Saturday, January 25, 2014

Once You Pop, You Can't Stop...

As far back as I can recall, I never pushed myself away from the table.  If anything was being offered, I wanted some.  It didn't matter what it was - bread, macaroni, potatoes.  Yes, I'll have more.  I liked when my plate was full.  It made me feel safe.  I could disappear into the exercise of eating.  Food provided tremendous comfort when I was a little girl.  To this day, I get very nervous when we run out of certain items.  For some reason, I feel like everything will be okay as long as we have bananas in the house.

Big Mare cooked most nights, but we seldom shared meals as a family.  Judy and I had supper together, and my dad ate when he came home from work.  My mother rarely sat down with us.  She'd graze at the stove or eat a sandwich by herself, with the misery of the evening news to keep her company.

Most of my childhood anxieties began around dinnertime.  My father's condition stepping through the front door set the tone for the evening.  If he was sober, things were relatively peaceful.  But if he went missing or when he was loaded, everything changed.

"Mom, where's Daddy?" I'd ask.
"How should I know?" she'd snipe, angrily.
"Well, are we gonna eat soon?"
"Christ Almighty, Mary.  Get off my back."

Some nights, there were phone calls.  "Tell your mother I'm gonna be late," he'd say.  I could hear it in his voice, that he'd already had a few.  Hey, cops hung out after work.  They sat in the parking lot and knocked back a couple of beers.  They passed a bottle around.  You know, to unwind.  Occasionally, some of the guys drifted down to the bar.  But my father didn't socialize, and he wasn't one for gossip.  So he just drank.  With great purpose.  Just like that, he was shit-faced.

He'd ring the house, again and again.  Each time, more and more lost in the sauce.  "Where are you now?" my mother would cry into the receiver.  A stupid question, really.  At that point, he was never quite sure.  It was a miracle he could find a pay phone and dial the number.  "Jesus, Gene.  Get back on the goddamn train, will you?" she'd beg.

Hours would pass, with similarly useless updates coming in all night.  Sometimes, my sister and I went to bed.  I laid there in the dark, envisioning my father falling onto the tracks and being run over by several subway cars before they managed to hit the brakes.

When he eventually made it home, Dad sat slumped over heaping plates of spaghetti, barely conscious.  Shoveling forkfuls of noodles into his mouth, I'd carefully watch him chew his food to make sure he didn't choke to death.  I looked back and forth, between my mother and my dad.  He was drunk, and she was drinking.  I'd wonder to myself How come this always happen?  What's wrong with him that he has to get this way?  What's wrong with her that she puts up with this crap?  Why are things like this?

Unanswered questions, they'd swirl around in my brain, reappearing unexpectedly in thoughts and dreams.  Without explanations for the things that were happening, these uncertainties chewed little holes into my mind.  I was probably anxious, but I thought I felt hungry.  So I ate.

I was big on hiding food, squirreling it away so I could enjoy it in private.  I'd stash a jar of peanut butter in the basement and bring a spoon with me whenever I went down there.  I'd sneak Spaghettios and hide the empty cans in the bottom of the garbage.  Slices of Entenmann's pound cake and Fig Newtons wrapped in napkins, half a bottle of chewable vitamins.  I behaved alcoholically for years before I ever started drinking.  I think issues with food are probably much trickier than drugs and booze.  I don't need cocaine, but I do have to eat.

I point a finger into the past, and I aim it gently at myself.  Why not?  My folks did the very best they could, so they're off the hook.   When I take responsibility for my own actions, figuring things out is a whole lot easier.  I've always been driven by feelings of need, but I sought physical solutions for my emotional problems. How was I supposed to know any better?  I was just a kid.  And as I got older, I wasn't much smarter.


Every day during the week when my sons return from school, they are starving. Desmond and Rory are big boys with marvelous appetites.  We have dinner early in our home and most nights, we still eat together.  I think it's important.

Recently, I found Bro in the pantry, facing the shelf that's lined with snacks.
"What's up?"  I asked him.
"Nothing," he answered, careful not to turn around.
"Don't lie to me, Rory.  What are you eating?"
"Pringles," he said, clearly embarrassed that he was caught.
"I'm sorry, Mom," he said.  He started to cry.  I almost cried, too.

I pulled him out of the closet and hugged him.
"We'll have supper in ten minutes.  You can wait."
He looked relieved.
"Let me tell you something.  When I ask you a question, no matter what the answer is, I promise you that I'm always gonna prefer the truth.  Do you understand me?"
"Yes," he nodded.
"Good.  Now go blow your nose."

Later that evening, we're hanging around in my bedroom, watching TV.  Rory gets up suddenly and makes for the doorway.

"Where you headed?" I ask him.
"I'm going into the pantry to eat some potato chips."
"Nice try, Brother.  It doesn't work that way."

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