The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

...a Dorito asks nothing of you, which is its great gift. It only asks that you are not there.

...after all, she had birthed us alone, diapered and fed us, helped us with homework, kissed and hugged us, poured her love into us. That she might not actually know us seemed the humblest thing a mother could admit.

But I loved George in part because he believed me; because if I stood in a cold, plain room and yelled FIRE, he would walk over and ask me why.

He made a good salary but he did not flaunt it. He’d been raised in Chicago proper by a Lithuanian Jewish mother who had grown up in poverty, telling stories, often, of extending a chicken to its fullest capacity, so as soon as a restaurant served his dish, he would promptly cut it in half and ask for a to-go container. Portions are too big anyway, he’d grumble, patting his waistline. He’d only give away his food if the corners were cleanly cut, as he believed a homeless person would just feel worse eating food with ragged bitemarks at the edges – as if, he said, they are dogs, or bacteria. Dignity, he said, lifting his half-lasagna into its box, is no detail.

I could feel the tears beginning to collect in my throat again, but I pushed them apart, away from each other. Tears are only a threat in groups.

I didn’t mind the quiet stretches. It was like we were trying out the idea of being side by side.

I knew if I ate anything of hers again, it would lkely tell me the same message: help me, I am not happy, help me -- like a message in a bottle sent in each meal to the eater, and I got it. I got the message.

I loved my brother, but relying on him was like closing a hand around air.

It seemed to happen in springs, the revealing of things.

It was like we were exchanging codes, on how to be a father and a daughter, like we'd read about it in a manual, translated from another language, and were doing our best with what we could understand.

It was the kind of conversation you could only hold in whispers.

I was right at the edge of their circle, like the tail of a Q...

I was with them for all of it, but more like an echo than a participant.

I watched as she added a question mark at the end. Arc, line, space, dot.

Joseph would reach out to me occasionally, the same way the desert blooms a flower every now and then. You get so used to the subtleties of beige and Brown, and then a sunshine-yellow poppy bursts from the arm of a prickly pear.

…kissing George was a little like rolling in caramel after spending years surviving off rice sticks.

Light is good company, when alone; I took my comfort where I found it, and the warmest yellow bulb in the living-room lamp had become a kind of radiant babysitter all its own.

Many kids, it seemed, would find out that their parents were flawed, messed-up people later in life, and I didn't appreciate getting to know it all so strong and early.

Mom flipped through the magazines like the pages needed to be slapped.

Mom loved my brother more. Not that she didn't love me - I felt the wash of her love every day, pouring over me, but it was a different kind, siphoned from a different, and tamer, body of water. I was her darling daughter; Joseph was her it.

My eyelids are my own private cave, he murmured. That I can go to anytime I want.

Several of the girls at the party had had sex, something which sounded appealing but only if it could happen with blindfolds in a time warp plus amnesia

Sometimes, she said, mostly to herself, I feel I do not know my children...

It was a fleeting statement, one I didn't think she'd hold on to; after all, she had birthed us alone, diapered and fed us, helped us with homework, kissed and hugged us, poured her love into us. That she might not actually know us seemed the humblest thing a mother could admit.

That at the same time of this very intimate act of concentrating so carefully on the details of our mother's palm and fingertips, he was also removing all traces of any tiny leftover parts, and suddenly a ritual which I'd always found incestuous and gross seemed to me more like a desperate act on Joseph's part to get out, to leave, to extract every little last remnant and bring it into open air.

To see someone you love, in a bad setting, is one of the great barometers of gratitude.

We hit the sidewalk, and dropped hands. How I wished, right then, that the whole world was a street.

When I crossed the street, according to my mother, I still had to hold someone’s hand. At ten, I would be able to cross streets unhanded. I’d held on to Joseph’s many times before, for many years, but holding his was like holding a plant, and the disappointment of fingers that didn’t grasp back was so acute that at some point I’d opted to take his forearm instead. For the first few street crossings, that’s what I did, but on the corner at Oakwood, on an impulse, I grabbed George’s hand. Right away: fingers, holding back. The sun. More clustery vines of bougainvillea draping over windows in bulges of dark pink. His warm palm. An orange tabby lounging on the sidewalk. People in torn black T-shirts sitting and smoking on steps. The city, opening up.
We hit the sidewalk, and dropped hands. How I wished, right then, that the whole world was a street.

When the light at Vernon turned green, we stepped into the street and George grabbed my hand and the ghosts of our younger selves crossed with us.

With my hand in his, I looked at all the apartment buildings with rushes of love, peering in the wide streetside windows that revealed living rooms painted in dark burgandies and matte reds.

You try, you seem totally nuts, you go underground.