by Stephanie Nielsen about a month ago in humanity

The dinner party of six lifetimes


There’s something inexplicably exhilarating yet terrifying about the prospect of knowing the future, and there’s an infinite weight of responsibility that comes with being able to influence the past. In a word - I’m nervous.

I glance around the Jayco Pinnacle fifth wheel camper that my husband and I bought less than a year ago, and make sure that everything is ready to go. I wonder what they’ll think when they see it through the inspired eyes of youth, and I wonder what memories will be reborn when they see it through the sapient eyes of time.

The cat boxes in the bunk room have been scooped out and lined with fresh litter, the air purifier next to them cranking at full force. It’s joined by an army of air fresheners in the incessant campaign to make it smell like there aren’t three cats living in less than 500 square feet of space, and every wayward tumbleweed of fur has been painstakingly swept and vacuumed. The cats themselves would be confined to the bedroom if it were any other dinner party, but I know they’ll all want to see them tonight.

The Corian countertops on the kitchen island have been cleared and the fruits of my limited cooking knowledge have been carefully arranged, adding their rich, savory smells to the homey, efficiently combined kitchen and living room.

I peek under the tinfoil that is staunchly protecting the contents of the glass baking dish from the outside world, and see the six butterflied chicken breasts are still perfectly nested where I left them. The cream cheese and mozarella on top has baked to a gooey crown, and wilted spinach and sautéed mushrooms occasionally peek out from underneath.

I likewise check on the Brussels sprouts in the other baking pan, the pancetta on top crisped to a chewy punch of flavor and the roasted, green halves looking just as delectable. I love cooking Brussels sprouts this way - just like my Uncle Mike did in Virginia for every 4th of July. I wonder if they’ll all remember too.

Even when it’s just me and my husband in the camper we never eat at the little dinette table, and it’s certainly not big enough to sit more than three of us tonight. Instead it’s holding the cheap, teal, plastic cups and barely-metal utensils I thrifted from Walmart when I first started at UF’s vet school a year and a half ago, and plates depicting various animated camping scenes that I splurged on when we first got the camper.

The living room is where we’ll actually eat, and dinner tray tables have been set up in front of the gray, leather recliners and the long, matching couch that runs the width of the living room. It’s going to be tight having everyone in the living room at once, but it’s way too buggy and muggy to eat outside in the central Florida summer.

In the fridge there’s Dragon’s Milk White Chocolate Stout beers that I’m sure at least two of us will drink, Cokes for the two youngins, and bottled water for the rest. I picked up a Publix cheesecake for dessert since baking and I have never gotten along (I hope that someday changes), and I have caramel syrup to go on top.

I link the camper’s bult-in stereo to my phone, playing the Spotify playlist titled 98 Rock for some background music. 98 Rock is the main rock radio station in the Tampa Bay Area, and I grew up listening to it almost exclusively. The playlist is full of 90’s and 2000’s names like Linkin Park, Bush, Tool, Disturbed, The Offspring, and others that I hope everyone will enjoy. I’m curious how many of the songs the older ones will still know the lyrics to, and it’ll be interesting to see how many the youngest has yet to hear.

My husband has been banished from the camper for the night along with our 15-month-old daughter, Mackenzie. I struggled for a while with whether I wanted them to be here to meet everyone, but I think in the end this is something that is best done alone.

There’s a knock on the camper’s door and I open it to see an intimately familiar face. Looking back at yearbook pictures and family photos I never thought my features changed all that much from 14 to 26, and seeing myself in the flesh at that age just confirms it. I realize that the youngest is waiting to come up the steps behind her, and I can’t help but smile as I take in the spunky, spirited eight year old I used to be.

I let them into the camper and they immediately gush over the cats who have come out to greet them. Neither of them would have met Tama, Coda, or Pearl yet, and it warms my heart in a way I’ve never experienced to see them loving on their future kitties. Before I can close the door and join them, I see the other three coming up the drive.

I look a lot more like my mom at 40 than I thought I would, though that’s not at all a bad thing. She’s supporting one side of the bent, wrinkled 80 year old, and myself at 65 is on the other.

I’m suddenly intimidated beyond words, humbled by the wisdom that lies in the passage of years and curious yet hesitant to know what victories and heartbreaks are yet to come. I wonder if these women resent at all who I am today, and what it took to become who they are now.

“Come,” the 65-year-old version of myself says kindly, wrapping me in a brief hug before taking the door. “We have much to talk about.”

Stephanie Nielsen
Stephanie Nielsen
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