy myself dinner tonight, because last night I went way over budget on spontaneous burgers and beers. But that’s because some of my friends from college were in town. Every time I thought we might ask for the check, someone would order another drink and we’d just keep talking. I would spend that kind of money every day, if it meant always feeling at home in their hugs and love and conversations.
My brother is home again, and he’s started to love cooking. My mom and I sit at the kitchen table while he makes tacos; when I stand to leave, he bribes me to stay by letting me pick a song from the Hamilton soundtrack. We have the same favorite.
The tacos are incredible, and my brother, mom, dad and I stay in the kitchen long after we’ve finished eating. I’m reminded of a Spanish word I learned once: sobremesa, the conversations that continue to happen even when the meal is complete.
It was supposed to rain today, but the sun is out and the humidity is stifling. I’m on a beach far from home, playing Frisbee with my teammates from college. When we’re not playing Frisbee, we are taking GoPro selfies in the ocean, or riding an upside-down roller coaster, or sitting in the sand and listening to music. When we get hungry, we reach for chicken fingers or French fries or another beer. We know we will regret this tomorrow. For now we are together and we are happy and we are making the best of what we have.
I’ve just finished a job interview and have an hour to kill in New York City, so I sit in the summer heat at a table for one. I read a book and text passages of it to my friend; we are reminded of what we loved talking about in our college classes. I put on my new sunglasses. I breathe in the smell of water and sun-heated asphalt. I think about how I am not in college anymore, about spending money and sobremesa, about how I want to live in this city. I check my bank account before I buy myself a sandwich and a cold bottle of water.
I think, maybe this is it. Maybe buying your own dinner and eating on your own time is what it feels like to make it. And then I laugh, because I absolutely have not “made it”; I’ve barely been out of college for two months, still looking for a job and still flat broke. I take another bite of my sandwich. In this moment, I almost feel at home.
[Photo by Juliette Kibodeaux.]