“For centuries, French Roman Catholics have been taught that gluttony and gourmandise rank among the list of seven deadly sins. The association of gourmandise and gluttonerie has long rankled local epicureans. But today, a group of top French chefs, intellectuals and religious personalities is fighting to convert gourmandise from a sin to a state of grace.”
San Diego Union-Tribune, February 27, 2003
The first time I rested my cheek across the rounded shelf of my own stomach, the slight shame I felt was overridden by a surprising comfort, like the warmth of a loving granny who presses you into her soft, shapeless bosom. Now, I’ve never been what anyone would call a slim person—even when I was your age. But I have kept fit. It’s true that as a kid I sometimes went to half-sizes, but only because of my broad shoulders. Ever since childhood, I’ve carried a large rib cage, and I must admit, a bit of pudge under the arms. But if you’d seen me in my teens and twenties, you’d have thought, “There goes a fine-looking woman.” I always had nice legs and good proportions.
I know it’s a little cramped inside this tin can—with the hospital bed and all the equipment, even a double-wide gets crowded— but do try to make yourself comfortable. I’m guessing this is your first time? Well, don’t worry. They always send the new caseworkers to me, since I’m so familiar with the history-taking, intake interview, exit interview— what have you. It’s all very predictable. Although today, I’ve decided to share something new, something I’ve yet to tell a single soul. But we’ll let that wait for the end. Got that microphone where you want it? Okay, here we go:
To start, the danger signs were always present for me, like for everyone else. The extra ten pounds at the holidays that became harder to shed each year. The baby fat put on over successive pregnancies. Typical stuff. The midnight binges, cramming down hunks of parmesan cheese dipped in mayonnaise, s’mores scraped together with stale water crackers and chocolate sprinkles melted in the microwave, and the glacial taco casserole straight from the freezer when all else was exhausted. But who doesn’t have stories, right? I mean, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever dug out of the trash and eaten?
Are you sure you’re okay on that stool? You look a little wobbly. Maybe you’d like to borrow my big donut? Not a real one, ha ha. See, it’s rubber, and very good for the spine, I tell you. Used it all the time when I could still sit in a chair. You can at least roll the freezer back so you can rest your feet. Whatever works for you is fine. Shall we go on?
One of my life projects has been to precisely catalogue a taste for every feeling, a food for every mood. I’m currently in the negative spectrum, looking for a “cure du jour,” so to speak. Remorse, fury, frustration, humiliation, relief— each has its own flavor and texture. Infinite nuances and combinations exist. The slightest difference in ratio of crunch to creamy, for example, differentiates the sating of weariness from the easing of loneliness. As there are many levels of tiredness, from drowsy to groggy, foggy to beat, sleepy to bone-tired, there are also multiple, complementary degrees of perking power. Plain seltzer ranks below a tart lemon sorbet. Iced anything will do in a pinch.
How did I get started on such an ambitious endeavor? Years ago, I read with great zeal an article which appeared in syndication about a newly discovered disorder, the Gourmand Syndrome. It seemed that hospital patients with particular head injuries became obsessed with satisfying their newfound desires for gourmet cooking. Jokes aside, hospital food inflicted the worst kind of torture. I recall the painful ecstasy with which one gentleman longed for creamy ladyfingers. Another waxed rhapsodic over spaetzle. If you believe that reading can change a life, believe me, that story changed mine. The words seeped deeply into the folds of my cerebellum, depositing their sticky traces along every neuron and synapse, white icing drooling down the coils of a cinnamon roll. Still, even though my eating picked up at that point, my size remained within normal limits. Overweight but not obese, or at least not morbid. But the stage had been set, the groundwork laid.
So what happened? A long story, which I am loathe to begin. First, I must grab a bite, something to sustain me through the journey. Bittersweet chocolate, left between the tongue and the roof of the mouth, melting down the sides to mingle in saliva, pooling next to the teeth, will take me through the opening paragraphs. Would you care for some? Good stuff, Godiva. I guess maybe you don’t want to smudge your new chart? Well, I’ll just set it right here on the armrest and you feel free to reach over if you change your mind.
And if you’ll excuse me just a moment, beginning my tale also requires a slight shift in my position which I regulate with a kitchen timer. Otherwise, the pressure of 476 pounds erupts into an ugly bedsore. Yes, I have lost track of entire folds within folds. Bags of chips disappear for weeks at a time until I hear the telltale crinkle of the plasti-foil bag when I roll over just so. The crunching and subsequent remolding of the chips under such conditions delivers a startlingly delicious crumb cake. The salt and sugar released by the potatoes meld to form an exquisite remedy for a certain type of twitchy anxiety.
Alright, as I’m fond of saying, “on with the show, this is it”: They say you lose a tooth for every child. First, I lost a child. Very Freudian, according to my first shrink— an attempt to refill my empty womb with food. To this response I can only shrug, a simple action which is much harder than you might imagine, given the volumes of blubber lodged between the base of my mandible and the top of my scapula. You see by my vocabulary that I’m an educated person, grotesque as I may be. And yes, I meant to say volumes, not volume. Imagine creamy leatherette photo albums, their rounded bindings stacked one atop the other— an approximation of my neck. Hear the accordion breath as the albums press together? Speaking winds me terribly, compression of the lungs and all. Makes you want to stretch and sit up tall, doesn’t it? Sure you don’t want the donut? I’d offer you my egg crate foam, but I’m afraid it’s wedged down here too far to get out without a big ordeal.
Well, anyhow, I did read Freud’s case history of O, a compulsive overeater whose features actually disappeared in the fatty swells of her face. According to Sigmund’s analysis, the desire to be pregnant—filled with pulsing life— accounted for her uncontrollable bingeing. If it were only that simple for me. My early miscarriage was followed by several successful pregnancies. You’d be amazed at the number of men who enjoy a big lady—”FA’s” they call ’em— fat appreciators. At any rate, I have been blessed with a litter of loving children, and now grandchildren who spoil me as much as I spoil them. No, I’m afraid my ascent to the throne as queen of Pillsbury Doughland started with different kind of emptiness: a cavity to be exact.
A toothache is a funny thing when it first starts out. A misplaced fork tine radiates to the spine. A spoon of ice-cream bores to the back of the skull. A quick trip to the dentist for an amalgam is no big deal. But as you may know, over time these compounds degenerate, loosen, leave spaces, and sometimes break out altogether. Sometimes, worse things happen—bizarre, freakish things. You’ve probably heard of some unlucky devils tormented by radio waves, unrelenting, with constant broadcasts of news and Muzak. Imagine if those signals were of a frequency such that, unheard by the ear, they were received wholly and directly into the grey matter itself. Imagine the twenty-four hour cooking station.
Yes, I know. I get that same look with every new caseworker. If you think I’m crazy, you’re not alone. No one believed me at first when I told them what I was experiencing. The whole thing is ridiculous, right? But tell me, when was the last time you read something completely absurd in the mainstream news, something true? Like that Gourmand Syndrome I told you about—New York Times, Section F, page 9, inside column, two inch square. You think it’s got to be a joke, right? But it’s no joke. That’s the mainstream news. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the cover of those rags you see at the supermarket counter, right there along with Bat Boy and Antler Baby, with those ridiculous headlines, like “Tubby Tart Tortured by Toothy Transmissions.” Not to mention the reality TV shows, webcams, etcetera, that I’ve had to deal with.
Honestly, I couldn’t prevent myself from retching with shock and disbelief at the first real news photo I saw of myself many years ago which, prior to the ubiquity of the panoramic camera, had been pieced together in a montage, David Hockney style. I had long been unable to get a full mirror view, and in my mind had pieced together the parts I could see: gargantuan calves like eyeless young manatees, protruding breasts spilling soft-serve out of the cones of my mail-order bras. But somehow in my mental picture, I gutted out the middle. In the core of myself I still felt small, even petite. After all, my internal organs hadn’t ballooned inside my skeleton. My heart, my lungs, and my brain, from which emanated the basis of my being, were all pretty much the same. Apart from a few fatty deposits here and there, they did not register the gross changes that had taken place on the outside. The mirror opposite of the anorexic who sees herself forever fat, I saw myself, not thin, but pleasantly plump with a few problem areas. I continued like this for some time. Years. I lost track.
Now the time has come . . . you know how the saying goes, “It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings?” Well, it’s time for me to belt it out like Brunhilde in her horny headpiece. Sitting here in my bed, with my laptops assembled in array, I’ve had so much time to learn. Everyone knows you can get bomb-making instructions on the Internet, but what do they ever do about it? I have to keep my hands busy somehow. Believe me, I didn’t start out with this doomsday plan in mind. I was just trying to make those radio transmissions stop.
The mode of transmission, by the way, was finally proven by a joint team of scientists from MIT and the University of Beijing. In exchange for letting them poke and prod me with their torture devices, and allowing the humiliation of cameras and scandal sheet reporters to hound my family, I have been provided a lifetime of therapy. The physical and psychological offerings have, so far, been little help. However, the occupational therapy has proved most useful. Until those job trainers came in, I never knew I had a natural inclination for electrical and chemical engineering, let alone computer science. Unbelievable? Outrageous? Insane? Once again, let me refer you to the twelfth page of your local newspaper.
With my newly acquired skills, I have embarked on a new project— the surprise I mentioned, that I’ve been waiting to tell you about. I got the idea while eating stuffed mushrooms– the perfect metaphor for what I have become– mushrooming to tens of times my ideal weight-for-frame, which as previously mentioned, has always been large-boned (recall the broad rib-cage of childhood). Holding the spongy delicacy to my lips– that’s when the image hit me: the mushroom cloud, bigger, more powerful than anything God ever made, but light, floating, rising into the air.
And thus, I have rigged myself in this delicate fashion, such that the perfect combination of food, meeting the salivary glands, will set off a series of electrochemical chain reactions, in a process far too complicated to be described in our time together. Let me just explain that the explosion is dependent upon the perfect match of mood and medicine, coordinated to detonate when precisely aligned with the wave frequency pattern of the radio transmissions. Why? After all these years? You just got lucky, I guess. I mean, you’ve landed yourself the best case history of the century, at least. Oh honey, don’t look so confused. I may be fat, I may be crazy, but I still have a heart in here somewhere. Matter of fact, that’s pretty much the whole problem in a candied walnut praline. My heart’s been punched through like a sieve. It can’t hold onto anything. The food stuffs up the gap for a while, but before it’s even digested— well, look at me.
It’s the pain of love, or the lack of it, you see? Freud had it close, but like all men, he confused love and sex. He forgot the obvious: those men who climb up all over me, who climax before their dicks wade up through all the gorges of cleavage between my knees and thighs, those men who mistake the moist cheese collected there like milk under an infant’s chin for the crème de la crème—they do not love me. There is no eye to eye. It is not the hole in my face or the hole down below—it’s the one that wanders all over the middle—heart, lungs, stomach, liver. The one that gnaws, a filthy relentless rodent, a mongoose fighting a snake. That’s what claws inside me. Yes, that’s it— the mongoose of loneliness. It feeds on the pain of a heart not matched, love not met, and the knowledge that nobody ever could or ever will. And if there’s ever any doubt, the body billows ever outward just to make sure of it. Why wouldn’t I want to stop eating, to be loved like any woman ever did? But you see, it’s never going to happen. Never going to end and I’m tired, bone-tired of doing nothing but weighing down this old bed.
I had to set my sights on a new goal. Something to look forward to. We all have to have that, don’t we? I really don’t want to hurt anyone. That’s not my purpose. I’m not on some revenge quest, like me against the world. It’s just that I want to be absolutely sure of complete annihilation. At 476 pounds, I don’t want anyone to have to clean up my mess. Besides, every other way I could imagine would involve getting heavier. Think of it: 476 pounds alive would equal how many pounds deadweight? I want to fly for once in my life. Even if it means molecular breakdown, each atom freed from the others, so small as to become invisible. “She was so thin,” they’ll say, “when she turned sideways, you couldn’t even see her.”
If I were more mobile, I’d take myself out to Los Alamos or some godforsaken place where I’d do the least damage. In lieu of that, I’ve certainly done the best I can to minimize collateral damage. I’ve coordinated detonation with a thirty-minute delay, which will follow the release of the fire alarm. Yes, I know, it won’t help that much. Trust me, I wish I could think of a better way. And I’m certainly still open to suggestion.
Any special music I want played? I think mostly of oldies—”There’s a Kind of Hush,” or maybe the soundtrack to Dr. Zhivago? Dr. Strangelove? Ha, that’s good! It would sure have to be some strange love to fill up that hole in my old soul, the one that echoes like an ice cream spoon against an empty bowl. Hear the ringing and the jingling of the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells. Not familiar with Poe, I see. Well, I should warn you, when the poetry starts, it’s probably
time for you to find a place to hide.
Fortunately for you, there are an infinite number of combinations, and I cannot forego one for the other. I have been programmed to detonate only at the moment in which I have exhausted a cure for my every emotional state. Yes, I understand. You should leave at once; you’re looking a little clammy. As for me, the telling of my tale leaves me vaguely agitated, for which I believe caramel corn dipped in teriyaki sauce to be the perfect antidote.