At first I tried to do what I’ve resented others for trying—to reconstruct things exactly as they were. When the inevitable dawned on me—that, of course, no one was who they were anymore and could not be cajoled into being such—I improvised. I have a husband now, and he could sit where my sister used to, since she cannot be bothered to spend more than cursory amounts of time as a member of a family. I made the helpings we used to and had the sides we used to (except rolls; I forgot those), but I used recipes from a chapter only a little self-consciously titled Food For Coming Home. My dad, it turns out, has a deep and lasting love of artichoke hearts, which I used copious amounts of without knowing of this fondness. I put the vegetables in the indestructible brown container they always used to sit in—that I always bitched about having to take out and stir, because what teenage jerk thinks of how fragile these stable dinners will become? I used every skillet they own. I chased no one out, and worked actively to find things for my mom to help with, because I have zero desire to make anyone feel extraneous. No one is.
I have used Mrs Dalloway to describe this, and I have used The Sims. Both are applicable, as scandalous as I suppose that might be to those under whose tutelage I studied Mrs Dalloway. I work very hard to create these moments of shelter. Perhaps World War I isn’t looming on the horizon but it’s no less important to have these moments of fullness and of familiarity that won’t last, but that let you forget for a little while that they won’t last. When I fill people up like this—I don’t just mean food—I want to disappear. To remain, but invisibly so, as the beneficent presence that pulled it all together, circling the scene and warding off discord and disappointment for as long as possible. I suppose part of me recognizes that for me to participate in the scene increases the likelihood of that end coming sooner. That isn’t morose; it’s simple fact. I have as little patience with insincerity as I do with bullying, and I take few steps to curtail my disgust when it arises.
So it is better for me to gather these people, and fill them with food and the feeling that they have been instrumental in its production. It is better for me to watch, and remember, and remind people when they have forgotten, that they were happy here. I am the one with all the videos of birthdays and anniversaries; with PDFs of well-worn recipe cards and photos of every benign gathering since I received, with reverence, my first flip-top Kodak camera with the little blue button at the top. I am the one with the memories. But I am not just a chronicler. I work actively to construct these scenes—lights, staging, props, the whole shebang. Because I am a poor actor. And because they need to be remembered, even if I never set foot on the stage.