You are not quinoa.

Mushrooms tonight. Just the littlest bit. Wasn't the plan. Didn't intend to. But it was dinner with his dad, who, despite having been nothing but absolutely lovely to me in our limited interactions - is still his dad. And I wanted to be my best. Relaxed, confident, engaging and clever. Interesting things to say. Listening well, asking smart questions. On point with my French. Basically, some version of myself that only exists in my imagination. And the fastest way to her is through what's contained in the little grey vase pushed to the back of my highest kitchen cabinet.

So a cap and a stem, as I was getting ready. Short pleated cotton skirt, loose turtleneck, dilapidated combat boots, marled hiking socks, long wool overcoat with slightly puffed sleeves. Strongly considered a beret. Actually dug one out and put it on. Regarded self critically. No. God, no. Yanked it off, tossed it onto the couch. Paused. Stuffed it back into the drawer from whence it came. Hide the evidence of that near disaster.

I didn't say I'd done anything, but he told me later I gave myself away, anyway. "How?" I asked, intrigued to think I have a drug tell. 

"The way you were oohing and ahhing at those Christmas lights, when we parked." I nodded. Guilty. Could have happily watched them for an hour. "Also, how open minded you were about getting vegan for dinner." I had to laugh. Yep. "I knew you were shrooming. I knew it." He shook his head. "Think I can't tell when my girlfriend is high? Come on."

But before this conversation, which takes place later, back at home and after the reconnect: dinner. Tiny place in Silver Lake, super crunchy hipster server, patrons. The menu makes liberal use of quotation marks, to emphasize (warn?) that items will not be what they seem. "Cheese". "Roast beef". "Bacon". The shrooms and I find this extremely amusing, but I'm scared of coming across condescending or critical so I try to reign it in. The man sitting beside me, whom I adore, really likes this place. I'm going to make an effort, goddamnit. 

It's easy to speak with his father, who is down to earth and funny, and will happily chat about himself, his work, or just random trivia - and who will kindly spare his son's girlfriend from having to talk about herself (which, as she suspects he quite empathetically picked up on the first time he met her, she prefers not to do). He tells us about the photosynthetic properties of olive trees, and mentions that a meteorite will be passing through Earth's atmosphere tonight. He explains the (very different) French meanings of some English words, when they confuse me. Panache. Elan. His third child and I listen with genuine interest, holding hands under the table. He's a born storyteller and utterly non-threatening, and I think to myself: he's my favorite of the dads, by far. And while I briefly wonder if I should say this later, I don't, knowing that a compliment like that, while well-intentioned, has the unfortunate side effect of ushering in the Ghosts of Boyfriends past. And while they never stay long, they can chill the room quite effectively when they choose to. I'm comfortable enough to throw in as much French as I can, glad of the little I do know, which feels like points scored, though I know it really isn't like that. I know I am genuinely liked. I can tell by the smiles and laughter - and the Thanksgiving card I received a few weeks prior. 

The food poses a problem, despite my having ordered the simplest things I could: white bean soup and a hummus platter. Before entrees arrive, we're served bread that as best I can tell is completely unseasoned and well on its way to a second life as croutons. It's accompanied by something called cashew cheese. I'm trying, I'm really fucking trying, but the shrooms are more than ready to steer me to a dark place, quick, and the phrase "cashew cheese" is all they needed to hear. Done. I'm done. Appetite gone. I glance around the restaurant like a caged animal, relaxed for the moment but growing wary and keen to have an escape route if necessary. I have an ungenerous thought. If vegan food is so amazing and healthy, why do all these people look vaguely sick and miserable? I make a mental note in Sharpie and run it over with several shades of highlighter to NOT share that thought later, no matter how high I get.

I can't eat my dinner, but I pick at it the best I can. The soup is harmless but bland. The hummus is awful until I realize it isn't hummus, it's quinoa, because the server has gotten my order wrong. No matter, I'm fully nauseous at this point. Fucking shrooms. Too many? Stale? On too empty a stomach? No idea. He notices me not eating and while he helpfully offers tastes of his, to fetch the waiter, etc., I can feel his disappointment. Or maybe I'm imagining it. Maybe I'm disappointed in myself. Maybe I'm feeling inadequate, for reasons I won't understand until several hours later. And had I articulated them to myself at dinner, had I been able to, this is what I would have heard: I'm an outsider, here, right now. Outside this family, this father-son relationship. I hope I'm worthy, in his eyes. Whose eyes? Exactly, Ellie. Whose. Outside this scene, this whole vegan thing, which, really is all part of a side of him I feel what - what do you feel? Intimidated by? Jealous of? What is it? Yes, maybe, a little of both? I'm not vegan or new agey. I hate tofu. I've never meditated once in my life, much less twice a day for ten years. I've never even done yoga, for Christ's sake. So? So what? So what if that's what he wants? What if that's the kind of girl he needs? You are a Midwestern-Southwestern suburban transplant LA wanna-be cool city chick who has no direction and has made a habit of scoffing, HARD, at some of the things he believes about the universe. So what the fuck, Ellie? Why are you sitting here? You are not vegan. You are not quinoa. You are white sugar and gluten. Are you sure you're what he wants?

Of course, none of that had helpfully presented itself yet. But I got through the moment, and the dinner.


Back at my place, the reconnect. The space where everything else drops away, no matter what tensions or misfires there've been. We are equals. Barely in the door. Deep in my eyes, always, fearlessly gazing, holding my face, the back of my neck. Breath gone. He knows exactly how. Thumbs in the waistband, below my skirt. No, wait. Not until the last possible second, I whisper. Something about keeping them on, so hot to me. Don't know why. Just is.

He whispers back. But what if this is the last possible second? Hmm? Turns me where I stand. Over the desk. Mouth against my ear. What if this is the last...possible...second...


I confess it all, after. The shrooms. The insecurity, the distance I felt at dinner. Though I don't explain the depth of it. I'm ashamed, self-conscious, I don't know. I want to be exactly what he wants. I'm scared of not being good enough. But, as always, he blasts it all away. Reflective listening. His empathy, like nothing I've ever known, from anyone. We are the same person. Everything you just said is how I feel sometimes, with you. I have all the same fears. But what's the very worst that could happen? Think about what the absolute worst thing could be. Work through it. What is it?

That you'd realize I bore you. That I have nothing to offer you. That you'd end it.

Well, I get afraid of the exact same thing with you. And hearing you even say that right now is helping me resolve my issue, making me feel better, because we are so similar and I go through the same thing. There are lots of things you like that I don't. And vice versa. It doesn't matter to me that you experience things the same way that I do. What matters to me is that we're on the adventure together.

I talk. He listens, ask questions. Unfold it, see all the wrinkles, get to the heart of it, take its power away, and be done with it. I can see he's exhausted. It's late. Keep talking. I'm listening. If it helps, keep talking. He sinks further into the pillows - but he doesn't miss a word I say.

Eventually, he falls asleep exactly where he's laying, his arm crooked behind his neck, above the covers and partly dressed. I watch him for a few minutes, delighted by the way he so quickly and easily drops into slumber, like a child up way past bedtime. 

But I don't watch for long. Chaucer needs a walk, and I should sleep, too.