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photo by Sheri Dixon

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

And the Fortune Cookies Ain't Bad, Either

Comfort food.

We all love it.

At times we all crave it.

The stuff that reminds us of better times, good times, people we love and places that make us feel all warm and squishy inside.

A lot of the time this food is connected to something or someone in our childhood- that time of life when it's OK to assume and expect that someone else will step up and take care of you, oversee the security of the things that make life.

That's why comfort food tends to be things like chocolate, ice cream, macaroni and cheese...

The one thing that over-rides all others for me?

Panda Express Walnut Shrimp.

Weird, huh?

That doesn't seem like a very kid-friendly food, and it's sure not something Grandma Albeck whipped up in her kitchen.

Add to that, that it's only been at the top of my list for about 2 1/2 years.

And yet, when we're lucky enough to be within reach of a Panda Express restaurant, that's what I order. Every time.

There was a time in the spring of 2010 that I can safely point at from a distance and say, "This- this was the darkest time our family has been through. Right here."

Ward was in intensive care and non-responsive. I was sick, mentally worn out and physically drained- feverish, dizzy, migraine headache and vomiting. So sick I couldn't go see my husband. So sick I couldn't care for my 10 year old boy. So sick I was simultaneously overcome with the weight of needing to be strong and present for my family and the apathy that internal breakdown imposes to make a body stop.

Just stop.

And heal.

I tried to go to the store because we were out of food and Alec had to finish checking out because I realized I couldn't stand even in the express lane without fainting from pain and nausea.

I wanted desperately to see Ward but knew I'd never be able to traverse the round-and-round-and-round of the parking garage. Briefly I considered walking the mile-plus distance till I realized I'd then have to step onto an elevator.

I was trapped and grounded and helpless.

And that's when our friends stepped in and stepped up. From a distance they couldn't tell the straits I was in until I broke down and asked for help.

I asked for help.

That unleashed a migration of care and love that took our breath away.

Money showered down on us, care packages and gift cards pelted us from all directions and a parade of bodies appeared- people who didn't know each other in 'real life' slid like finely woven threads into and out of the fabric of this scratchy, ragged patch in the quilt of our life- pulling the edges together and mending us, keeping the whole thing from falling apart.

One of these was Cathy- my dearest friend for over 30 years, she's been there for me through 2 horrific marriages and the sometimes more horrific ending of them, she flew (as in an airplane) to Houston to sit with me the day of Ward's first surgery at MD Anderson, and now she took a day off of work to drive the 8+ hours to be with us yet again.

She took Alec to the zoo and the park for the day while I cocooned myself under the covers in the dark, willing myself to shed the sickness so I could explode back into action, back up to the hospital, back up to Ward.

At suppertime, Cathy told Alec they needed to bring me something to eat and asked him what he thought I'd like. Without hesitation he said, "That Chinese restaurant Walnut Shrimp".

Except he didn't remember the name of the restaurant. Or where it was. Just that it was "somewhere around the hotel".

In Houston.

Where she's not from.

There are a gabazillion places to eat within napkin-snapping distance of the hotel.

Somehow, some way, she found it.

And my boy proudly presented me with Walnut Shrimp.

And it was Good.

This same boy went to the grocery store a few days later with April and Christine- friends who took several days out of their lives and away from their families to drive the 5 hours to Houston, stay at the hotel and help out.

They came back from the Kroger's and pulled me quietly aside. "We told him he could get whatever he wanted to and everything he put in the cart he said 'My mom likes this'. No candy, no Doritos, nothing of that nature- we even TRIED to put that stuff in the cart but he declined".

So Panda Express Walnut Shrimp is not only tasty, it's my comfort food of the highest order.

Because it reminds me of that moment in our family's darkest hour when I discovered that even as a grownup, it's OK to assume and expect that someone else will step up and take care of me, oversee the security of the things that make life.

Our friends for sure, always.

My son, absolutely.

I don't know how I got lucky enough to give birth to a boy with all his dad's intelligence, wry humor and heart-breakingly/heart-swellingly immense compassion but somehow I managed it.

I remember it every day- in almost every interaction with the Boy, and every time I order up the Walnut Shrimp it's reaffirmed in a tangible, memory-tugging and soul-comforting way.

Panda Express Walnut Shrimp.

Good stuff.

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