me at W’s age

I am remembering the Thanksgiving I was W’s age (18). I was in my 2nd year of college, too far away to drive home for the weekend. Instead I made the much shorter trip to Philadelphia, to the apartment of a sweet acquaintance (C, the best friend of the sister of my boyfriend, who went to the same university my boyfriend did). She had offered me her studio apartment for the long weekend while she was out of town. The plan was that I would go there on Wednesday, spend a quiet Thanksgiving by myself, and then on Friday my boyfriend would come back to town from his family’s home and I would cook him dinner and we would spend the rest of the weekend together.

The apartment was tiny and adorable, a few stories up in an old brownstone on a well-traveled street. The  kitchen was in a closet, the bathroom had a claw-foot tub with a puzzlingly clingy shower curtain, and there were  three tall sunny windows overlooking the mostly-leafless trees at the sidewalk edge. Wednesday I settled in, learned which keys fit which locks and how to unfold the couch into a bed, located the nearest store and bought groceries. That night I learned how it felt to be all alone in a grownup apartment in a grownup building on a street which felt as if everyone else had gone home to somewhere far away. I listened to C’s albums and fell in love with Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush. Thursday was even quieter. I’m sure I had books; I don’t remember C having a TV. I didn’t go out – just listened to Alice’s Restaurant on WMMR and replayed all of C’s albums, feeling at once grownup and very very alone. I pictured the family gatherings at my parents’ house and at my boyfriend’s parents’ big city apartment. I could almost smell the warm scents of the Thanksgiving-day kitchens and hear the voices and laughter of family members drifting in from another room. Thursday was a long day.

Friday I set up the folding card table (C’s apartment was too small to have it up permanently), found a table cloth and nice dishes for two place settings, and put together two salads (fresh greens with tiny bits of carrot, diced tomato, mushrooms). I wasn’t a very experienced cook at 18 but I probably marinated the steaks in something. Those were for Boyfriend; he loved steak. I put dinner rolls in a basket on the table with the salads and set about cleaning and slicing potatoes for homemade French fries (which I had never made but figured how hard could they be?).  Boyfriend arrived, I was overjoyed, and grownup homemaker-type bustling ensued, including the pouring of two cold glasses of milk. Boyfriend also liked milk. At some point I turned on the burner under the pan of oil in which I intended to cook the fries. The steaks went in the oven.  Here’s where my ignorance becomes obvious.

Me: I don’t know why the oil isn’t getting hot. It’s been on for a while. The burner looks hot. Oil bubbles when it boils, right?  Why is it not bubbling?

BF: Maybe throw in a fry and see if it start cooking.    [I throw in a fry. Pooffffff!  It bursts into flame.]

Me: What do we do for a grease fire? I don’t think we’re supposed to put water on it.

BF: I think I heard that you can use milk for a grease fire.    [I take one of the glasses of milk and pour some into the flaming pan. Booooooom!!  The  flames explode outward. Boyfriend and I leap backwards, crash into the table, knocking it over, breaking all the dishes, and scattering salad and milk across the tiny apartment.  One of us calls 911.]

BF: Don’t tell anyone this was my idea, okay?   [He said that a lot.  I’ve kept this particular secret for over 30 years now. It’s time to go public.]

The firefighters came and had the blaze out in about 30 seconds but the apartment was a wreck and there was no eating THAT dinner. Turns out there were enough neighbors still around to be worried that we were trying to burn down the building. The next day I made Boyfriend help me scrub down the walls with the hope that the smoke and soot would come off with enough effort. It did not. I dragged boyfriend and another friend who had come back to town early   around Philadelphia looking for paint stores, determined that C would not come home to a blown up burned out smoky wreck of an apartment and that she would not have to forfeit a damage deposit on account of us being stupid enough to pour a glass of milk onto a raging grease fire. I had enough money for a few gallons of paint.  We spent the rest of the weekend repainting her apartment and airing it out with cold November air.  I cleaned up the kicked over shards of dinner dishes and salad, wishing I had enough money to replace all the broken, blackened and otherwise totally ruined stuff. A couple of months later I did send her some replacement pans and plates and bowls, all filled with homemade chocolate chip cookies. I still feel bad that her act of generosity literally blew up in her (well, my) face.

Anyway, I did not mean for this post to be about how I blew up Thanksgiving.  I meant it to be about how it feels to be alone and far from home and family in a brand new and very grownup situation.  Turns out it feels weird, good, bad, and difficult all at once.

Tonight I am thankful for the family who took W in this weekend  when he was too far to come home for Thanksgiving.  I am thankful for the friends who took me in here today  recognizing that this would be a very lonely time for me if no one made me get in the car and join them for the afternoon.  I am thankful for delicious food and I am thankful that no one kicked over the table before we could eat it. I am grateful for a warm whole unburned house and I am grateful that there are so many kind and generous people in the world.

Happy day of thanks to you all.

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