The smell of simmering tomatoes and basil. He used to cook on the weekends. He was half Italian, so it was usually spaghetti and meatballs. If he was feeling ambitious, he’d make sausages. He told me he had learned the recipe from his uncle.
He never said which uncle. I never met any of them. The census records say his mother had three brothers. One of them was actually listed as “Junior.” Dad had an Uncle Junior. Years later, watching The Sopranos, I wanted to laugh but couldn’t. How much were they like his (my) family?
Who knows? Not me.
Sometimes I wonder why I don’t ask him about these things. Then I remember: “Wait, what? Your mother had hepatitis?”
My family is based on alternative facts and fake news.
He worked for the NSA – the No-Such-Agency. For a long time, there was no Google Street View of the neighborhood we lived in when we first moved back to the States, even though it’s a heavily populated area.
A lot of things are suspiciously blank.
He used to cook spaghetti and meatballs on the weekends. He was a better cook than she was.
The way he formed the meatballs. So intent and precise.
The careful way he pronounced his words. The fake British-y accent he cultivated, so that once when he called me at work my boss said “There’s some Indian guy on the phone for you.”
The way he used to wash my hair when I was small, carefully scooping the water away from my forehead so it wouldn’t get in my eyes. I didn’t want her to wash my hair. I was always afraid she would drop me.
When he left for the last time, the smell of spaghetti and meatballs was what I missed the most. I knew I’d never smell it again. Even if he cooked it somewhere else, it wouldn’t smell the same.
It was a Saturday morning and she was at work, and he was home but he wasn’t cooking. He was upstairs in the bedroom. Packing. He was always packing, but there was something different about it this time. I couldn’t put my finger on what.
He came downstairs and he was crying. I’d never seen him cry before, not even when they announced they were getting divorced and everybody else was crying. And he said he couldn’t stay anymore, and he took his suitcase and a couple of boxes and went out to his crappy blue Plymouth Valiant and drove away.
I wonder if she knew he was leaving. I wonder what she knew, and when she knew it.
All the places he said we’d go. The things we were going to do. I learned not to hope for much. I learned not to listen when people made plans.
For a long time, she would ask me why I hated Christmas so much. Was it because he left? It was only after she’d stopped asking that the answer came to me: no, it was because he didn’t take me with him.