Ketchup on Waffles and Other Things We Eat at Diners

It’s 9 PM, well after the usual dinnertime rush…

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via Daily Prompt: Loop

I’ve frequented the same diner since the age of five. My parents would travel an hour away from their rural home with three kids in tow to attend open houses in the suburbs. Touring homes was every kindergartner’s dream—basements became dungeons, attics were castles towering above the highest of clouds. Carpets were begging to be played on, and that elusive fourth bedroom for a family of five was just in reach.

Over the years, a second home found itself at the diner. Waitresses would dote on our family, slipping extra packages of crackers with our vegetable soup and providing an abundance of crayons for us kids to scribble furiously with on placemats. Yet one day, something changed. The kids were in their teenage years, and the dynamic wasn’t what it usually was. Staring into my cracker-less soup, I realized problems sometimes extend beyond the walls of a house.

Fast forward to the present. The four of us, fraternal twins and two close friends from high school, huddle in a booth toward the back of the diner. It’s 9 PM, well after the usual dinnertime rush. With an artist’s flair my friend drizzles syrup and ketchup onto her Belgian waffle. A waitress—a girl our age—spies the unusual combination and eyes our table with the perfect mix of disgust and confusion. We laugh. The hostess seats a group of three older ladies in the booth behind us, and we scramble to the display case of desserts when it is discovered they are, in fact, our teachers from elementary school.

A lot occurred as I matured from a five-year-old to a rising college sophomore. Some hard lessons learned, a life both enriched and complicated by difficult times—I emerged a girl with a more balanced, if not cynical, view of the world and all its unanswered questions. This diner has been there through it all, with its steaming bowls of soup, stained-glass lamps, and artfully arranged bouquets of flowers spilling over the booths.

My mind surfaced from its fog, I recognize the waitress who has served our family since my now-teenage sister was in a high chair. The memories slip into a comfortable loop. I’ve moved on from my standard meal of mac and cheese and refusal to eat broccoli. But when I eat that first spoonful of chocolate ice cream, I realize some things never change. That’s a reassuring thing.

Pencils, Pills, and Quick Fixes: Revisiting Those Last Few Weeks of College

It wasn’t that I didn’t have the images ingrained in my mind. I just didn’t want to be right about them.

It was the end of the spring semester when my English professor decided to give us one last assignment. He instructed his students to depict the difference between disappointment and regret in a series of drawings, a task not uncommon for those who loved this sort of “thought exercise.” As the noise from twenty-five pencils swelled, I stared blankly at the sheet of paper for several minutes before picking up my own. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the images ingrained in my mind. I just didn’t want to be right about them.

For me, disappointment became a figure staring up at the sky, his frame perched on the edge of a hill. But regret was different. Regret was molded into a man, his back to the observer, thinking of all the things left unsaid as he watches a car disappear down the winding road. And when I was done, those crudely drawn depictions resonated with me.

I had dinner with some friends in the days leading up to final exam week. We had a nice time—the meals were full of good conversation and some laughs. The trials I experienced over the school year deepened those friendships and forced me to do some soul-searching. I was always too focused on my own worries and choices to realize that yes, life does go on. Taking pride in others’ accomplishments is more than an action or feeling—it’s a continual exercise in humility I so desperately need as a college student.

Sometimes I feel ashamed because the conditions I swallow pills to stifle aren’t physical. They caused some hospitalizations and nasty physical effects, to be sure, but they aren’t physical. They’re mental. And sometimes I feel “less than” because of that fact, as if I have no business wallowing in their side effects or asking for help. The solutions I turned to to suffocate these insecurities were merely quick fixes, and I still don’t have all the answers. But sometimes I must look beyond my own struggles to observe what I’ve often missed in others’.