Tuesday, April 7 2020

insecurity, grocery shopping, and fajitas

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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone. I hope you're feeling well today. It's Tuesday, and with a day burned up in this work week, by now you should be getting a sense of what kind of week we're going to have. The dark, swirling rain clouds passing overhead set a dark and moody tone for the week, but the smell of rain is a nice contrast to that, isn't it?

Yesterday, I worked quietly and intensely. Being my first day off of ticket duty & on-call, I was eager to plunge into the quiet sanctum of individual work. In the morning I drafted some milestones for the project we're working on, then I worked on code - a lot of code.

I wandered downstairs around lunch time. While heating up some potatoes to eat, I anxiously prepared a grocery list. I was planning on going to Hy-Vee in the afternoon. Being our first trip in about a week and a half, we had a growing list of things to by. As my potoatoes and sausage popped and spurted in the microwave, I combed over the list, muttering to myself.

Marissa and Rodney joined me at the table, each with their own plate of leftover pizza. Rodney also enjoyed some Paw Patrol fruit snacks à la carte.

"I added some stuff to the grocery list," said Marissa, picking up a slice of pizza. I stared down at the grocery list in worry.

"You really need apples?" I said sharply. "And... oranges?"

"Yeah," Marissa replied. "I'd like to have some fresh fruit to snack on, I kind of miss that."

I rubbed my eyes, scrolling through the grocery list. "I'd rather use our crisper for things that keep a little better. I mean...," I sighed. "How many oranges do you want?"

"I think I'd kind of just like to eat lunch, we can talk about the list later," replied Marissa. I anxiously rose to my feet and opened the fridge. "We can fit maybe a few, but do you really need them? I have a big bag of carrots in there." I nervously flicked further in the grocery list on my phone. "Tortillas? No, sorry. We never go through all those. We have a big stack of stale tortillas here," I said, irritated.

"We'll use them up this time," she replied. "Rod and I can make quesadillas, those are great for lunch."

The conversation continued - tension growing as I seemingly put every grocery item on trial. At one point, Rodney even spoke up. "Calm down, dada," he said, holding his hand out in front of him like a jedi. We met eyes, and he smiled, picking up his pizza and taking another nibble out of the crust.

"It's OK, dude, Momma and I are just figuring something out," I said.

"Yeah," Marissa added. "Just adult stuff, don't worry about it sweetie. Just keep eating your pizza."

The heated discussion continued through lunch. "I'd like to figure out a different way to talk about groceries," said Marissa as things were winding down. "You get kind of insecure about it, and I'm afraid to say anything."

I nodded, looking down at my plate in thought. "That's true. It's a difficult time, and clearly how I'm handling the quarantine is very much wrapped up in how I feel about our kitchen and where we're storing food. But I also get frustrated when you're not clear about something you want."

"I'll be more clear with you, but what are you going to do on your end," replied Marissa. I paused for a long time in thought.

"That's fair. OK I have an idea," I said. "Maybe I can prime the pump, and before you say anything about the specifics, I just have to say aloud something like 'I trust you, I believe you appreciate me, and your intentions are good'."

"That's a good idea," said Marissa. "I like that. I'm sorry," said Marissa giving me a hug.

"Sorry too. This whole thing sucks. I used to love grocery shopping and now I hate everything about it. It's terrible," I shared.

"Yeah," said Marissa. "And I feel guilty because I can't come with. I feel so useless stuck at home."

I nodded. "Sorry again. I'll try to do better. And thanks for pointing out how insecure I can be about food, that was very perceptive and I appreciate that."

Marissa turned to Rodney, who was still happily sitting at the table in front of a slice of pizza. He hadn't taken any more bites from it in the last twenty minutes.

"See dude?" said Marissa. "We figured it out." Marissa gave me a high five and Rodney nodded in approval.

After work, I jumped in the car, fixing a mask over my face. My dad had sent me an extra he found in his basement, and in impeccable timing, it arrived that afternoon just before I left to get groceries. It was uncomfortable, difficult to breath, but I'd be lying if I didn't say it felt kind of cool.

Hy-Vee's parking lot looked the same, but there was a palpable tension in the air. Where I once used to carelessly shuffle around with Rodney four days a week now feels cold and lonely, like waiting in line at the airport TSA. There were colored arrows taped onto the floor, dictating which direction you should walk in the aisles to prevent getting close to other shoppers. There were signs and colored dots presenting a clear visual of the 6 foot distancing guideline.

I sighed deeply, scrolling through our endless grocery list. I wandered up and down the aisles, feeling a pang of guilt every time I forgot an item and had to back track, walking opposite to the arrows on the floor. Our cart was heavy and burdensome. As I rounded the frozen section, I snapped a quick pick of my grocery cart bursting at the seems, sending it to Marissa with the caption I'm in hell right now. She replied with a sad face.

Before checking out, I stood behind the thick red line at the bakery. A lad approached the counter.

"Can I have that red velvet cake?" I said. My voice was muffled by my mask. She held her ear and squinted.

"RED VELVET CAKE," I said pointing to a tiny cake in the front window. She nodded and handed it to me. It's so uncomfortable asking for something without being able to smile.

I parked in the driveway and began to unload groceries in our kitchen. Marissa started sorting meat in the freezer and setting the cans aside. "Will you put stuff away while I start on dinner?" I asked nervously glancing at the clock. "Crap, it's already seven," I complained.

Marissa navigated around me while I seasoned the single sirloin steak we bought and threw it onto hot oil. "Get ready for a smoke show," I laughed. The smell of seared meat, pepper, and cumin filled the air. Marissa spun by me to grate some cheese while I threw the onion and bell pepper into the pan.

"You know we're really meant to open a food truck," said Marissa. "How many people do you know who can work together in a kitchen this small without wanting to kill each other."

I cracked a smile while tossing the steak around in the hot oil. "That's true - it's like our super power. It would be a shame to waste that gift!"

I sliced the steak and threw it back into the pan. I grabbed a bottle of tequila from our top shelf and threw it into the mix. "Have you ever done that?" said Marissa, nervously watching the clear liquid fizzle and dance across the metal. I nodded dismissively, even though I couldn't answer truthfully.

We gathered at the table. Rodney looked with loving admiration at the bowl of fresh grated cheddar and steamy steak. "You made fajitas for Me? OH AWESOME!" he cried out. Marissa and I stared at each other in the kitchen in amusement.

We silently scarfed down our tacos. I paused after the first, holding my stomach. "This was a good call," I said. "I haven't had steak in a really long time. Thanks for pushing for us to make something cool today - I get grumpy on grocery day and I was close to giving up on this."

We put Rodney to bed, and before starting on chores for the night, Marissa and I stood out on the deck. "That was a good talk today," I said. "It was tough, but I feel like COVID-19 is making us deal with new things." Marissa nodded.

"Thanks for helping put stuff away and make dinner. That really lifted my spirits," I said. "And it was a huge help. I get overwhelmed with the huge amount of groceries."

"Yeah that was fun. I like helping in the kitchen," she said.

Thanks for stopping by this morning. Keep your pantry stocked, but more importantly, trust the intentions of the people around you. COVID-19 is probably leading to some difficult conversations, but there's lessons to be learned and there are opportunities to grow.