And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
During the week, it’s a rare occurrence for my family to all sit down and eat at the same time. Our schedules are varied, our activities are everywhere. Dinner is made and left to sit on the stove or in the crockpot or in the oven and we self-serve as we trot past. Sometimes, we wave at each other.
But traditionally, on Saturday, we go out. All three of us. We choose a sit-down restaurant, we sit down and actually spend some time.
Lately, though, that’s grown difficult. Michael and Olivia are now both working in retail – Olivia part-time as she saves money for college, and Michael full-time to keep us in health insurance. We’ve been married nineteen years, and he’s always worked usual day-job hours – 9 – 4, M – F. But now, his hours are everywhere and there is no such thing as a weekend.
It’s been an adjustment. They’re often home too late to go out. I’ve been missing them. But I’ve also been missing my one night out a week. A nice meal, cooked just for me. Set gently on a table. Delivered with a smile.
This past Saturday, Olivia was working until 8:00 and Michael until 9:00. At 6:30, I found myself sitting in the parking lot of Target, contemplating going home and heating up a can of Spaghetti-Ohs.
I didn’t want to.
And I thought, Maybe I should take myself out to dinner?
I’ve read so many scenes in books of people, both women and men, going out to dinner by themselves and feeling like a spectacle. I’ve seen television shows covering this. Frasier and The New Adventures of Old Christine come to mind immediately, with Frasier and Christine each respectively sitting by themselves in nice restaurants and being treated as pitiful and lonely or as having the plague. I didn’t want to be pitiful or plague-y. I just wanted to have a nice dinner.
Hemi and I turned toward my favorite restaurant instead, Spring City Restaurant, one place that has sangria that I can still drink, despite my allergies. They also have a hot and comforting cream of broccoli soup and a hot chicken salad sandwich that is out of this world. I’d brought student manuscripts with me – I bring them wherever I go – in case I stopped for coffee somewhere. Now, I pictured myself in this quiet, softly lit restaurant, where they know my name, and I suddenly became hungry for more than food.
There is a waiter named Raoul. How can you not love a waiter named Raoul? Our usual table by the fireplace was taken, but he seated me close by. Interestingly, he didn’t ask where my family was. He just ran to fetch my sangria. Then he took my order and, other than delivering my meal, he let me be.
I sat there, in that restaurant, and I didn’t feel stared-at. I was warm and it was familiar. So much hasn’t felt familiar lately. I studied the flames in the fireplace. Music played, a mix of Christmas and popular, and I hummed along. I read my pages, drank my sangria, ate my piping hot food – a meal that wasn’t reheated in the microwave.
Granted, there wasn’t the thrum of conversation and laughter. There weren’t the two I was missing and there wasn’t the family time I craved. But I could sit there, be taken care of, gently, and think of them. Project myself to each place where they were, and where I would be picking them up later. Picture our house that night, with voices in it, the way it should be. I knew that in the late hours, there would be a moment when Michael and I would be in our side-by-side recliners and he would have one hand on my arm and Olivia would come in and sit on the arm of my recliner and tuck herself under my blanket and for that moment, we would all be there again.
Olivia is going to college next year. I don’t know how long these moments will still be in my life.
But that dinner, sitting there alone in the familiar, a quiet Raoul making sure I had almost everything I needed, I thought of those two people and I wasn’t alone. This was a bridge-dinner – something that comforted me and led me always back home and to them.
Times and lives change. We find ways of making it work. Even eating alone at a restaurant while holding a silent conversation in our heads with those that aren’t there.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.