The Smell of Apricot Chicken Reminds Me of SuperTed

Last night, as evening began to hide the clouds that had owned the sky all day, I stepped into my parents’ house to collect my daughter. A wall of scent and memory flew into my face and settled around my heart. It lifted the corners of my mouth and made me stop, and breathe.

Apricot Chicken!

I could smell Apricot Chicken cooking on a cold Autumn evening, whilst standing in the downstairs living room of my family home, right in front of the wood fire.

When I was five, six… sixteen years of age, I would sit in that room, watching ABC evening TV, while mum cooked dinner upstairs. In those days, she would have just dragged herself in from a long day in the operating theatre. The smell of Betadine would cling to her, and the sound of pots and pans and stirring and chopping would filter down the stairs, forcing us to turn the TV up with a grumble, completely oblivious to the fact that while we were annoyed that mum’s cooking was interfering with our television watching, mum was dead on her feet, knowing her day wouldn’t be over until dinner was cooked, the dishes were done, laundry washed, folded or ironed, and us selfish bastard kids had finally gone off to bed.

We’d sit there for hours, watching Danger Mouse, Trap Door and Roger Ramjet, waiting for Degrassi Junior High to come on. We’d laugh and fight, and ignore mum’s pleas for us to set the table for dinner, pretending we didn’t hear her, or telling her we’d be up in 5 minutes … we were such jerk liars.

Despite not wanting her to make any sound as she prepared our meal, we’d be desperate for dinner to be ready. The closer it got, the headier its scent, and the growlier our stomachs became.

Last night, that smell of Apricot Chicken took me back to that time, where I had my whole family at my fingertips, whenever I wanted (or didn’t want) them around.

And now my daughter is experiencing something almost identical to my own childhood, only hers comes without the scent of betadine and the stories from the operating theatre. And right now, it comes without brothers or sisters to fight with.

It also comes without the smell of Apricot Chicken, because they were actually cooking Ham and Leek Soup…(wtf??)

The building blocks you wish to crumble

Little girl. Big teeth. Eyes magnified by purple-rimmed glasses, one lens of which her mother has wrapped in kitchen paper to correct her newly diagnosed astigmatism… and yet the playground doesn’t taunt her. Nobody laughs at her. Or calls her four-eyes.

She plays with girls, with boys, her shy, chunky legs awkwardly trying to escape in a game of catch and kiss. Butterflies. A game of Witches (or hide and seek with a pointed hat).

Two years pass. Two years swinging from monkey bars, or bringing barbie dolls to school in a Grace Bros bag that had once carried those denim shorts she wore every weekend.

Sleepovers and secrets, giggles hidden behind hands as the divide began to emerge between boys and girls.

Filled up – that’s how she felt, all full of sun and smiling and the love of friends. Confidence, you’d probably call it, if you weren’t 8 years old with no real concept of what that meant.

Then a new face appeared – one with more confidence than everyone else combined. You didn’t need to know the word for it, you just knew she had it.

By association, so did we.

Until that day that the little girl with the big teeth and magnified eyes showed up to play with all her friends, and was met with silence, and a wall of shoulders covered in winter.

Her eyes locked with the girls she’d known since that first day she stepped into that giant kindergarten room. They couldn’t hold it. They stared at their feet, but she saw their own confusion, and .. something else she didn’t recognise.

Her heart beat faster.

“What have I done?” she asked them, confused.

Then angry.

Then sad.

Then scared.

“What have I done? Why won’t you talk to me?”

That silence, that cold fucking silence that stole the power from within her and lay doubt and self-blame at her own tiny feet. Her little brain tried to understand – logically, there was no explanation – the only reason someone would suddenly stop speaking to you was if you had done something bad.

So what had she done? Why wouldn’t they tell her?

The bell rang. Class started.

She couldn’t concentrate. She had to know. Nothing came to mind. She hadn’t said anything mean, or left anyone out. She’d brought dolls for everyone the day before. Her Grace Bros bag sat next to her chair, little plastic faces peering up at her.

Recess. She tried to speak to them. They walked away, no answers. Eyes began to watch, to whisper. The playground buzzed with the news. An empty metal seat beneath a tree held her nervous, confused, body as she cried for the first time. Alone. She had never been alone, before.

The bell rang for class. Nobody tried to speak to her. Nobody volunteered to sit with her. Nobody seemed to understand what had happened, but instincts kicked in – the Alpha had chosen an Omega.

The rest of the day was spent in a fog. She doesn’t remember walking to the bus stop, waiting silently in the bus line, or even the trip home. There was too much incomprehension to process.

She didn’t want to go to school the next day. Her body had never known depression or fear like this. It didn’t know what to do with it. She didn’t say a word to her parents, to any teachers. She climbed off the bus and walked into the playground.

To her friends, smiling at her. And to the Alpha, who put her arm around her and asked her why she didn’t sit with them yesterday. Had they done something wrong?

She remembers her heart filling with relief. Gratitude. Safety. And she remembers how easy it was to put aside the questions she had in case those questions saw her put out in the cold again.

She remembers how quickly the role of victim became hers. How quickly self-preservation crept into her makeup. How alert she became to warning signs that she was going to be picked again and how normal it felt for your stomach to boil, your heart to pound and for a part of your brain to start being told to be quiet when it whispered that this wasn’t normal.

“What is your biggest fear?”, asked a stupid Buzzfeed quiz.

I couldn’t answer.

“The silence of a person you love” wasn’t one of their multiple choices.

I Eat Breakfast Now – A woman’s struggle with the pressures of society in a world she doesn’t understand. A world that may never understand her.

I used to think breakfast was a jerk

I used to think breakfast was a jerk

When I was a teenager, I decided that I wanted to be one of those people who enjoyed yoghurt. I wanted to like it, because in my mind, yoghurt-eating-people were just better people. The same as tea-drinkers and people who eat cereal without sugar.

I had formed this theory at a very young age, following time spent in the home of a childhood friend, named ThatGirl*.

ThatGirl’s family were farm people. Her mum wore thick, heavy skirts with patchwork houses sewn onto them. Her dad was extremely tall, with a soft voice and a kind smile.

Their house was just around the corner from mine, and where my house was new, and modern, hers was old and sweet and cottage-like. It was always cold inside, but not in a bad way. It was cold in a quiet, well-behaved kind of way.

At ThatGirl’s house, shoes were taken off before you went inside. In my house, we were yelling and screaming at each other far too often to hear mum sigh “Girls, please. Take your shoes off”, as she struggled through the door beneath bags of groceries that we didn’t bother to help her carry.

At ThatGirl’s house, school uniforms came off the moment you got home. I would crumple mine from hitching it up to sit cross-legged on the floor, playing Mortal Kombat. I would spill dinner on it from concentrating on The Simpsons instead of what I was eating, and then I’d throw it on the floor, with the rest of my clothes, for mum to collect, clean and iron.

Such contrasts in family life could not go unnoticed, and I began to form completely unfounded opinions based around these differences.

For instance, I began to view anyone who drank tea rather than coffee as a person to emulate. People who drink tea probably also write letters to relatives and say “gosh” instead of “god”.

People who needed to ask their parents’ permission to drink a glass of coke probably also never got sent to the car at every family barbecue, like I did. To be fair, they probably didn’t pretend to be a dog like I did, either.

Most of all, I believed that the key to being The Perfect Person, was by eating breakfast. It had nothing to do with forcing myself to be more responsible or anything.

Nope. All about the breakfast.

Every day, breakfast, I mean. Not just “Bacon and Eggs on Sundays because Mum’s Not at Work” breakfast, but a real, proper, healthy breakfast.

ThatGirl had wholegrain toast with marmalade or a bowl of muesli with fresh fruit. She had a glass of orange juice, or a glass of milk.

I had chocolate bavarian and coke, because Nan refused to send me to school on an empty stomach.

In high school, I recalled that old theory of mine, and decided to aim for perfection once more – maybe as a teenager I would be able to handle breakfast, yoghurt, or tea?

Guess what?! I totally handled the shit out of yoghurt.

I handled it so well that I went through a 2 Litre tub every day for almost a month. I didn’t become a better person, I just became a much larger person who now had extra chins to spare.

I am now 31, and I am also a month and a half into being a non-smoker. It is the first time in 18 years that nicotine hasn’t flooded my body, and once again, I find myself trying to be a “good person”.

This time, I’m aiming higher than “yoghurt-enjoying” good person status, though. This time, it’s all or nothing.

The first day I tried eating a healthy breakfast, it took 2 hours for me to struggle through 100g yoghurt, 1/4 cup muesli and a handful of berries. Today, a week and a bit later, I’m down to just 1 hour.

If I keep practising, who knows where I could be in six months, a year?

Perseverance: If I can use it to make myself enjoy cold, wet cereal first thing in the morning, anyone can! *tooth sparkle*

(PS. Yay, No smoking!)

*not her real name.

Image credit: -Marcus-