Chi Chi’s on West Main

As a kid, whenever asked “where do you want to eat?” I’d answer “I don’t care.” I still do this, all the time, because making decisions creates in me a reaction similar to having a mild anxiety attack.  Ultimately I really, truly, don’t care. If I’m craving something I might say so (along with a ‘but anything is fine’), otherwise I’m just as happy getting pizza as I am egg rolls. This drove my mother crazy.

One late afternoon we were driving into Kalamazoo and she asked if I was hungry. I told her I was, a little. She asked where I’d like to eat. I said I didn’t care. She asked again. I said I really didn’t care, anything was fine. We went through this for a minute or two, her getting exasperated and me getting frustrated and defensive, until she finally stopped the car and said we weren’t eating anywhere until I made the choice of where to eat. I felt panicky.

The back of my head started to tingle. I thought about saying we could just eat at home, but we were 30 minutes away, and there was never much more than a sleeve of Ritz crackers and a bag of shredded colby jack cheese in that place.

I looked at my options. She’d stopped at the top of West Main, where every imaginable chain restaurant stood. Big Boy, Taco Bell, Old Country Buffet, Chi Chi’s, Pizza Hut, Steak & Shake. I looked at each one, my breath getting tighter. Nothing sounded any better than the other. My mom sat staring straight ahead with her hands on the wheel, popping her top knuckles now and then by extending her fingers and then clenching them to make a slight crackling sound. I felt hopelessly put-upon having been forced to make this decision. I could see her jaw beginning to tighten.

“Chi Chi’s, I guess” I said. I turned my face toward the passenger window and started to silently cry. Mom started the car again and said “great! I love their fried ice cream.”

When we got out of the car and into the restaurant, I blamed the icy winter air and then warmth of the lobby on my red eyes. My mother just raised her eyebrows at me, then said “where’s the hostess? I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!”

As we followed the hostess and then sat at a curved booth near the back, my mom asked “what should we get? You choose.” I looked at her like she’d just asked me to kill my favorite cousin. Her eyes met mine over the top of the tri-fold menu before I had a chance to lower them.

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll choose.”

She ordered something she loved but I didn’t, and waited for me to complain. When the platter came out, overflowing with soupy refried beans and lumpy rolled tortillas fried and then covered with canned sauce and cheese, my hunger disappeared. I picked at the meal-sized side of Spanish rice until I felt I could get away with saying I was full. “We’ll get a doggy bag,” she said, flagging down our waitress. My mother loved getting doggy bags. Tomorrow she would eat my untouched meal for her lunch while I was at school.

She then rubbed her hands together as the waitress walked away with our plates. “Time for fried ice creeeam,” she sing-songed, begging me with her tone to join in her excitement. I said “no thanks, I’m full” and looked away so I didn’t have to see her face fall.

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