A Good Meal: Self-Awareness
Cedar Rapids, IA
July 7, 2013
“I signed you up for a membership at Weight Watchers today,” she greeted me as I walked in the door after school my sophomore year. I was fifteen. “Not that you really need to lose weight, but I know how self-conscious you have been about your body lately.”
Admittedly, I was. I hadn’t been until a few weeks after my mother had married my step-dad the summer I turned ten. I had always been aware of my height. A good head shorter than most of my peers, I couldn’t help but be. I hadn’t been aware, however, of my weight.
As a child, those weekends when my brother and I would spend days with my father, he would stuff me full of sweets: chocolate glazed donuts, chocolate milk, whole pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
We were such regulars at Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robins that when I would go skipping into the shop, the clerk would smile and reach for my favorite treat. I would gulp down the donuts, face covered with chocolate, spinning round and round on the pink upholstered chrome café stool or hungrily lap at the ice cream before it had a chance to melt, licking it off my chin to make certain I enjoyed every bite.
In spite of the sweetest indulgence, at the age of ten, the year I finished grade school, I weighed a whopping 40 pounds, burning most calories in long bike rides or shopping cart races, or push the chair, another delightful invention my brother and I contrived during the long hours spent in the linoleum-lined halls of our church while my mother worked at her third job as nursery care provider.
We were the church hooligans, and we shared our game with whoever dared risk the scarred shins. The game’s equipment was simple: a metal framed, wooden backed chair (the kind that lined the Sunday School classrooms), a partner, and a desire for speed and pain.
While one person would sit in the chair, the partner would rush along the hallway pushing it from behind. The person in the chair was at the mercy of the “pusher,” for when the desired speed had been obtained (up to the discretion, of course, of the “pusher”), the chair was released and the “rider” would go sailing toward whatever happened to be in the way: stairs, walls, doors or open hallway.
We learned as “pusher” we could direct the chair by releasing one hand or another slightly before final launch, and if we were really good, we could make the chair spin before it came crashing to a halt. As “rider,” we could also direct our own fate by leaning—the same technique that directed our too-fast bike speeds.
If the “pusher” had a particularly malevolent streak and we found ourselves as “rider” being slammed too often into the wall, stairs or doors, we could eke revenge by waiting until the “pusher” had gained a goodly speed, then slam our feet onto the floor, resulting in an action not much different than a speeding bicyclist who slams onto the front brakes while going downhill: a quick flight over the object that had come to an abrupt stop.
The game could be enacted in pairs, or better yet, if others were willing to participate, the church hallways became modified speedways with young children catapulting one another through the corridors.
If my brother and I played alone, I was often the designated “pusher,” and since he was particularly ornery (keeping in mind, of course, that I was as well, so he often met with obstacles), he would frequently slam his feet into the ground, sending me flying (which I loved), or worse yet slamming into the back, shin-height metal chair brace. (All too often I recall sitting in children’s choir or Sunday evening surface clutching a wad of tissue against my bloodied shin, nursing deep gashes resulting in equally deep scars.)
If we were lucky enough to have other participants, my brother always chose to be the “pusher” with me as rider. Because of my diminutive size, he could obtain substantial speed, so I took pride in my small frame.
My self-image/self-awareness changed as abruptly as my body. Within a few months of my mother’s wedding, upon my stepfather’s justified insistence, I had doubled my weight, coming a bit closer to that of my peers. But along with the weight came changes I didn’t understand. Suddenly I went from a child’s body into that of a woman, jumping from a sexless, formless child into a fertile female. With the weight came the breasts that have remained almost exactly the same size as they are now, as well as another unique eleventh birthday gift, blood in my underwear that I had yet to be informed would appear with the other changes my body had wrought.
By the time my mother coldly informed me of my new membership, I had increased dress size, going from a child’s size 6 into an adult size 10 in four years, surpassing many of my peers whose bodies had not yet catapulted into adolescence at the same frightening speed I had. (Later, though, many of these same peers would have to undergo eating disorder treatments, as many women of my generation have because of Twiggy-inspired diets).
In addition to Weight Watchers, between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, my mother had tried every fad diet she could find to reverse the gain she and my stepfather had originally sought. For a few months I was allowed to only eat pasta, then tuna, then grapefruit, then peanut butter, then only veggies. No diet or exercise regime would ever alter my adolescent body that had taken on the curves of a woman, and every bite of food I have consumed thereafter has weighed upon me, counted obsessively in increased caloric awareness. If I hadn’t been bodily aware up to this point, I certainly made up for lost time by becoming calorically aware.
Two hundred and twenty-two miles into my journey, I stepped into the Starbucks tucked away in a corner of a Target located in Cedar Rapids, IA. The fried chicken smelled divine. I picked up a four-piece dinner, a container of hummus, and a can of Pringles. It was the best meal I have ever eaten, because for the first time since being catapulted into adulthood, I didn’t give a damn how many calories it contained, just like every other meal I have eaten thereafter.