LOSING FIFTEEN POUNDS: PART FOUR

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[…continued from previous three posts.]

My nights were hungry. Often I had to drink two glasses of water to fill me up long enough to fall asleep, but then I would wake at two in the morning to pee. One night, the empty gnawing in my stomach after a bathroom trip was intolerable. Barefoot, I felt my way into the kitchen without turning on the light, opened the box of Social Tea biscuits my mother had left on the kitchen table as quietly as I could, and reluctantly put one between my lips.

But somehow I found the will to keep from biting into it, and after a while was able to put it back in the box, close the lid and drink more water before feeling my way along the wall back to my room. There I lay in the dark, listening to the tick tick tick of my bedside clock. Where had she hidden the European fig sandwich cookies? They had to be in the kitchen. Behind something, where they couldn’t be seen. And probably high up, not easy to get to. I really needed to know.

Returning again to the kitchen, I carefully lifted one of the chairs out from under the kitchen table, set it softly down in front of the grocery cabinet and climbed up to find out what was in the back of the top shelf. A very faint light that was almost no light came through the window from a street lamp around the corner, so that I could just make out oatmeal, sugar cubes, and bags of rice and coffee along the front of the top shelf. I took them all out, leaning over the back of the chair to set them on the counter. Now I could see the back row: baking soda, cornstarch, tapioca pudding, Jell-O, and – aha! – the package of cookies, unopened.

I had to do it. Had to.

Quietly I removed the whole box from its hiding place, arranged the coffee, sugar and rice so as to conceal the gap in the back row, replaced the kitchen chair under the table, tucked the box under my arm, felt my way back to my room, silently closed the door and took a deep breath. And now, quickly quickly, to bed again.

It would have been easier if she had already eaten one or two. Without prior experience in stealing crackers or cookies undetected from unopened boxes, I had to improvise. No thought now of the seven or eight pounds already lost with such difficulty or how I might feel tomorrow. There was only the box with me in the dark under the sheet, and my fingers carefully prying open the glued-together folds of paper at one end without tearing them, so as to make a paper sleeve, and sliding the sleeve from the cardboard box, and feeling for its opening, and reaching the first double cookie, and trembling as I brought it to my lips in the dark and tasted it. I chewed slowly and swallowed, and oh the pleasure of it. Then the cookie was gone. So I felt for another and then another and ate faster and was happy, and felt for more double cookies and ate them, and went on eating and eating, and then could it be there were no more left in the box?

I felt around in the paper cups. Empty. All of them. What to do now? I had to get the box out of my bed. That was the first thing. Best to return it to its original place, so that everything would look as it had when my mother reached up for the coffee and sugar in the morning.  I closed the empty paper sleeve, licked and pressed shut the folds at the end as best I could, slid it into its box and tiptoed the box into the kitchen again. Up behind the sugar, rice and coffee it went, very light with nothing in it. But it would probably look all right up there.

Back in bed for the fifth time that night, I made careful plans for next morning. I would have to buy a replacement box when I went out and smuggle it back into the apartment. Also I would have to double the length of my daily walk for the rest of the week at least, to make up for all those cookie calories. That solved, I had no trouble falling asleep.

Everything went like clockwork. I carried another package home from the A&P in a large straw handbag, and while my mother was in the bathtub after her housework had plenty of time to get it up into place at the back of the top shelf and dispose of the empty package in the incinerator at the end of the third floor hallway. And I walked so furiously and dieted so conscientiously that by the end of the week I had even lost another pound! So where was the harm if I did it all again a week later, when midnight hunger gnawed once more? None, apparently.

Wrong. What I had left out of my calculations was the possibility there would be no more packages of European fig sandwich cookies in the A&P when I turned up a second time to replace the box emptied the night before. I asked for the store manager. No, they didn’t stock those on a regular basis, he said. They were something new, which the company might or might not order again, but how about Fig Newtons? They always had Fig Newtons. Frightened, I rushed to “Alice’s – Delicacies from Around the World.” Double fig cookies in an oblong box were not anything from around the world the snooty saleslady in “Alice’s” had ever heard of.

Maybe my mother would forget about the cookies. I didn’t think so. She never forgot a thing. Or maybe she wouldn’t open the box till I was safely in school again. So as not to tempt me. Maybe, maybe. Days and then weeks passed, and she said nothing. Did she know? Did she not know? How could she not know? I lost more pounds. By the middle of August, the bathroom scale read 130. I had done it: I was fifteen pounds lighter than I’d been at the beginning of June! But there were still three weeks to go. Could I reach (and hold) 128 by the time I went back to school? Two more pounds in three weeks: why not? Now that would make the whole wretched summer worthwhile!

[To be continued…..]

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20 thoughts on “LOSING FIFTEEN POUNDS: PART FOUR

    • Thanks, Janet. Actually, it’s a “series” only because shorter posts seem to read better than long ones. All six parts were really one long piece of memoir running more than 6000 words, which I chopped into sections for the blog. I may put it all back together as a very long Page when it’s done. I probably should also add it was part of the unfinished book manuscript the literary agent asked for last year after seeing my Iowa Review piece. I may continue to pillage the unfinished book for other stand-alone pieces. We’ll see….

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      • Interesting! I did something similar with a short story I posted. But I actually wrote it in short spurts. When I did fit it together, I was not especially pleased with some of its flow and tempo. I set it aside and haven’t found the energy to return to it. Hard to be disciplined about my writing as a hobby

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      • Hard to be disciplined about one’s writing even when there’s more time for it to be not only a hobby but a principal pursuit! But I’m sure you’ll have plenty of time to fiddle with your story in years to come, when your children grow up and need less of your time. The first draft of the unfinished book of which this was a part was done about fifteen years ago!!!

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    • Thanks, Van. It was indeed an “authentic” experience, although it’s now hard to believe it was me; all that was a lifetime ago. We had no locks other than the one on the front door (it was a rented apartment), but I think my mother was ambivalent about wanting to keep those cookies from me; she didn’t have to buy them until I was back in college, since she certainly never went near them after buying them, at least until it was too late, because I had eaten them. In her eyes, I was always a little too heavy to snare a good husband until I got “too thin,” when she would begin to offer too much food and unnecessary temptations. Ah, those games people sometimes play with each other!

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      • Isn’t it interesting how our perspective changes over the years. I remember having visibly chubby cheeks, and feeling overweight at 140 lbs. (5′ 6″) . Now, I’d love to get back there. ☺ I was always skinny in my mother’s eyes…too skinny. She hid her Oreo’s because she didn’t drive, relied on others to get her to grocery stores, and we’d have eaten them in the first day. She also hid cans of Christmas cookies for the same reason. I’m enjoying your series, Nina.

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      • Thanks, Van. Yes, I too remember when 140 used to be an arbitrary “bad” number. (I was 5’7″.) Unfortunately, my mother never thought I was too skinny, no matter how low I forced down my weight. Of course all this nutsiness about pounds began with her and my desire to please her, long before I could think rationally about it.

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  1. Found this piece a very fine piece of writing, Nina. More important than the particular object of your lust at the time, the story tells of the difficulty of dealing with desire… with wanting to curb desire. It reminded me of a book I read about fifty years ago. It was published by Evergreen in the US, but don’t remember either the author or the title (at the time, I thought I would never forget). It was the story of a man who develops a passion for a sow. The whole book was one long parable. But written so well, that it captured the reader from beginning to end.

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    • Thank you, Shimon. I suppose every reader finds in a piece of writing what speaks particularly to them. My sense of the comments and “likes” is that most women who have been reading this series see something much more specific in it than dealing with “desire” — namely, the effort to comply with an arbitrarily assigned concept of attractiveness, derived from movies, magazines and advertising placed by clothes manufacturers — which eventually leads to all kinds of eating disorders. As for your book, there was a similar book by David Garnett called “Lady into Fox,” first published in England in the 1920’s, and also a parable, but it was about a man who continues to love his bride when she gradually becomes a small red fox. Similar to the story of your memories, but also different.

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      • I’m sure that women are more bothered by the standards of beauty pushed by the fashion business and other commercial interests… more bothered than men. But I have to tell you that I never adopted those values and standards, and so it’s not an issue I have to deal with. However, desire, as a human characteristic is common to most folks. It’s something that almost everyone wrestles with. And whether it’s directed at a luxurious house, or a box of chocolates, or sex… there is a common thread that affects us all.

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