You can get the best huevos rancheros in Austin, Texas. Though I’m not a native-born Texan, I’ve spent big chunks of my life with my family in this great town. So when I get the chance for a meal out, I do it. A few days ago, on a weekend downtown by myself, I wandered into a restaurant specializing in Oaxacan cuisine and asked the waiter what he recommended for my brunch. His answer: huevos rancheros.
We got to chatting after that. I asked him about how they make their amazing sauces, and he told me more about the history of the restaurant. Then, as conversations sometimes do, we turned to surface details of our lives. He was a single guy, trying to figure out the next step in life. I was a mom of three kids, I told him. I left it at that. I figured my missing wedding ring would answer the question about my marital status.
“So what are you doing next?” the waiter asked. “Coming back here for dinner?”
He winked at me. I laughed. “No, I have to go back to the suburbs and go back to being a mom,” I said. “But it’s been great to eat here. I really enjoyed the food.”
The waiter cleared my plate and then asked, “Where’s your husband? He should have come with you!”
This question always hits me like a ton of bricks. And yes, I get it more often than you’d think. I actually can’t believe people still ask this question because I could be divorced, separated, married to a woman, a single mother by choice, or any number of other categories that would make me not have a husband.
But at this point, since I did once have a husband, I figured I could have answered a few different ways.
Option #1: I could lie. “Oh, he wanted to come but I needed him to stay home and watch the kids. He’s great at making sure I get time for myself.”
Problems with this option: I know that I am lying. Also, the waiter could ask me follow-up questions that might eventually make me cry and give away that I was lying in the first place.
Option #2: I could try and skirt the issue and give a non-answer to the question. “Oh, well, it’s so great to be here alone! I love getting time just by myself.”
Problems with this option: I am also lying! I like having some time away from my kids, but I wish Shawn could be with me. Also, the waiter could continue to press the question, with something like, “yes, but doesn’t your husband miss you?” (Answer: “I fucking hope so!”)
Option #3: I could refuse to answer the question. “I appreciate the concern but I don’t really want to go into that.”
Problems with this option: It makes the waiter think the worst. Maybe my husband was a serial cheater or a serial killer! Who knows with this answer! Also, it makes me feel like I’m being disingenuous to Shawn – because I know that he was a great husband and this answer makes him sound like a douchebag.
Option #4: I could tell the truth. “It would be great if my husband could be here, but he died of cancer a year and a half ago.”
Problems with this option: It makes the waiter uncomfortable. It could make the waiter say something like, “I’m so sorry I asked!” and feel like he ruined my brunch. It also makes me feel a bit bad for making the waiter feel awful.
So, dear readers, which option to you think I chose as I ate my brunch?
I paused before I answered. To lie or not to lie? The only option I knew was out was #3 – I wasn’t going to make Shawn look bad, even to a stranger who would never see him again.
I also couldn’t really fathom option #1. I mean, it’s an all-out lie, and I still had half of my plate of huevos rancheros to go. I was sitting at the bar and I was the only person there so this waiter literally only had me to talk to. It was likely to lead to even more discussion and I didn’t want to keep making stuff up about my husband who was not actually living and breathing anymore.
So, I thought, should I skirt the question, return to my magazine and hope he would get the point that I wasn’t in the mood to share more? Or shoud I tell him the truth?
If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, I bet you know what I chose.
I told him the truth.
He stumbled all over his reply. “Oh no, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry!” he said. “I shouldn’t have pried.” He looked down. Like many people I encounter, he was uncomfortable with death and he worried that he’d ruined my brunch.
“It’s okay,” I said, “I get that question a lot.”
He still looked pretty horrified, so to make him feel better I said, “I’m lucky that I have a great family here in Austin who let me have weekend breaks like this.”
He smiled. “Family is the best,” he said, looking more relaxed.
We chatted more about the huevos rancheros and the way that they were different from other similar dishes served by rival restaurants. He didn’t ask me any more personal questions and was clearly happy to stay in a “safe” zone with me. He brought me extra tortillas to scoop up the yummy sauce and didn’t charge me for my coffee.
Yes, maybe he was worried that he reminded me that my husband is dead. But I already know that. I already think about it all the time. All he made me do was say it out loud.
I left him a big tip. I didn’t want to ruin his day. He hadn’t ruined mine.