‘You want a burger, Aim?’ my dad asks, innocently.
Our family – and my partner’s family, all the way from Brighton – are seated for dinner al fresco, on a sunny Minnesota evening. It seems like an innocuous question, but I’m a Brightonian now, sort of. And this means I’m trying, really hard, not to eat meat.
My dad doesn’t entirely understand this; when you grow up in the prairie with food, on feet or on stalks, as far as the eye can see, the idea of not plucking whatever you like from the land is somewhat alien. Ok, that’s an understatement. It’s unfathomable – like a woman over 40 starring in a movie. But this is the 56th time I’ve been asked if I want some form of animal flesh, and the spectre of my teenagerdom has finally been called up to haunt the backyard and all its artless inhabitants.
‘No, thanks,’ I mumble into my coleslaw.
‘Pork chop?’ My father-in-law waves another plate at me.
‘Nah. Thanks though.’ I sink lower in my seat. Sanctimony is a slow-dripping insanity, boring into the space behind my eyeballs. Just focus on the potato salad, I tell myself. And ooh, look – what lovely watermelon. It won’t stop people chucking meat at me, as they’re wont to do in Minnesota, but it’ll save me chucking it at them.
‘The burgers are really good,’ my dad says, to no one in particular. He does this because he has a short memory and he’s still not really sure if I don’t want a burger. Because it’s ridiculous, obviously, not to.
‘Dad.’ I huff. The reflexive rolling of my eyes is strangely satisfying, like slipping on and settling into an old, worn sweater. ‘I haven’t eaten a burger since, like, 2005.’
Honestly. It sometimes feels like adulthood is just longer stretches between, and more concentrated tamping down of, adolescent behaviour. But something so mercurial must always ooze out somewhere. Perhaps we never really grow up that much; after all, here I am, once again refusing a lovingly-made dinner based on half-formed, highly emotional principles. I once boycotted turkey at Thanksgiving after finding one confused and incapacitated on the road on my way home from school. The turkey was not as confused as the cops, who I called, tearfully, to come pick him up. To be fair, the Willmar cops probably didn’t have anything else to do on a Thursday at 3pm.
‘Ok then.’ His eyes scan the table. I brace myself; there’s quite a few things on the table. So many things he can offer me next.
The adult side of my brain gives a slap to the teenaged side – to remind it to enjoy this moment, where people still care about you and offer you food. But I can’t help but dream of having a conversation about seitan that isn’t an invitation to swap favourite bible verses.
A huge sigh. ‘Fiiiiiine.’