Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Long Time Away

Houses and families have their own rhythms. Unspoken schedules and systems that evolve into practice and keep what may, on the surface, seem like a very uncomplicated machine moving forward.
Traveling for work is not like vacation. You are alone. You quickly fall into patterns though unacceptable at home (eating dinner of crackers and cheese standing up, leaving laundry in a pile by the closet, stashing dirty cups by the sink) seem normal for a life on the "road."
As many times as I go away I am always surprised by coming home. I picture a joyous reunion back to the perfect life and love I imagined while I am away. Instead, "re-entry" is hard. I'm out of step with our house's normal. Each little change seems like a reason to fear I've lost my place. I struggle not to comment on those differences and have faith that James can manage without me, and remember that I should want him to -- but inside I don't. We've forgotten how to stay out of each other's way and instead of unbridled joy those first days at home are tense with awkward pleasantries, thinly veiled digs and uncertain sparse conversation.
Dinner helps make us normal. No matter the series of clumsy mis-steps that precede it I always make dinner and it becomes a window into who we usually are and will be again. After many weeks away and not wanting to impose errands as soon as I arrive, James picks me up at the airport and we come straight home. Our first dinner is always some sort of scavenger hunt. I wade through the garden, nearly neglected for the more than six weeks I've been away. Bright green tomatillos smile from behind papery husks. Ever present kale shifts in the wind. I start picking. Padrone peppers, now bright red, are easy to find.
I start by broiling the husked tomatillos, whole peppers, and unpeeled cloves of garlic until just tinged with dark spots. I purée that mixture (stemmed peppers, garlic with no skins) along with a touch of chicken broth, olive oil, and what was a last minute inspiration -- a handful of blanched almonds -- and add it to a skillet where I've softened onions, more peppers, and garlic. I wish I had cilantro. The sauce simmers for about 10 minutes before I add in seared chicken breasts to finish cooking in the tangy mixture. The chicken cooks through while I sauté that home-grown kale
"That's our kale," I say a bit too cheerfully, "and tomatillos." I like to comment on our garden. I like to think James appreciates the food he didn't fully know was there waiting. An aspect of our life together we both enjoy.
Another first dinner together. Another first step back to being a couple.

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