I want to throw a party.
My timing — I know — is not ideal. We haven’t welcomed anyone to our table for months. Who knows when we’ll be able to do it again? But I’ve already started planning.
Because for every birthday and anniversary, Thanksgiving or Christmas we miss this year, there is a Thursday or a Monday still to come, ready to be celebrated.
So, I am scheming to celebrate the return of celebrations, whenever it comes.
I won’t care anymore that the table is too small, the guest list too large. I won’t even bother with the full Murphy’s Oil Soap-scrub of every wooden surface (though my late grandmother would be mortified).
I will tuck away a few dollars each week to buy a piece of meat I can’t justifiably afford, something to be smeared with olive oil and salt and pepper and roasted until the fat bubbles and the windows fog. I will walk through the aisles of the West Side Market like a judge, weighing my decision.
This time, I tell myself, I will relish the fuss of the hour before the guests arrive, the hiss of gas on all four burners. I will surrender myself to the rush of not quite knowing what my hands are doing, which dish I just salted and which wants acid now.
I resolve not to unspool a thread of swear words when the first guests arrive 10 minutes early, or when the crowd throngs the kitchen (always the kitchen) and the sweat beads on my forehead.
I will try to find the still point in this whirl of friends, even as the casserole scorches my oven mitts.
This, after all, is what I have missed all these months. The chance to chase down stragglers and seat them at the dining room table or the foldouts we’ve makeshifted against it.
I will remember that Joe prefers his Knob Creek neat and Daniel his Johnnie Walker with a little water. A cabernet for Amy and Cyn, something a sommelier could insufferably describe as “impetuous” or “bombastic.” For John and Sian, both 20 years sober, the bottle of sparkling cider on ice.
When the pandemic arrived in Ohio this past March, we met it stoically enough, if only because we did not know how long it would last. We dug in, shut down and never really opened up again.
We tried to adapt, because we were lucky enough to be able to work from home, lucky enough to have a home to work from. But we did not suspect it — the disease, the quarantine, the “new normal” — would last this long.
No, that’s not exactly right. The lessons of history and the failure of our leaders to heed them suggested it would last every bit this long. We just could not imagine how long “this long” would feel.
Now I am trying to imagine its end. I think of the words I will say when I raise my drink to an overcrowded table, all these faces I have seen only across the unknown miles of various screens.
I wonder who will be the first of them — probably Brad or Jeff — to laugh and shout me down, to clink their glasses to the end of my interminable toast rather than the end of the pandemic. To say they didn’t know which would go on longer.
The table talk — at first — is of the times. Maybe we speak of the long waits for the vaccine and the lingering tenderness in our shoulders from the needle’s stick. Soon enough we turn to what’s before us. Because Arin still fries her latkes in schmaltz, and Andy has assembled one of his famous cheese plates, and Natasha has just spooned up a heap of her jollof rice with all the crusty edges.
Because we said not to bring anything, but everyone brought something. Because everyone has lost something in this time, and some have lost more than we can name.
All this seems far away from here and now. Who knows when we can? Who knows how it will feel? Though I think it will feel like the strangeness of home after a long time away. For what was ever stranger than to return home? What was home but the dream we dreamt of it?
Because the awful times last longer than we can bear, and the best nights disappear as if they never happened. We won’t remember who left last, or when, or why I fell asleep on the couch with all the lights still on. We will wish we had taken some pictures — or be relieved we didn’t.
The morning comes — it always does — too soon. I wander the house like the ruins of the fallen Rome. If not for the stabbing in my head, I could admire the catch of sunlight in the green and brown glass of the empties.
So, a breakfast of coffee and Advil and the leftover wedge of Gina’s lasagna I had the good sense to hide. Then back to work, the tink, tank, tunk of glasses and dishes and knives and forks. Maybe a moment to sit and try to remember Lydia’s story about her dad or the joke that Missy told.
Maybe a while just to sit and not think of anything at all, grateful again for a moment to myself and a little quiet in the house.