Face to Face

Losing someone sitting beside you, not knowing their suffering, not seeing the fraying of the bridge between her reality and yours, is painful. It wells up. It will always surface, when you remember her long-lost soy braised chicken wings, her heroic feat of simply being there when you leap into her bed at 3AM convinced that you're running for your life, her definitely true stories of ghost marriages and hiding from tigers. Then up bobs the fear: who will I lose next and where in the world is the pause button? That is staying for now, buoyed by every repeat story my mom tells me, every wrong turn my dad makes.

But I'm at least facing my new grandma. She still tells fantastic stories, and now she admires shapes in the clouds, her luck at having such a comfortable home on a grassy hill above the floods, her skill at acquiring all the furnishings for no cost. Sometimes she still wonders if this is a just hotel, nipped by the deeper memories of my parents' home a few minutes away, the still deeper memories of her danwei in Guangzhou and her ancestral home outside of the city. She still wonders every night where everyone is eating tonight without us two, and whether we should set aside some leftovers in case anyone comes home hungry.

She's filled many a belly in her four score and seven years. I'm learning her tastes, and more so, the basics of preparing and eating good food -- something I'd hoped to learn from her someday, something I hope I will still learn from sharing meals with her now. Today she criticized every dish I prepared. She didn't just disapprove of the food, she shook her head at the very seed stock from which the plants grew. I can't say whether she was just especially homesick for China; apparently, the rice, soy, and sugar snap peas are all grown better there. But I will keep trying with what I've got here. More ginger? Lower heat?