Across from me at the kitchen table, my mother smiles over red wine that she drinks out of a measuring glass. She says she doesn’t deprive herself, but I’ve learned to find nuance in every movement of her fork.
In every crinkle in her brow as she offers me the uneaten pieces on her plate. I’ve realized she only eats dinner when I suggest it. I wonder what she does when I’m not there to do so.
Maybe this is why my house feels bigger each time I return; it’s proportional. As she shrinks the space around her seems increasingly vast. She wanes while my father waxes. His stomach has grown round with wine, late nights, oysters, poetry. A new girlfriend who was overweight as a teenager, but my dad reports now she’s “crazy about fruit.”
It was the same with his parents: as my grandmother became frail and angular her husband swelled to red round cheeks, rotund stomach and I wonder if my lineage is one of women shrinking making space for the entrance of men into their lives not knowing how to fill it back up once they leave.
That’s why women in my family have been shrinking for decades.
We all learned it from each other, the way each generation taught the next how to knit, weaving silence in between the threads, which I can still feel as I walk through this ever-growing house, skin itching, picking up all the habits my mother has unwittingly dropped like bits of crumpled paper from her pocket on her countless trips from bedroom to kitchen to bedroom again. Nights I hear her creep down to eat plain yogurt in the dark, a fugitive stealing calories to which she does not feel entitled, deciding how many bites is too many, how much space she deserves to occupy.
Watching the struggle I either mimic or hate her, and I don’t want to do either anymore. But the burden of this house has followed me across the country. I asked five questions in genetics class today and all of them started with the word “sorry.” I don’t know the capstone requirements for the sociology major because I spent the entire meeting deciding whether or not I could have another piece of pizza.
A circular obsession I never wanted but inheritance is accidental—still staring at me with wine-stained lips from across the kitchen table.