The path to writing a memoir takes unexpected turns. A random prompt occurs and a writer finds memory peeling back to reveal a sudden moment of clarity. Take for instance my memory of milk. Add a workshop on emotional wounds. Dust this with the book, eating heaven, I picked up after hearing the engaging Jennie Shortridge at The Seattle University Search for Meaning Book Festival.
And there is another story in me:
When I was young, the age when I didn’t know distrust, to wonder what was happening, I went to the pediatrician with my mother. I recall the cold crackling paper on the table, sitting very still while the adult words were lobbed over my head.
“Milk.” “Too much.” “Fat.” “Powdered skim.” “Watch.”
What was that?
I was seven years old at the most. The table and my family were the center of my universe. Smooth, dairy-fresh milk was my favorite snack. Watch what?
I never was in charge of my body again. Fat was. Other people’s opinions were; french fries were removed from my plate, creamy whole milk banned, a small glass of powdered milk, blue and thin, at my place at the table each night. I learned to sneak snacks, spoon peanut butter from the jar while my mother was on the phone, hide cookies in my pockets. Eat more, faster, harder, alone, hide.
And this translated into a disassociation from my body. I approached the dining table for the next fifty years deciding what I would not eat instead of what I wanted to eat, or needed to eat. If my body was flawed, I had to control it like others before me.
This is not an unusual story for a woman born in the late 1950’s, the era of Twiggy, my mother eating cottage cheese and celery for a week to ‘diet,’ my grandmother patting my belly and exclaiming “what’s this!”
I’m not saying anything new. But I could DO something new when my first daughter was born in 1987. I banned the word ‘fat’ from my household, sat everyone down and declared this law. I did have control over the next important little girl. I intended that food, preparation, and love be the catalyst to gather together at the table.
This is not an essay on success, or failure, or blame. Our culture for thinness is strong and poisonous. My daughters navigated well, considering, and I am proud of them. I still ban the word.
I err towards information and power. A young woman I admire blogs to empower women around food issues. Her tag line reads:
“Be Happy. Be Bright. Be You.”
Pieces of my story slip through me and onto the page and I think about forgiveness and distortion and dis-ease with the blood and bones a creator gave me and I am both angry and sad. Can I undo what was done? Not really. But somehow acknowledging this dysfunctional relationship gave it a lot less power. Makes me more bright. More me.
I ate the fortune cookie after my meal last night. Memory is a funny thing. I love strawberries, too.