After my dad moved to Hawaii when I was 17, he stopped eating regularly and he lost an alarming amount of weight. When I went to visit, he bought me my first ukulele and said, “I didn’t eat for days to afford this.” This was the first time it occurred to me that a persons relationship with food wasn’t just about enjoyment and survival, but control. If we rewind in the way, way back machine and visit when I was still a child, I was told to understand that good food was a way of feeling good. I don’t mean good as in healthy for you, I mean good as in I’m from the midwest it’s good for your soul but not your gut or literally any other part of you. Side note, I’ve been to family reunions where an appetizer was literally balls of raw meat. I didn’t know at the time that my dad was learning just like I was. Learning his place in the world and what that means. He hadn’t been taught those things and he was just a child himself, a parade of the blind leading the blind who eat only foods that feel good in the moment. Momentary satisfaction is the mantra. Steak, sushi, mashed potatoes LOADED with all the things that explain why people back home are just a little slower than people here on the west coast. It became apart of my core structure as a person: good food could cure anything. So, this was how my relationship with food became directly tied to my mental wellness.
I’m 23 and I’m shaking because I haven’t eaten anything today, but I’ve drank six cups of coffee. I want my body to be something that needs nothing. I hate myself for needing anything. For needing food, for needing sleep, for needing rehabilitation. So I’m shaking and my car veers slightly closer toward oncoming traffic because I can’t keeps my eyes focused and I’m screaming, ‘this isn’t that hard for most people.’
“Eat. You’ll feel better.” But god what a pathetic machine I would be if I can’t even function without food and water. wait. Let’s analyze.
I’m 16 or maybe 15, it’s after dark on a fall weeknight in Chicago, and we’ve spent the day organizing a funeral for my stepbrother in a family I’m not really apart of. Not the first family I’ve been dragged into, but asked to sleep in the guest room of. During the funeral, everyone (including my dad) sat in the front family couch. You know the one? I sat in the back, away from the casket. I wasn’t broken enough by this tragedy to sit on that couch. Not like them. I spend the entire day devouring the store bought bite sized sandwiches and brownies that people bring to funerals because they don’t know how else to help. I won’t go to school tomorrow (not because of the situation, really, I just don’t go to school much anymore at this point) so my dad suggests we eat out.
“We should eat. We’ll feel better.”
We walk in the door minutes before closing but it’s fine, it’s fine. We know the owner, but she doesn’t want to take sake shots with my dad like she sometimes does. It’s a week night. She’s tired. I don’t know how to explain what happens after this but I do know I think about it a lot. Snapshots of my dad pounding his fists against his legs, his face a deep blood red because he doesn’t know how to separate vulnerability from anger. My stepbrother had shot himself with one of my dads guns. My dad feels responsible but he doesn’t know if it’s nobler to voice this or not. He wonders if everyone blames him, doesn’t believe that no one does.
We end up leaving the restaurant without ordering, this moment of raw very real pain sitting between my dad and I but being entirely unsure how to hold it because food didn’t work. Our usual plan of action had failed. I replay this moment in my head all the time. My dad beating his fists against his knees, before collapsing in on himself, only a single desperate gasp of pain escaping his lips. “Let’s go.” We couldn’t even swallow the complimentary soup. Our throats closed up, maybe swollen with pain and fear. Sometimes when I’m in quiet cars late at night, I’m brought back to this moment. It’s Chicago in late fall, so it’s cold and my dads truck doesn’t have heat so we can actually watch how uneven our breathing is. More evidence right in front of us that things are not okay, bu we say nothing. I try to focus on the part of the road illuminated by the headlights and not the parts of my dads face that I can see in the light of the radio box. It’s on but it’s turned all the way down. I want to be something that needs nothing.
I’m 23 and I’m shaking because I haven’t eaten today, but I’ve drank six cups of coffee. I want my body to be something that needs nothing. I hate myself for needing anything. But my needs sit inside me like a garden begging for hydration and I’m terrified that if I don’t water them soon, they’re going to die.