It's a tradition. It's my tradition.
When I was young, someone died. I'm not sure who. The ladies from the church brought about an acre of food. One of them brought a breadroll. I think it was Mrs. Stimac. Anyway, my Mom got the recipe and we would have breadroll a lot, not just when someone died. Nowadays, I only make it when someone dies, whether I'm taking food to the family or not. The great thing about breadroll is that it makes a ton of food, which is what made it perfect to bring a grieving family. And, breadroll is the perfect comfort food for grieving. That's why, when ever anyone dies, we make breadroll.
The recipe is:
2 loaves of frozen bread dough, thawed and risen
1.5 pound ground beef
1 pound breakfast sausage
.5 pound grated cheddar
assorted italian seasonings, organo, peppers, onions (these are my additions, so just add them in, however much you want to make it yummy.)
1 jar of pasta sauce (that's another of my additions and just leave it sit there until you're ready to eat)
Yesterday, a friend's sister called. Someone I hadn't talked to in about 18 years and left a message that she was calling about her brother, David. I haven't talked to David in about three years. I think we all know what that means. I bought the ingredients for breadroll. But, I contented myself that maybe he was in the hospital. As long as we kept playing phone tag, David could still be alive.
Denial. Yesterday, I waited and waited for the bread dough to rise. It sat on the counter for 7 hours and I had given up. This is never going to rise. I'm going to have to throw it all away. Guess I won't be making breadroll.
David was an addict. Mostly alcohol. His thing was drunk dialing at 1 am. Once he even passed out while we were on the phone. And, he never gave a phone number where I could reach him during the day. Always, he had to call me. But, that didn't work out too well when we had a kid in the house. Last thing I needed was the phone ringing in the middle of the night and waking everybody up. So, I told him he couldn't call our house in the middle of the night anymore. Perfectly reasonable requirement. But, if you've ever known an addict, then you know that any restriction is too much restriction. If I said he couldn't call in the middle of the night, he "heard" that I told him not to call us anymore. Never met an addict that didn't make that kind of a leap. Only they get to have conditions. No one else does.
David's family enabled him. He was definitely the pet and his two sisters were pretty much left to make it on their own, and they were successful, both independent, very worldly. David was none of the above. I didn't see David often over the last 25 years. Sometimes when he was on the wagon and struggling with sobriety, we would get together. Twice when he lived in New York, once we took a vacation together in Atlanta. And, we talked on the phone a few times over the years. Always in the middle of the night. Until I wouldn't let him call then anymore.
Anger. Once the bread has risen, you have to roll it out on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin to as close as you can get to 18"x27"x 1/2", or as large as a good sized garden plot. Don't be disappointed if you can't do this step. It takes the equivalent of several stevedores to actually be able to roll this damn dough out. And, the freaking flour keeps it from sticking to anything... except the rolling pin...so it snaps back like a rubber band as soon as you stand up to rest your aching back. And, then you roll over that big air bubble at the end that pops and poofs a handful of flour in your eyes. Damnit, damnit damnit! Maybe I can use this pin to hammer the dough flat.
I actually found myself thinking that if David was still alive and just sick, maybe I could go and see him. Maybe for the last time. If he was in the hospital, I would do that. Maybe. I hadn't really made any effort to see him, especially in the last 10 years. When Rob and I got together, we each gave up our addicts, no mean task for a "caretaker" that was knee-deep in the needy. David went with that lot. I really didn't make any attempts to contact him after that. I remember that he called about 3 years ago...at midnight, 12:30 and 1. I finally answered because I realized he would just keep calling and told him not to call anymore that night and I'd call him the next day. He didn't call anymore that night. Of course, when I tried the number he gave me, it was "disconnected or no longer in service". Later, I found out that was the night his partner died. Of course, he never mentioned that in the call. I didn't find that out until a few days later.
Bargaining. Next, brown the ground beef and sausage. Add the peppers, onions and seasonings. Cook all that up together and let it drain on paper towels. You want to get all the grease out of this, or it's going to break through the bread dough and everything is going to leak out. When this has cooled, sprinkle it on the rolled out dough. Top with the grated cheese. Roll the whole thing into a log with the seam on the bottom and very gently lift it onto a metal baking pan. I use a round pizza pan and curve the loaf into a circular shape.
David and I only talked once or twice after that. That's when he passed out on the phone. That scared me so bad. The way he was talking that night, I thought he might have taken his life. But, he called a couple months later. That's the way it was with us. I wouldn't hear from him for a year or so, and I'd think he must be gone. Then, out of the blue, he'd call and everything would be okay again.
Depression. Bake the breadroll at 350* for about an hour. Don't use the instructions on the bread dough. I have made that mistake so many times and what you end up with is a hard shell and a stringy, doughy, mushy mess in the middle. If that happens, take a chunk, say half, and roll it in foil and bake at 350 for an unspecified time until the dough in the middle is baked. While this is baking, wash all the dishes in the house. Washing dishes is really good for uninterrupted thinking. Believe me, nobody in my house is coming close enough for me to hand them a dish towel and put them to work while I'm at this most dreaded chore.
David was the first gay person I ever met. Okay, maybe not the first, but the first person that was willing to admit it to others. We met in college. He and his "roommate" (a euphamism, but that's how I was introduced) were living in a garage apartment near the college campus. The roommate and I were taking classes together and he asked me to help him study for a test. Because their place was so near campus, I went there between classes most days after that. The roommate's parents came and got him and took him home because of his party schedule and dismal grades. Of course, I was terribly naive and didn't realize they were doing things my parents wouldn't approve of. They were my first "bohemians". David got me to smoke. He was my first crush, my first affair, my first boyfriend, my first love. Like a firecracker. Hot, but over in a flash, which is why it's such a surprise that we stayed in contact at all after that. We didn't last long. We weren't supposed to. I chose responsibility. He chose a life of running. In his obituary, his family described his life as a very romantic wandering adventure. I happen to know it was anything but that. Sure, he lived in New York, where he slept on other people's couches until they asked him to leave or he found someone else to take him in. Yes, he did travel with the Ringling Bros. circus, but not in one of the rings. He sold junk in the lobby and lived with the ringmaster. But, everywhere he went, responsibility eventually caught up with him and he'd have to move on. Never one place for long. And, then he settled in Alabama. (Who the hell settles in Alabama???) And, he met the love of his life, who he was with for two years and mourned for three.
I never talked to his sister, but I finally looked up his obituary on the internet this morning. He passed away last Monday and his service was last Friday. His sister must have been traveling back home when she called.
Acceptance. When the breadroll is done, slice it in chunks a couple inches thick. Serve the slices on their side, slathered liberally with warmed spaghetti sauce and a salad if you're eating with people. Or, if you prefer to do your grieving alone, just sit and eat slices of this most comforting of all comfort foods (except maybe for real, baked mac and cheese).
I spent all of yesterday trying not to think about what David's death meant to me which means I didn't think of anything else. Where did he fit into my life now. And, to tell the truth, he had his spot. His place was at the beginning. He was the one that showed me how to get from my sheltered life into the world. He introduced me to my first long term partner, who I moved to Austin with. And, even though we were in contact off and on all that time, and even though I'm a little misty eyed while I'm writing this, the reality is that he would not have been happy in the life I chose for myself. Just like all the other friends and lovers through the years. Each taught me something about myself and then moved on, fulfilling the universe's plan and then living their own lives. Each of those lessons made me able to somehow have the relationship I have now. Be the man and the partner and the parent I am now. I thank them all. And, today, I miss them all. And, later today, or tomorrow maybe, I'll find myself so focused on my own life again that those names and faces will recede back to their places in the past. But, just for a little while, I'll feel sad. Because once David was important to me and I was important to him. And, then something better happened. And, that's the way life is.