I sometimes have a one-plate rule. Actually, it’s not even a rule, it’s just how I eat. Except for when I don’t. Today is one of those days.
It is Christmas and I am at Martha’s house with her son Louie, his girlfriend Katie, Jack and Jonnie. There is enough food in the kitchen for triple the size of our party. I have reloaded my plate, even though I have not finished what is on it, adding a second piece of ham and a small spoonful of macaroni and cheese, which I did not try the first time around. I pile it on top of my salad – greens with roasted root vegetables, gorgonzola cheese, walnuts and pear.
The macaroni is delicious. Made with sour cream, cream cheese, and cheddar and parmesan cheeses. I say it is perhaps too rich, and laugh, thinking about those people who say that foods are too rich or too sweet. No such thing.
Except for when they are. This is one of those times.
I put my fork down. My brain wants more but my belly says no. Or perhaps it is not my belly but some higher-self that is constructed of painful memories. The higher self that says don’t put your hand on the hot stove.
Trouble is, I’m the type that likes to bring my hand really close to the burner, to see how close I can get, to feel the heat without getting burned.
It is this second plate. It is the boy I spent the night with several months ago. And, knowing he could not possibly give me what I want, and that once I am physically involved my perception gets blurry, spent a second night with him anyway.
It is my years of vain efforts to try to drink like other people.
The higher self speaks to me. Passover. 1990-something. I still live in Detroit and my parents are still married, but they do not live in my childhood home. Neither do I, which means I am somewhere between 21 and 24 years old.
I am thin for the first time in my life. Really thin. I am rigid about my eating and exercise. The kind of rigid that makes me not all that much fun to eat with. I feel like I have cracked the code. That I will never be heavy again. That I am fixed. I am mistaken.
My mother has made some sort of gelatinous kosher-for-Passover dessert. It is an experiment, as is every kosher-for-Passover dessert, where chemistry and good taste are at odds in the never-ending quest to make tasty sweets without flour.
I have one. Then another. And another. They are not even good but I cannot seem to stop myself. My mother clears the table and brings them into the kitchen and I follow, secretively, wolfing down a few more. As if anyone is paying attention.
Next I know I am in the upstairs bathroom, on the floor, trying to make myself throw up. But I cannot. My mother asks if I need to go to the hospital. I say no because I cannot imagine what they will do to help me. I lie on the cool tile with my pants unzipped and wait for this feeling to pass.
I tell Martha and Jonnie this story, and that eating too much feels scary. Which is not to say that I don’t overeat, because I do. And today is likely to be one of those days. But I do not eat to sickness and have not in many, many years. The desire has been taken from me. It is a miracle.
As is my reaching out to that dear, sweet boy only one more time. And when the response was tepid, not returning to him, trying to convince him, or myself, that it, that we, could be otherwise.
As is my not trying to drink like other people for more than six years. Instead, putting down the drink entirely.
I finish my plate. Slowly. A bit later I have a sliver of pumpkin cheesecake and one of chocolate pecan pie. I tell Martha to cut them as wide as her finger and she does. I am breaking one of my holiday rules. Kind of. I do not eat anything not homemade.
The pies come from First Slice – a not-for-profit which sells “subscriptions” for homemade meals and uses the money from those subscriptions to feed the same meals to hungry families in Chicago. Martha assures me the pies are more homemade than if she made them herself.
I have a second round of slivers. Am I playing with fire?
Walking home, the streets are freakishly quiet. I am carrying a bag of leftovers – salad, ham, roasted roots, sweet potatoes – leaving the pies, and the Lindt truffles at my place setting, on Martha’s table.
I feel the snow on my face. I feel my gut. Satiated, but not stuffed. I have “broken” several of my “rules,” and, miraculously, feel further from the flame than ever.