Starving in a land of water: Drowning without Food
The space in my childhood home between bedroom and kitchen was a fully functioning demilitarized zone. By this, I mean to say that entrance to the kitchen between meal times was absolutely not tolerated when my dad was watching us. I remember tip toeing across the forest green carpet, trying as hard as my six year old self could, to not wake my snoring dad on the living room couch. With the slightest creak he would open one eye and growl, “what are you doing?” and any answer about food was simply unaccepted: “you don’t need anything,” he’d answer before rolling his eyes carefully shut. It taught me at a very young age that the kitchen, food, wasn’t something to be taken lightly.
My mom was the exact opposite, which is always the case when it comes to my parents. The only rules that applied when mom was around were: eat when you’re hungry, and desserts are reserved for after meals. Our kitchen was painted a cloudy, almost gray, blue and the adjoined dining room a happy corn yellow. Both of the rooms were splotched with white over top the yellow and blue: displaying my mom’s artistic touch. I remember the little window that sat just above the sink, and always thinking of it as a way out. I wanted to escape the suffocating space of my double-wide trailer and yellow walls and eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
One night while my mom was at work caring for an elderly couple, the house was pitch black. Only the living room television illuminated the space playing various infomercials, and Billy Mays’ voice rang through my ears. I felt my way down the hall and then across the back of our beige couch, and eyed my dad snoring loudly upon it. I made a break for the kitchen, and as soon as my foot tapped against the linoleum floor my dad jerked from his sleep. He grunted his usual “What are you doing?” and waited until I was back down the hall to put his head back down. So much for dinner.
Defeated and hungry I stared blankly at my tiny television. My mind wandered back to riding around in my dad’s company car, and how he emphasized that “you can never drink enough water,” reiterating that while food was bad for me, “you can drink as much water as you want.” I decided that this was the night to challenge his theory. I started by polishing off a Propel, lemon-flavored water in a bottle that waved to the grooves of my fingers, nearly identical to a Gatorade. I went across the hall to the bathroom, in order to avoid notice from my dad, and refilled the bottle with tap water. Returning to my room I started sucking the water through the twist cap. The water sloshed in my mouth like rapids before plunging down the waterfall of my throat and pooling in my stomach. One down.
I refilled the bottle again. And again. And again. I was possessed by the idea of water being incapable of damaging me that I thought it contained something within it that could heal my own damage, take my own hunger. I eventually had to stop drinking mid-bottle and pee every five minutes. For some reason, I thought it would still be a good idea to keep drinking. And so I continued. My stomach felt bloated and slushy. I laid on the multi-colored carpet of my room letting the Propel bottle protrude from my mouth; I felt full and unsatisfied, my tongue chastising me for the lack of taste.
After the severe belly ache, I decided that I had had enough water for the next month, and then some. I later learned that a person can actually die from ingesting too much water too fast, so my stunt was never repeated. But being banned from my kitchen made me feel banned from food, not good enough to enjoy luscious tastes unsupervised. And my feelings did have some merit to it. Even outside of my home, I was denied entrance to the world of food. My best friend Mary was stick thin, with spaghetti blonde hair that fell to her hips. It had been made very clear to me, with my thick black hair cut and my trunks for thighs, that I had not gained the approval for food in her home either.
There was a particular afternoon seared into my brain. I happily stumbled my way over to Mary’s house, only four houses down from me. I knocked on the clear screen door and was welcomed in. Mary’s mom, Carla, stood at the head of their pale pine dining room table with the giant red bucket marked KFC. Mary was seated on one side of her table, barely taking up the seat, next to her cousin Asad who was our age. I remember the greasy smell coating the inside of my noise, my hands already needing a napkin to wipe it away. Carla doled out my favorite pieces: the legs. She placed each one steaming on to Mary and Asad’s place. My saliva coated my tongue and before I headed towards the table, Carla’s words stopped me: “Now, Mary can’t play until after she’s done eating. You can wait on the couch until she’s finished.” I sat defeated on the blue couch, making patterns in the velvet fabric; denied access into another kitchen. At least she offered me a glass of water.
Being left out of the kitchen spaces as a child altered my perception on food. Food became sacred, but also something that had control over me. My mom told me later that I began hoarding food in my toy box (even refrigerated items) that she would find after she got home from work. I don’t remember doing it but I’m sure my dad heard an earful for it. Years later, and still today, I push the boundaries with food and reject it the way it did me in my childhood: but one thing I have learned is that there’s always room for water.