Half a Box of Cereal

I might sleep in here, she says. It’s Thursday night, almost the end of a school week heavy with late nights, homework packed in the hours between work, after-school, meetings, class.

I worked earlier in the evening, then it was Lebanese food and laughter around the dining table at home. Last summer, sweet miss B slept in the crib at the end of our big bed, Mark’s bikes, computer, life littered the front basement, and those rare dinners, everyone home- we set the table for eight.

Today, Mark’s in town again, a two-day visit, and Stevy swings by, I’m home, too, and the little ones clamber for space on Mark’s lap. And we sit there with dishes between us, the girls’ toys, plastic plates and pretend food, scattered between water glasses and place mats.

A family dinner.

But now it’s 10pm and I’m back at school, and I’ll probably do more homework- or try to- before I succumb to sleep, and Mary’s in my room, telling me she might sleep there tonight. No roommate means extra bed and I smile, nod towards the pink-quilted bed opposite my own.

Sure, that’s fine.

She disappears through the door then, and moments later I hear the sigh and click of it shutting, followed almost instantly by the heavy squeak of her own door- two down the hallway- whining open. She’ll be back in a bit, I know. Outside, night descends deeper, darker on the city. Inside, I pull sweatpants on, find the old blue sweatshirt from Goodwill- the one with the fish on it- in my closet.

I’m sleepy, but there’s reading, too, and I flip through the pages, fighting sleepiness for the opportunity- the privilege- to engage in learning. Theology reading, captivating and encouraging and so deeply true, I feel my forehead crease with the effort of keeping my eyes open, and frustration that I must fight this battle in the first place. But the pages turn and I read those words and soon, I’m putting the book back on the shelf, done.

I’ve brushed my teeth, washed my face, and am slipping- gratefully, so sleepily- under my blue flower comforter, when there’s a soft knock on my door. Before I answer, the door opens and I look up, twisting from my blanketed seat against the wall, to see Mary’s face appear in the space between door frame and thick wooden door.

Hi, she says, and I smile, return her greeting. I think I’m going to sleep in my own room tonight, she says, stepping all the way into my room, but holding the door open with a hand. Beyond her, the hallway is dim and quiet, the occasional swish and sigh of the bathroom door the only sound punctuating the midnight calm.

I nod, smile. That’s totally fine. You are always welcome. Have a good night. Love you.

She smiles, returns my goodnight wishes, and turns to go. But before she reaches the cold metal doorknob, she unfolds her arms, extending a battered box of off-brand cereal towards me. Here, she says, do you want some cereal? It’s too late, I’m too tired, to come up with a witty response to her rather whimsical midnight food offering, and there is a brief moment of silence as I try to decide if I desire the cereal.

Here, you can have this, she says, crossing the room and setting the orange box on my desk. Uhm, yea, sure, I nod, sleep-haze and uncertainty joining in a loose cloud of mild confusion in my mind.

It’s my love language, she says with a shrug and a gentle smile. Then she’s out the door and I’m left in my room, the light over the sink flickering, illuminating the half-eaten box of fake Cheerios on my desk. But with her parting words, it all makes sense. I understand, and I suddenly want the cereal very much.

Because love, appreciation, gratefulness, can be a funny, amorphous, near unrecognizable thing sometimes. But she eats two bowls of cereal in the downstairs dining room in the morning, and she buys boxes on special occasions at the Walmart Express under the train tracks, and cereal? It’s important to her. It’s a treat.

And she’s come into my room at midnight, long past the time she’d like to be in bed, and now there’s a box of cereal on my desk, and I’m falling asleep smiling because she’s right- I do feel loved.



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Mary Difino
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 13:09:04

    1) Literal lawl at “I try to decide if I desire the cereal.”
    2) I teared up. You ARE loved.


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