Food Is the Way to the Heart

This is a work of fiction. Names and characters either are the product of the author’s imagination or are use fictional. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

I walked towards the front door of what should have been the safest place. From the outside it was warm and inviting like one of those dream houses out of a Better Home and Garden magazine. A small stairway led up to the wide front porch with swing benches on either side. The second floor had a balcony in the center. The door that led to the balcony was at the end of a long hallway, and on a Spring day I loved to open the door to cool down the house. The lawn was a picture perfect shade of green. Everything about the property was almost too perfect. Maybe because in a way, it was.

I know it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t even Duncan’s fault. Whose fault was it? No one’s really. We didn’t ask for him to come back home from the war with PTSD. We didn’t ask to be the caregivers of each other because dad and he received different orders. We didn’t ask to be here, but this is where we were.

The inside is just how I knew it would be. The sunlight beaming in from the large windows on either side of the front door illuminate the room and the candy wrappers all over the coffee table. Empty soda cans and a few beer bottles were lined up on the edge. The television was broadcasting an episode of Sports Center and the volume was loud enough to be heard from every room in the house. There was noise coming from the kitchen, that was out of place.

“What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing?”

Duncan was in front of the stove. On rare occasions I see glimpses of the brother I used to have. Someone who was my protector. Someone I wanted to be around and was a confidante. He was my friend. That person is the one I see cooking dinner. But it never lasts long.

“How was your day? You had a doctor’s appointment?” I asked.

“I hate doctors. I hate going. They don’t do anything for me.”

“Dr. Radley said it would take time,” I reassured him. “It really does help opening up to someone. That’s why I love spending so much time with Molly.”

“Well I don’t like spending time with Molly, or opening up to anyone. Especially someone I don’t know.”

I know I should let the conversation drop, but I can’t help but push him to open up to me. He knows me, so that must count for something.

“Are you still taking your pills?”

“Legacy, stop.” Duncan says in a voice that is half angry and half pleading for mercy.

“I’m not doing anything.” I snap back at him. “I asked you an important question. If you don’t want to talk, fine, but you can’t ignore your medication.”

“I can do whatever I want. You’re not mom or dad and no one else is here to tell me what to do. I’m the one in charge here. Not you. So don’t ask me questions like you know what’s best.”

It’s these moments that always make me silent. I’m the baby of the family, but I am the one who chooses what’s best. Ever since mom and dad transferred to England, it’s been me and Duncan. But with Duncan withdrawn and suffering, everything fell on me. I cook the meals, clean the house, make all the appointments, while on top of that going to high school and keeping my 4.0 GPA. I love my brother very much, with all of my heart, but this is where we clash like Titans and all amicable behavior gets lost.

“You can’t say that to me when I am the one who makes sure you’re not trying to off yourself every night and forces you to attend your appointments. I’m not mom and I never asked to be, but I take care of you even if you don’t take care of me.”

“Am I not cooking dinner for us right now?” Duncan snaps.

“You do that once every month. That doesn’t count. If you were taking care of me, you would bother to ask how I’m doing just like I ask you everyday.” I reply. “You would notice when I’m sick. You would help me out by cleaning up after yourself. If you took care of me, you would give me the time to be a high school student and hang out with my friends. But here I am, where I always am. With you. Because this is where I belong.”

I can see it in his eyes. The rage is coming. I’ve learned to keep my fear at bay because it only fuels the fire.

Duncan says, “you don’t belong anywhere. You’re not bound by one place. If you don’t want to be here, then get out.”

“I’m not going anywhere and that’s not what I meant.”

“Well then what did you mean?” Duncan asks. “What am I supposed to take from that?”

“Whatever you want Duncan. But I was hoping something along the lines of realizing that I’m not your enemy. We use to be a team. The best of friends. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted since you came back.”

There is a brief moment that I can tell from his face that he recognizes what I’ve said as truth. As quickly as it appeared it vanishes.

“Time has changed, Legacy,” Duncan tells me. “Stop living in the past and realize we aren’t kids anymore. This isn’t a fairytale land where everything is going to always be sunshine and rainbows. Grow up already.”

I wait for a moment.

“What are you afraid of?” I ask.

“Nothing.” Duncan says.

“Then why won’t you take recovery seriously?”

Duncan promptly says, “I’m not talking about this.”

“Why not?” I ask. “Why can’t we talk about this? If you’re not afraid, then why can’t we talk about the past? Why can’t we talk about being a team again, being friends? Why are you so afraid of getting better?”

Moving in front of my face Duncan yells, “Because I can’t be you! What part of that don’t you understand? I can’t go back to that place. I will never be what you want. I will never be the same person. If I stay that way forever, I can’t let anyone down. I won’t have to meet any expectations. I can’t be like you anymore. No matter how bad we all want me to be.”

I’m standing in silence again, but this time I have tears in my eyes. Before I can say anything Duncan is gone, leaving me the tasks of finishing dinner. For the first time I notice the red sauce simmering next to the boiling noodles. Spaghetti.

My favorite meal.

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