Tonight’s the night.
My first real meal in three months. I can hardly wait. I’ve lost exactly 40 pounds and four dress sizes. I should be walking on air right now, but something’s missing....
Diane announced to the class that Brian won’t be returning. We’ll be getting another therapist for the last three months of the program. Such a shock!
I called him up to see what’s going on. He seemed kind of waffly. He said, “Sammy, it’s just for the best.” When I asked him what that meant, he answered, “What do you think?” I hate when someone answers a question with a question. “Maybe we’ll be in touch some day, but not now.”
I get the hint. Either Shel threatened him, or Brian had time to think things over. I think Sheldon got to him, but there’s no point in confronting either guy.
Brian would just beat around the bush, and Shel would lie.
Well, this is it.
The big moment. Solid food. Shel takes me to the Starboard Restaurant, a popular seafood place in cahoots with the clinic. We’ve been told that we should take our first solid food here so that we don’t have to prepare it ourselves. We might go out of control; besides, it’s important that this first meal be prepared properly. Still, $18.95 for three ounces of poached chicken, three asparagus spears, and a diet soda seems extreme. I wear my new dress, pretending, for Shel’s sake, that this momentous occasion marks its public debut.
I wish Brian were here instead.
The minute I walk into the restaurant, my knees go weak with desire, from long-forgotten aromas of lobster; King crab; broiled and fried crab cakes; scallops; steamed shrimp and red sauce; Shrimp Scampi; Lobster Imperial; rare roast beef, freshly sliced off the slab; melted butter--I just want to dive right into the melted butter, feel the warm, silky grease coating my body and hair.
The horn of plenty--all on the buffet line, all for the taking at $29.95, plus tax. I stand before this wondrous offering, my mouth watering, and body weak from a monstrous hunger so huge I swear I’m close to orgasm--
“C’mon, Samantha.” Shel pulls me away from the buffet line. “You’ve got to stop torturing yourself.”
I allow myself to be led away; if I don’t get the hell away from here, I’m going to start grabbing food and stuffing it into my mouth, swallowing whole chunks without chewing. I’m so famished I can barely walk to my table, which is tucked in the no-smoking section, far away from the bacchanalian smorgasbord. Shel literally has to help me walk.
My meal comes. A pale lump of white meat chicken in a watery juice and three steamed asparagus spears, fanned out like three prongs. Carrot curls, fresh parsley, and strips of pimento add color to the plate. My Diet Coke comes with a bowl of lemon and lime slices.
I stare down at my plate. Where I should begin? Should I even begin?
Shel’s meal comes. Grilled chicken breast, plain baked potato, plain steamed broccoli, salad with vinegar dressing. For once, simple fare and only slightly more tempting than my own meal.
“Maybe you’ve forgotten how to swallow, so take tiny bites,” Shel says, trying to be helpful. He cuts a bite of meat, spears it with his fork, and pauses. “I wouldn’t want you to choke, you know.”
Like hell you don’t!
I unfurl the wet coolness of a carrot curl. When I let go, it curls up again, but not as tightly as before. It looks longer now, like more food. I’m not difficult to please.
Shel pops the bite into his mouth and chews methodically and absentmindedly. Food means nothing to him. He has a satisfied look on his face--maybe while I was talking to Brian this afternoon, Shel was humping Mona; he seems too considerate and accommodating tonight. More than ever, I’m convinced that he’s called Brian and threatened him and his livelihood.
I pick up the parsley sprig and shake it over the chicken breast; drops of water sprinkle on my dress. I nibble on the sprig, chewing its crispy lace. The crunch echoes in my head.
Who says parsley has no taste?
“Are you supposed to be eating the garnish?”
“Look, you jerk,” I say, shaking my finger at him, “if it’s on my plate, I’m going to eat it, so there.”
He seems surprised, but he doesn’t say anything.
It’s true: I feel gaunt and mean. Starved. I pop the rest of the sprig into my mouth and chew it to a pulp, its bitter juices coating my mouth. I gulp the Diet Coke.
Shel puts his fork down and gapes; I systematically cut each item on my plate into tiny pieces, beginning with the pimento strips, continuing with the carrot curls and asparagus spears, and finishing up with the chicken. Then with my fork and spoon, I mix all the pieces together as if I were tossing an elaborate salad.
Shel leans toward me and whispers, “I’m not sure this is altogether a healthy response to your refeeding program–”
“Shut up.” I grit my teeth, not looking at my husband. I mix and mix.
He takes my hand and covers it with his own. “How are you feeling now?”
I yank my hand away.
“I’M GODDAMN HUNGRY, YOU ARROGANT SON-OF-A-BITCH! DON’T TOUCH ME!”
Everyone around us stops eating and talking. All eyes on us now.
Shel holds his hands in front of his face. “Okay, okay. Just keep it down.”
“I don’t want to hear any mumbo-jumbo shrink stuff. I just want to eat without being analyzed.”
“Okay, so eat.”
As Shel looks on, I eat my mixture, first slowly like Diane and Brian have said to do, and then shoveling it in, breathing it in, consuming it with a fire that I have never felt before, even during those first love-filled days when Shel and I discovered our heat for each other.
Maybe this is lovemaking in its purest form.
And then the food is gone, but I’m not satisfied yet, and I need more food, more lovemaking--
I grab the lemon and lime slices out of the bowl, sprinkle them with NutraSweet, and literally suck the pulp from the rinds, little sacs filled with love-juice--sweet and sour, sweet and sour, sweet and sour.
I grab Shel’s plate. He watches in horror as I slice large chunks from his chicken, potato, broccoli, salad and stuff the bites into my mouth, swallowing without thoroughly chewing.
My body craves food, my cells need sustenance now, needed it yesterday, will need it tomorrow, I’ll never get enough, never in my lifetime, and then Shel’s food is gone, and I’m still looking for more.
I grab my plate and run to the smorgasbord, race through the line, slap God-knows-what onto my plate, I don’t even see or smell the food now, I know that I need it, and I can’t stop needing it until my body fills up, fills up, fills up, balloons, and bursts--
Source: “The Big Diet,” by Jennifer Semple Siegel, Are You EVER Going to Be Thin? (and other stories), 2004.
Available on Amazon.
© Jennifer Semple Siegel, 2004. This work may not be reprinted or reposted without permission from the author.