Whenever he buys me ramen, he always picks up the fancy kind. Well, half-fancy is probably closer to the truth. It’s still instant ramen. Just not the kind with the single brick of noodles and the foil packet of flavored salt. But the kind that has four packets inside.
The trusty foil packet is there of course. But there’s also one of freeze dried shrimp, one of vegetables.
And a chili oil packet you stir in at the very end after it cooks. The one that comes packaged in a little paper bowl that you nuke in the microwave.
Truth be told, soup is probably my favorite food. While I’ve been known to slow cook homemade versions from scratch (using leftover bones for broth, scraps of veggies I keep in a freezer bag, etc.), I also really love the condensed stuff that comes in cans, and everything in between (mixes you prep by adding water, noncondensed soups that come in rectangular paper cartons, carryout soup from restaurants, etc.).
I love basically all soup but have a special soft spot for ramen. I understand that there are a number of quality noodle bars around here, sit down places where they offer a variety of mix-ins, bacon, egg, fried shallots. Broths that take hours to cook. The fanciest places make their noodles in house and have a variety of options.
Technically, I’ve visited restaurants like these but usually because I’m attending someone’s birthday dinner or something. I can’t remember a time when I actually went to a noodle bar for dinner on purpose.
This is because I am hopelessly low brow. Ramen is in the pantheon of broke AF food I still enjoy now that I’m not couch surfing anymore. Along with canned tuna and bags of freezer burned veggies. And I ate that ramen as the stupid brick and the foil pack.
But I’m not exactly proud of it. So whenever Justin is going to the grocery store because I can’t (usually because I’m sick or something or he’s borrowing my car for the day for whatever reason), and he’s picking me up soup and bread, I’ll casually throw it onto the end of my answer to his eternal followup question to requests for soup: “What kind?”
“Oh you know what I like. Basically anything. Clam chowder. Or those Progresso ones where they make an entire meal into a soup because they can without asking themselves whether it’s a good idea or not.”
He laughs. “I know what you mean.”
“Something like beef stew but maybe more complicated?” I say. “I’ve been craving beef stew.”
“Okay,” he says, nodding.
“You could even get me ramen, and I’d be happy,” I say.
It’s there as an afterthought. I don’t expect him to come home with the ramen.
But he does. And it’s this complicated version in the bowl. One a friend recommended to me ages ago that I tried and really liked but felt really silly for liking. Since ramen’s already a convenience food and this version is designed to make the preparation even more convenient (no container required and you can use your damn microwave, although to be fair, you can nuke the other ramen too, it just takes a little more finesse and the right dish).
And this version does add a few more substantial touches, like I used to do anyway when I was broke. (It’s amazing what a few frozen vegetables, an egg, and a handful of spices can do to cheap ass ramen; if you’re lucky enough to have peanut butter you can make something very pad thai-like.) But it does it in the silliest, laziest way possible.
Little freeze dried shrimp.
C’mon. It’s so silly. Really overpriced for what it is. A marginal upgrade to something I probably shouldn’t be eating anyway.
But if I’m being honest with myself, I love it. And because he’s brought it to me, I feel markedly less ashamed than I would picking it up for myself. He has a way of helping me admit the parts of myself that I don’t really like exist and helping me make peace with them.
I can’t believe he bought me the half-fancy ramen again, I think.
But I won’t eat it that night. Because he’s also come home with two types of bread and perhaps a dozen other soups for me. And my stomach is still off. I’m recovering from a gnarly bout of gastroenteritis and can’t keep much down. The ramen is spicy enough that it would be a risk.
So I eat the steak and vegetable soup instead — a delightfully processed Frankenstein of beef stew and beef vegetable that tastes like it’s been meddled with since it’s suspiciously smoky (probably liquid smoke). But in a good way.
But a few days later when my stomach finally calms down, I pull out the bowl for lunch.
About to eat my spicy ramen, I text Justin. I feel so special.
Cause you have spicy ramen? he replies.
I sigh. It makes sense to me but would probably sound stupid to anyone else, that I find that the tiny gestures are often the ones that make the biggest impact. That this bowl of half-fancy ramen makes me feel loved and, yes, special.
Other people might look at my life and say, “Of course your husband loves you. Of course you’re special to him. He’s your husband. He married you. People don’t do that unless they’re serious about you. You dumbass.”
And I dunno why I don’t think like that. Why in this case I’m Captain Missing the Obvious. Maybe it’s because I’ve known so many married couples who seemed like they barely tolerated one another (including my own parents). Like they were roommates who stayed together due to inertia and fear of what the neighbors would think if they split up. Fear of being alone.
Maybe it’s because I know that the wedding happened a long time ago and that people are dynamic and they can change — even grow apart — without meaning to.
Maybe it’s because my husband isn’t good at expressing his love in words and is someone who performs acts of service, and I was conditioned before I met him by unscrupulous others to view acts of kindness as something that were being done in order to guilt me into doing something else in return later. That their real purpose wasn’t to make me feel good but to be held over my head somewhere down the line.
This pattern of behavior caused me to inexplicably learn to instinctively trust words over actions, when typically the opposite is the more prudent course (lying via words is normally easier than faking good via actions, especially to sustain over the long term). Something I’m consciously unlearning but hasn’t hit me on quite as deep of an emotional level as I would prefer, at least not on my schedule.
Maybe it’s because I shut out the large kindnesses because they’re simply too much for me, like sunlight that blinds me when I open my eyes first thing in the morning. Maybe I can only withstand kindness from other people in smaller doses, like when I find myself opening my eyes slowly when I wake up, first forming small cracks in my eyelids to give myself time to adjust.
That could be why it’s something like half-fancy ramen that brings it home to me and not the bigger, more obvious indicators of love, commitment, acceptance. The marital status is the sun itself. Half-fancy ramen is like a beam of light that comes in through one misaligned gap in the blinds and illuminates the room entirely by accident but at a level that isn’t causing me discomfort.
I honestly don’t know. I’m guessing.
But one thing is undeniable: He has a way of validating the little things I don’t even want to admit to myself and letting me know they’re okay (like the fact that I actually still like a lot of the foods that I ate when I was poor, even though they’re tacky or unhealthy or whatever). He accepts the parts of me that I’m in deep denial about, even before I consciously reveal them. Which to an abused person is a big deal.
I don’t deserve you, I write to him.
And the ramen tastes better than it has any right to.