As soon as I walk in the door of my apartment, I strip down to a pair of shorts and open the fridge to compose dinner. A brick of tofu, a can of black beans, a few cups of white rice, half an onion, and an orange pepper materialize before I can decide what to do with them. Improvising, I dice each individual part into more manageable chunks. When this is done, I drop them into two separate pans with a few tablespoons of olive oil.
“Are you sure you weren’t supposed to put the rice in the water after it was already boiling?” chides Sam from the peanut gallery, cuddling with our cat in the living room.
“Yes,” I groan, exasperated with her constant lack of trust in my ability to follow directions. She checks the box to make sure anyway.
I employ unmeasured splashes of pink sea salt, black pepper, cumin, and paprika to lather the frying tofu. I use our long set of tongs, flipping the thin steaks in the splattering pan repeatedly, willing them to cook faster than they’re able to. Sam sings a stream of consciousness tune about vegetables to our cat, who has joined us on the countertop. Dutifully, she seasons and stirs the onion, pepper, and beans to ensure even cooking. I wash the cutting board so the inevitable pile of dishes in the sink is smaller, later.
When the meal is finally complete, Sam combines a heaping dollop of mayonnaise with a smaller squirt of sriracha. We squeeze half a lime over our evenly portioned bowls and I throw the remains of it into my glass. I’ve gotten good about resisting the urge to buy sugared juices, but I still want to transform the water I chug instead into something that is more than.
Before we get to the living room, on our respective sides of the brown suede couch, I’m already shoving forkfuls of food into my mouth. I do this not to test out if the rice is cooked, or if I used too much seasoning, but to fight off the hunger that’s been burbling underneath since I strapped my seatbelt on in the car an hour earlier. The time I’m forced to wait in between meals fosters an impatience in me that I have little ability to deal with.
I do not savor a single bite. I do not pay attention to its flavor as another episode of Parks & Recreation plays, but inhale my food as if I’ll never have another meal again. Leslie Knope can barely get through an entire joke by the time that I’m finished and letting out a deeply satisfied burp. The immediate inaction of completion starts to eat away at me, and I quickly, subconsciously, choose from a myriad of past failures to obsess over. Any reason that I can find to hate myself more than I already do.
“Mmm, this is good, baby,” Sam says, only halfway done. I plop my empty bowl onto the old black trunk in front of us that serves as a makeshift coffee table. I don’t even wait five minutes to register if dinner was satisfying before I start thinking about my next offering. My stomach, bloating with its still digesting meal, screams at me, begging me not to stop. To keep shoveling more and more and more into its warm and stewing cocoon, to focus on its needs instead of my brewing anxiety.
“Shit,” I moan, “I wish we’d bought another apple pie.”
“How can you think about pie right now?” Sam asks, incredulously grasping her own stomach. “How are you even done eating this already?”
I shrug, aware of the comfort that masticating provides my whole family. Something to do when our endless thoughts, those gnawing feelings that eat away at our insides, become too much to handle. A vacancy in our soul, a fullness that can never truly be sated, as long as there is something else in the kitchen and on our minds to chew on. The physical pain that comes with overeating does nothing to stop us for more than a half an hour at a time.
Sam places her scraps on the trunk near mine and I scoop them up, scraping off the sides of her bowl and vacuuming them into my gullet before she can ask if I even want them. She laughs at my persistence and sighs a breath of relief, agreeing, “Alright, you’re right…”
My ears perk up and I ask, “Ice cream?”
I stand without waiting for her answer, picking up our dirty dishes, and depositing them into the sink. I spoon the last bits of dinner into a Tupperware for tomorrow’s lunch, feverishly licking every cold cooked onion out of the pan and off the spatula. I turn up the faucet until its scalding hot and start tearing through the pile in front of me.
“Do you have to do that right now?” she calls, “come hang out with me, I’ll help you do that later.”
“I’m almost done!” I shout, letting the cleansing burn serve as another momentary distraction preceding dessert.
Once there’s nothing left in the sink, I grab the sea salt and caramel pistachio frozen yogurt and two spoons. Sam is still on the couch, playing with our cat, Rufio, and I plop back down on the other side of him. We smile at each other, and for a minute I find a fleeting sense of contentment if nothing else. In these times, when the thoughts won’t stop and all I want to do is eat, it comforts me to know I have a partner who’ll do the same right by my side.
The first bite slows the self-destructive loop that’s been turning over and over in my head. The second reminds me how much I love the satisfying feeling of ice cream as it melts in your mouth. It isn’t until we’ve unintentionally finished the entire container that I find something that momentarily resembles a peace. And for a brief, if fleeting, moment, I’m satisfied.
Bob Raymonda is the founding editor of Breadcrumbs Magazine. He graduated from SUNY Purchase with a focus in creative nonfiction and will be pursuing his MFA at Sarah Lawrence College in the fall. His other work can be found in Luna Luna Magazine, OCCULUM, and Peach Mag. Find out more at www.bobraymonda.co.