The first table I remember sitting at with any regularity was in the house on Pond Drive. It was the late eighties and you and Dad bought the table to replace our even cheaper model made of vinyl and plastic “wooden” panels. This new table’s wood was real and dark and looked like it might even be heavy, yet it shifted with ease every time someone sat down to it. Both ends were capped with matching single chairs and its longer sides bore benches to seat up to three. One bench had a back on it, the other didn’t. The whole thing was covered in superficial details; round wooden screws holding nothing into place and only adding to the sadness of the set when they inevitably dislodged and went missing. Once marked with bright pea-green seat cushions made of fake crushed velvet, the covers, like the people who sat on them, would change over time, losing ties and becoming as worn and flattened as decade-old cardboard. I remember Dad always sat at the head of the table, just beyond the broken garbage compactor. You sat loyally to his left. The nights when one of his jobs kept him from dinner with us, his seat was left empty and I realize only now how significant that really was.
Sunday was my favorite day at that table. Mostly because there was a chance Dad would be awake when we got home from church and if he had felt up for it, he'd gone to Stop & Shop and picked up piles and pounds of salty, fatty luncheon meats and enough provolone cheese to go around. We'd layer our delicatessen atop dusty round rolls, soft enough to stick to the roofs of our mouths, sweet tangy mustard and miracle whip stinging at the corners of our tongues. I don't remember much about our conversations on these cherished Sunday afternoons, but the sensations these memories conjure up even today make me certain that these were the good days. Perhaps the best we ever had as a family of six.
Soon Dad would leave, first for a better job and then for another woman. And then your eldest child, would head off to a tiny college on the central-coast of Maine. Your only son would be the next to break away, at first just changing high schools and then staying with friends in different towns every night of the week. By the time I, your adopted and youngest daughter, started my sophomore year of high school there would be only you and me left, with my closest-in-age sister moving to a dormitory in northern New Hampshire that same fall.
Those next three years together were emotionally charged and complicated, and yet just beneath the surface of our differences and disputes lay an unusual love and unrelenting respect. I’m not sure either of us imagined our lives would work out the way they were, but the truth of the matter was that we’d endured that life-altering, heart-breaking change together and it came to connect us in ways not easily expressed then or now. the nights we actually did sit down together at that table, you at the head and me now on your left, were the times I felt closest to you. Your easy dinner suggestion of greasy eggs and cheese, squished and spilling from tasteless, white bread came to be my favorite, as it always brought unfamiliar care and comfort along with it. I knew even then that you knew how much I longed for those soft, easy sandwiches and that in your peaceful offering to make them for us you were telling me something about the unique-to-me ways in which you loved me too.
Overtime the same stilted table that had once held my Pound Puppies birthday cake and countless cheap china plates rimmed with uneaten kidney beans became less about food and more about contact. Notes scribbled at one another late in the night or first thing in the morning announcing after-work appointments or arbitrary permission slips needing parental signing. Countless pieces of torn white paper passed between us, all silently etching your curvy, unchanged handwriting into my soul.
Remembering that table now it becomes unforgivingly clear, that you were, without a doubt, our table, our center piece. Our place to gather, to land, to nourish. I find myself wondering about the last time we all gathered there, the less than appreciative sum-of-your-parts and it makes me wonder where all the inherently flawed pieces wound up. Much like the people that make up our family, it is hard to imagine they all stayed together. It is easier to imagine that perhaps our old table was in fact an exact replica of our fragmented family, that our table and its different pieces were always destined for the most unlikely places.
as a sweater-
borrowed. scratchy. wool.
it gets caught up, tangled
on all the other pieces of your life
old patterns are torn, ripped-ragged
a cloak, dripping in cement
it dries out and shrinks
soft belly, left dimpled & hanging-
it moves, the sweater, to your waist
a knot of certainty
tied loosely at your hips-
you learn to leave it
folded neatly in the top dresser draw
but later you find it at the bottom of your hamper-
when you are sure enough time has past
you bend, kneel. pull the sweater to your face,
drink in its musty smells-
for some time.
back & forth
round & round
at last, the darkest of the days will come:
you are unable to remember when you met it last.
the sweater, has vanished-
only then will the scarf arrive-
worn & faded and seemingly out of nowhere
a piece of you will know-
will delight in its softened wool,
in the sureness of its structure.
and even as it changes-
size, shape, direction
as it comes.
as it goes.
wrapped in it;