#48 Until All the World Had Been Stripped of Sweetness
About 8 years ago, I went out to dinner with a new friend. She was chic, boho-gorgeous, and had the effortless confidence of someone who had been slightly famous in the 90s. She’s a lovely person, but I felt conspicuous sitting next to her. I was insecure and sure that we must have looked like the Odd Couple.
When the waiter approached with a basket of the house-made rolls, my friend looked up at him with a mixture of flirtatious familiarity and legitimate incredulity:
“Do we look like we eat bread?”
As the waiter smiled and removed the offending carbs, I was at war with myself. I had recently lost some weight (I forget how. Juice cleanses? Weight Watchers? “Clean” eating?) and was still getting used to my new, smaller body. I was both thrilled to be included in her “girls too thin to eat bread” club and dejected that we would, in fact, NOT be eating bread.
That night, the glow of her approval was warmer than the sourdough.
2013: Just like my BFF, Oprah, I love bread.
The summer before my junior year of college, I went on the Slim-Fast diet. According to the TV commercial starring Kathie Lee Gifford, it was easy. Just "a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, and a sensible dinner. Give us a week, we’ll take off the weight!"
The shakes tasted like Milk of Magnesia and desperation. My sensible dinner was usually an iceberg lettuce salad, no dressing, with a bit of grilled chicken. I chewed the salad slowly, making it last as long as possible.
Every night I’d have a Sim-Fast snack, a rubbery bar approximating chocolate and peanut butter: the saddest Snickers. I would take a small bite and then read 2 pages of a book or wait until whatever tv show I was watching went to commercial. It sometimes took me an hour to finish it. But I ate it so slowly because I realized that it once it was done, I’d be thinking about my next meal, another chalky shake. I continued this way the whole summer.
Later in the summer, we had a family event where there would be lots of food and drink and I planned to let myself have dessert — the first non-liquid, non-sensible dinner I’d have in months. When the time came, I cut myself a small piece of cake and set it down on the table while I went to get a cup of coffee. When I came back, the cake was gone. (Maybe I should have yelled SAVED?) If this happened to me at any other time, I would probably have laughed and made a joke about someone eating my food. But I’d be so focused on treating myself, on letting myself have just one treat this summer, I went into a panic, my eyes filled with tears, my throat closed up. I don’t recall exactly, but I have this vision of myself comically searching for the cake, checking under the table, eyes wild from cake deprivation.
Then I heard the laughing. “Did you lose something?"
A member of the extended family was watching me, holding up the plate of cake. He put it back in front of me and walked away, pleased that he’d pranked me.
Everyone knew I’d been dieting because, well, I was always dieting (or about to start dieting, or cheating on a diet). I don’t know if he had any idea that I was melting down. I realize now that other people aren’t privy to the movie playing on repeat in my head, but back then I was devastated, believing that he’d been purposefully cruel. I’m not sure I ever forgave him.
I ate the cake. It tasted like strawberries and sawdust.
When I got back to school in the fall, one of the older, cooler girls said to me, “Hey, you look great. Your gluteus maximus is minimus.”
I was starving, but I dined out on that compliment for weeks.