Table to Table: Climbing the Social Food Chain

When I was little my favorite thing in the world, besides Doritos and stickers of characters from Winx, was family gatherings. For some godforsaken reason, seeing my family was an exhilarating experience for me. I loved dressing up for it, planning my outfits in my head the night before and putting corresponding jewelry out on my desk: necklaces, bracelets, earrings and everything. I was thrilled to hear their comments about how pretty my floral dress is with that round halter-neck, and how much I’ve grown and matured. As a child you’re always in the center of your family’s attention; the adults want to know about your big, bright dreams and your future plans. But being the child also means being sent to the kids’ table.

The kids’ table phenomenon has always been a thing in my family, and its sole purpose was to keep the loud younger generation away from the sophisticated adult conversations about the corrupt government, the suffering and unfortunate zhoghovurd and the awful, awful influence of the West. As kids, my sister and I were always sent to this isolated table along with our cousins, and even though we did have fun together, in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think, what are the older people talking about? Why don’t they want us there next to them? I can’t wait to be older, so I don’t miss out on all their mysterious and mature conversations.

Back when I only qualified for the kids’ table

Then one day, all of a sudden, my uncles and aunts began calling my sister over to their table (she’s three years older than me). This happened more and more frequently, until one time, she casually joined that table without them asking, like it was second nature. I didn’t know what to make of this at first. Obviously, I couldn’t blame her (not that I wanted to) because it made sense – she had grown. She qualified. She was too old for us. But, if you ask me, she was also too young to be with the adults. Gathering after gathering, she sat with them, soaking up all the drama that has apparently been present among our older family members since prior to our existence. We’d go home, and she’d tell me all about it.

One time, she had so much to say, she was a little out of breath at the end, “okay, so apparently uncle owes money to aunt’s husband and that’s why they won’t be attending his birthday. And this is not even the first time they had a conflict. Remember that time when cousin wore that super short dress to Lusine’s wedding, and uncle told her to go change? Yeah, well, then she told auntie, and auntie talked to him and told him not to boss her daughter around, and uncle was annoyed. It all basically snowballed from there.”

These petty stories happened regularly, and there came a time when I began to notice them, right as they were happening. It was difficult to see an end to this chain of passive aggressive behavior. One time, we were all at my dad’s parents’ country house, and I remember my grandma said to my uncle’s wife, “you know, the other day, I made mashed potatoes, too, and I made an impromptu decision to add some scallions and peas into the mix, and it turned out to be incredible. You should try that some time.”

We all used to have mutual friends, and we’d see each other at their birthdays and weddings, too. During one of these weddings, I remember the first thing the bride told me was, “oh sweetie, looking healthy and full! Did you quit the diet?”

There was also a constant, desperate need to compare each other’s wealth. One time, my cousin said to our other cousin, “yeah, so this summer we pretty much toured all over Europe, we went to Disneyland in Paris, then visited Brussels for a while, and the last destinations were Amsterdam and Rotterdam! So, how was Tbilisi?”

Why do we lose our sincerity as we grow older? What is it about the “real world” that makes people this way? Honesty and bluntness are considered to be childish traits. Today, if you’re an adult (whatever that may mean) you must fight in a way that wouldn’t be perceived as fighting from an objective viewpoint, you should never say what you actually mean and you have to make sure you complain about how fake everyone around you is, at least once every day. When I first started to pick up on all these patterns, it broke my heart a little. I refused to believe that this is what I had desperately wanted to be a part of. I guess things sort of worked out in my favor, because as I unwillingly improved at seeing through my family’s bullshit, we stopped hanging out so frequently. We became too busy for one another. There were other priorities. Years went by and we didn’t meet up, no one called, no one made a peep. Until my grandmother’s death on January 11th of 2019.

Grandma had cancer. We all visited her regularly, but separately. She had spent a little over a week in the hospital before she passed away. My mother was mute for an entire day after she had received the call from the hospital.

We weren’t talking to my uncle at the time, but we knew he had leukemia. His condition was becoming worse with each passing day, so my grandmother would pray for his recovery every morning and every night, whispering under her breath, “please God, give his sickness to me.” And believe it or not, God did. My uncle’s treatments began to help him, and grandma got ascites out of nowhere. There was usual amounts of fluid in her stomach, to a point where it was difficult for her to breathe. Every day she had spent in the hospital, the doctors pumped out liters of liquid from her abdomen. It’s difficult to recall much of anything from the time we found out about her death, all the way to her funeral. But the funeral I will never forget. Relatives I didn’t even know existed had shown up.

I guess it’s true what they say – death really brings people together. The first time in over three years I saw my favorite cousin was near our grandmother’s corpse. The cousin I used to like better than my own sister, because she’d let me do whatever I wanted, even if I was wrong. The cousin that could easily lift up my mood. The cousin I had no idea how to approach when I saw her standing next to grandma’s casket. I didn’t know if I should smile, give her a hug and tell her I’m happy to see her, or awkwardly nod from a distance. I did neither. I simply walked up to her and said, “Hi.” She responded with a “Hi” and after a long stare, we parted ways. It hit me in that moment that I wasn’t even happy to see her. I realized I hadn’t missed her, but rather the memories of our good times together. I missed being careless and unaware. I craved the cluelessness I knew I could never regain. Though, there is some sort of wicked beauty to that.

After everyone left the church, my family, grandpa and three of my uncles along with their families drove to grandma’s house. We were having a family gathering. I was in the kitchen helping prepare for dinner, when I heard it: the unforgettably familiar noise of chitchat from the next room; recognizable voices talking over each other, interrupting each other. The harsh, consonant-heavy pronunciation of Armenian almost made it sound like they were arguing in there. I managed to identify a few laughs among the bickering. I walked into the living room with a plate of cheese cut into tiny cubes in my hands, and noticed that not one of them had changed the fragrance they’d been using for all these years. I strained my eyes to keep the tear in my right eye from dripping onto the cheese.

After the food was set and the small talk had broken the ice, we all gathered at the tables. Without a second thought, I sat with the adults. It felt like second nature. There were many toasts made to grandma that night. “May God illuminate her soul,” they would say. If I were a kid at the time, I’d be sitting at a different table trying to figure out if eating six pickles on an empty stomach was a good idea. Instead, I spent the night trying to figure out why in the world I was so drawn to this table, why I craved to be included in these discussions. Unconsciously, the separation of the children and the adults makes these kids feel like they are not worthy to be where the adults are – where, supposedly, all the interesting conversations occur. They get used to being moved to the side and “letting the adults speak,” as my grandpa likes to say. As if the adults are more important than them, as if switching your table is an upgrade. This mentality damages children’s self-esteem, hence later in life they find it difficult to be heard. We are all human and we should all be put at the same table, no matter how long the table has to be. I wonder if at some point there will be a table for the elderly, because they’re just too boring and can’t hear you anyway. We never really stop going from table to table, huh? That night, sitting there in adult company, I caught myself thinking, what are the kids talking about over there?

About Ani Arzumanyan

I am just an English major trying to make it in this IT driven world. I've been writing short stories and filming short movies ever since I was eleven. Born and raised in Ashgabat. Most of my family is from Iran. Now I live in Armenia. Talk about an identity crisis.

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