It is days before the one-year anniversary of the loss. I will be staying with my mother tonight, who is having surgery tomorrow that will require me to stay with and look after her for roughly the next 10 days. Upon waking this morning, as eyes were being rubbed, legs stretched, and faculties regained, a random memory popped into my head. Kara gesticulating and whisper-screaming, “Zuppa Toscanaaaaaa!” at me.
A handful of years ago, as Kara and I were running errands and deciding where to have lunch in a suburban Washington town, I half-jokingly said, “Well, we could go to Olive Garden.” She scoffed, then a beat later pressed me with regard to my level of actual intent. I replied, “Well, you know, it’s basic, reliable, bullshit. If you order right, you won’t be too disappointed. And not for nothing, that Zuppa Toscana….is downright delicious.” “Fuck it - let’s go!”
In expected Kara-fashion, she wildly misordered. For her, anyway. For some reason, she thought that an insanely rich dish like shrimp Alfredo would hit the spot. Which it did not. It never did. Meanwhile, my eggplant parm with Zuppa Toscana was a fried, red-sauced, cheesy, brothy, beautiful melange of acceptable chain food comfort that left Kara a little bitter, jealous, and still hungry. Despite the fact that my soup had sausage in it, she wanted to try a meat-free spoonful of broth to see what she was missing. Its delectable savoriness only angered her further and I would be forced to order up another bowl and surrender a slice of eggplant.
Some weeks later, she related to me a dream she had in which I was running around extremely intent on entering rooms or establishments yelling, “Zuppa Toscanaaaaa!” And for whatever reasons the brain pulls things up from its recesses and tosses them into the spotlight, this is the memory I woke up to this morning.
So I found the nearest Olive Garden on Google maps and arrived right when they opened at 11 am sharp. I went straight to the bar and ordered the lunch-sized eggplant parm, Zuppa Toscana over the salad, of course, and a glass of Chianti - 9 oz pour.
All of this might sound a little out of time and place, but on this particular day, the OG possessed a welcoming tranquility. It was quiet, and the late morning sun beamed warmly through the windows of the dining room. And by whatever mystical methods my physiology chose to employ at that moment, the most perfect wine buzz on memory washed over me the same way the sun was currently gracing the booths and tables.
I finished glass one just as my empty soup bowl was replaced with a visually perfect plate of eggplant parmesan and a second pour. I was having a moment and I knew it. Did it matter that I was alone at a bar in a suburban Olive Garden at 11:23 am? Nope. On the contrary. There was something wondrous, bordering on romantic about it all. And made all the better by the fact that it was happening when and where it was. Moments in the sun can be had anywhere if you are amenable to accepting them. But perhaps most notably because I was currently enjoying a Kara memory with no dark clouds to speak of. Which I’m sorry to say, is still a bit of a rare occurrence.
But I’m older now. And by the time I arrived at mom’s place, I was chubby-tired and buzzed up pretty good. I took an uneasy semi-nap and battled a bit of an afternoon OG hooch headache. But it was more than worth it. Not only for the perfect moment I was provided, but for what might be, in its own weird way, a new compound Kara memory. And a heartwarmingly pleasant one at that. It’s something that never occurred to me before. The potentiality that we might be able to utilize older memories in the creation of new ones. Because despite the fact that she may never have made it there physically, we’ll always have the Beaverton Town Center Olive Garden.