An Unctuous, Slow-Cooked Love

“Do you wanna get wings after class?”

They weren’t the first words I spoke to Stephen, but they were the first marinated in mustering up the courage to ask him out and bump uglies already.  We were seated in the back of Mr. Duffy’s classroom, me having just royally failed my senior AP History midterm, due largely in part to already being accepted into art school and also because I was distracted by my first real, bawling-in-my-car-outside-Kenny’s-house teenage breakup. I had turned 180 in my seat to face him and breathily proposition an afternoon date: You. Me. Voracious ripping of meat from bone. Red hot smacking of lips. Guys like girls who can eat, I read in a Cosmopolitan once and had inferred from those “didn’t age well” mid-2000’s burger & beer commercials starring chesty bottle blondes and a firehose, inexplicably.

Thing is, I actually DID love to eat, much to the detriment of my parents’ bank accounts. I’d eat triple my weight in whatever they put in front of me at the dinner table, then follow the meal with a barrage of sweet, then salty, then sweet again snacks stored in our Lazy Susan. The late 90s suburban cropping up of affordable mid-range chain restaurants soon became their saving grace in trying to satiate my appetite – in fact, Binghamton was one of the first places to open an Olive Garden franchise, and the closest geographically at the time, and so we would legitimately make the monthly road trip from Scranton so I could drink raspberry iced tea out of a collectible cup and all but lick the Italian dressing from my salad plate. When the more local Don Pablo’s opened up in Dickson City, its terracotta facade and colorful streamers was a $7.99 chicken flautas beacon for feeding a preteen with an overzealous stomach on a tight wallet. I can still taste the queso dip, the warm pressed chips the size of my palm, the molten butterscotch skillet apple turnover.

But it was the few and far between “fancy” dinners with more well-off family friends who were treating (eating shrimp cocktail at Ruth’s Chris in Hoboken or dipping bread in seasoned oil at the Macaroni Grill) that were, to my teenage self, a champagne and caviar lifestyle I not only desperately desired, but was certain I would manifest one day when I had money of my own. Just one taste of filet mignon sizzling in butter and sneaky underage glasses of pinot grigio, and I was hooked. I would will fine wining and dining into existence.

To this, my Aunt would tell me: “Marry rich.” My Mom would say: “Marry a man who can cook.” I would give myself the best advice: “Find a man who loves to eat as much as you.”

The discourse surrounding chicken wings had come up in classroom downtime weeks prior, as it often does for Scrantonians (a hot wing is to The Electric City as a cheesesteak is to The City of Brotherly Love: a point of contention among locals and tourists alike); and today I had the sudden hankering for a vinegary buffalo sauce…dark, defined brow bones and warm, amber eyes to match…a crispy, yet meaty drumstick…a shoulder-length mane of wavy brown locks with natural caramel highlights…tangy blue cheese…a lean, muscular, six foot stature…crisp celery…a protruding Adam’s apple on which I’d like to put my mouth.

He took the bait, and so off we went in my white Toyota Corolla (I can’t believe he’s sitting in my car!), a mid-afternoon jaunt on a cold, overcast Friday to Cosgrove’s on Greenridge Street, per Stephen’s suggestion that they had some of the best wings in town.  We were the only customers in the whole dingy establishment and sat a little too close for casual at an awkward round table.  I wore my signature Express fit that I thought was hot shit at the time: a lacy black camisole under a sheer white ruched blouse, slacks, pointy heels, turquoise accent jewelry, and a hideous cropped moto jacket.  I felt stuffed like a taxidermic Turducken in that too-tight ensemble and so decided, after all that damn talk of chicken, that I’d rather a BLT with fries.  Stephen ordered a meatball sub and chips out of polite reverence so as to not be the only one licking buffalo sauce from his fingers, I imagine.  Though our conversation was shockingly effortless, I still made the conscious choice to not put on my usual spectacle of cow-mouthed, elbows-splayed dining reserved for close family and friends, instead chewing slowly with my mouth closed and doggy-bagging half of my sandwich.  He WAS student body Vice President, after all, and I was just a messy bitch.

I gave him a ride home, my stomach already growling with plans to eat my leftovers the second I got home. We hugged goodbye, his fluffy brown and white Volcom hoodie emitting the scent of a family dog, and I watched him climb the stairs to the front porch of his grand East Scranton home. On my drive home to Southside, I was giddy with the prospect of seeing him again, of finally severing the last sinews of that palpable sexual tension between us that had dry-aged finely like a ribeye the past year.

And to think, if our last names were off even one single letter alphabetically, we would have never went on that date to Cosgrove’s.  Instead, he would’ve been seated all the way in the front of the next row in history class and homeroom, the taut, cotton outline of his shoulder muscles I would admire forlornly from afar but never once get the pleasure of tracing with my lips.  Thanks to our fathers, my “Festa” almost always sat beside or in front of his “Ferguson” in every classroom and assembly seating arrangement.  Our junior year, scheduled during the same back-to-back 6th and 7th periods, this serendipitous scramble of consonants and vowels placed us in the same lab group for, appropriately enough, Chemistry class, followed by fucking around as the tall ones in the back on the same Badminton team for gym class. 

For four straight years, our boxy, gray metal lockers touched, like tombstones of those old, hometown married couples that die within minutes of one another.  

Initially, we weren’t “friends” outside of school, per se, but the tried and true ingredients of him bouncing wooden molecular balls into my cleavage during Chemistry and my booty shorts/holster of ready-made sexual innuendos during gym forged the type of flirtatious relationship unique to high school: casual head nods, discreet smiles and private in-jokes when crossing paths in the narrow hallways and feeling more than a little sad when they were absent for the day, even though we were both dating other people at the time.  

So after our first unofficial date luncheon, he soon leveled up to be my ride-or-die shotgun occupant, edging out my two best girl friends on the merit of his dick alone.  He was tall, athletic, intelligent, charismatic, funny, well-liked in all circles, resembled That ‘70s Show-era Ashton Kutcher and was actually making out with *me* in the parking lot of the Southside McDonald’s.  It didn’t take long to officially christen our eye-fucks-through-eye-goggles connection in the Chemistry lab, and I soon found myself mounting him on my day bed without a condom, the first of many times.  Finding somewhere to fuck was easy, as my mom was already half-moved in with her new fiancé, and so I’d simply bring him back to the living room couch or move it up to my bedroom whenever I pleased, like I owned the damn place.  It was more of a challenge at his mother’s place, but we still made do in the short window before she came home from work, my knees sustaining severe rug burn from the rough living room carpet.

Our mouths were always occupied with food or one another, an infatuation fermenting nicely, like fruit soaking at the bottom of a sangria, an endless supply of oral fixation, vibrant and citrusy on the tongue.

We spent countless nights aimlessly driving around, ferreting out fatty cuisine as replacement for our naturally rapid metabolisms and calories burned during marathon, raw-dog sex: his one arm on the wheel of his mom’s Ford Taurus transporting us to various drab NEPA fast food destinations that felt like an exotic vacation when his long fingers would snake through mine on the center console, despite being in the drive-thru of the Drinker Avenue Burger King in Dunmore. We’d hotbox the car, glug Monster energy drinks, engorge ourselves on a second, late-night dinner of Triple Baconators and a dessert of Mint Mint Chocolate Chocolate Chip Chip at Coldstone Creamery, and then park at the lookout and diddle one another.  It wasn’t chocolate and wine as an aphrodisiac, but it was exclusively OURS.  

It was in the parking lot of the Dickson City Walmart where we fell in love, though, munching on stale donut holes from the nearby Sheetz and listening to the mixed CD I burned for us, labelled “Peanut Butter + Peanut Butter,” an ode to how we were more alike than different, a double heaping of the same ingredient on separate slices of bread, and completely indistinguishable when combined. Sure, he hated The Beatles/I grew up on them; I had Only Child Syndrome™️/he was as selfless as Mother Teresa.  But fundamentally…chef’s kiss. Neither one of us was religious. We both refused to buy into the hype that high school was “the best years of your life.”  We hated Scranton and counted the days until we could move out for college. We didn’t foresee children in our future. We especially didn’t believe in the construct of marriage, having both come from divorce (our fathers’ last names blessed us with one another, but left with us in their wake some serious textbook daddy issues.)  

Our mutual affection soon extended far beyond just the physical and emotional: it was an insatiable craving for one another.  In fact, CRAVE was the word Stephen would tag like graffiti on pieces of paper stuffed into the tiny slots of my locker before he left for track meets: a secret sugar rush meant for just the two of us to enjoy.  Lovesick isn’t the word. 

We were emulsified.

The immersion of the families began soon after. In mid-April, one month before we graduated high school, Stephen got snowed in with me at my soon-to-be-stepdad’s house in the country during one of those rare Spring blizzards. He housed six (6) Sloppy Joe’s and my Mom didn’t stop harping on it. At last, she realized, her daughter’s Italian dressing on steak, extra heaping of Thanksgiving stuffing, larger-than-life appetite had finally met its match.

In May, we went to prom together, graduated, and I crashed his boys’ senior week, us insufferable lovebirds opting to fuck for hours on the OCMD hotel bed, drunk off chilled E&J Brandy, in lieu of beach bonfires. We’d get high afterwards and carb-load on an end table’s worth of McDonald’s.

In July, he told me loved me, and I said it back.

Sometime later that summer, I was blessed with his mother’s seasonal cooking: grilled pork tenderloin, sauteed peas, carrots and mushrooms, fresh spring mix salad, Milano cookie parfaits in dainty antique crystal glasses for dessert. If Stephen could cook even half as good as his mother, I was in for a real treat.

Cinco de Mayo in freshman year of college was our loose one-year anniversary, a date we arbitrarily landed on because we both liked Mexican food.  I spent it bawling into the ground taco meat growing cold on the kitchen table of my UArts dorm room.  Stephen was getting day-drunk at a Temple house party and had lost track of the time, stopped responding to my fervent texts and calls. He finally showed up, several hours later, no excuse to be had for missing our pivotal first anniversary meal besides his phone dying. We had our first screaming and crying match in the courtyard of Furness, and then ate cold tacos next to one another in silence.

It was the acrid principle of the matter that he forgot about DINNER, our lifeblood, that marred the taste of the Ortega taco sauce packets. That pissed me off more than the fact that I did the most loving thing you could do for someone else: cook them a meal. I almost broke it off that night, convincing myself we were doomed to fail, just like our parents.  Byproducts of a broken home, the vestiges of tortilla chips at the sad bottom of a Tostito’s bag.  But he cried salty tears onto my forehead, promising he would never dishonor Rule #1 of Us again, which is:

Never. Miss. Dinner.

Sophomore year of college, I’d visit him at Temple Towers every single weekend like clockwork, speeding my Volvo station wagon up 13th Street, vying for parking. Stephen had an in with the lunch ladies at Temple’s SAC and he would wait for me Friday nights so we could skip the line at Dos Manos for burritos the size of our heads (him: buffalo chicken; me: cowboy crunch, no salsa). On Saturdays, we’d rip shots of 151 before house parties, then afterwards plunder whatever was left on his Diamond Dollars credit at Temple Star, all but running back to Room 512 to bone on the balcony in the freezing cold, swathed in his red snowboarding jacket and mutual body heat for warmth, bellies full of the cheesy crab wontons and orange soda just consumed.

The blissful weekend of Bacardi in soda, dollar pizza and sneaky shared-room blowjobs, like an endless Horny & Hungry® buffet, would come to a shrieking boiling point during those dreaded peak Sunday scary hours of 4 to 6, when one or both of us would finally have to rip the kettle off the burner and say goodbye, it’s time to head out. It always seemed to be raining when I’d watch him walk away in my rearview, hesitant to drive south to where I actually lived. We had just eaten a midday hangover meal of Dos Manos for the second time, but my stomach still felt empty knowing I couldn’t see him for five more days. I hated that part.

We’d finally co-sign a lease junior year to officially live under the same roof together (with two other couples as roommates), learning the hard way how to shop on a college budget when you both had the metabolisms of growing teenage boys and one, maybe two, recipes under your belt. We’d park my car on the roof of the Fresh Grocer, fill the trunk with unrefined boxed foods, 3 for $5 Butterball turkey bacon packages, 4C iced tea canisters, and boneless skinless chicken breasts, stop by Checker’s anyway on the way home for burgers and fries, or maybe pick up one of those bang-for-your-buck ready-made fried chicken and two sides deals from the supermarket’s hot foods section. Squirreling away in our tiny bedroom on the second floor, he’d work on a PowerPoint on our full-sized bed while I crammed in a last-minute film pitch at the desk, the little styrofoam cups of mashed potatoes and gravy and shared greasy swigs from the same two-liter of Coke our own North Philly version of Sunday dinner – a cleanse after a weekend of stoop forties, a cathartic breaking of bread before the hectic school week. We’d roll over, too tired and full to make love, only now I could rest my chin in the crook of his neck and fall asleep instead of enduring a painful goodbye.

In 2010, we finally moved out, just the two of us on our own. Stephen, god bless him, absorbed the role of Susie Homemaker, in part because he was naturally gifted in the kitchen and in part because he now, like my parents, had to take on the daunting role of keeping me well fed lest I spiral into a nauseated, shaky, hangry delirium. Like a white collar husband, I’d come home, exhausted and pissed from a day of class or my shit server job, and dinner would already be in the oven of our unventilated linoleum and carpeted kitchenette in our shoebox one-bedroom in center city. At the time, we were still sprouting buds insofar as recognizing what actual good cooking and wholesome ingredients were – no, literal buds – those awful dollar flaky potato buds from Shoprite in the cardboard box that we’d serve with watery, freezer-burned mixed veggies and dredged Italian breadcrumb chicken breasts. It was as white bread as you get, but I wasn’t the one cooking it, so I ate every last bite on our rudimentary combination countertop/breakfast bar that marked where the kitchenette ended and the living room began.

On college budgets and alternating schedules, we didn’t visit sit-down restaurants often, but by this point, we had lived in the city long enough to become those foodie snobs that swayed visiting family and friends away from the tourist trap spots like Pat’s and Geno’s and Continental and El Vez (sorry), instead utilizing our spending money more wisely at off-the-beaten-path fooderies (within financial reason). It was then when we discovered, with the help of my cousin’s recommendation, El Jarocho – the best corner taqueria on Earth, the likes of which we’ve checked into no less than 86 times on Yelp, and about 125 more times in delivery and takeout, and at which we’ve never, ever strayed from our usual order that the waitress memorized when she’d see us walk in, eager-eyed and salivating: 2 steak burritos, 2 Mexican cokes, and an order of chips with the addicting creamy chipotle salsa. The “Jarock” burrito became our more than once weekly date night: Shitty day? Burrito. Celebrating the end of the week? Burrito. Too tired to cook? Burrito. We’d size up our plates and swap to make sure he got the bigger one. In exchange, and because he had the cilantro soap gene, I’d get his side pico de gallo salad. Not all burritos are created equal, but we sure were.

When we moved to the Art Museum area six months later, and anticipating the end of college and the beginning of student loans, we vowed to cook a *little* more at home to save money. This meant Stephen would be stuck chopping, dicing, and slicing in an even tinier 5×7 space tucked away in our second floor apartment. Better recipe blogs, some inspiration from panicked calls with our mothers, and his chef’s intuition meant our pantry and palates evolved, and we soon amassed a decent rotational offering on the spice rack, switched from sodas and juices to seltzer waters, and began making fatass burritos at home that paled in comparison to El Jarocho, but which did the trick in satisfying our cravings: wonderfully seasoned and spicy chicken grilling on the indoor Hamilton Beach grill my mother gifted us for Christmas, peppers and onions sautéing and cheap saffron rice simmering on the stovetop, starchy 10 inch tortilla wraps microwaving for pliability. We’d crush Tostito’s chips on top and finish with flourishing dollops of shredded cheddar, sour cream and salsa over the whole thing before struggling to swaddle it for comfortable eating, making sure to keep one hand gripped around the base at all times as we sat side by side at our TV tray tables to watch Jeopardy! and spend the night burping up green bell pepper.

This was Year Four of “us”, the unofficial make or break dividing line according to so-called relationship experts: that stagnant, had enough of this, chicken fat congealing in the back of the fridge. Do we keep it or toss it? The one that if you can get through it, congrats, you’re better off than the majority of failed marriages. And it’s true, something had shifted. It was no longer the honeymoon phase of feeding each other salty, addicting McDonald’s french fries naked in the hotel room sheets. It was him packing his canvas bag for several “don’t wait up” nights of work at the bar. It was me asking him, face in pillow, if he would be okay with me going to the Dominican Republic alone with my much older suspect new boss (I didn’t go). It was those damn chicken burritos…day in and day out of fixins’ that over time became less taco bar at a party and more slop on a lunch tray in a mess hall line.

Four years on Spring Garden, and me having just started my first post-college big girl job, meant expanding our bellies and budgets to immerse ourselves in the culture of bougie cuisine that was readily walkable in our neighborhood: pepper-rubbed steaks and rabbit bolognese at McCrossen’s, grilled prawn and corn grits at La Calaca Feliz, Guinness-battered fish & chips at St. Stephen’s Green, lobster burgers and lambics at London Grill, the Saturday scrapple, egg and cheese sandwiches from Fairmount Pizza and Sunday disco fries from Pete’s Famous Pizza, and, just five blocks down the street from our apartment, Kelliann’s, where we discovered the closest hot wings we’d ever found to Scranton’s best, only now we could comfortably lick our fingers clean in front of one another.

It was the adventure of trying new food and wine, and conversation about said food and wine, that got us over that fourth year hump.

Many anniversaries in a row, like an old married couple, we’d drive the 15+ hours to Ormond Beach, Florida where we’d binge on cases of Corona, cartons of Camels, and, on one impressive-even-for-us occasion, EIGHT pounds of crab legs in one sitting, washed down with Cokes and finished off with ice cream in waffle cones on a nighttime walk on the beach. Breakfast being just about the only meal I could cook without royally fucking up and screaming “Oh God!” from a smoky kitchen, I’d pop bagels in the toaster and serve us breakfast sandwiches and mimosas on the balcony in my skivvies like a slutty Stepford Wife. In between bites of egg and bacon, we’d already be planning what snacks and booze we’d bring to the beach, the chimichangas we’d eat at the Taco Shack in New Smyrna Beach for lunch, the steakhouse on the strip we’d like to try for dinner.

My cousin summed us up in a single sentence one August weekend with family when we got stoned and I yelled at Stephen for not offering me the cold pork chops he was eating directly from the Tupperware: “Eating is an EVENT for you guys.”

By 2014-2015, we had ticked off so many boxes (and spent far too much money) on our culinary and libationary journey in the city and elsewhere, that it was a good thing we moved on to better jobs and into a cheaper apartment to fund our hedonistic lifestyles. Our new neighborhood was old-school, South Philly Italian residential with not a lot of dining options save for corner dive bars like Dee’s Pub that wouldn’t make a good date night for obvious reasons. One particular July night, we were craving a romantic BYOB that wasn’t in center city. We pored the endless Philly “foodie” blogs that cropped up ad nauseum on the internet during the mid-2010’s – me several years deep an Elite Yelper scouring for reviews and him diving into decade-old “best of” lists.

It was then we came across one we’d never heard of: Chlöe BYOB, a charming Old City nook that had soothing purple walls and candle flicker in paper lanterns on cozy wooden two-tops, kitschy wall art, and a handwritten chalkboard boasting scratchmade s’mores in a glass jar. Intimate without being pretentious, staff warmly welcoming us like old friends, Chlöe stuck in our memory banks for weeks until we said, “Okay, we NEED to get back there.” Our first meal: shrimp, watermelon & feta salad with a green goddess dressing, tomato gazpacho, classic ravioli, and their signature BBQ ribs with mac and cheese and sautéed spinach, all polished off with a bottle of white.

Between the blur of 2015 and 2017, I still remember nearly every Saturday night date night at Chlöe: Stephen ordering the Uber at 7:15 sharp, me scrambling to find my lipstick and take one last hit of the bowl, shimmying on and off my pea coat and barreling into the hot amber glow of Chlöe’s inviting dining room, toting bottles of red and white and taking a familiar seat in the back corner. Two bottles of wine was sufficient for the long meal – nay, the event: hunks of charred bread sopping up a massive bowl of spicy chorizo broth dripping from emptied mussel shells, slathering white bean hummus on soft pita, saving the goat cheese and candied walnut for last on my salad plate, battling forks over a shared plate of gamey duck confit and cabbage, unable to speak through heavenly spoonfuls of cod, mashed potatoes and horseradish cream, orgasmic eyes after a chomp of gristly coffee-rubbed steak, and of course, how I nearly cried after that first bite of their banana bread pudding in a bourbon butterscotch sauce and a heaping scoop of Franklin Fountain butter pecan on top.

Sex and food, food and sex. Sensory overload. Some nights, too-fast chews and swallows steam-rolled thoughtful conversation (like the time Stephen shut up and let me loll my head to the wall after my first experience with bone marrow, watching me like a virgin who’s just had her cherry popped). Most nights, during the digestive stage between an entree we should’ve boxed and an impending plum tart with Hydrox ice cream on top we didn’t need, we’d savor sips of wine and somehow, miraculously, find something new to talk about after all these years (like how he didn’t know that Hydrox ice cream was, in fact, just cookies and cream, or how we both were relieved to admit that sexual attraction to other people was a totally normal thing).

Exacerbating our food coma and intoxication with a Lyft up Market to Oscar’s Tavern, we’d grab the same table, imbibe on too many Buds, Coronas, and shots of tequila, and fall into a a codependent black hole that only the two of us occupy, one of tipsy and teary talk, fuzzy-edged with the bar’s neon marmalade lighting and accompanied by a soundtrack of Queen on the jukebox. At home, drunk off decadence, we’d still find a way to peel back the layers of clothing imprinting our swollen stomachs and have rich, albeit slow, sex. THIS was our aphrodisiac now. Those rail-thin Scranton kids had evolved from cardboard cups of chicken tenders and Mountain Dew in the drive-thru into fatter, but happier, adults with a more sophisticated palate.

I’d had an epiphany one of those many Oscar’s nights, watching Stephen overtip, justifying that not having kids or owning a house meant we can spend money with reckless abandon on food and alcohol. I gulped a beer to ebb the build-up of a decade’s worth of emotion stuck in my throat: the realization that I found someone who loves to eat as much as me. My childhood champagne and caviar pipe dream was no longer a dream. I had willed it into existence.

If this were a Scorsese biopic, now is when the protagonist would narrate in voice-over, right before the downward spiral, “We had everything. It was perfect.”

Spoiler alert: it was not.

In October of 2017, we were so close to finishing off a full year of record-breaking Bacchusian weekends of three-course meals at Chloe and drinking like fish/frat boys at Oscar’s, when Stephen’s un-diagnosis of H. Pylori rocked our shit, as Gen Z would say. On the surface, it was two and a half months of hospital waiting rooms, refreshing the results of blood tests, being reduced to tears from complicated insurance forms, bland toast and apple sauce for dinner, rapid weight loss, and sleep deprivation. It was for sure contaminated raw fish consumed at a certain sushi place in our old Spring Garden stomping grounds, and it was pure hell.

But to us, it was so much more. It was no more greasy Jarock burritos for Sunday night takeout, no more Pinot to wash down potato & leek soup at Chloe, no more pints of Yuengling to dredge up our daddy issues at Oscar’s. It was “I ate one bad maki roll and all I got was this deadly stomach virus.” Two straight weeks of thrice daily antibiotics knocked it out of his system, but it still begged the question we avoided asking each other: “Who are we when we’re not eating?” Or better yet, “Who are WE when we’re not eating?”

Despite this, our love for one another, and for the divine art of eating, conquered. When he couldn’t stomach food, neither could I. When he finally got better, my esophagus relaxed. Like confit, we were enmeshed in one another’s blubber: his gut health directly tied to my mental health, and vice a versa.

His brief, but life-changing illness prompted that cloying, over-used sentiment of “You only live once,” forcing us to toss out the stale, annual trip to the retirement community that is the state of Florida and replace it with a vow to save up and finally travel internationally together: Costa Rica and Italy being the first countries whose cuisine we’d ravage, whose wine cellars we’d pillage. Our trips were centered around what we could put in our mouths: whole fish from the Nicoya Peninsula, deep fried, or whole fish from the Mediterranean, baked in black salt (it’s a tie); starfruit panna cotta in the hills of Montezuma or nutella panna cotta in a hole-in-the-wall in Salerno (also a tie). We’d return to the States, treating ourselves to an unearned juicy red meat burger and fries from Lucky’s, chalking it up to jet lag and nothing in the fridge.

Our appetites were back in full swing. We were going to be okay.

But it was clear we weren’t those teenagers we once were, able to stomach a second fast food dinner and bounce around in the backseat of my white Toyota Corolla. Now, I was plagued with my own gastrointestinal issues, a combination of a poor, reckless hedonistic diet, and an inherited chronic acid reflux disorder from my father. Stephen’s benign, but pain in the ass, stomach ulcers (a direct product of the H. Pylori condition) remained, as did reminders of our aging internal organs…and of our mortality. Too much cheese or grease or red tomato sauce or chocolate or peanut butter or acidic white wine meant an uncomfortable night sucking on Chime’s ginger chews we bulk-ordered from Amazon in the five pound bag. Over-the-counter, generic famotidine and Omeprazole, Pepcid chewables, Alka Seltzer berry antacids, and sleeping upright on special GERD pillows became the norm.

By the end of 2019, we silently atoned. Dinners out and delivery in were still a staple, but lessened significantly, while Stephen’s culinary repertoire blossomed (barbecue porkchops with rendered, gristly fat, balsamic-drizzled caprese chicken sandwiches on Trader Joe’s tuscan bread, dijon, lemony salmon and crispy potatoes, to name a few); all mostly out of dietary necessity, but primarily because I’m a much nicer person when I’m full. I did find a man who could cook, after all.

So much has changed since Stephen and I didn’t eat wings at Cosgrove’s. In fact, it closed down years ago, a desolate shell of a building in its place…although we’d never know since we’ve never cared to visit back. Our old favorites in Philly came and went (R.I.P. Spaghetti Warehouse, where we’d fill ourselves for three days on lasagna and sourdough bread leftovers, and also where we met Bam Margera’s parents). They even renovated Temple Towers, removing the balconies we used to fuck and smoke on.

We always joked that the 3 for $5 Butterball turkey bacon packages were a societal status quo – that once they were no longer on sale, it was the first horseman of the apocalypse. A month before the pandemic, walking through Shoprite, I stopped Stephen dead in our tracks in the dairy aisle, pointing to the Butterball turkey bacon. It was no longer 3 for $5. Maybe it is the apocalypse. Or maybe we’re just getting old.

Tonight, he sits in the chair by the window while I write this on the couch. He hands me a grape-flavored antacid to chew so I can recover from a short, but expected, stint of heartburn after devouring chocolate brownies he baked (I’ll never learn). I’m starting to feel better. “It’s 4:30,” he says, “So you know what that means. It’s almost time to order food.”

Thirteen and a half years later, and he was good on his word: he’s never missed a dinner.

© 2020 Andrea Festa

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