Image credit: Collin Richie
Hello. This is a piece about an ex who turned out to be the most damaging of the lot. I wrote this at a time when I was very much in love. The sentiment still rings true. I hope you all find your crawfish moments.
The unmistakable noise of crawfish being crushed and pulled apart in his fingers. I was mesmerized as he broke up the red prawns one by one, swiftly dunking them into a pool of butter.
I had never in my life touched a crawfish — yet there I was, seated across from my boyfriends dad and stepmom for the first time in a little Kentucky restaurant, their faces covered by a mountain of them. I think it’s fair to say that meeting the boyfriend’s parents gives everyone anxiety — and not only did I have his parents eyes judging me, but the eyes of lobster descendants staring down my every inch. It was out of my control that they were ordered for the table. Part of this was due to sheer nervousness and inability to speak up — I was determined to make a good impression. My boyfriend had told them I love New Orleans, so I think they thought they were doing me a favor, and I wasn’t going to ruin that. But above all else, I knew crawfish boils were important him, and he was important to me, so I agreed to give them a chance. I somehow forgot that eating them was a whole process until their arrival to the table. This lead to a debilitating nervous stomach — partly from the pressure to make sure I’m perceived as the perfect girl for their perfect son, and the other part from knowing I’d have to attempt to eat one.
The venue of choice was a quaint little restaurant that I had never seen or heard of, despite the fact that I lived a short half hour away. There was a stunning view of the Ohio river provided by the outdoor patio, yet we opted for inside seating since it’s what his parents prefered. The inside did exactly what it needed to do — convince you that you had somehow drove to Louisiana rather than a few miles outside of downtown Cincinnati. Shiny beads in your stereotypical Mardi Gras colors of green, purple and gold hung from the wall, and elaborate masks reminded you of February in New Orleans. Cheeky signs displaying the names of iconic streets decorated the walls, with infamous Bourbon Street prominently above the bar. It was the perfect restaurant choice, as we both loved New Orleans more than anywhere in the world. The menu was decked out in creole favorites, boasting such delicacies as crab cakes, po-boys, alligator, oysters, and of course — the crawfish boil sitting in front of us.
Unsurprisingly, I struggled. I picked up the first crawfish, stared into its tar black eyes, fiddled with it in my hands, then broke it in half. By the time I had completed the most basic first step of crawfish consumption, breaking it, he had eaten about five of them, and his parents had already downed half the bowl. This was the exact inhumane act that was so off putting to me in the first place — why would anyone willingly eat something that requires you suck out its guts? I watched him and his parents suck hard on the crawfish tails and discard perfectly empty carcasses, then looked at the still full shells that I let sit on my plate, hoping nobody would notice the meat still inside.
His step mom had ordered other foods alongside the crawfish — expensive and healthy meals that made me feel a little out of place, but fit right along with how she carried herself. It was quite a contrast to my boyfriend, as I had met him because he was goofing off at his place of work, and came into mine to tell the tale. I was fascinated by how carefree and goofy he was. We had never met, yet here he was, boldly telling a stranger about how Amy Schumer just yelled at him for doing his job, and fuck her for that, right? It was refreshing, a new energy that was the antithesis of my past relationship, and much more closely matched his dad.
It was his dad that took him to New Orleans for the first time as a graduation present. They have the same goofy smile and obsession with food, which is probably why New Orleans was their natural vacation choice. They ate at all the seafood dives, and got art from the local vendors, and apparently even went to a strip club, which is a story for another time.
I had went with my marching band, and was forced into a seven mile long parade with a drum strapped to me for the first time ever. We ate at fancy restaurants that served grilled fish, and other times at po-boy only little delis. There were no strip clubs of any sort, but there were street vendors, and we were able to convince our tour guide to sneak us to Bourbon Street.
These unique experiences lead us both to New Orleans, but somehow only lead one of us to crawfish and the wild process that is eating one. I just kept watching him. I was mesmerized as he dug into prawn after prawn, dismantling them entirely.
Suddenly, I began to see myself in the disposed shells. When you let someone love you, you’re giving them the same power to crack you like a crawfish. You can be held in their hands, cracked in half, and have the life sucked out of you. You run the risk of being tossed to the side, empty and drained, like an already consumed crawdaddy.
That’s when the panic sets in. I begin to think that the first step in a relationship downhill will be the fool of myself that I make trying to crack open these prawns. All eyes are on me — the parents, the crawdaddies, the masks on the wall, and most importantly, as well as most frightening, my boyfriends. There were so many things I saw in his eyes, and I was just hoping he would see the same things in me. Things that were as beautiful as the city of New Orleans that we both fell in love with, things that would allow him to fall in love with me in return. Yet there I was, feeling like his blue eyes were judging my every move.
Suddenly, something snapped me out of my panic. A piece of crawfish meat, carefully taken out of its shell, was placed in front of me. The one I was struggling with was then quietly taken out of my hands and fiddled with until it was broken into easy to eat portions. I look up to lock eyes with him. He didn’t say a word about it — just kept cracking crawfish until I had a decent portion, then returned to his own.
My last relationship had broken me. Something little like struggling with my meal in a restaurant would have been grounds for him to yell at or embarrass me just to buff up his own image. When you get used to being in an emotionally abusive relationship, you know that little slip-ups like this one can ruin everything. My panicked state took me out of that crawfish boil with him and placed me into a diner with my ex, where I had been told not to swear because we are in a family establishment, yet he talked crudely about sex. I go from that diner to the pizza place when I ordered the wrong toppings and he refused to eat anything, and threatened to just leave. I go from that pizza place to the time he visited me at the restaurant in which I work, only to get angry when he was expected to buy something, embarrassing me in front of my coworkers.
Instead of making a scene, I watched him crack more and more crawfish for me to enjoy, and that’s when I knew everything would be okay.
Maybe we would grow up to live together in New Orleans. Maybe we would break up after six months. Maybe even both. But regardless, he showed me that not everything has to be drama. Not everyone I come into contact with will try to break me. Real, pure love can exist, and I’m lucky to experience it, even if it’s just this one time in this one creole restaurant.