July 1.

Driving thought #1: I am capable but not particularly tough. My mother is tough but not particularly capable.

Driving thought #2:

Everyone is suffering and that’s not to say we can’t scream about things

I mean I still plan to

I mean when I see my friends liking Hillary Clinton things on Facebook I’m still sad because she’s a corporatist puppet and if we stop voting for Democrats maybe they’d actually be Democrats for once and

but: how to have more space for the suffering

while still screaming

if someone cuts me off in traffic

maybe it was because they were trying not to cry while driving someone to the emergency room

it’s not that you should stop screaming

July 2


Clinical depression looks to the neurotypical brain a fuckload lot like laziness

Clinical depression looks to the neurotypical brain a fuckload lot like laziness

Clinical depression looks to the neurotypical brain a fuckload lot like laziness

Clinical depression looks to the neurotypical brain a fuckload lot like laziness

Clinical depression looks to the neurotypical brain a fuckload lot like laziness

Repeat repeat repeat as I am busting my ass running the biz making food mom-sitting, etc etc and my brother







He’ll do something if I ask. I shouldn’t have to ask. But if I remind him, he’ll do it. After a few reminders.

*    *     *

My mom is doing work on the couch and absently calls out to her cat, Shanthi: “Come here, sweet pickle face!”


July 6.

Mother & Daughter Monday work day, both of us with our computers on our laps, looking out at the beautiful day from behind the closed windows (paper thin skin/no fat means you’re cold when it’s 85 degrees in July):

“Now, something I hate more than poison.”


“Calling the Israeli Consulate.”

Listening to her do her job, how good she is at it.


July 8.

Picking her up to go to the doctor. My brother is having some sort of a mental health moment, I can sense it when I walk in. I try to talk to him gently.

“What’s happening?” Caringly drawn eyebrows and all.

“I don’t know, I just feel angr—“

“Oh! I have a chocolate here!” my mother yells out, digging a caramel out of her pocket.

He looks at me, walks away.

“Hey Gus, do you want to go to a movie this week?”

I stare at her.

“I need to start practicing for the dinner.”

“The dinner in August? So, what, you just cook the dishes you’re going to make for the dinner?”

In the car I call her on it.

“He was trying to talk about his feelings.”


They are college roommates, perennially annoyed with each other for finishing the last of the Oreos. They have way too many walls up to discuss things directly. I am the go-between, and I tell her how unhappy it makes me. She is oblivious, then vaguely chastened, then forgets all about it.

At the hospital I hold onto her as she wobbles into the room to be weighed. The nurse stares at me sharply. “Do you have a walker? Or a cane or a wheelchair?” “We have them all. She refuses them all.” “She’s not safe on her feet, anyone can see that. Wasn’t she just in the hospital for falling?” Another sharp look. I give her eyes meant to express my mother’s stubbornness. “I’m getting you a wheelchair. Sit back down.”

On the way home from the doctor:

“I feel better now knowing I’m supposed to feel weak.”

“But…how could you not know this? You’ve just undergone the most intensive radiation treatments known to man, how did you think you’d feel?”

“I don’t know…the same, I guess.”

“Do you still have the packet with all the side effects? I know you hate it, but it could make you feel better, to know that how you’re feeling is to be expected.”

Of course she will not read about the side effects, of course she asked my brother to throw out the packet.

To read about side effects would be to admit she might have cancer.

Parallels between abuse and cancer:

An outside force is hurting you.

You assume that you’ll get through it by “being strong,” and don’t see that what will help you get through it is making a plan for survival.

And then following it.


July 8.

Do you want to hear my hot tips for remembering things while driving? Put them on your body. The memory palace technique. My mom gets nervous when I write on my hand while driving, so I remember to give A. her six-month raise because I stored it in my right elbow, remember to do a Planning Board task because my left elbow reminds me, I remember to ask Jacob to do that work thing because I put it at my right knee. It works!

July 10.

I’m grumpy.

I didn’t have an easy life before—it was chaotic and intensely complicated. But it was my own. Its complications were freely chosen by me. These new ones aren’t and I often hate them because of it.

July 11.

I am not good. I am the opposite of good.

Signs: No tolerance for being around others. Desperately need alone time, yet bizarrely cling to others in weird ways. Not strong enough to speak up for alone time because if alone, I have to deal with my not-good head. I clunk on like this for a week.

I am in the shop but not of the shop. I wander around, use up time until everyone leaves, work for a few hours, hang out with Kate, talk to Jacob, who is on endless tour. I can’t stand being questioned about what I’m doing at work, can’t stand talking about anything.

Ready to break all the time.

Here’s a thing: when I am courageous and I say to my brother the truth: that he is depressed / that he can’t function / that I can’t be his mom but I’m willing to help him / but he has to take steps for himself—if I don’t say it firmly he ignores me, if I do say it firmly he gets mad but then he does whatever I say. I have to be my father to get anything done. I know I’ve already written about this. (I refuse to reread, can you tell.) I won’t be my father. So I’m stuck.


July 12.

I sort of keep to myself. I tidy up my house, I organize my garage, I reorganize the storage room at the shop, I tidy up the back room of the shop, I clean the kitchen of the shop, I obsessively dust the shop. I do paint touch ups on the shop building. I analyze my budget to see if there’s any way I could afford to get my house painted this summer. I start overly ambitious projects at work just to feel like I’m worth something, because worthy people create things.  I am more perfect than I have ever been. My life is more out of control than it has ever been.

As things get worse I get more obsessed with perfecting my own life. So obvious, all my dumb strategies.

Was I ever happy I? I ask Maresa. You’ve always had your troubles, she said.

It’s egotistical to think of yourself as an artist but I guess that artists pretty much are always unhappy. This gives me some solace. Maybe striving for happiness is not the goal. Maybe all I can hope for is productivity. To get the inside out.

I am so bad at meditation. Shockingly bad and I hate it. And I don’t do it regularly enough to get good at it. But it still helps. I get limpingly better.

A lot of times now I’m not sure I’m the person I’ve spent 20 years becoming. A lot of times I feel like a Yearwood. My family name. I still have the name change papers I got in college. Like a tattoo, the need to pick something perfect was too overwhelming. So I never changed my name. Feeling like my name, my father’s side of the family, is unbearable.

July 14.

Jacob comes home from endless tour for three days and of course everything is better. The Jacob and Kate Show, with special guest Maresa, sews me up for the millionth time, reforms me into a human shape. Happy Bastille Day.


July 16.

Better is short lived: I have a panic attack followed by a 4-mile walk intended for calming that culminates in me screaming at a fellow chef-business owner that I hope he dies.

Over and over.

I hope you’re tortured and you die.

It’s best if I don’t get into details? It involves foie gras. The screaming is bad enough. Yearwood-enough, but worse is the Facebook post I write afterward. A series of phone calls ensue, plus a vaguely threatening visit from said chef-business owner, sous chef crossed arms behind him. Ha!

Oh, I am a fuckup.

Recriminations are so acute that I go to my List of Enemies and write an earnest email to K&K, notorious graphic designers I had a big feud with four years ago when they called me poor (spoiler alert I was) and send them an earnest email calling a truce, saying the truth: I’m tired of ignoring them all over town, I invite them to the big party next week. They never write back and I mean that’s the best possible outcome, right? I don’t need to talk to them (for verily, dear reader, they are insufferable) and I get to fix the balance sheet a bit.

I wonder how I come off to people who don’t know me personally and are reading all these words? Huge egotist asshole trying desperately not to be? Bout right.

Anyway I tell my mother the whole story, both of these stories, and she looks at me with 100% annoyance and horror, I can’t quite figure out why. Yelling at meat-eaters is a good thing, she’s thinking. Why be so upset about it? But she doesn’t have the murderous Yearwood-rage my brother and I have. She doesn’t know how dangerous our anger can be.

July 19.

My brother

suddenly one day a small shift and we are aligned. No more fighting. Well mostly. Our mother is sliding down and we instinctively know that all we can do is be there for each other. Now we are co-collaborators in the project of keeping our mother alive, and I’m so thankful to him every day. Tonight he cries on the porch with me, after I’ve narrowly caught her from falling down an entire flight of stairs and screamed for his help to get her into bed.

I leave their place and throw up into the grass outside. Two seconds later she would have fallen. She would have died, no doubt. She blacked out for about twenty seconds. I was in the exact right place. I remind myself I was there because I knew it was the exact right place. Safest. The image of her crumbled at the bottom of the stairs is not real but it is there.

I’d left seeing Kate’s closest friends’ band because I remembered I needed to bring her a medication before she went to bed. I thought I could slip out without her noticing. She noticed. I thought I’d be gone fifteen minutes, her apartment is two blocks from the show. I was gone an hour, when I came back everyone was breaking down, the lights were on, I was pale and couldn’t talk. She took me outside, then took me home. In between we just sat on the asphalt at work where our cars were, not really talking. The moonlight in a puddle on the cracked asphalt. Real quiet I finally said to her



she almost died

right now



July 20.

My brother

So much now is that I have a brother.

To go for almost twenty years without thinking about it.


And now to have to think about it.

So much.

The strangest thing is that I love him. I’m not used to loving infuriating people. But he loves me and, I love him. I’m. Happy? He’s around. Not quite it. Is there a word for – it’s good for you to be here where I can help you / you take up a lot of my time and it’s sometimes annoying / you don’t know how not to be extremely selfish which is hard / sometimes you are so unconsciously sweet that I stare at you in awe with my dumb family-heart beating all wild?

I wrote a list of ways he is mysteriously bizarre / damaged / frustrating / baffling / so hurt

so you’d maybe understand more.

The thing of how he keeps getting poison ivy because he can’t seem to figure out what it is. Keeps cutting through wooded areas filled with it. Can’t stop scratching it, even when you’re telling him scratching is the worst thing for it. Has to go to the doctor for it when his leg swells up to twice its size. Won’t go to the doctor alone, casually/sorta begging asks if you will drive him. Later, in the car, says you made him go. Can’t refill prescription for steroid & anti-inflammatory because can’t find his insurance card. Can’t seem to call insurance company to get new card. The thing of the car: needs New York plates on car, which means NY inspection, which means NY driver’s license. Which means needs various forms of ID. Getting these documents together is too much. The car hasn’t been used in almost two months now. Part of that is the road rage thing. I know he’s fucking terrified of it. I do the grocery shopping, which I don’t mind. I mind when they text me that they’re “out of water” (“you’re not out of water. It comes out of the tap.” “You know what I mean.”)

The unsaid things.

The said things.

The things you said in a gentle voice.

The things you said in an annoyed voice.

My brother drinks four liters of fizzy a day so I buy twenty a week and it’s never enough and why



















I am thirsty too


My mother drinks three glasses of water a day, max. I’ve counted. The doctor begs her. Chemo poisons must be flushed out. Radiation needs to be flushed out. It’s not optional. She sips her dainty sips. When I mention it she “you don’t know me”s me. “You’re not here all the time. You don’t know what I drink when you’re not around—I’m trying, I am.” Older people are less thirsty. It’s a fact.

My mother works. Working is what she does. When my brother or I get exasperated and get on her about not walking more, doing her physical therapy exercises, doing her breathing exercises, drinking more, blah blah, she interjects, “I’m working. I have to keep working. It keeps me going.” When we tell her that’s nice, and that’s good for her mental state, but without taking care of yourself you’ll never improve. Never be able to walk up the stairs without one of us making the protective cage around you. Never be able to walk outside without one of us there. Never drive, never go anywhere. She works. She pretends none of this is happening. People say things like, “Oh cancer oh it was a blessing oh it allowed me to see things clearly oh I made changes oh I told people what I thought oh” but she is living As Before. Much diminished. But functioning.

I work on

Letting go

Because what else is there to do I’ve tried

Clutching hard I’ve tried

Making lists I’ve tried

Begging pathetically I’ve tried

Being the mommy I’ve tried

Trading for treats I’ve tried

Crying I’ve tried

Screaming I’ve tried

Gentle poking I’ve tried

Cutely wheedling

So now I am not there as much. Once a day, or twice. She doesn’t need me three times anymore, my brother is there, he does help.

She gets a blood transfusion a few days after the last blackout, the stairs one, and she’s more steady. Can you get a blood transfusion every month or so, as she has been, forever? Let’s not ask.


Thank god he doesn’t have a job I tell myself a hundred times a week, though he’s bored out of his fucking weirdo mind. When I say “he does nothing all day” you won’t quite know what I mean. Like, he will bring my mom water, carry things up the stairs while making the protective cage around her when she walks up a few times a day, clean out the portable commode, do little small errands once in a while, but mostly he sits in his bedroom. And does nothing. Not even looking at his phone. Just. Sitting. It’s terrifying. I know I already mentioned this. Repetition intended to underscore frustration.

We go together to the therapist I found for him. I instantly can’t stand her. She’s obsessed with him getting a job. That’s why I go. “She just says, like, every time, did you look for a job this week? And I try to tell her, but…” So I go and I lay it fucking down. Three minutes flat and I calmly tell her how it goes, expecting her thankfulness:

our father abused us our mother has cancer a job is not a concern right now he is clinically depressed with PTSD Aspergers and a side of road rage so severe he can no longer drive.

She looks at me. “Did your father molest you?” she asks me. I should have walked. fucking. out. I just stare at her. “What?” “I just think maybe it would be useful to see the two of you together. Were you molested?” When we leave I tell my brother I think she fucking sucks. He doesn’t go back to her, never calls to tell her, and later gets angry at me that he no longer has a therapist. So I find him another therapist.

July 20

I feel panicky with upsetworryrage but

Jacob calls about a rolfer for my back

I call about therapists for my brother

Kate makes me dinner

And in this way we get through it

All of us doing a little for all of us

I mean: me doing things for them, my loved ones doing things for me


July 21

When I leave her place the moon is a luminous wedge laced with clouds. Maresa is traveling cross-country this weekend and my mom was telling me how in 1965 she drove from Chicago to New Mexico with her roommate from Cambridge, picking up hitchhikers nonstop, how her roommate was a classical musician and “very straight” not a hippie at all but they still had fun.

The way “straight” used to be used, the way it is now.

I passed an old friend as I was walking back to work. His bad behavior, consistently on the verge of a mental illness, is costing him everything, slowly. I saw him at the outdoor movie the other night beerboozy knowing 3/4 of the crowd, sitting alone. I passed the owner of the indie record store who cutely fulfills every stereotype of owners of record stores in small towns in 2015 for good and for bad.

When I walk from her apartment back to the shop I can walk on the street where I yelled at the chef or I can walk on the street next door. I used to do one, now I do the other. Shame and avoidance. I think of my place or if you want to call it my reputation in this town. I think about how hard I want to be kind.


July 28

Your mother tells you she had a dream that you told her not to go to the party because of her face. She tells you this and then she is upset when you’re upset. Oh, I shouldn’t have told you. Remember—Freud says anyone in a dream telling you something is you talking to your subconscious.

So your subconscious thinks I’m uptight. And cruel. And unloving.

Well I didn’t say that.

Well your dream did.

Oh, I shouldn’t have told you? I’m sorry. Oh, now you’re upset.

I’m fine.

You cry in the car like the baby you are.



July 29

I said above she is sliding down but I don’t think it’s true. She minutely better, but mostly the same, every day. Maybe infinitesimally stronger. She is on a break from all treatments. No one talks long-term but then again we haven’t ever. The treatments are supposed to buy time and of course everyone who has gone through them says the same thing at the end of them: what kind of time? This kind? She has few of the advertised side effects but the ones she has are fucking horrific.

A while ago I wrote here that every day would be worse than the day before for her, but now I realize that it’s not true—cancer is peaks and valleys.


July 30

When you have them over and make them grilled cheeses and you and Jacob clean everything up and they sit there or just sort of wander around and then when everything is all cleaned up your brother says “is there anything I can do” and you bite your lip not to scream JUST ONCE YOU COULD WASH A FUCKING DISH JUST ONCE YOU COULD WIPE DOWN A FUCKING COUNTER and why didn’t you? Why always let him get away?


July 31

We have a party. Shop 4 year anniversary party. I’m sort of checked out of it, because I have a dinner the next week.

Everyone else makes everything for it, I just do the stuffed mushrooms I always do and the day of Kate and I get there early because they need me to be there to set up the bounce house. We set up the air wiggley man and then we just bounce until it’s time to go inside to work. I discover that bouncing is my ideal exercise, ideal recreational activity. The party, the dinners, the bouncing: this pulls me out of what’s been crushing me. All day I’m basically just hanging outside, trying to convince people to bounce. Very not like ol’ misanthrope me. I want kids to bounce and I mostly want adults to bounce. Then when people leave I bounce alone. I throw my shoulder out of joint but who cares. Bouncing in a Disney princess-themed bounce house outside of the shop is the most peaceful thing that’s happened to me in months.

The party is overrun with people. I knew it would be because I advertised it everywhere. Everyone said “Don’t advertise it as much as last year!” Because last year we ran out of chocolate. I advertise it more because why not. It’s busier than last year. I once read a business book by Ben & Jerry where they said they figured if they could afford to stay in business they could afford to give away cones one day a year. So it is with our anniversary party: platters heaped with towering mountains of chocolates, a 6-foot long S’mores Bar that took four of us to enrobe (five if you count Jacob filming it), drinks, the bounce house, the air wiggler, why not. My mother and brother have a fantastic time. My mother turns out to be so skilled at applying pancake makeup that you can barely tell anything is weird about her face, which is slowly, steadily, purple-y healing from the June fall. She sits on a little throne on the bench outside with pillows and blankets and fields a constant stream of people complimenting her and asking if they can get her anything. It seems like it would be annoying but she is immensely buoyed by it. She likes being a celebrity.


My brother gets extremely high with Than and S. and flirts with girls. My mother, Jacob, Kate, Shana, and I all watch this in horrified/amused amazement. Afterward Than and him go out on the town with a girl who is obsessed with Than and her friend. The world is topsy-turvy but still somehow keeps spinning. Than stays all weekend and I barely see him because I’m in dinner world but he and my brother go on hikes, bike rides, get high all across the Hudson Valley. The girl gives him a humongous painting no one has anywhere to put so we put it up at the shop.

*          *          *

I have a dinner to do.

That’s mostly my July. Doing a dinner takes me a month. How can that be? I try to figure that out a lot. But it does.

First I get some ideas on what I want to make. This stupid process takes me a fucking week because I have to look through like fifty million files and marked pages and notebooks and computer notes. Then I have to see if any of the things I want to make somehow make up some sort of theme. If not I have to artificially impose a theme on them. Then I need to think about the theme for a while. Then I have to teach myself how to make all the things I want to make. Three-quarters of those things are dropped for one reason or another so I have to keep repeating that process, making things at night and in the early mornings at work because I can’t stand, at this gentle, eggshell-sensitive stage, for anyone working at the shop to ask me what I’m making because I am very obviously bonkers, to be so sensitive about it all. Repeat repeat repeat. Try to make it so what you want to make and what is in season are the same, which was a big thing this time when I spent like a week fucking around infusing pesto into compressed watermelon and then Pete said watermelons wouldn’t be ready for another two weeks. Then make a big shopping list. Then email and call and accost farmers trying to get everything on the list. Convince them to dig up fennel now because you want baby fennel so you can make licorice with it and charcoal and absinthe and sugar, and to sell it to you at a wholesale price. Have fun! They’d prefer to sell it at a farmer’s market in a month, when it’s fat and fetches good money. So order the stuff you can’t get locally from your produce distributor and feel like a dummy about ordering a few cases of nonlocal produce when you live in a farming town and it’s July.

Eventually you have a menu sort of ready. Keep practicing everything for it over & over. Make any fermentations that needed to already be made for it, like, last month. Jacob puts tickets on the website. 48 seats, 4 nights, $70 a person. Seriously they should be $100 for all this work. Pete’s doing dinners at his farm for $70 and they’re like a roasted chicken and peach cobbler—and they totally deserve $70, let me be clear (well I wish there wasn’t chicken, blah blah.) $70 is a good price for farm dinners at the farm. And $100 if a good price for 12 courses of ridiculous molecular gastronomy bullshit with all organic local produce. Ours are still $70 because we want to be able to look our diners in the eye though. Even $80 seems like too much. One time I had this bonkers customer from the meal delivery service days who emailed me when we did our first dinner round a few years ago and, oh wait I’ll just paste the email. Why not. It’s too good.

Hi Lagusta!  First, let me thank you for that wonderful free anniversary bash you had – it was marvelous, and very generous, and a great way to sample the different flavors and find what one likes!  Loved your letter (as always) in the paper, too!

Here I praise your generosity – that party didn’t come cheap, I’m sure – so given how you have to make a profit so you can stay in business, I hate to complain about prices.  But, as THRILLED as I was when I saw that there was a chance to once again enjoy your tasty savory items as well as the sweet, when I saw your dinner parties, I was also SHELLSHOCKED at the prices!  As you know, xx. and I tossed and turned about splurging on the meal service (which we do sorely miss!) about paying $15 a meal (if discounted) per person, but your food was so great we often did splurge.  To get a fancy meal, with many courses, okay, we can see paying $25 a meal.  When I first saw the figure “$70”, that’s a lot higher, $35 a person, but for your food, we probably would have signed up.  But… when I looked closer I did a double take – $70 a person??  $140 a couple??  It’s been a while since we’ve eaten in NYC, but I can’t imagine paying $70 a person even there – nor at the Culinary (we tend to go during their March specials of… is it $28 for 3 courses?).  OK, wait, Mohonk is almost that price (and their food is not as good as the Culinary).    I certainly realize you have to make enough to make it worthwhile, and it’s a lot of work – but I just had to give feedback that it’s an awful big jump and that $70 a couple we’d consider but $140 just doesn’t seem reasonable… I’m shocked there’s folks in New Paltz that will plunk that down (can you get them to donate to the library or Sierra Club, ha!).  I’m heartbroken not to get to enjoy your dinners again, but… ouch…

it’s good, right? Oh, the world. I wrote her back about a million pages about why it costs so much and never heard anything.

So you announce it on your personal Facebook page, not the business one. Half the tickets sell that night. You’re blushing for a day. Announce it on Instagram. The other half sell the next morning. You’re blushing for a week. People who would have only been able to buy tickets had you announced it on the business Facebook page are a little P.O.ed and you feel bad about it. But cooking for 80% friends is fucking rad.

Start having meetings with Alexis, who’s serving, and Jacob, to taste and talk and discuss



Place settings



Dietary preferences

Diner disabilities

How to announce each dish / how to talk about it

My file for each dinner runs to 12 or 15 pages: to-do lists, shopping lists, recipes, notes, words about the foods, diary scraps, memories.

The week of the dinners I pull 12-15 hour days every day. I am happier than I’ve been since Christmas, since Valentine’s, since Easter. Everything else falls away and I am just Lagusta. Just me cooking alone at night and in the mornings and now also all day.

My brother and my mother are a little confused about why cooking dinner has suddenly swooped in and taken over my entire life, like, every minute of my life.

I have this thing which is that I can’t seem to make my mother anything she likes. I’ve told you all about it before, I know. I ask and I cook and she’d rather eat a frozen Daiya pizza or an Amy’s lentil loaf any night. It crushes me.

I give my mother and my brother tickets to the first night of the dinner, and I’m so worried she’s going to fall / be cold / not make it to the bathroom / hate the food that I’m shaking with nerves for the first half. My brother—what will he think? I know he won’t like all of it, but will he understand, about art and all? That I’m trying to make it art? After everyone leaves I go out and sit at the table with my mother and she is more effusive than I’ve seen her in, like, ever. She goes through every dish on the menu, telling me how she loved each one. And then she gives me money for the tickets. Miracles upon miracles. I wonder if someone, Jacob or Alexis, got to her, told her how much it mattered to me. Who cares? She liked food I made. It gives me energy to do the other three nights.

The potatoes were ugly the first night and the last night the eggplant bacon was slightly burnt but otherwise the dinners were


A bad word for a girl trying to cure a perfection addiction but sometimes you gotta, you know, spade = spade. Even writing about it now I am so dang proud of myself I can’t stop smiling. Everything was so beautiful. The weather cooperated like a damn champ. Every diner was a fucking peach (easy for me to say, since I didn’t have to wait on them.). Alexis cleaned up in tips + our wages. We were winners all around, drinking wine every night, nibbling while we did the thousands of dishes required for the thousands of courses. I kept my plating tweezers in a special place so they wouldn’t be disturbed all week. I picked flowers every morning and put them on plates every night, just so.


Fuck I love to cook.

August is next! 

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