Once when we were living on Loomis, a nun from my school passed by and saw me playing out front. The laundromat downstairs had been boarded up because it had been robbed two days before and the owner had painted on the wood YES WE’RE OPEN so as not to lose business. Where do you live? she asked. There, I said pointed up to the third floor. You live there? There. I had to look to where she pointed—the third floor, the pain peeling, wooden bars Papa had nailed on the windows so we wouldn’t fall out. You live there? The way she said it made me feel like nothing. There. I lived there. I nodded. I knew then I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point to. But this isn’t it. The house on Mango Street isn’t it. For the time being, Mama says. Temporary, says Papa. But I know how those things go. — Susan Cisneros, The House on Mango Street
We had all that we thought we wanted. A life like deck chairs — arranged with precision. Trips to ancient cities with cobbled streets, warm homes and a fridge stocked with gourmet eats — we were the lucky ones, and we guarded this carefully constructed life with everything we could muster. Because we remember our parents: threadbare clothes stitched back together on the weekend, the chair their cold body would occupy and how they pressed their eyes shut as they drank their beer because it felt so good to feel numb, to feel the quiet. To escape from a long day. They made our promise that we would do better. You would be the first of your family to go to college. You would be childless, ambitious, well-educated.
We weren’t the play it as it lays sort; we bore the burden of our parents to be better than they were, so we became the white collar kind. We collected our degrees like trading cards, drank our way through networking events until the voices in the room reduced to a dull, sustained beep. We were careful to never deviate off course, until we saw a new generation breaking all of the rules of which we were told to abide. And somewhere along the way we took a look back at the road we traveled, looked ahead to the years so meticulously designed — we wanted to run. Run as far away as we could. Never look back.
This weekend I celebrated a dear friend’s triumph, her veering off the road as it were. And as we’re wont to do, we celebrated over a pile of delicious bites at Gottino. Gottino’s the sort of place where you take your paper and settle at the bar. Everyone eats at the bar. This is a place where you feast on crostini piled high with walnut pesto, figs and honey, prosciutto d’ parma and tender asparagus. Paninis toppled with ribbons of salami, prosciutto and homemade mozzarella. Gottino is a home away from the Italian home you wish you had, replete with shaved brussel sprout salad tossed with pecorino and walnuts, or perhaps steamed eggs dressed with freshly-cut ham. There isn’t a meal or a glass of wine you won’t enjoy. And the season-right gelato, the crisp almond bite of the biscotti will have you coming back for more.
And here’s hoping that one day she’ll be toasting me as I careen off the highway.