Tonight I wish my French were better, so that I could capture more exactly the line that gripped my heart and tied it in a knot, as I started watching Kings and Queen with my excellent friends last night. (To be sure, I was asleep within half an hour of the line, but that wasn't the movie's fault.) A dapper, self-assured gentleman writer goes into his bathroom just after his grown daughter arrives at his flat in Grenoble. Studying a picture of herself as a little girl, she realizes that he's sobbing in the other room. He confesses to having had blood in his stools for a week and chokes out to her, "Je vais perdre des morceaux de moi." I feel as though I'm losing bits of myself. (I'm thrown off by the fact that the subtitler's translation is obviously idiomatic, and the man's speech is broken by his sobs, so that it's all but impossible for my rudimentary skills to put the English back into French.)
I'm facing the first moment of real self-division since I started this project two months ago, because I want to write about something else, but tonight's topic is sitting beside me on the couch, needling me, poking me under the ribs, tweaking my ear, pulling at my toenails. I have pictures and notes, bits and pieces I've been picking up all day--a decidedly different collection of morceaux, to be sure--and yet I think I'm going to succumb to what obviously wants to be written, if only so that it will leave me the hell alone, let me get in the car and go to the grocery and then come back here and hunker down with Charles Dickens, my sweetheart tonight.
I have lost my appetite again.
Those of you who know me in real life know that I go in cycles when it comes to eating and not-eating. I'm roughly the same size I was in high school, sometimes five pounds heavier, sometimes five pounds lighter. Usually, my weight changes with the seasons and the rhythms of the academic year: I get skinny by Thanksgiving, and by Spring Break, I'm back wearing the jeans that started falling down in November. But every few years, something goes a little more haywire than usual. In fall 2001, I could only rouse myself to eat a particular kind of cheese, toasted on a particular kind of bread. In 2003, I went on my first weight-gain diet. I may need to initiate another one right now.
It feels absurd to be a grown person and have to attend so deliberately to a very basic bodily function, which is why the weight-gain diets have often been short-lived (though relatively successful) in the past, and why I've ended up here again. Particularly at busy times of my semesters, particularly when very exciting things are happening in my life, I lose my interest in food. I forget to seek it out. My ability to imagine meals that excite me starts to slip. If good food--particularly good-smelling food--ends up in front of me, I will eat heartily and happily. But if that good food is protein-packed, I may go a startlingly long amount of time before I take in another sizable meal.
I find all of this as bizarre as the next person, and the last thing I need right now is a food intervention or nutritional advice. I know the things to put before myself in order to get the maximum healthful benefit from a meal, and I know well the drawbacks of having an unfull stomach too much of the time. I keep a bag of walnuts in my desk at work and get my protein and my omega-3s on a regular basis. One of the things that has always frustrated me about this particular quirk of my being is that I have no language available to talk about it without risking pathologizing myself in a way that's utterly inappropriate to my experience--which is by no means to suggest that such mismatches of language and life don't happen in far more serious ways all over the place, all the time.
I think that what grabbed at me about Nora's father's line in Kings and Queen was the way he captures the strangenss of realizing how the body changes, how it can seem to discard itself without our participation or willingness. I remember putting on a pair of my jeans in spring 2003 and realizing that they were now two sizes too big. If you've ever put on clothes that are two sizes too big, you may have had this experience: you wonder, did I take up that space before? How is it that I have shrunk? Where did that mass go? I've had the same experience going in the other direction: how is it that I have grown so gradually that I didn't notice? How have I come to occupy so much more room?
When I lived in Rochester, I was as thin as I've been since junior high school, almost entirely because I simply didn't feel hungry, ever. I'd never had such a life: I was residing in a city (if a relatively small one) for the first time, seeing a skyline on my way home from work every day, taking two different interstates to reach the grocery store. My own possessions were packed away, tantalizingly close to where I was living my daily life, and I was emphatically in transition from my first moment there until my last, living in a borrowed dwelling and using borrowed things. I was also living with a virtual stranger whose sense of boundaries was far different from my own, particularly where kitchen stuffs were concerned. These things conspired to keep me edgy, at best, when it came to food and drink. (At exactly this time, my beloved Brooklynite was growing her lovely son; she grew and grew, so purposefully, while I shrank and shrank, so bereft of apparent purpose, and it was, overall, a strange, dislocating season, our bodies doing their own things while we looked out for each other from afar.)
By mid-winter--about this time, actually--I had figured out a fairly effective way to sabotage my gustatory apathy. The grocery store in Rochester was part of the same magnificent chain to which I'd become wedded in Ithaca, and the flagship store's floorplan was a near-exact mirror image of the Ithaca store's. And so the Pittsford Wegmans became my home away from home, my kitchen and dining room. Being there was medicinal in a way that I can now identify as neo-Proustian: I'd walk in the automatic doors, and the same rush of forced hot air that had welcomed me in Ithaca would carry me out of Rochester. The same smell of fresh bread would drift over from the same weirdly elaborate brick oven while I chose a bagel for breakfast or debated with myself about whether to buy a white or whole-grain baguette. I'd linger over the cheeses for an excessive amount of time, even though I always bought the same kind. I'd put together a plastic tub of olives; I'd smell the soup selection; I'd check to see what whole fish gaped forth from the butchers' cases. Sometimes I'd make a Tuesday evening Wegmans trip to buy three things last an hour before getting back on the interstate, and then the other interstate, to return to that place I called home.
I'm a little bit at loose ends, as far as this strategy goes, here in mid-Ohio. If I could swing it tonight, I'd hop in the car and drive to Whole Foods, but it's over an hour--and, again, two interstates--away. Generally, as soon as I'm within sight of the local Kroger, I'm clenching my jaw for reasons too puerile to elaborate upon, almost all involving driving and poor parking lot layouts (though some also involving magnetic ribbons bearing pseudopatriotic inanities). I know that I'm being a child, every single time. And feeling silly about being so uncontrollably petulant only makes me less excited to be heading for the food. By the time I'm inside, I might as well be five, insisting that I'm not tired. And so tonight I am going to be my own mother. Instead of lying down for ten minutes, I'm going to gather up the things that seem most appealing. It will undoubtedly be a weirdish mix: yogurt, bread, shredded wheat, cheese, shrimp, and pasta seem likely candidates. But even making this list reminds me of the strangest thing about these cycles: not that I put on a pair of jeans in the middle of a school week and realize that they've stopped fitting--that I might be able to pull them off without unbuttoning them, which is a nice trick but not a very practical one, most of the time--but that I can remember so clearly going to the grocery store and actually wanting the foods around me, whereas tonight I'm buying them for myself out of a firmly lodged sense of duty to this only body I've got.
sources for tonight's images: 1, 2, 5) Vintage Vending; 3) Fabunique Avenue; 4) the Cayuga Nature Center Compost Project's photo album site.