I wonder how many adults realize the damage they do to kids in just fleeting moments of life that cannot be retrieved. There are things that I have held onto for decades, these events that define me, that control my everyday lady actions, even at 42, even at the lady successful level of charmed existence that I lead. No matter how many dreams I have dreamed and realized, these nightmares still haunt me. I’ve never grown up really. They are small things. Barely a blip in the consciousness of another, but a deep unrelenting scar that aches for eternity in me.
Sitting down at a friend’s family home, just teenagers satisfying that after school hunger that is insatiable. There is something about eating after school – there’s no way to fill up the bottomless well there. School was such a battle, for me all the years I managed it. I never went to school one day where it was okay. From daycare on – it was always always terrible. To this day, I still wake up at 6:50am and my first thought is, “I don’t have school today!” and I am sure I will think this every morning and will worry the day I don’t think this first thing. Miraculously, I did manage to have a friend here and there. She and I ate often at her home after school, where the blessed refrigerator was not filled with embarrassing Korean things fermenting, which is what my home was; giant jars of cabbage and fish that shamed me painfully then, but what I would give anything for now, as a sophisticated and worldly gourmand. Then it was just the pain of my immigrant existence. But her kitchen was filled with buttery chafing dishes of noodle kugle, thick with raisins and cream – there was not a fish eye or egg in sight – welcome relief further intoxicating me with the exoticism of white people. I loved her family’s Russian Jewish cooking. All the latkes in the world will never be enough for me. My kingdom for a stuffed cabbage.
That day there were latkes there, cold stacks, tiny air bubbles dotting the surface like steam widened facial pores, ready to be filled up with sour cream and applesauce. Rolls of stuffed cabbage, tomato sauce crispy with celery and onion – and of course the beloved noodle kugle. What I love about the eastern European dishes are the sweetness – probably invented to cut the bitterness of life there. Whatever the origin, whatever the reasons – it’s fucking good. We dished out heaping servings onto thick rustic 70’s plates and microwaved them without covering, so the food was heated unevenly, bites containing scalding hot morsels and disconcerting cold lumps. It didn’t matter because it was about getting the food down. Her mother came in suddenly and sat down, taking a moment from the ‘Me era’ to sit with her daughter, but probably only to satisfy her own guilt, so it was still in keeping with the times. She looked at the food on our plates and she looked at me and said, “You have an eating disorder. You have to stop eating like that. What is wrong with you? What makes you eat like that? You have to stop! You have to STOP RIGHT NOW!!!” My friend threw her fork down and said, “GOD! MOM! SO EMBARRASSING!!! This is why I have like NO FRIENDS!!!!!GOD!!!”
I felt sick immediately, the fat in the food coagulating in my blood and stopping it. It felt like a heart attack, or a tranquilizer dart right in the chest, felling me in my tracks. Like when you take your battery out of your phone – just blank screen. Blank. Mother and daughter were full on fighting now but I had checked out and gone somewhere else. We were all still sitting there but I don’t really know what happened after that. Perhaps we went to my friend’s room and drowned out her neurotic mother’s musings with Duran Duran, but whatever happened I know that I was permanently changed. I had been marked with a big scarlet letter “E” on my chest for “eating disorder.” That was when I was tagged in the wild and categorized forever, and even though I was put back into the general population, I carry the mark to this day.