Memories do not always appear conveniently. Often, you can’t find them during a therapeutic conversation. Shortly afterwards, you can find yourself thrust into a grief ridden flashback, in the middle of your busy day, and completely alone.
Recently, I was reading a book for school on “the globalization of the American psyche.” I had just started the chapter on anorexia in Hong Kong (okay, it was the first chapter… I had just started the book), when I had to stop. Sitting alone in a quiet study space, I vividly recalled my own struggle with eating.
My dad had a passion for food. He spent decades in the restaurant business, and even after his transition into computer consulting; we still ate out all of the time. He would always order for me when I couldn’t decide, he would let me eat his food when I didn’t like mine, and he never made me order off the kids’ menu. He was also the family vacuum, so no one had to worry about not finishing her food.
In the summertime, he would make me the perfect grilled cheese.
Despite my mother’s excellent cooking skills–she prepared the majority of my meals–the culinary arts always felt like something to share with my dad. When he died, there were excellent pickles served at his wake. It wasn’t until a full year later that I started to have problems. I think I was still in shock before then. When depression set it, so did a string of unfortunate ailments –mono and pneumonia–both of which made me lose my appetite.
When I was finally ‘healthy’ again, I still didn’t want to eat. My jaws hurt from chewing; I wasn’t hungry; food turned to ash in my mouth. Everything tasted like nothing, and the mere idea of cleaning my plate was stressful enough to make me lose my appetite. I remember sitting in restaurants with my mother, hopelessly full, and crying. I was crying over the embarrassment of being so weak; I was crying because I was shamefully wasting food while others were hungry. I was crying because I missed my dad, and all of the meanwhile my mom gave me pep talks on taking one more bite. Looking back, it sounds ridiculous.
I don’t remember exactly when I got my appetite back: sometime between going on anti-depressants, and starting college. Before then, I remember feeling so thin that I could float away, dissolving into my pain. I would look at myself naked in the mirror, see all of my rib bones, and shudder. There was so little joy in my life at that point; I didn’t think I deserved to eat. Part of me just wanted to waste away, mirroring the emaciation of my dad during chemo.
It feels really good to write this. I’m sort of crying on my laptop, but the tears are good – cathartic. Aftertalk is good when you don’t feel like you have someone to talk to. How could I talk to someone? How could I, in good faith, take an hour out of someone’s day to talk about this? Either a) they would hear a silly girl talking about that time she lost ten pounds, and it was traumatic, or b) they might actually see the true pain in my account. I don’t think that I could make eye contact after that.
There are some memories about grieving and food that I want people to know about, but simultaneously do not want them to see.
[Editor: you can read all of Caitlin’s articles about grieving for a father by clicking on this link: CAITLIN DORMAN]