Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Hunger

I mentioned this in a June post, but it's been on my mind lately, so excuse the repetition. -Daisy

The classic Cuban diet was never a mystery to me. Breakfast is cafe con leche (that's espresso with hot milk) and a buttered roll. Lunch, if you're lucky, was a Cuban sandwich or, my favorite, a medianoche (same sandwich, different bread). Dinner consisted of any combination of the following: rice (white or yellow), beans (red, black, garbanzos), meat (chicken, steak, pork chops or chunks), plantains (double fried green or sweet yellow) and salad. Sometimes a salad meant sliced avocado or tomato on your plate, sometimes it was a bit more traditional. Of course, there were exceptions. Fish on Friday during Lent, ropa vieja (yes, it translates into old clothes), ox tail (truly delicious, don't make that face!) and on Christmas Eve, New Year's eve, any eve, really, a giant slab of roast pork with crispy skin. No tuna surprise or Hamburger Helper in our house. Dessert most nights consisted of a treat that my Dad would bring home. I went through phases that can only be described as compulsive: Kit Kat phase (separate each piece, eat around the edge, then eat the wafer), M&M phase (sort by color and count before eating), Hershey Bar phase (break into the individual squares before eating), Chunky phase (strangely no method. Must have been a short phase). Summer meant ice cream from Mister Softee. I could hear that truck coming from five blocks out and I was always ready. I was home from college one weekend and the truck pulled up in front of our building. I walked up for old times' sake and the driver recognized me. I was that good of a customer. The thing is, I love food. Give me a perfectly cooked steak, a side of salty french fries and a slice of chocolate cake a la mode and I am one happy girl. Hell, a good salad can turn my day around, but if you look at my history, there might be some doubt.

When I was kid, my parents had to give me medicine to increase my appetite. I remember taking the medicine (one giant spoonful before dinner) and I remember what it tasted like (cough syrup, but richer), but I don't remember not having an appetite (does this mean it worked? I guess). My sister will tell you that I was chubby for about ten minutes when I was a kid. I took gymnastics for about four years, but it wasn't the serious, crazy competitive kind. It was the twice a week after-school sponsored by the town's recreation program kind. I loved it so much, I showed up for my last meet ever with a fever so high, my shoulders were red. The coach thought I had a sunburn. It was the only time I fell during a performance and everyone in the gym heard me let an expletive loose on the mats. I slipped trying to nail a cartwheel, a freaking cartwheel! Maybe it was the serious, crazy competitive kind after all. I survived high school with the usual injuries (ok, one really bad one) and went off to college. I gained the freshman twenty. I had great friends, good professors and was studying something I loved. And then...

First semester senior year: first boyfriend, loss of virginity, death of a student in one of the dorms (I was a resident assistant, so I was doing a lot of damage control), death of a close family friend, finals, home for Christmas, dumped by boyfriend. My courseload consisted of six classes, and I had three jobs. I worked in the library, in one of the administrative offices and I was a resident assistant (which means, if I was in my room, I was working). My parents did not have to pay for room and board, so it was worth it. I had one semester to go before I went out into the world and I felt like things were out of control. Turns out I had to take a phys ed course before I graduated, so I signed up for muscle toning. The "professor" walked us through using the machines a couple of times and then we were responsible for making it to the gym 12 times before the end of the semester. I don't know when it happened, but I started going four times a week. This was also around the time when I decided I didn't need to eat as much, if at all. I didn't have time to eat, I was working and studying and spending time with my friends. I ate bagels, oranges, cereal, rice. I drank coffee (and beer). I smoked cigarettes instead of eating sometimes. When I ate a "big" meal, I did so right before or right after the gym, so I was burning the calories. I never said I was on diet because I didn't think I was on a diet. I didn't own a scale, I don't remember weighing myself ever, so how could I be dieting? I was sick, but I didn't realize it. Like I said, things were out of control, so the only thing I thought I had any control over was my body. I was punishing myself for not being perfect. Things would go "wrong" and I would punish myself by starving myself. I have no idea what I looked like back then, and I don't think I have any pictures, but I'm guessing I looked like hell. My cheeks will never not be chubby and I only wore baggy clothes, so how was anyone to know that I was shrinking? My friends knew it, and they tried to get me to eat, but I couldn't and wouldn't. Luckily, I graduated and had to move back home, where there is no such thing as not eating. I was saved! But not really.

Summer, 2003: my father was dying, work was getting more stressful, ML and I moved in together, I was in a friend's wedding and it all started to get to me. I felt like things were out of control and the switch flipped. I only had coffee for breakfast, I "ran errands" at lunch so that I could sit on a park bench by myself and cry, I ate tiny dinners. I was too upset to eat, too busy, too tired. By September (more likely July), my pants were looser, I felt like hell and I'm guessing it showed. When my Dad slipped into the coma, I had to go home, I had to eat. People brought us food everyday, I had to eat. I had to get my strength up so that I could help my siblings care for my father and support my mother. I did it, not perfectly, but I did it. I was there. And I was eating.

When I see Ellen Pompeo or Calista Flockhart or Nicole Richie looking like a strong gust is going to blow them away, I get mad. Not because I hate them for being thin (maybe they are naturally that way, I don't know, I can't say), but because they make me think about of what I might have looked like when I was sick and that scares me. It's still a slippery slope, this not eating thing. Sometimes, I start to slip and I have to catch myself (or someone else catches me and hands me a sandwich). I know I have to be careful with this for the rest of my life. I know deep down that the flaws (and fat) I see in the mirror probably aren't there. I know that when my mother calls me gordy, she isn't actually saying I am fat, it's a term of endearment, one she won't be trading in any time soon. I know I have to be good to myself and not punish myself when I make a mistake or think I've messed up. I know I have to find better ways to handle stress (writing a blog for example). Most importantly, I know I have to eat.

3 comments:

Tk said...

Is it wrong that I'm hungry now?

Anonymous said...
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Laura said...

Well done, as always, and brave to share. You'll never know who you may help by having written this - besides yourself, dear heart.