1. Egg Salad: You’re going to carry that sandwich a long time.
When we are Jewish, someone is dead or we’re eating.
And, really, when someone is dead, it’s both.
My aunt is sitting across from me at the table, scowling and proffering toast.
“You will eat this toast, Claire. You will eat this before you get up.” I’m thirteen and in the past two days I’ve completely stopped eating. There are thick whispers and raised eyebrows—has my grandfather’s death brought on a latent anorexic streak? Has my weepy neurosis finally found an unsuitable home?
No. There’s just nothing to like about food anymore, and I blame it all on the egg salad.
Shiva started with a full spread—-giant aluminum rectangles brimming with iceberg lettuce, 10 different creamy dressings flecked with pepper, croutons the size of a hand, all of it touched with an herbed garlic butter that filled the house with its rich scent. When you’re in mourning and you’re Jewish, there are no flowers, no cards. There’s a tray of golden rugelach stuffed with poppy seeds, crumb top coffee cakes, platters of bagels and glistening coral lox, three kinds of cream cheese. There’s a whole roast chicken with the skin on and little new potatoes with crisp brown edges. There are so many deli platters that a kid with a fondness for egg salad could eat egg salad every day. Could eat it on a croissant, on a bagel, on two dense slices of challah. Could eat it until her stomach distended with the sulfurous death rattle of the unhatched. Could eat it and eat it and eat it until she hated it for its sameness and for what it meant.
Suddenly everything tastes like my grandfather dying.
Who wants to eat that?
2. Honeybun: We’re alive.
Jack tried to kill himself last week, and a month ago Maggie died in a car wreck. I am seventeen-years-old.
I’m alive. I’m alive! I did not know this was up for debate, but everything is closing in quick—Katie’s funeral is a song I can’t get out of my head no matter how many tricks I use, and Jack is a question mark, and I…
…am miserably stoned. My best friend and I, good kids since day one, have shed our good kid mantles and run off in the middle of a Saturday to smoke weed in a field found after traversing several swirling knotted back roads, and we’re good at so many things but haven’t mastered the finer points of drug use, so here we are, lost and bleary and skittish. We drive to a convenience store.
I haven’t had a honeybun since first grade. It’s like a mouthful of sugared silk, all softly pulled Technicolor dough and crystallized frosting. Sweet sharp notes of honey vibrate through my teeth. My fingertips are tacky with glaze, and I lick the wrapper with wild abandon. My best friend and I are laughing, our mouths full, our teeth aching. We eat the honeybun in big gnashing bites. All around us there are tall trees and the radio plays the same Top 40 songs on a cheery loop. We are leaning on each other with our full bellies and pupils and we are glad. It’s a miracle. They should print this moment on the wrapper.
3. Everything Bagels and Everything Else: Everything changes.
I move across the country and within 48 hours, my father is rushed to the ER.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Everyone says, “Don’t fly home” so I decide to eat home instead. In my little San Francisco apartment, I look up matzoh ball soup all over the city and find none. I show up at bagel shops and demand an everything smeared with whitefish salad, but it comes from a tub and tastes like tuna fish. I dream about foods I haven’t eaten in years—florescent squares of rainbow cake, stiff chocolate top cookies, breakfast sandwiches slathered in ketchup and grape jelly from Korean bodegas.
I am homesick. I am hungry. I get poisoned.
I’m sitting in our rented apartment thinking “What’s that sm—“ and then I’m lying on my keyboard, my cheek penning strings of consonants, the apartment full of flooring fumes. My boyfriend and I are evacuated, put up at a bed and breakfast in the city. We throw down our bags, and I announce “Let’s celebrate. We need something to celebrate.” Plunk, $100 dollars and somewhere dim and full, strong cocktails rattling with ice, a wriggling ball of burrata with its belly slit, bleeding milky salted fluid on to our pizza’s thin crust.
I wake up in the middle of the night, half drunk and disoriented by my second move in as many days. My boyfriend, his lavender face pressed to the bathroom tile says “Call 911” and unleashes the last bits of our celebratory dinner on to the floor.
The doctor blames the food poisoning on the unprocessed cheese. We spend the night in the ER.
Back at the bed and breakfast, I make a bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats and Xanax and eat it in the steam shower.
This is the height of luxury, I think.
The city is physically trying to expel me, I think.
They said—they, the so many theys we left on the other side of the country, with their mouths screwed up and their eyes red, their ultimatums and airport embraces—they said it would be hard to be so far away.
In Baltimore, my father is still in the hospital. No one picks up the phone when I call. I eat my steamed cereal. I wonder if I’ll make it.
4. A Wheel of Brie: Joy.
After the wedding, we stagger back to the hotel room at two AM, and there it is: a wheel of brown sugar crusted brie from this morning. The bridesmaids barely made a dent, and it is now the perfect oozing temperature from sitting out in the hotel all day. We take off our complicated wedding clothing; we slip into t-shirts. We hoist the brie into the bed.
In the time this brie has sat out, we’ve gotten married and haven’t eaten more than a bite. We tear off wedges with our hands. The sugar crust cracks and scatters crystals all over the bed, our laps, the slick dairy goo sticks to our fingers. Somewhere there are crackers. We could’ve called the front desk for bread. But we keep eating uncut cheese, the fat permeating our bloodstreams, our grumbling stomachs finally full. We lean on each other, grinning. We eat nearly a full wheel. We’re lucky we married young or we would’ve had side-by-side heart attacks. Instead, Dan throws his arms around me and musses my stiff up-do and whispers in my ear “My wife!” and we’re happy and full and soon we fall asleep with all the lights on, a cheese rind lying on the floor.
There are no photographs of this, but it is the wedding I see in my head when I picture that day. We three: man and wife and wheel of cheese, satisfied and grateful, finally married.
Claire Margine is the author of Feast, a chapbook of personal essays about food, nostalgia, and ghosts. She was a 2015 Writer in Residence at Alley Cat Bookstore and Gallery. She lives, eats, and writes in San Francisco. Find her online at @cmoshenb or asoundthatquakes.tumblr.com.