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The doorbell rings, followed by a series of rhythmic taps on the front door. My mom licks her fingers and runs to the door, tripping over our yapping dog that jumps around in the doorway. I peek around the staircase to get a look at our first guest. My grandma barges through the door, handing my mom a glass platter of Russian salad on her way in. She greets my dog and kneels down to pet her.

“Good dog, Margo. Good dog.”


I roll my eyes from the top of the staircase. A small yellow puddle slowly made its way through the cracks in the tile floor. Grandma gasped and mom scolded Margo. In the end, my family thinks the dog’s little bursts of yellow enthusiasm are endearing. I find it disgusting. I tiptoe back into my room and slowly shut the door. I am not yet ready to showcase my awkward social graces to our family friends who have all just stormed through the front door like a group of angry elephants. I sulk around my closet trying to find an “appropriate” outfit for the upcoming Russian gathering. Putting on a plain white t-shirt and blue jeans, I rehearse a list of my recent academic accomplishments. My grandpa will want to hear all about them.

With a few deep breaths that will prove to be useless in about a minute, I descend down the staircase and dive into the chaos. The living room is already divided among the visitors. I am ushered into a group of fellow wimpy teenagers standing in the corner. Their facial expressions make it clear they yearn to return to their lives under a rock. We stand in silence and observe the scene as the adults bring out the food onto the table. My mom runs around the kitchen, adding finishing touches to the dishes. I feel a pang of guilt in my hollow tin chest – I should have helped her prepare the meals. I inch closer to the dinner table and carefully rearrange the hastily organized silverware. This band-aid temporarily covers the guilt-filled sore that has been silently oozing for hours.

Earlier today, I sat on the kitchen counter and watched as mom prepared the meals with laser focus. I couldn’t help but question the importance of such precision. The overstuffed, round turkey gleamed under the timid kitchen light, like a shiny and polished new Volkswagen Beetle in a short and sunny driveway. Mom rubbed in a concoction of garlic salt and lemon into its skin, and proceeded to knead the body of the turkey.

“They say massaging it makes the meat more tender and juicy,” she claimed.

I suppressed the urge to scoff, and instead nodded politely at her ridiculous comment. Mom carefully placed the turkey into the oven in an attempt to move on to her next task which involved cutting a medley of fresh vegetables that would be used to make a variety of salads. She talked while she sliced, and I patiently pretended to listen as my eyes glazed over once again. The salad ingredients were like small precious gems that shined ever so bright on a grand royal crown that was the silver platter mom used exclusively for special occasions.

This dinner would include a combination of both American and Russian traditional dishes. I know mom refuses to slave away in the kitchen, so she stuck to cooking simple foods overall. She hustled around the kitchen, mashing potatoes and mixing salads. All the while I continued to sit and watch, as I swung my legs back and forth like a little kid. To avoid feeling completely useless, I started to boil water to brew tea. Mom suggested I use a mixture of peppermint and eucalyptus herbs. Tea for Russian people is like Coca-Cola for American people – a very widespread and popular drink choice.

I could no longer stand to watch my mom running around the kitchen like a desperate housewife, so I dragged myself upstairs to my room to waste some time until the dinner party has formally begun. Now I stand in a corner petting Margo with my foot, and trying to form a genuine laugh at some sort of racist joke my Russian cousin has just repeated.

A dragon roars, a wolf howls, the clock rings four – time to eat. The huge turkey acts as the centerpiece of an otherwise modest table. A mirror hangs above the chairs. Through the reflection, I watch everyone selfishly dig into the food with an insatiable hunger. It’s like poking your head into a television comedy. Everyone pretends to be brooding and deep as they make polite dinner conversation with mouths full of mashed potatoes. All I see is a group of buffoons failing at their attempt to act human. They have no idea they’re providing me with cheap entertainment.

Despite the Russian values of independence, hard work, and academic success, our people share the same insecurities as everyone else on this planet. As we sit down to share a hot meal together, everyone tries to outshine one another with over exaggerated accomplishments and deceitful stories. Their faces depict effort and control, but the mirror shows their fear and doubt. I look into the reflection at a girl who is already staring at me. Her eyes express boredom and disgust. I smile at her in silent agreement and she smirks back. I quickly finish my food and state that I would like to be excused – mom nods ‘yes’. The girl and I get up and start to leave the dining room. I follow her gaze and she follows mine as we both climb up the stairs to my room, my safe haven. She is no longer with me, but she doesn’t need to be. That mirror is the only thing that makes these dinner parties bearable. The impersonal observation of my family members entertains my bored soul. I hear my uncle let out a hearty laugh that’s followed by a clink of glasses. Russians are always toasting something. I shut my door and leave behind the cultural noise. The only thing I’m going to be toasting tonight is my comfortable solitude, and no one else is invited to my exclusive, one-man dinner party.





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