I was born to a kitchen alchemist. What I mean to say is that my mother didn’t pray in a pew. She talked to God through flour. She wasn’t a cook or a baker, but my mother worshiped in the kitchen. The revolving door of chronic illness never stopped for Mom. I chronicled her life in doctor’s visits and medical bills and sitting beside her in waiting rooms. But with the counter as her altar, the ambiguous white flour powder allowed her an escape or reprieve.
My little sister, Esther, and I stood on either side of Mom, our shins resting on the Formica counter top. We called ourselves helpers, but we were really witnesses to her meditation. Always the flour, sometimes butter and water and an assortment of other ingredients. We bonded like this. These delectable moments were the exhales between paycheck living, late bills, more bills, eviction notices, Mom’s shitty some-times boyfriend. I observed the therapy of her cooking, the alchemy of her baking, in wonderment. Even when I was all pimples and angst, I still marveled at her in the kitchen.
Esther and I are two sides of the same brain. She the right, and I am the left brain. Esther is bright and iconoclastic. She experiences the world in frequencies and dimensions I cannot comprehend. Where I see goals, she sees a wall. My formulaic brain organizes everything. Every musing has a corresponding place. For Esther, everything bleeds over. She thinks in water color. Each thought stemming from her brain can lead anywhere.
Life scattered Mom, Esther, and me like dandelion seeds. Like everything she made, Mom didn’t last long. Her death affected my sister and me differently. I built a life so unrecognizable to my past. College degree, steady job, steady husband, solid income, and grief was something I only indulged in when I was alone. Between carpools, I feast on sweets. I escape on the sugary rush of ice cream, snack cakes, candy bars. I have a stash in most places. I keep wet naps at the base of my purse, always ready to hide how I unwind. My children only know a mother who consumes vegetables, who prioritizes their nutrition. They’ve never heard of government cheese, let alone eaten it. Trips to the food pantry aren’t familiar to them the way they were to me.
Through the reflection of a spoon, I think I see my mom, but it is me. I’m half way through an ice cream binge. A sumptuous and steamy three way with Ben and Jerry halted by the memory of my mom. Genes are a memory other can see. It’s scientifically how the legacy of our ancestors live on. It’s familiar to grieve the dead. It’s a murky thing to grieve a body that still has a pulse. I can touch her, but I can’t reach her.
Esther looms in underworld. I recognized my mom in a spoon, but I scarcely see my sister when she sits in front of me. Her complexion hums with a grey undertone. Her body is a foreclosed house neglected by any care. Each eye is a boarded window, and I just wish my sister was home. But neither one of us knows where that is. Esther barely knows where her next fix is coming from. She snorted a line at a party when we were both too young to know better, and the next morning she raved about how something so minimal could make her feel so light. Cocaine is white. In physics, white is the absence of color. My sister has no color. Not in her skin or her hair or her words. She isn’t the walking dead so much as the dead still walking despite multiple overdoses. I suppose this is a transubstantiation, too. The change of a vibrant young woman into a desperate creature.
After my husband and children fall asleep, I graze by the dim refrigerator light. A part of me is always leaving a life I don’t feel like I deserve. Fingers caked in the residue of powdered donuts, I glance at the pictures littering the other wing of the fridge. They’re all of my kids. Joyful moments of a shared childhood just like Esther and me. I don’t want to welcome my children into the coven women in my family all belong to. I want them to be capable of more than disappearing acts, for greater joys than white powders. I lick my fingers clean and leave the kitchen for bed.