My Beautiful Daughter, 18 years old and moderately mentally retarded, points to a bunch of asparagus at the supermarket and says, "I'd like it if you bought that celery."
"You know it isn't celery," I said. "It's asparagus. You've had it."
"It's celery," she says. "Maybe I should try some."
"It's not a free sample," I say. "Tracy--"
But she has worked one thin spear out of the bundle, and she bites off the tip and smiles. "Mmm," she says. "Good celery!"
Maybe it's the way I've been feeling disconnected every since my mother became ill and died. Maybe it's the way Tracy seems so different, suddenly; the result of the harsh medications which keep her seizures (somewhat) at bay. She's more rebellious, less polite, less loving and much less happy.
Some people say, "What do you want--she's a teenager!" I've known my girl since she was in utero, and this isn't part of her. Cheerfulness and quick wit and a realistic point of view are all her. Disconnectedness is not.
Then again, my mother's primary memory of me has always been: "You were a very quiet little girl. Very decorous. Very obedient." Plainly, daughters can be strangers to their mothers.
I was actually a pain in the ass. A wise guy. Someone who never knew when to shut up, and never knew what was good for her. And I wasn't actually afraid of anything except Mom herself.
Mom thought that my presence in her life, my relationship to her, robbed her of something crucial: time, power, dignity, self-respect. A therapist once explained to me that Mom saw me as if I was a pair of her dirty underpants that she found in her school books, her lectures, her manuscripts, her scholarly notes. I kept popping up and I was disgusting, shameful and intrusive. How could she help but hate me?
I still think that only a man, a Freudian psychiatrist, could have come up with such a horrible idea. In essence, it was correct, but he missed the part which was most shaming to my mother: that she loved me.
She knocked herself out making Sunday dinners for us, but, having just read her recipe files, I can see why the food always tasted thin and woeful and rejecting. Stringy beef and sour canned tomatoes are no way to start a stir-fry. Heavy cream cannot be left out of a recipe which calls for a cup of it. Sweet n Low is not a real, organic substance suitable for baking. I can't see why a woman expected to make a custard with low-fat cheese and no eggs.
At this point I have to remember how, given the choice of dining out or having a home-cooked dinner, Tracy will always choose home-cooked, because she thinks I'm the world's best cook.
Mom's been gone for three weeks now. At first the food was fabulous, because Jewish tradition dictates that you must send food to a mourning family, and we had "appetizing", meaning smoked fish and creamy cheeses and bagels and sweet pastries, as much as we wanted and at all times. There was fruit as well, and soda and juices and, after the official mourning period was over, my favorite foods because I didn't and don't want to be challenged by anything. Green fettuccine with pesto. Oriental chicken salad from Eli's. Sushi at home and away.
One thing I've been eating a lot is fresh mozzarella mixed with roasted (but not salted) pistachio meats and dressed with my favorite salad dressing, five garlic cloves to a cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil to a quarter-cup of low-salt soy sauce. Puree and keep in a covered jar in the refrigerator. Some times I cheer up this salad by putting it on shredded romaine lettuce and sometimes I added a few ripped pieces of prosciutto for protein.
I also made one of the best chicken broths of my life, including four pounds of chicken back, a pound of turkey neck and, almost impossible to find these days, a stewing "fowl", either an old laying hen or a tired-out rooster who had reached the end of its usefulness and, being nothing much more than bones and skin and a bit of too-tough meat, added to the soup pot its wisdom and sinew and long-livedness. The soup was divine and I have been drinking it at every meal like the nectar of life, as if it makes up for that other worn-out, tired being who stopped nurturing me a very long time ago.
My mother fed me very little, over the years. I feed myself far too much. I try to strike a balance between nurturing my daughter and overfeeding her. She's old enough to make her own decisions, mature in a way which I'll probably never be, because she accepts her imperfect mother and is secure and happy in her love.
One out of three ain't bad.