a little take away
“Hey son, looks like there are 11 chicken fingers so I’ll take five and you can have six,” the younger teen calls out to the older teen. He is leaning back away from the table and shouting out through the opening of my girlfriend’s kitchen doorway. “Dude, I said you can have six of the chicken fingers,” he calls again while spooning piles of rice dotted with glistening peas and streaks of yellow egg ribbons onto his plate.
I’m standing at the counter wrestling a wire handle on the white cardboard box to get at the two squat egg rolls inside. “Just make yourself a plate and grab a napkin,” I say. “We’ll eat in the living room with the TV on tonight. I can’t deal.”
“Yeah mom, we’ll just do what every other normal family does,” says the younger teen carrying his plate with him in the direction of the refrigerator. “You have juice for the seltzer, right?”
“Well, its not normal to me, but it’s just too damn cold and miserable out and all I do is work lately,” I say brushing back the hair from my eyes. I hoist up my red plaid flannel pajama bottoms and turn over the waistband. The pants are sagging at the knees from days of wear and they bunch up at the bottom where they meet the top of the brown fleece slippers on my feet. Outside the square lamplights cast an orange glow onto the crusty snow piled high on either side of the now narrow driveway. I zip my fleece sweatshirt zipper up as high as it will go until it makes a turtleneck. “How cold is it out there guys?” I ask my older teen who is now at the kitchen table scooping maroon colored pork strips onto his plate with a spoon. I look past his backward ballcap and his pants hanging low on his behind as he bends over the table and frown instead at the window directly above him frosted with ice crystals around the edges. It’s been snowing for weeks and any remaining trace of my optimism has been plowed away with the latest driveway slush.
The older teen calls out to his brother in the living room. “What are we watching, dog?”
“Grab a napkin on your way in there.” I say, pointing to the basket filled with rolled up red cloths.
“I think we should have some wine with this,” says my girlfriend standing beside me now and pouring hot and sour soup into two small ceramic bowls.
“Hell yeah,” I say and grab the wine bottle and two large goblets as I make my way into the living room. The younger teen is already sitting on the edge of the leather couch with his plate of food before him on the glass-top coffee table. I push my girlfriend’s box of tissues over and grab the edge of the wool blanket to wrap around me as I sit beside him. I close up my macbook on the table and slide it over to the side. My girlfriend arrives to sit on my right and places two more plates of food on the table.
“What are we watching? she asks the younger teen.
“The Office?” he answers.
“Ugh no, I hate The Office, find something we can all stand,” I say while stuffing one end of an egg roll into my mouth.
“Law and Order?”
“I can watch that,” says the older teen now sauntering in with his overloaded plate of chinese food.
“We can always watch Law and Order,” says my girlfriend now grabbing for a tissue from the box across the table at the start of a sneeze.
“Where do I sit? asks the older teen to the three of us squeezed together on the couch wrapped in a blanket.
“You take the chair,” I say pointing to the red kilim chair positioned at an angle a few feet from the TV. I grab a crab rangoon from off of the younger teen’s plate and pop it in my mouth. “mmm these are pretty good.”
“They’re dope,” says the older teen picking up the star shaped fried bundle with his fingers and slouching back in the too small chair with his long legs outstretched before him.
For 15 minutes we all stare at the TV and eat the chinese food in silence.
“I don’t even know what’s going in in this show,” I finally say out loud. “Does anyone know what is going on?”
“I can tell you, mom,” says the older teen as he starts launching into the plot intricacies. I’m looking straight at him, yet I can’t really follow the story he is telling me anymore than the one I was just watching. I’m lost instead in my own thoughts, head spinning with irksome worries about the taxes that need to be done, the car still in the shop, the financial aid paperwork, and the new job with its long to-do list of tasks.
“Dude, we need to head back to dad’s soon,” says the younger teen to his brother. “And mom’s not listening to you.”
I notice how the new lamp we just bought shines a spotlight on the painting on the wall – the one with the ice blue branches that look like winter, like nighttime, like a full moon shining into the middle of a cold dark forest and I feel a shiver run down my spine. Any minute now the teens will be leaving and another winter workday will begin. What will I take away from this family time when I can’t even stay focused on the present for more than a few minutes?
I reach over to the teen by my side and pull his shoulder toward me. He gives me a little grin and leans over to lie alongside me on the couch and lets me stroke his black silky hair for the briefest of moments. The only moments that matter at all.
“One more Law and Order guys?” I ask as episode number two begins to play its familiar opening refrain.
“Word, I’m in for one more. Let’s do it, dog” says the older teen to the younger teen.
“You got it, son.”