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Dinner
By: Lauren Gallow

There were always rules in our house. Most were unspoken, unless you didn’t follow them. Then there was a lot of speaking. There were a lot of rules surrounding dinner in particular. Mom would plan dinner and execute it, always making sure to please both of us, my stepdad Michael and me. He was a vegetarian for a period of time, and I remember vividly my mom preparing two separate meals, one for Michael and one for me. So mom made the dinners and I always had to set the table. We would make our plates, and then it was very important not to start eating until everyone had their food and was sitting at the table. To take even a bite before the last person sat down was sacrilegious. If you finished eating before anyone else, you had to stay seated at the table. Correction: if I finished eating, I had to stay at the table. If I wanted to leave the table first, I had to ask permission. This was very important. To ask permission. Always asking for permission, for everything. So we finish eating, and we all clear the table. And then it is my job to do the dishes. Or my mom’s. Often mom would rinse the dishes and hand them to me as I stood over the dishwasher, loading up the plates and forks and knives. Where was Michael? Drinking his scotch, watching us. Cleaning up entailed many different tasks. Food had to be put away properly, dishes had to be cleaned, tables and counters had to be wiped. Leaving a pan to soak in the sink was sometimes permissible. But often there was reprimanding for not finishing the job completely. Afterwards I would go in my room and shut the door and pretend to be working on my homework when really I was on the internet in a Yahoo chat room instant messaging with my internet boyfriend. Listening to my stereo that my dad bought me, Vanessa Carlton or Norah Jones singing to my heart. One Christmas/birthday (these were always combined because my birthday is five days before Christmas) my dad got me my own phone line and a purple cordless phone. I felt loved and important and special because none of my friends had their own phone lines let alone a cordless phone. This phone line also meant I could go on the internet whenever I wanted and not tie up the house phone line. I had all my friends’ phone numbers memorized. But usually by 7:00 pm I was in a chat room or on AIM. Sometimes at 9:00 I would come out into the living room and watch E.R. or Crossing Jordan with my parents. 10:00 was bedtime. When I was 16 I negotiated a later bedtime.  I asked and permission was granted. On the weekends, curfew was midnight. I only missed it once. I called at 11:45 because I knew I wasn’t going to make it home on time. I was reprimanded for calling and waking up my mom and Michael. Not for being late. For waking them up.

I had a list of chores hanging on the fridge. They were all mine, all of the chores. My mom wrote “Laur’s chores” on the list, because they were all mine. They each had a designated day by which they needed to be completed. We made the list because Michael would reprimand me for not caring about “our household” and not mopping the floor when it needed to be mopped. Read: when he thought it needed to be mopped. My mom was always the peacemaker. Sometimes she would do my chores, but never Michael.

There were also rules about eating. I remember once I was probably 8 or 9 and we went on a roadtrip, my mom, Michael, and I. We stopped somewhere and I started eating out of a bag of chips that was in the car. Michael started screaming (was he really screaming?) at me because I didn't offer chips to anybody else.   I thought, if you want some chips, why not just help yourself? They weren't my chips. But, I did it wrong. I was always doing things wrong. There was always a right way: his way...