Garlic and Onion Sauteed In Leaving
By Dena Igusti
Before I come home I get a text from my brother.
"Dad left again. All of his stuff is gone. He told mom it’s so he can make more money but idk."
All of our calls get sent to voicemail later that afternoon, but we get a WhatsApp
notification in our family group chat. It’s a picture of himself, grinning ear to ear in bootleg Ray
Bans, sitting with his legs stretched out on a random private jet owned by a friend of his we
"To Indonesia...see you guys..."
For the next month, we get notifications of photos of his plane tickets, from Thailand to
Indonesia to Brunei to Singapore back to Indonesia and more. Meanwhile, I pick up 10 art gigs
and still have only $200 in my bank account because all of the money went to the mortgage he
had to pay.
My mom and I have always excused his inability to stay home with the fact that he was
orphaned at eight and all seven of his older siblings left him for Germany. He’s lived on seven
different islands throughout his life. When he met my mother, a city girl who only stayed in
Jakarta, he was hiding from the Indonesian SWAT team for smuggling ebony wood and selling
them to other countries. He faked pharmacist certifications and told customs in California that he was only coming to the U.S. for vacation, only for him to get his citizenship in New York City.
When I was a kid, my dad always pushed me to go to college and get a “nice job''. He always
emphasized the importance of giving back to parents.
"For your mama, give her whatever she wants," he declared.
"For me, I don’t want a house or a nice car, or clothes. I just want a big private jet, so I can go
wherever I want. Whooshhh."
"Either you give that to me, or I’ll find it myself."
The first and last time I confronted my dad about him leaving us to fend for ourselves was in the middle of a snowstorm. We were getting groceries for the bakery he wanted to close in two
months so he can spend six months in Indonesia without sending any money back. In the car, I
yelled, "You always go, go, go. You never stay and be responsible for your family! You’re not
making any money over there and you drain all of our bank accounts!"
He yells back, "And what happens if I stay here? You see how everyone looks at me. They see me
as brown. No English even when I’m speaking to them in English. Everywhere else, I can be
An hour later we shop as if nothing happened. He sees a chair on sale made with ebony wood
and smiles to himself.
Whenever my dad came home, he spent the first week making half-assed meals. He’s a
certified culinary chef by trade. The smell of onion and garlic was a setup for a false
anticipation, a measly meal more pitiful than what the sauteed pungence promised. His
carbonara was rubbery. The curry watered down. It tasted like it was to make up for something, or to prove he’s not his best when he’s in one place. I scarf all of his food down.
I fell in love with a boy in January this year. I want to be around him all the time. His
voice is really nice and everything he says and does is more than interesting. I was never allowed to sleep over anywhere, even now. But I spend my weekends and nights off with him and refuse to tell my mom, even at my big age. I lie and tell her I’m at Sophie’s. I do it once a month, then every two weeks. Now my mother knows my weekends belong to someone she doesn’t know. My boyfriend’s place becomes a safe haven from my returned father. Not only because I don’t have to see him or eat his food or hear him plan his next getaway, but because I can walk in whenever I want, him yelling, asking where I’ve been, and I can stare blankly, say out and walk straight to my room. To compensate, I send photos to my mom and brothers of where I’ve been. A My Chemical Romance concert I never mentioned planning on going to. An overview of a beach in Long Island. A Red Bulls Game. An exhibition at their favorite museums.
During the weekdays, I cook for my brother and mom after school. I usually come home
to the ghost scents of what was cooked the days I went missing. I open the fridge to a tupperware of leftovers. I hate food waste. I eat every meal I missed. Whatever is leftover I fashion a new meal with the same starter: onion garlic sauteed in oil. It’s never as good as when I cook for my boyfriend. The sauce is nice but I overcooked the noodles.
When I head out the door my mom asks if I’m coming back later that night. I tell her no.
She sighs, says I leave just like my father. Later that night, I cry to my boyfriend, saying I miss
my family a lot, but I only feel safe with him and reassure him that he’s not forcing me to be
away from my family. Because he’s not.
When my dad leaves again, he sends more artifacts of his adventures on WhatsApp. A
huge crate of squid. The top of his forehead blocking a view of a sunset over a canal. A
Manchester City game in a huge stadium. In the middle of the night, after my beloved falls
asleep, I lie awake. It is 3AM. I pick up my phone. I’m the only one in the group chat who
"That’s really cool Dad."
10 seconds later, I get a notification.
"Thank you my lovely daughter... I miss you... take care of mom."