The chain of unfortunate events began while I was exploring a sand dune with Titus one warm January afternoon. I was squatting down examining a panther track in the sand when Titus got a phone call from his mom. They talked for a long time. Rather, Titus listened to the phone for a long time. When he caught a break in the diatribe, he quickly interjected, “Hold on a just one second. Hey, Lydi, do you eat fish?” I stood up, pondered the clouds for a moment and answered, “Yeah, I like fried catfish.” Titus turned back to his phone and simply said “yes” into the receiver. He then stood there another two or three minutes, just listening, before he could get off the phone. This phone call should have been the first red flag. I thought nothing of it at the time, but I should have known better.
Later on I asked Titus what the whole “fish question” had been about. He told me his mom wanted to have us over for dinner since we had been out and about every other evening. She wanted to get to know me. I was slightly troubled by this. I knew her culinary reputation. This was the lady who considered tofu to be a comparable substitute for cheese on a pizza. I also remembered the first time I had met his mom. Titus had just come back from a deployment in Iraq; we had been emailing each other, and were to meet for the first time at the Bravo Company homecoming celebration. I had commuted with two guy friends to the base, and his mom greeted them warmly. Then she looked at me and said, “You must be that freshman girl who has been writing to him.”
Therefore, I felt I was being reasonable when I asked Titus if this meal would be normal. He apparently had missed the red flags also. Titus shrugged and said, “I don’t think she’ll try anything weird on you since she doesn’t know you all that well. Besides, it’s fish. How bad can it be?” The irony of his words would echo in my mind the rest of the night.
When we arrived to his parents’ home, I caught a whiff of something that smelled odd. The combination of spices, tomato sauce, and putrid fish was not what I was expecting. I should have seen this as red flag number two. I walked into the dining room. The table was set, and we were directed to sit down. I had to move because I accidentally chose the wrong spot, and I had mistakenly sat in his dad’s chair. I looked at the food spread out on the table: red potatoes that had been quartered and microwaved (no salt or seasonings), and frozen mixed veggies that had been microwaved (also salt-free and unseasoned). To my absolute horror, the last dish placed on the table explained the strange smell that had permeated the house: microwaved sardines in tomato sauce. “Egad!” I thought to myself in disbelief.