I don’t really understand why, but we go out every Saturday night – my mother, my father and I – to have dinner at a fancy restaurant. I don’t understand why is it that they go through all the trouble of choosing a place, making reservations, dressing up, spending money (and I mean a lot of money, because I’ve never seen two people eat as much as they do). I wouldn’t be bothered; I mean, I wouldn’t if I could. Being fourteen leaves not much choice. There is seldom a special occasion (apart from our birthdays, but that only means that there’s gonna be a “surprise” cake after the main course), there is nothing to celebrate and, most importantly, there is nothing to talk about.
At least at home we can put an end to the sepulchral silence that installs itself after the five minute ‘how-was-your-day?’ chat a lot quicker, by eating faster and, in the case of my overweight parents, even more disgustingly and ferociously, and then setting off to the TV set and its comforting, hypnotizing sound.
At restaurants we are forced to stare at each other, waiting for the waiter to come and put us out of our misery. But even when he comes it doesn’t mean it’s any less dull. My mother will make a monologue about the menu and how the dishes lack an ‘extra touch’ only she knows, because her mother told her, and her grandmother, and…well, you get the picture. By this time I take a deep breath and suppress the growing desire of screaming ‘Then for fuck’sake what are we doing here?’ and simply smile sarcastically, imagining how much fun it would be if I actually had the courage to do so. I take comfort in the fact that she thinks I’m smiling because I agree that her food is actually better than the restaurant’s. She then proceeds to a meticulous description of the ‘proper’ way to prepare said dish, always salivating a lot. When she is done, it’s my father’s turn to start a monologue, this time about the wine menu, emphasizing the fact that it doesn’t properly match the food menu. Finally he calls the waiter again to ask if ‘there isn’t anything special stored at the cellar that is not on the menu’. I feel very embarrassed every time he does that, who does he think he is? Does he think he is better than everyone else to deserve something special? He is nothing but a fat, loud chap who got luck after years of betting and loosing the family’s money.
I’ll sit through it all pretending to be interested in what’s written on the label of whatever it is that I’m drinking. I have memorized the nutritional values of every single soda you can name, both regular and light, as well as the guideline daily amount for both children and adults. Don’t worry, I won’t bother you with that.
Also, I have discovered a much more interesting occupation the keep me distracted while the minutes drag themselves; something to fill in the (many) blanks of my adolescence while I wait to go away for good, to leave behind these greasy people I somehow learned to love, just because they are my parents. Well, I guess I love them, but I can’t be sure. I mean, they’ve always been nice to me, played with me, took me places, gave me gifts and all that shit…but if I were to die for them, as people do in great tragedies when they lost their beloveds, then they’d go alone. I feel so incredibly different from them that sometimes it seems impossible that they’re actually my parents. I can’t talk to them about the things I like because they simply don’t know what they are or don’t give a shit. I gave up trying to bring up my interests in the above mentioned five minute ‘how-was-your-day’ chat when my mother told me Shakespeare was out of date and gave me Girl Stuff: A Survival Guide to Growing Up for my last birthday. I shouldn’t blame them, but I do…a little. Anyway, love is a confusing thing, and I don’t need to be any older to know that. It is also supposed to be breathtaking, exhilarating and mind blowing; and for that I’ll wait.
Meanwhile, as I am forced by circumstances to numbly drift in this life of high school anxiety and silent meals, I make up stories for other people. I rob them their lives, turn them into whatever my mood tells mo to. I make them my prisoners, although sometimes they trick me and do some very unexpected things. Even I do.
As I stare at my father while he babbles about French Cabernet Sauvignon being better then Chile’s, my gaze is actually fixed on the handsome boy right behind his left shoulder. He makes a signal for us to meet at the cloakroom.
‘I was desperate your mother would see me’.
‘Never, too busy devouring her overpriced meal’.
‘I hate having to come to these places’.
‘Me too. Shall we make a escape?’
My parents woke me up of my daydreaming at the exact moment we were discussing a way to pass unseen by the tables and towards the exit.
‘You haven’t touched your meal, darling’.
Liar, of course I touched it, I even assembled the penne arrabbiata to resemble a castle. I just didn’t eat it. Well, who could after three different starters? The idea of turning into them terrifies me and I eat as little as I can. Anyway, once the desert comes they’ll be distracted again and I’ll have time to run away with the handsome boy.
Bu then this young girl comes into the front door and I overhear what she tells the hostess.
‘How many, Miss?’
‘Just me, can I seat by the window?’
‘Sure, follow me’.
She is alone and in silence like me, but so much happier, I can tell. She’s got that kind of smile that cannot be faked, the one you see in the person’s eyes and not in their mouths. They glow as she glances around the restaurant. I can tell by her accent that she is not British, and she’s got that excitement look of people who are traveling. After her first sip of wine, she takes a Moleskine out of her bag and starts writing something in it. Perfect. I don’t want to make up a story for her, I want hers. I wanna be her and I realize I can. I grab the first piece of paper I can find (a napkin) and take the pen out of my mother’s purse without her even noticing it. Oh, I see, the tiramisu has arrived. I close my eyes for a while and then start.
Red shadows fill the atmosphere of the tiny Italian Cantina where I seat by myself. Is it insane to fell like I’ve blended into the world? A hundred light miles away from my country and still I feel like I am just around the corner of the house I grew up in. Always an outsider and always at home. Never staying too long in one place, but carrying them all with me as I leave. Do they weight too much? No. The more I travel, the lighter I feel. Memories are as light as air if you are not a prisoner to them. And the next memory is always potentially better than the last one when you have nothing to expect.
‘Sweetie, al least have your ice cream’.
Oh, well, the ice cream I can have. I carefully fold the napkin and put it in my pocket. Mental note: buy a Moleskine first thing tomorrow – people look way much cooler carrying one.