Food. Globes of mashed potatoes glistening with a thin layer of gravy, plump slices of pie gushing with ruby red cherries–food
Perhaps it started with the light in her mother’s eyes when dessert was served or the happiness in Mom’s voice when they went to a fancy restaurant. Eating was important. Food was
Maybe it began in the dark when those intruding hands pushed her covers down and her nightgown up. M&Ms shoved into her mouth, mingled with her tears; a sweet reward for bitter pain.
The bags of candy Abby got from the neighbor after he fondled her ten-year-old body seemed like a fair trade. How was she to know she was also accepting bags of shame? Still, the texture of the sugar granules rolling over her tongue, the spunky lime, the happy orange, the surprising lemon all helped to lighten the heaviness in her heart.
When she curled up on her bed,
“I’m an introvert,” she told herself as she grew up, but she really wasn’t. Crispy fried chicken with buttery hot biscuits and cold soda, ice clunking in the cup, kept her company or sometimes it was a visit from hot salty popcorn, bathed in slick butter, its comforting scent wafting into her nose. And when the other kids all went to Laurie Johnson’s party, Abby held a party of her own, inviting chewy Almond Joys (sometimes you feel like a nut) and soft Matt’s cookies (warm chips swirling after being heated in the microwave). Now, that was a real party, she thought.
Sure, there were healthy foods she enjoyed. Abby sometimes dreamed about a crisp chunk of cold sliced apple or the soft, subtle sweetness of a banana, but those flavors needed a luxurious heap of chunky peanut butter. It added protein, she told herself. It’s good for you. But in reality, it helped fill the emptiness. Just like hearty loaves of whole grain bread, swollen and fresh from the oven; they warmed her insides. Food that “sticks to your ribs,” as Abby’s grandma used to say.
And it stuck to Abby’s ribs. All the food seemed to stick to her ribs until her ribs couldn’t be seen anymore. The girls at school poked at her, both with cruel words and pointed fingers. Hunching over, Abby clutched her books to her chest and scurried through the halls trying to get through each day. Later, at home, she would huddle in her room and forget this misery, lost in flavor and fiction.
Mom saw Abby’s misery. She also saw that Abby was powerless to stop so Mom intervened. The meds might make Abby nervous, they might make her jumpy, they might make it tough for Abby to sleep at night, but they would shape Abby into a happier design. Abby complied with the way of the world and sucked down pills and chalky protein shakes. Her fleshy rolls turned to soft curves and soon the poking fingers came attached to boy’s bodies. She was invited to Laurie’s parties. But this new world was sharp. Kids with witty words, like shards of glass, frolicked and flirted all around her. They laughed and treated her as if she were one of them. But she knew she wasn’t. Inside still hid a doughy frightened child wishing to be alone with her true sustenance. With food, you always knew when to open your mouth and you didn’t have to think of something to say. With people, things were bewildering. Giggling girls wearing lipstick and eyeshadow delighted in fixing Abby up to look like them. Guys with rough chins and hard bodies tried to kiss her, pushing her against walls in party rooms that throbbed with loud music. The only good thing at the parties was the sweet apple wine everyone kept pouring into her glass.
Wine and desperation got Abby through high school and college. After that, once she settled into her job at the library, there was blessed peace.
Released from a quiet day filled with hard work, Abby could slip into her small apartment and enter a world full of pizza, overloaded with rich melting cheese and bright tomatoes or she could fill her plate with mountains of spaghetti covered in thick chunky sauce and topped with pudgy meatballs. Snacks and desserts, take-out and delivery, cook at home or make from scratch, Abby could surround and enshroud herself in a sanctuary of delightful fragrances, tastes, and sensations. And there she spent a blessedly uneventful existence for the duration of her years... but I guess you could call her life full.