She dropped the Branzino on the goddamn floor. Only, my father and his wife Carol didn’t know it yet. They were dining with another couple, moving forks of iceberg lettuce into their carnivorous mouths, waiting. “You know, the ladies, they ordered the fish.” If I were there, I’d have ordered the lamb chops, but this was Carol, a woman who rarely strays from dry salmon, “no oil, no butter.” No flavor. Lemon is her good time. The Branzino was for two; the ladies decided to go for it. Living. Right there on the edge.
Three glasses of wine later, and the breadbasket was left only with Melba toast. A lone carrot sat in a pool of balsamic. They needed to be fed. Even Carol, a woman who can survive on gossip. On cue their young waitress arrived, red-faced and silent. She was holding her breath. As if someone turned a lever, when she began to speak, words became sobs. She really couldn’t breathe. No one understood.
“The fish. I–the tray. It’s on the floor. I can’t believe.” Then she wiped her snot with the back of her hand. “I am so sorry. I can’t believe.” You’d think her mother just backed over the family pet.
“Hey it’s okay. Relax. Just try breathing. It’s really okay.” My father’s voice is soothing and always calms me. Whenever I’m panicked, he reminds me to breathe. Pay attention to my shoulders. I only hoped he didn’t try to get the waitress to start in with the meditation. When I meditate, I imagine a school of fish. This would be a bad tactic. “Please, just relax. It’s really not the end of the world.” This wasn’t helping. She was now sobbing uncontrollably. The manager was walking over. “Please, stop trying to talk and just breathe.” I imagine he began to count or tell her to breathe in with him, using his hands as if he were strumming a harp.
“Here, if it makes you feel any better, I did the same exact thing once.” I imagine he pulled a chair over to the table and made her sit down and have a sip of water. I hate when people do this, offer up a glass of water, as if my sobbing was quickly en route to dehydration. It doesn’t calm me down. It’s a sham. His story wasn’t.
“There I was in the middle of a snowstorm with my friend Herby. We’d just walked a mile, [uphill, in the snow,] to arrive at a series of closed restaurants. Sure enough, at our fourth try we found one that was open, used the only money we had, and bought a pizza. Then, on my walk home, would you believe I tripped and dropped the damn pizza into the snow? We didn’t have the five second rule back then either.” She cracked a smile. “Listen, the point is, I had no idea why that had to happen to me. Maybe that happened, over twenty years ago, just so I could share the story with you now, so you realize it’s not the end of the world. People make mistakes, and one day, I promise you, you won’t forget this, you’ll tell your grandchildren about the time you dropped a tray of fish. And it will be a story. And maybe they’ll learn something from it. The point is, this is all just part of life, and the accidents are what we end up remembering. Because maybe they really aren’t accidents. Either way, you should know it’s all going to be okay.”
I love my father because he’s imperfectly perfect.