“Are you going to eat that?” My boyfriend looked at me, astonished. I stopped, with a fingernail full of blackberry substance mid-stream from my ankle to my mouth, and stared at him. At first I had nothing to say. How do you explain to someone, “Oh I forgot you were there, so I was picking some congealed purple stuff off my ankle and eating it, and I really wasn’t even conscious of what it was until you mentioned it, but what happened was my blackberry yogurt fell on the floor while I was unloading the groceries, the container cracked at the base, and all the fruit on the bottom goop exploded around my feet, and I thought I wiped off my ankles fully, but obviously it turns out I didn’t.”
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t willing to eat just about anything. The drive was there when I was in elementary school, of this I am sure. I was sick and tired of the same peanut butter and jelly on rye, yogurt, trail mix, and Milano cookies my mom always put in my lunch. Everyone else’s lunch always looked so much better… they had Cool Ranch Doritos in little lunch-sized packets. My Cape Cod chips paled in comparison. Instead of Capri Sun punch (which is so hard to jam a straw into), they had Ssips lemonade or Coca Cola. I was lucky if I got a prepackaged Little Debbie brownie. They had Ho Ho’s and Devil Dogs. I snacked on a room temperature string cheese. My mouth watered instead for the canned fruit cocktail enjoyed by some of my classmates.
Things went from bad to worse when I was in the fifth grade. It was then that my mother delegated the task of lunch making. My brother and I were to be responsible for our own lunches from then on. Instead of blaming her for the monotonous lunches, I had only myself to blame. From 1989 to 1996 my lunch rarely wavered from a selection of Yoplait yogurt, Stoned Wheat Thins (and maybe some brie or peanut butter if I was feeling creative), an apple, and a couple of Milanos. I assure you however I was well nourished despite my bland lunches. There is something to be said after all for the prevalence of eating disordered behavior among all-girls prep schools. You name it, it got passed on to me… I thank the mothers of my classmates for fresh turkey sandwiches on French bread, homemade brownies, fresh fruit salads, gourmet potato chips lovingly placed in ziplock baggies, and slices of leftover birthday cake wrapped in tin foil. By senior year, instead of placing unwanted food up for grabs, more often than not, the other girls would just hand me their food directly. If not for these castaways, I surely would have died, not of malnutrition but of boredom. I distinctly remember my best friend in high school remarking, “You would make a really good homeless person.”
More recently, my best friend from graduate school took my position at University of North Carolina Hospitals when I moved to Rhode Island. She informed me that my former co-workers still spoke fondly of me. “Oh what did they say!?” She told me I was remembered for having eaten a particular piece of pie. No one knew its origin or how long it had been in the communal fridge. I was not one to let minor details get in my way. I wanted that pie. “But there’s mold on the crust!” my colleagues warned. Never mind the mold. I was content to eat around it. Why waste a perfectly good piece of strawberry cream pie? I enjoyed it but never imagined people would still be talking about the incident a year later.
So when I finally explained to my boyfriend that yes I was putting that purple stuff in my mouth, I told him he shouldn’t be surprised. Just today I told him the story of how I ended up lunging into the dumpster, face first this morning. On my way to the car, I stopped at the dumpster to drop off some trash and recycling. I tossed the trash into the receptacle and knew immediately something felt wrong… my paper trash remained in my hand. I had mistakenly thrown out my lunch instead! This was leftover penne, vegetables and tofu plus an apple, a tangelo and grapes. And a great Pyrex glass container. I wasn’t letting this one go without a fight. Luckily the dumpster is situated within a fence. I was able to climb up the fence to get a little taller. This allowed me to peer into the trash. I spied my lunch atop some styrofoam padding and tree branches. There was no sign of visible contamination, so bracing myself on the edge of the dumpster with my left hand, I reached down as far as I could with my right hand, successfully pinched the edge of my lunch bag, and reeled it back in. So I ate out of the trash. It shouldn’t be a real shock that I was picking an unknown substance off my leg and eating it, now should it? Old habits die hard, I guess.