Sitting at the dinner table was getting harder. We only ever sat there on Sunday nights or on holidays, and since I worked late on the weekends, we never had the chance to eat together anymore as a family. That, and my mother didn't like to eat past 7:30, which was long before I came home. But the holidays were fast approaching, and I was on Thanksgiving break from school. She relaxed her eating schedule so that I was not the only one eating when I came home late.
On Thanksgiving, I was at work all day, leaving at nine that morning when she was just beginning to take the turkey out of the fridge, and I did not come home until after eight, hungry- starving - after not being able to eat during my busy shift. When I walked through the front door, the different smells hit me. The savory smell of the turkey floated down the stairs with the sweet scent of the browned marshmallows on the sweet potatoes. In the dining room, I found the fine china set out on the table and wine was being poured for me and my father. The aromas of the food were heavy, and I felt my stomach rumble. Sitting greedily at the table, I waited for my parents to sit down. They placed the food out: the handsome turkey in the middle, the potatoes on one end of the table, various vegetables on the other side, and a cutting board with a fresh toasted baguette with a plate of softened butter wherever space was found.
"Salut," we said as we brought out glasses together. I was happy my mother was eating with us, this once-a-year meal I didn't want to have to reheat and enjoy by myself (as had happened before due to work, and would happen again in years to come).
"How is your semester going?" my mother asked as she cut into the baguette. The crispy crust crunched under the weight of the knife. I closed my eyes at the sound, knowing it was a prelude to the rest of the meal.
"Fine," I said, opening my eyes to serve myself. "We are getting into the final stretch, and finals are right around the corner. IT is giving me a run for my money, but the professor said he would have the last class as a review session."
I cut my own slice of bread and spread butter on it before passing it on to my father. He, too, cut a slice of the bread, and I had to close my eyes at the sound. My hands started trembling as I took some potatoes, and the sounds of forks and knives scraping on plates made tears come to my eyes as my heart started beating fast, like I had just finished running. My skin vibrated like it did when I was scared, and I knew I needed to leave the room to keep from breaking down.
I can't do this, I thought. I put my hands on my knees under the table to try and calm myself down. But at the first bite of food, the first crunch of the crust in teeth, the first swallow of wine, I knew there was no calming myself down.
"I can't," I said aloud, pushing my plate the small distance away from me before it hit a serving platter. I brought my knees to my chest and my hands to me ears. I used my knees to press harder on my hands, blocking more of the sound out as tears started to fall from my eyes. I heard my dad put his fork down, and I could feel he was looking at me with sad eyes. My mother paused in her eating and reached out and touched my trembling shoulder.
"This is hard on her," my father said.
"I know," my mother said, and I was surprised that she was taking it seriously, like she finally believed me.
There was a pause. And then I heard my father push his chair away from the table.
"Where are you going?" my mother asked.
"I'm going to eat somewhere else, since it's my chewing that has her like this."
I shook my head and glanced up at him. "Sit down," I told him.
He followed what I said and took his seat again. He glanced at my mother.
"You can eat somewhere else if you need to, sweetie," she said to me. She tried to wipe the wetness from my face, but I looked away from her.
"Just eat," I told them, and I went back to my curled position as they finished their meal as fast as they could. I heard both their chairs scrape against the floor as they finished. Unfolding myself, I watched my father sit back down in his chair as he poured himself more wine. I reached out and touched my food, not surprised to find it cold. I stood, taking shuddering breaths. I waited to my food to warm in the microwave, and my dad watched me. Sitting back down, he reached over and rubbed my shoulder.
"What does it feel like?" he asked.
I took a bite of my food before answering.
"It feels like a panic. Like the only way for me to get through is to either start screaming, or to get up and run."
"Fight or flight?"
"It's okay.""And now?"