An except from Twirling Naked in the Streets and No-One Noticed…
My father finally grew tired of my embarrassing behavior. Every time he took me somewhere I refused to eat unless I smelled it first, which didn’t guarantee I would eat it, and I sure was not going to try it. More of often than not I wrinkled my nose, turned away, and pronounced, “I’m not eating that!”
I wasn’t trying to be difficult, or rude. I didn’t even comprehend those ideas. I had no idea that my behaviors could hurt someone’s feeling, why would it? My intention was never to make anyone feel bad. It had nothing to do them; it was just that stinky food.
Every Christmas Eve my parents packed us in the car to Aunt Jenny and Uncle Eddie’s house for dinner. Uncle Eddie was my grandfather’s youngest brother. It was a short car ride; he only lived seven blocks from our house.
“You are going to eat whatever Aunt Jenny gives you,” my father announced on our way there. “Do you understand me?”
I said nothing, but the ball that was bouncing around inside of my belly got bigger. There were often many stinky things on the table like artichoke hearts. What if she gives me artichoke hearts? If I don’t eat them Dad will be mad.
Aunt Jenny’s table was set with a red table cloth, fine white china trimmed in gold with matching golden utensils. Napkins the color of Christmas spruce were rolled inside golden leaved holders. Ivory candles rose from holy leaves in the center of the table.
The kids table was set up in the center of the living in front of the Christmas tree. The plastic table cloth had pictures of Santa, reindeers, and elves. There was an assortment of candies in small bowls in the center. The plates were paper, and the utensils plastic.
I never liked sitting at the kids table. Not because I didn’t like the table, but because I would have to sit with the other kids. Kids I did not recognize, even though they always seemed to know me. “Cousins,” is what my grandmother called them, but to me they were strangers. I preferred to sit at the grown-up table.
The strange cousins ran around screeching and laughing as they went by while I sat near the tree worrying about when it would be time for dinner. This time I wanted to sit at the kids table.
Father had me sit right next to him, something he never insisted upon. A heaping load of steaming lasagna was slid onto my plate. Sauce oozed down the sides of the pasta, cheesy strings of mozzarella hung off the sides of the plate. I was able to breathe at last. I could eat that; I liked lasagna.
After waiting for my lasagna to cool down I scooped some up with my fork, brought it to my nose and took a deep breath—breathing in the smells of fresh basil, tomatoes, cheese—
It felt like an explosion. My breath caught in my throat, tears filled my eyes. My hand stung. The fork flew through the air, across the table, and landed with a resounding clank splattering sauce on the table.
“Joseph! What the hell is wrong with you?” Grandma yelled.
“She is going to eat whatever is put in front of her,” he said.
My chest quivered with each sob that started coming out of my mouth. The table burst into shouts and commotion.
“Joe, calm down,” Aunt Jenny said, “it’s alright, she doesn’t have to eat it.”
But it wasn’t alright, it was never alright again. From that night on, every time I smelled my food before eating, which was every time I ate, in front of my father he smacked the food out of my hands. “Just eat it!” He said.
The more he tried to smack the habit of smelling my food out of me, the more I needed to smell it. Eventually, I became immune to the smacks.