How not to make tortilla soup.Posted: April 13, 2012
A few days ago, I was planning to make tortilla soup for a friend who was coming over. I had just gotten home with five bags full of ingredients from my neighborhood Mexican supermarket. I’d hit traffic, my stomach was empty, and the idea of making this soup was stressing me out in a way I couldn’t understand. I felt like I didn’t know how to cook. I’d always been scared to cook, for reasons I wrote off as being too busy, or prioritizing other things in life, but this seemed like something deeper. What if my friend hated the soup? How did I know I was even making it right? I once dated someone whose family equated careful food preparation with love; as such, I always felt judged by him about how I prepared and regarded food. Did the fact that I’d forgotten the avocado, or that I wasn’t going to hand-roast the garlic, mean that I loved my friend less?
I actually started crying, right into the broth, and didn’t stop for fifteen minutes. During which I realized why: I’d never had a mother who was able to show me how to cook. Never mind that, according to my older siblings, her cooking had never been earth-shattering; or that my father cooked more during my upbringing because Mom was sick. But I never learned from him, either, because he was busy taking care of Mom and I was busy being a teenager. We ate a lot of meals that friends brought over. Dad thanked them each by name in Mom’s eulogy.
I started adding ingredients and texted my friend so he wouldn’t worry when he opened the door to find me all puffy-eyed. He was lovely about it. It felt good to talk about it. And the soup turned out to be amazing, actually. But when I want to communicate to others what it’s like to grow up without a Mom, I want to point to this, and say: see, this, here. This is what it’s like. Sometimes, just out of the blue, you suddenly doubt that you have any ability or license to function as a normal human being. “No one showed me how.”