“How to Make a Grilled Cheese for Your Son,” by Casey Taylor

We’re almost out of toilet paper but bread is plentiful. The Shop N Save in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh has been well stocked with perishables and frozen foods, likely because the inhabitants of the neighborhood are all affluent enough that they’re ordering from Prime Now or driving to a nicer grocery store in the South Hills. Even a plague isn’t enough to convince the rich to shop at the discount grocer with the descendants of Old Pittsburgh that wander its aisles. This won’t last, of course. As the world continues to spiral into hell, even the yuppiest of the Nu-Pittsburgh developer crowd will fight each other for the pre-packaged smoked turkey legs they would’ve retched at just months prior.

For now though, the bread aisle remains full. So too is the stock of Kraft Singles. Without that, the conversations at home would be more difficult. My children already struggle to understand what the hell is going on and why they can’t see their friends or touch their grandparents. If I had to remove sandwiches from the equation, we’d already have entered pandemonium.

The Kraft Singles are perhaps the most important item on the list. Name brands are usually a rip off, but the exception is the Kraft Single, which melts in ways that the store brand American cheese simply does not. Other pasteurized singles take too long to melt, or never quite get the same gooey texture you’re looking for in a great grilled cheese, and without the right melt you’ve upset a picky child and ruined your entire day. You learn these things over time, after making at least 3 per week for 3 years—sometimes twice, three times per session for multiple kids or one very hungry one.

I’ve made so many of them that it’s a fairly automatic process. Two pieces of bread. Two Kraft Singles. Put it together and spread butter on both sides. Drop it in the pan. Flip after a little bit. Finish it up. Cut the crusts off. Serve it. Remember that you forgot to give them milk. Go get the milk. 

The sandwiches have piled up since social isolation began. My third and (please) final child was born in January and is still in the “only mom can really soothe me” phase, which means I’m on duty for the other two kids at lunch. It gives my wife a deserved moment of rest, ideally taking the baby upstairs for a nap together, while I make the sandwiches. PB&J first, while the pan heats up for my son’s grilled cheese, then 1-2 grilled cheese sandwiches, as my daughter normally gets jealous of my son’s sandwich and then requires one of her own.

That time is important for my wife. Maternity leave is ending and she’s going to be starting work again—a stressful endeavor for any mother, aggravated by the fact of going back to work at a hospital during a plague. She’s been understandably fragile as a result, so I keep my concerns inside. I don’t need to tell her that I’m scared she’s going to bring the plague home, because she’s scared of the same thing. I don’t need to tell her that I don’t want to get sick, because she doesn’t want to get sick either. We’re quiet about the things we’re scared of because at this point our fear is an autonomous collective function. We may as well be discussing breathing.

If there’s any comfort for her, it’s in the fact that I’m working from home and therefore able to stay with our newborn and make sandwiches for the other two for the foreseeable future. It’s imperfect, but comforting. I’m lucky in that my job allowed this even before the plague, so the company is already adequately set up to accommodate it and has suffered minimal culture shock. My brother and his girlfriend have lost their jobs. My friends have lost their jobs. I’m still working and it makes me feel guilty sometimes. I work in research and, unfortunately, “nobody knows what the fuck is going on” is actually a good time to work in that industry.

That’ll dry up eventually, but for now I can squirrel enough away to hopefully make it through if the worst happens. Even if it doesn’t dry up, I work in sales so my schedule allows for the flexibility to plan around lunch for my kids, and naps for my newborn. And if I’m staying busy, I don’t have time to let my thoughts wander to the dark places. I move from call to meeting to tantrum to lunch to call to nap and I feel constantly like I’m going to collapse but it’s a significantly better feeling than wondering if I’m going to die or if my friends and loved ones are going to die.

In between, I try to find moments. My kids have always objected to crusts, so I cut them off before serving their sandwiches. Instead of tossing them out or giving them to the dog, I eat them. Sometimes, on the busier days, the crusts serve as my only lunch. On the busiest days, the crusts are the only enjoyment I get. Lately, I’ve been treating myself more, and trying to remove the autopilot function when making the sandwiches so that I get better crusts. I spread the peanut butter and jelly a little further to the edges, so I get a nice sweet bite. And I’ve completely changed the way I make a grilled cheese sandwich.

It’s the same ingredients—two slices of bread, two Kraft singles, butter on both sides—but instead of letting the cheese overlap in the middle, I rip the cheese into pieces so that I can place cheese all the way to the crust. That way, when it’s time to cut the crusts off, you can give yourself a perfect grilled cheese crust, with the gooey cheese having spilled out and burnt just a little to give it a crunch. Savor each bite and try not to think about the fact that this is the only thing you’ve ever had control of, or the crusts you wasted in the past because you weren’t paying enough attention.

Casey Taylor

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