At the third restaurant we went to on our vacation in Napa, I ordered mac ’n’ cheese. This one was to have aged cheddar, parmesan, and fine herbs, but nothing too exotic. My boyfriend rolled his eyes like he always did and asked when I was going to order something else. Anything else.
I told him I didn’t want to order something else; right now I felt like mac ’n’ cheese, and it was only $10 when everything else on the menu was around $17.
He accused me of being stuck in childhood, the way I ordered the same nostalgic dish everywhere we went, and suggested that it meant I was unhappy in my relationship and wanted to escape to my youth. He had just ordered fried chicken, so I deflected his attacks by implying that he was doing something much more sinister. If I was trying to relive my youth, I said, he was trying to clog his arteries and hasten his death. I said those words exactly: You’re the one trying to hasten your own death. He changed the subject then because he didn’t want to get into it with me. When my mac ’n’ cheese came, I made him have a bite although he said—and always said—“I don’t like mac ’n’ cheese.” This time, after he tasted it, he said, “Yeah, it’s okay.” As I dug in, I imitated his “okay” over and over again. This dish was not just okay, but the best one yet, better than the bacon mac ’n’ cheese, the truffle oil mac ’n’ cheese, the lobster and sage mac ’n’ cheese I had tried over the years. With fried chicken overwhelming his taste buds and hastening his death, it was truly no wonder he couldn’t see that.
The next day we were driving around town and passed a cooking school that was also in our town in Southern California. My boyfriend said, “When we get back home, you could take classes there, make your own mac ’n’ cheese. It can’t be that hard.”
Of course, I didn’t believe that for a second; after all the mac ’n’ cheese I’d tried, I knew it was an art and a skill I couldn’t just pick up like that, by snapping my fingers, in some class.
“No, thanks, I’d just sign up and never go. I’d rather keep eating at restaurants.”
He said, “Just because you lack initiative doesn’t mean you have to be proud of it.”
I almost swallowed my mint when I heard that. To think he thought so little of me, and not just of my food choices, but of everything about me. I told him to turn around, I wouldn’t go to any more restaurants with him if he thought I was so worthless, so lacking in motivation.
He kept driving and ignored me, like he would a child.
We reached a diner that a hipster friend told us about and found a spot in their outside patio. I glowered and took too long deciding what to eat. He ordered fried chicken again.
The order was taken by a waiter who at first I thought was a hipster—he wore a porkpie hat and tight pants and boots—but when I looked closer, I saw that he had hard prison-looking tattoos on his knuckles and chest. I asked my boyfriend if he thought the man, who had an awkward attitude and gait, just got out of prison and had discovered and now was imitating the weird, stupid ways people were dressing, and maybe that was why he seemed so awkward, because for years he had interacted only with his fellow convicts and prison walls, and not because he was a hipster who pretended to be self-conscious, but my so-called lover kept up his silent treatment. Truly I began to regret our whole relationship as I stared at that morose young man who hassled me endlessly about ordering mac ’n’ cheese and had no sense of curiosity.
When the hipster-prison waiter brought our orders, my boyfriend looked so miserable. There was a big scoop of mac ’n’ cheese on his plate, this one soupy and radioactive yellow.
I whispered “you deserve it” as he unhappily pushed it away from his chicken.
Eva Richter is a writer and editor. She holds a bachelor’s in English and comparative literary studies from Occidental College, and she co-produced the dark independent film Redlands. You can find her personal website here.