You see, I’m sick for the first time in nearly a year. Aside from the usual allergy and monthly complaints and a few instances of fighting something off, I haven’t had an actual cold since leaving Chicago. Nearly forgot what it was like.

I didn’t log on to tell the world this though. Instead, I wish to share a food memory prompted by the cats’ reaction to the fact that Professor X fed them this morning. He’s fed them hundreds of times before, but never in the morning. Breakfast is usually my shift. So when I staggered out of bed a stiff, sinusy mess, Minerva and Basil greeted me with a degree of wide-eyed panic and indignation that suggested they didn’t get breakfast. Food and water levels were optimal. I checked around for anything else out-of-place. Nothing. It’s just that Professor X did it, not me. Apparently, it tastes different.

Many years ago, I remember my mom coming down with a nasty flu in the middle of the day; one of those fine in the morning, dead on your feet by noon things. She was so sick that she actually went to bed for a bit, and trusted me to make my brother lunch since Dad was at work. While I don’t remember our exact ages, I do recall that my cooking expertise was limited to the microwave, a manual can-opener, and butter knives. Perhaps 9? That would place Alex at 5…

At any rate, Mom went to bed and I broke the news to my brother, who promptly lodged a complaint in the form of whining. SOMETHING HAD CHANGED! I assured him everything was fine. He started to cry. Did I mention that I was also tasked to stay quiet while Mom slept? That was quickly falling apart as he made his teary way to our parents’ bedroom to appeal to a higher authority. I diverted him by saying that she was sick, but the idea failed to take hold in his brain. I imagine the conversation went something like this:

Me: “Dude, seriously. Mom is sick. She told me to make lunch.”
Alex: “Eeeeehhhhhlalallalaaaa! MoooooommmmMM!”
Me: “Dude! It’s gonna be fine. Look! Fruit roll ups! For fuck’s sake, she’s not dead. She’s just taking a nap!”
Alex: “AAAAaAAAAAhhhhahahhahaaaa! MooooooommmmM!”
Me: “Come on, man! Don’t wake her up or we’ll get in trouble!”
Alex: *sniff* *sniff*

I desperately rummaged through the pantry for a collection of his favorite foods. I knew that it wasn’t “balanced,” whatever that meant, but figured Mom would be none the wiser as long as she stayed asleep.

I remember my heart racing. First, I had to confront opening a can. The cold shock of ragged metal through my finger was still fresh in my mind from attempts past. Second, I had to not spill anything, which was huge because (1) kid and (2) clumsy in the kitchen. (Ed. note: I’m still clumsy in the kitchen.) Somehow I pulled it off. I arranged everything on festive paper plates all fancy like, so nothing was touching. I remember explaining the meal like a five-star waiter – Campbell’s Meatball and Noodle-O soup, strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups, black olives, maybe pickles, Teddy Grahams, and a Capri Sun, a treat reserved strictly for school lunches. He gazed at me, awestruck by my maverick assortment of highly regulated foods. He giggled. I told him not to tell Mom. And then we dug in, and Mom got her quiet nap.

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