I have this particularly Irish habit. It’s not lying, exactly. It’s story-telling, or what my grandparents might have called “having a makey-up.” It’s more like putting on a much-too-small pair of jeans, where the material is stretched to almost-splitting, flesh rolls out the side. It will cover me, but the sides of the truth are seriously blown out and barely containing things. My general lack of discretion might make me more of a makey-upper than I ought to be, but sometimes I can’t help myself.
For instance, I have exactly zero Mediterranean roots, but I claim much of the region’s food as my heritage. It’s entrirely imagined. In my heart I really believe that at least my spiritual self comes from a climate with plenty of sun and delicious weather. My people actually ate a lot of potatoes and lived in rain and mud huts, and died young, but we do have some spectacular makey-ups, maybe for that very reason.
So when I say this kind of dish is my soul food, I mean it’s a dish from an imagined Mediterranean soul, one that laps up garlic sauce and swims in fresh lemon juice. I crave the flavors of a tagine in the way that I yearn for love. There’s something about the perfume of ras el hanout, olives and tomato broth that comforts my deeply. It’s like being in the arms of my momma, on one of the many times that I needed a good snuggle and loves. When the poop really hits the fan, I seek comfort for my soul in a bowl. One of my favorite comfort dishes on the planet, ever, is this Vegetable Tagine with Couscous and Charmoula.
This feeling of yearning is sometimes too awful for me to bear when I think of what kind of world my mom inhabits. She is in a confused and mysterious place where meaning doesn’t stick. The word dementia usually makes her mad at everyone. Her doctors are wrong and dumb. Her two friends who were afflicted with it don’t appear in her memory as sick any more. They sometimes don’t exist. When we talk about how she cannot go home again, she gives me that awful look of a pained, trapped animal and says she wants my brother to come get her NOW, and begins taking her pictures off her wall and packing her suitcase.
Miraculously there is no cat carrier for her dear Mr Shadow, or there is a letter on its way to her today, or the car is broken down. Currently, we have a single story we keep putting on for her: the house was damaged when she came out for dad’s hospital stay and it’s still being repaired. So far it’s been in repair for eight months. I hate this particular pair of jeans, it’s cheap-as-shit material and embarrassingly visible stitching, the obviously not-brand-nameness of them. They don’t button right. I want to change them, but I can’t change anything.
If I told her right now that she were never going back, she would be miserable. Then she would forget. Then she would go back to asking when she could go home. So I put on the pants, the big-girl pants that I hate, and I let my soul be comforted by the food of my imaginary home.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —