Because of the chemotherapy, he couldn’t enjoy the taste of food. His friends cooked him his favorite home-made meals—bean soup seasoned with pungent cumin and cilantro. His brother brought his favorite dishes from his favorite restaurants to the hospital: tuna sandwich, chocolate, and cream-filled cakes to satisfy the sweet tooth. But my father could barely sense the flavors. Everything tasted bland. I felt his frustration.
For some reason I thought that food that I prepared for him, would do the trick. I baked him heart-shaped cookies and sent them via mail. I had little faith, but I wanted to believe that a touch of me, like my hands kneading the dough, would be strong enough to cut through his numbness. I wanted to believe that the essence of pure vanilla possessed magical powers that would touch his heart and awaken his palate. How stupid was it of me to think that vanilla could stand a chance against beans, cumin and cilantro! (And in a symbolic way, that family would matter more than friends.)
I don’t know if he ate the cookies. He probably gave it a try. I can’t remember if he said anything about them. In any case, I don’t think he grasped the meaning of this act—my last attempt to reach out to the father I always wanted and needed as a little girl, now that he was sick and might die.
A few days before my father went into a second round of treatment, that time involving a bone marrow transplant in addition to chemotherapy and radiation, we talked on the phone. I tried to sound cheerful and optimistic, “I’ll bake you cookies and send them to you. I’ll make anything you want! Which ones are your favorites?”
My father joked, “No need to. Just send me $6 and I’ll buy cookies at the store.” He didn’t get it, or maybe he did?
I didn’t bake him cookies. I didn’t send him $6 either.
That time he stayed at the hospital for four months and never came out.
Eleven months have passed since his death.
I thought about him the other morning as I stood by the kitchen counter. My husband and kids had left the house. I had already made their breakfasts and packed their lunchboxes and it was my turn to eat. Still in my pajamas, my hair was a mess. . . Yogurt, honey, nuts, oats. . . I added the blueberries the kids’ didn’t eat, and I cut a banana in half, crosswise with the peel intact—this is how he did it. I peeled it and sliced it and added it on top of everything. Halved fruits, are they a sign of a person eating alone?
I placed the second half on a paper napkin. It looked lonely. I put it inside a tall thin glass; it looked sad—maybe it felt what its destiny was going to be. I recalled how my father used to put his halved fruits in glass cups the same size as the fruit’s circumference to prevent their surface from browning. He never used plastic wrap. I doubt that he ever owned any. I left the banana in the cup on the counter with a plan to eat it later. I knew that my husband and kids would most likely not finish the half banana that I had started. . .
Three days later, I discovered the banana standing on its stump in the cup, abandoned. It got pushed into the corner of the kitchen counter where it was left unnoticed. I looked at it suspiciously. With its blackened peel and dark brown spots, it didn’t look so tempting. My father wouldn’t have done it, but I threw it away.
My father looked somewhat like that banana before he died. All shriveled and emaciated, skin darkened from the violent cancer and intrusive treatment (He would have gotten a heart attack if he saw what he looked like, what had become of him). But in spite of his awful deterioration, I am happy for him that he lived the life he wanted. He chose to be free to travel, to party, to eat, to drink (room temperature foods and drinks), to work under his own terms, to do things his way, and to pass along his stories, life lessons, and nagging lectures (but no recipes) to whomever would listen—family, friend, or stranger. I wish I could be annoyed, half-listening to one right now.
Categories : Family