Hunger: Part 1

Reading the New Yorker has become my every Sunday, all-day thing. It fills me up in so many ways.

In the March 27 issue, there’s a paragraph in short fiction by Victor Lodato that just grabbed me. I read it over and over. The story is “Herman Melville, Volume I” about a homeless girl at her absolute worst moment. Here’s the excerpt:

She’s still shaking as the woman makes tea. The house is so warm it feels like sickness. Neither of them, though, has taken off her coat — the girl because she hasn’t been invited to do so. She can’t recall the last time she was in a house. Maybe not since Tucson. Of course, she’s been in stores and cafes and shelters, but this is different: the ordered mess of domesticity; the softness of the light. It’s confusing.

It’s powerful. Being caught up by something completely normal but also foreign, in the same moment.

[It’s confusing.]

When, for whatever reason, you’ve grown accustomed to an unusual place or circumstance or way of living or behavior, and then you’re thrust into what’s considered normal. It’s confusing. And it can be painful.

The first time it happened — the first time I experienced this feeling — it didn’t actually happen to me. I witnessed it. It is one of the earliest memories of my childhood:

We were visiting relatives but my parents weren’t there. Maybe they were on vacation or someone was in the hospital, whatever it was, my brother and I needed to be elsewhere for a weekend. I’m hanging with a couple cousins. We are 7 or 8-ish. Close in age, but not all the same. Mom calls to check in and like normal, before hanging up, I say “I love you.”

Later, looking straight at me, my one cousin suddenly announces:

I know something about you.

He’s got that unmistakable sneaky mean face that says it’s something shameful. Something awful. Just short of horrified, I beg him to share.

“What is it? Tell me. Please. Please.

“YOU SAID ‘I LOVE YOU’ TO YOUR MOM!”

My sneaky mean cousin is met with mystified faces.

“Don’t you ever?”

“What do you mean?”

And then. That moment.

[It’s confusing.]

The realization — all three of us, in an instant — understanding “I know something about you” revealed so much. Everything. Another world. And it was painful for each of us, but in different ways.

The most recent time I experienced this feeling was last summer, at lunch with friends in Wisconsin. In a restaurant by a gorgeous lake on a sunshiny day. Just lunch. Happy. Lively. Normal.

But after weeks and weeks of living in a hospital watching my Mom die, well.

It was that moment. Crazy and foreign. I cried.

[It’s confusing.]

Here’s the moment that got me thinking about all this: A group of us, visiting a co-worker’s home back in the early 90’s. The reason is lost. My friend’s husband comes home from work and makes dinner for himself. It’s salad. Just a salad. I marveled at it. How odd. So simple. A pile of lettuce, a tomato, some cucumber and light dressing. On a plate. With a glass of water.

“Just salad for dinner?” I ask.

[It’s confusing.]

“Yes, just salad,” said this thin but incredibly fit man.

Before that moment, it never occurred to me to have a salad for dinner.

Growing up in a family that rarely ate salads — or anything super healthy — I didn’t realize some people just. Have. Salad. For dinner.

Not surprising, I’ve struggled with weight since my early 20’s. Up/down, mostly up lately. Stress eating. Comforting myself in the most uncomfortable ways. Feeding a hunger that can never be satisfied by food, even though I sure keep trying.

[It’s confusing.]

But maybe here, in this space, I can learn to fill myself up in other ways. Better, less confusing ways.