by SOPHIA CROSS
Seven weeks over the summer was the longest transitory state I’ve ever been in. It’s a suspension, a floating, letting the water take all of your weight and rising to the surface and bobbing gently. It was sitting down at the table with a hollow stomach, and not being able to look at the menu beforehand. My flight home took off at 6 in the morning, and I let an airport smoothie fill the hours between New Orleans and San Francisco.
The first thing that I ate in California was an omelet on the way home from the airport. I sat in my leftover sweat from moving out of my dorm room during the beginning of New Orleans summer and listened to my mother and her mother talk. We were in an outdoor seating area with glass walls separating us from the rest of a shopping plaza, which was nestled in between hills as if some giant with an elaborate toy village had placed it there. The omelet came with home fries and toast. I kept jerking my eyes open, the way you do when you’re about to fall asleep in class.
Before this, in the two weeks leading up to the end of my sophomore year of college, I would flit between eating everything in sight and not eating anything at all. Hunger had been temporarily gratifying, especially during finals. Only temporarily. I could go a day without eating and then having a burger later that night was so much better when I could accompany it with “I’m starving. All I had today was a banana and some almonds.”
I get sent out to buy mashed potatoes from a grocery store that offers valet parking for my sister, who just got her wisdom teeth out. These are the best kind of mashed potatoes, not just a poor substitute for real chewable food. You bring them out at Thanksgiving, and everyone knows that you didn’t make them and no one minds because they’re too focused on the perfect ratio of butter to chives to hints of skin.
There are a lot of soups, usually vegetable, and they are made in a monstrous, shining round tureen that dominates the stove over the space of a Sunday. These soups are then eaten for dinner that night and then relegated to an equally monstrous Tupperware that gets picked at throughout the rest of the week. For the Sunday dinner, the soups are served with grilled sandwiches on whole grain bread with a blend of Swiss and provolone.
There were catfish po’boys, two months ago, taken to go with chips and eaten on a blanket in the park. It was the crispest the air ever gets in the bayou region, an early March serving of cold, wet grass under bare feet.
My mother is a phenomenal cook. She looks pained every time she sees me put something in the microwave. I go with her to the farmer’s market on Saturdays.
Even though she’s shown me countless times how to examine and probe and test for freshness, I still have doubts about my abilities when I’m asked to go get some peaches while she discusses a vendor’s broccoli selection. Tossed back over a shoulder “Oh, could you get some cherries also? Make sure you pick the good ones.” Cherries are in my path first. Running the spectrum between a glowing golden yellow and the red of just‐congealed blood, poured into two large bins at the front of the stall. It’s just me there at first, but a couple seconds later a father and his seven‐year‐old daughter are standing on the other side and he’s saying “You want to pick some cherries out?” She nods and he smiles, hands her a plastic bag and points into the bin. “Make sure you pick the good ones.”
Most of the peaches in the stall aren’t ripe yet, but apparently that’s the whole point – they will be in a couple of days so you’re not forced to eat your entire peach haul upon purchase. I pick out the six that have the most tangible hint of give. Samples of white peach are nestled on a tray above the fruit selection, and they taste like a means of inner purification. You eat the white peaches after going on your two‐mile daily beach run first thing in the morning while brewing your loose‐leaf tea and gearing up for another day of having your life run smoothly.
My great-grandmother used to live in one of those luxury nursing homes for a time, the kind that presents itself as a voluntary social club, and when we visited her for their Sunday brunch I would mow through three overflowing plates from the buffet. They had made‐to‐order stations for eggs and pancakes, and always dessert. I felt compelled to try everything. I would burst the seams of my Sunday best, and the adults would chuckle, because I was young enough for my incessant hunger to be adorable.
Coming home from a three‐course birthday dinner I slipped into my dark house, quietly opened the fridge, and put a full container of leftover Chinese food in the microwave; while it did its lonely turn under the dim lighting, I went to the freezer and grabbed four pucks of cookie dough in time to catch the Chinese food before the microwave went off and the resounding electronic beep woke someone up. I took everything into my room and ate on the floor with a movie playing on my laptop screen in front of me that I wasn’t watching. For the braised bean curd with eggplant and the pot stickers, I was hunched over, smacking, inhaling. By the time I got to the broccoli beef and chow mein, my curved spine had started to hurt. I set my posture to ramrod straight and ate everything else with a hand on my stomach. After the food was gone, I pulled my shirt up and looked at myself in the mirror from the front, from the side, craning my head to look around the back, sucking in with everything I had and reassuring myself that I still looked the same. I fell asleep sated, the way I had become used to doing.
The after‐school snack, when it was a ritual, could take upwards of an hour as I made a slow rotation through the contents of our kitchen. The secret was to move through the genres of taste: potato chips followed by peanut butter and banana on wheat toast, microwave shrimp dumplings, then ice cream topped with chocolate chips and graham cracker crumbs. Everything eaten with a book in one hand, the justifiable period of disappearing that I gave to myself around 4 pm on weekdays.
I’m spending a lot of my time alone in the house during this first part of summer. The rooms are a series of cubes fit together in a single story, and the light trickles through them – I never need to turn any lights on during the day. It would be one thing if I prowled through them, restless, since the image of a caged panther is definitely the more appealing one, but I’m starting to realize just how much of a natural housecat I am. Like a housecat, I’m getting fed again. The fridge is full of food that someone else is paying for. One midnight snack includes toast crisps with raisins and rosemary baked in, goat cheese, artichoke spread, sun‐dried tomato, prosciutto, and dried apricots, eaten standing up from the counter while I close my eyes and savor every crumb.
It gets a little more grim to be settling in for the night at 7 p.m. when it’s still light out.
During this time, I am mostly alone. Everyone leaves for work in the morning, and I don’t change out of my pajamas until the early afternoon, if even that. It’s counterintuitive, but having a large stretch of time to do whatever you want makes it that much more difficult to do all of the things you told yourself you’d do, of course you’d do, if only you had the time. It makes it incredibly easy to make yourself some mint tea and avocado on toast with a poached egg on top and settle in front of your laptop. Later, it’ll be almond and dark chocolate cookies, leftovers from a dinner party a couple of days before.
When you visualize an overhaul of the soul, it’s of the movie‐makeover variety, and it’s quick and painless; the actual slog through the trenches it demands is less so, so I press the button confirming that yes, I am still watching and dart off to the kitchen during the theme song of the next episode to get another snack.
Paintings by Susan Nally.
“Another Day” – Tape Waves (mp3)
“Looking Around” – Tape Waves (mp3)