it was a simple peanut-butter-and-banana on whole wheat. well, actually it was almond butter but that makes it sound more exotic than i want it to sound. the point is that it is practically standard school-lunch fare for nearly every first grader or beyond. and i just ate my first one in 33 years.
i got the taste for it when a friend, a week ago maybe, mentioned that she’d just been eating almond butter in the car, and she hoped the almond scent wasn’t billowing off her breath. i bought the almond butter, oh, maybe four or five months ago. it was sitting in the fridge waiting for the moment when i got brave.
it came out of nowhere, the urge to make it just yesterday afternoon. i thought, hmm, i could try that. almond butter on whole grain bread. sweetened maybe with slices of banana.
sounds simple, doesn’t it?
i only wish it was.
the long road back from eating disorder to disordered eating to eating that is, well, pure and simple and full of life, is, well, complicated. and hard as hell, besides.
it seems to take a courage and a faith deeper than any i’ve ever had, until maybe now.
i’ve never ever written about it before. only dabbled one big toe in waters here and there, once or twice before. not spelled it out. not so much anyway.
but if my goal here is to bring grace to the everyday, i think i’d better start to try to bring it to myself. in the simple triumph of putting something to my lips that i once thought might knock me over. might do one of two things: propel me to a binge that would not stop, until i fell into a stupor. or simply make me fat.
i’ve been stuck, you see, in both those grooves. so long i cannot remember how i ate before. only that i was always skinny, and, unlike all my friends, had never ever downed a Tab, and claimed it as my so-called diet. or had a pimple. or breasts, for that matter. the three seemed linked, and forever out of reach. i was just a smooth-skinned, flat-chested, skinny girl. unschooled in ways of girls who’d blossomed. stuck in training bras.
until i wasn’t. until i gained a few pounds. got a tummy. and then, one afternoon when my papa held up a magazine, seventeen it was, with a white-on-black image of the classic anorexic, practically an x-ray, she was, what with all the skin and bones. and my papa said, that spring of 1975, don’t try this.
i heard a lightbulb click, so help me God. and i’ve no idea really why–believe me i’ve tried on every theory there ever was–i defied my papa’s wish: i did try, really hard, to be the best anorexic there ever was.
i did pretty good, if i might say so. ate less and less each day. swam more and more. tallied every calorie, down to fractions. lost 30 pounds or more, in maybe two months. landed in the hospital. screwed up my eating for the next few decades, at least.
it is achingly hard to be stumped by the most basic act of being alive, except for breathing, which really involves no deciding at all, so i’m not counting it.
no matter what, you need to eat. that means, every single day when you are someone trying to regain your footing in the world of food, you are faced with choices that catapult you off a cliff. or else you cling, until your knuckles turn to numb and white, dangling by a net of rules that only gets thinner and more frayed–and, oh, so very tired–with every passing year.
do you know how many birthday cakes i’ve pushed away? how many thanksgiving stuffings i’ve not tasted, not sure how to navigate the two breads, three fats, i’m sure would be inside, if i kept count the weight watchers’ way–a way i once knew inside out and upside down, a lifetime loser in the weigh-in club that ruled my every bite.
i’ve not taken trips for fear i would find nothing “safe” to eat. once, in paris, i walked from bistro to bistro, reading menus by the door, trying to find the one that fit my narrow definition of what i knew i could bring myself to swallow.
it long ago stopped being about defiance. it became a trap that was mine and mine alone. didn’t matter if i was surrounded by good friends, or alone locked in my apartment. in fact, i’d prefer to be alone; i could suffer my shame in private.
so why, now, lay it out for all the world to read? well, because i am groping toward a place i’ve dreamed of, more heartily and longingly than i even dreamed of becoming a mother–and if you know me, you know how wholly that dream consumed my heart.
i’ve made bargains up the wazoo: dear God, bring back my papa and i will toss aside my eating fears. dear God, i promise, you make my baby well and i will never again play games with foods that might as well be explosives.
i’ve closed my eyes and imagined eating what i feared. but then i’ve sat and ordered the same old thing. pushed fat to the rim of plate. heard a friend exclaim, “what is wrong with you?” when i passed up a bite of gooey buttered nuts. felt a whole table full of neighbors turn to gawk. wondered what else was said–or whispered–when i left the room.
i have shuddered in the dark. i have wretched when all alone. i have died the thousand deaths.
but, until this afternoon just past, i’ve not tasted almond butter. might i note that it was sweet like nothing i remember, delicious, and, oh yes, satisfying. i chased it down with coffee doused with milk. then sunk my teeth into an apple. ate it to the core, the way i always do.
it is not a triumph anyone would ever notice. not how i should be remembered.
but i know.
i know i felt a rushing in my chest as i lifted up the lid, and sank the knife in a bath of gritty almond bits. i know that i swan-dived off a ledge, as i bit through bread and felt the unknown almond sweetness swirl around my mouth.
i know that i now, at last, have one toe firmly planted in the mountainside, and i only need to plant another and another to make my ascent to a place i’ve had my eye on for a long, long time.
it is time, i think, before i run out of time. before i run out of days that i can say i lived without fear.
we each, every one of us, i think, have a fear that brings us down. or maybe something we can’t, for the life of us, untangle, let go of, kiss adios.
i doubt i’ll run soon into someone else who knows how hard it was to get that almond butter from the fridge. but once i did, once i cracked the door, reached back, took out the see-through plastic tub, the lifting to my lips wasn’t half as hard as i’d imagined. and now i know that i survived what for 33 years has been my definition of impossible, insurmountable, the one small step i couldn’t lift my foot to take.
i tell you this because maybe you too are bound by something awful. something you truly hate.
or maybe it isn’t you. but someone who you love.
i tell you because if i write the words, i turn on the light. and if the light is on, i won’t be groping in the dark.
where it is awful lonely. and i want for no one to be stuck there, whatever is the reason.
care for almond butter, anyone?
not a single sentence up above holds irony that escapes me. trust me, like a camera outside my head, i’ve watched every frame, wincing deep inside while it unfolded. paris, in search of lettuce? paris without a single croissant? the script though i couldn’t seem to escape. until now. and here. there is something graspable here, after all these years. i reach out a hand, you take it, gently. i can tell you, at the table, the story i kept locked inside. it is not a story i like to tell. and i tell it only after time and trust is layered here. i don’t mean for this to be self-help, a phrase diminished before it starts. i do though mean for this to be a place of truth, and trusting. and how can we spread our widest wings, if part of us is limping? i do not ask for you to share your locked-in stories. those come only when the time is ready. and only you know when. i only thank you, then, for absorbing mine in the spirit it was told. bless you. bless and multiply whatever courage you require, to spread your wings, and taste the wind.