Valerie Ihsan

author, editor, mom, dog lover, adventurer, person

I bought a new cookbook.

This morning I opened it up to the Foreward, written--not by the author, but--by a physician.

"Food comes from the earth. So do we. The tastes, textures, smells, and colors of food..."

And here my mind wanders a bit. I'm imagining tasting each bite of food I eat as an exploration, rather than an annoying necessity to be rushed through before I move on to something I deem more important.

My son wouldn't explore either. He gobbles without thinking even more than I.

Then, I imagined my 18-year-old son sitting at the table eating a meal. Perhaps he wouldn't be wearing his noise-cancelling headphones at home. He wears them in public places--school, the bus, restaurants. He has hyperacussis. Certain frequencies of sound--especially beeping, clanging, and shrill sounds--and anything loud hurt him severely.

One time, in high school, a mic produced a terrible feedback sound at an assembly and he rested in an admin office for three hours, crying, until I could be notified and get to him. Noise hurts him.

I'm at the kitchen counter preparing my plate to join him at the table and I drop my fork on the plate. It crashes past the ceramic lip and clatters to the granite countertop.

"Sorry!" I say, turning to him. "I'm so so sorry."

His face is bent to his plate, one hand fisted on the table, the other held out to me, palm facing out, in the classic 'STOP' sign.

I freeze in silence. He fumbles with the headphones around his neck and puts them on. Then, he finger-punches at his phone for the music to start playing, to drown out the ringing in his ears, his face drawn and stiff with pain--and probably anger. The type that follows pain.

My hand finds my heart. I've caused him this pain.

"Lo Siento," I say. I'm learning Spanish. I say it in Spanish, even though he doesn't know it and can't hear me now anyway, because it means so much more than 'I'm sorry' than when I say it in English.

"I feel it."

And I do. I'm hurting because he's hurting. Tears rush up and my face pulls into a grimace. I close my eyes.

And they're closed on my couch, too, with the cookbook in my lap.

Heat flushes into my upper torso and I feel sweat prickle to the surface under my arms. I force my face to soften and take deep breaths, blowing out slowly--like at the beginning of a meditation.

Fat tears fall and my dog, Humphrey, lying next to me, lifts his head, checking on me. He doesn't rest until I look him in the face, pet his sleek head.

"It's okay," I whisper.

He settles back down and I wipe the tears away.

What is wrong with me? I'm reading a cookbook.

Where did that come from? It felt like a grief burst (coined by Alan Wolfeldt) but what am I grieving? Am I grieving?

Or did this happen because I'm a writer and I see scenes in my head, like movies, all the time.

Is is because I have a "rich imagination"?

Is this anxiety?

Does anyone else do this?

Or am I just weird?

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Find more articles on my archived blog, Dust Yourself Off (also known as Insane Parents Unite!).


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