In the frozen food section of the grocery store, staring at all the choices of perfectly portioned Health Chow Frozen Dinners, I reached a level of achievement that women around the world have striven for since low fat cottage cheese and Melba Toast were invented.
A woman next to me stared into the freezer case with as confused and desperate a look as mine. Dieters do this sort of thing. We spend time selecting just the right food as if it is crucial to the survival of humanity. Like me, she had tried each of the eighty-seven available dinner choices, only to find that three were her favorites, two others weren't awful and only one, besides those, didn't induce vomiting. Circulating six different frozen dinners through a week's worth of meal times left me wanting something different. Food would be nice, but hey--I have been on a diet since birth. I know about sacrifice. Just about the time I reached for the fat free, no carb, zero sodium BBQ mystery meat meal, she touched my arm.
"Don't do it" she said, with a voice frail from hunger. Her hand fell away from my arm, likely due to lack of carbohydrates for energy.
"But I have to. I have to eat."
"But you're so thin. Why would you do this to yourself on purpose?"
I laughed. "Oh, you're just being nice. These jeans? They are a size ten. I want to wear an eight."
I was confused. "Why? Because an eight is smaller than a ten, so I want to wear an eight."
I was becoming concerned that I might need to call for emergency assistance. Clearly her lack of nutrition was affecting her thought processes. The electrical impulses in her brain were misfiring. Someone get this woman some protein! Stat!
She leaned against her buggy for support as I rested my back against the frozen food case and she explained.
"Honey, when you started this diet, what size did you want to end up?"
I thought for a moment and said, "A twelve. I had been . . . a fourteen." With a shudder and knowing looks, we both nodded and did the sign of the cross although neither of us professed to be Catholic. I don't know why fourteen is such a scary number, but for most everyone I know, fourteen is the cutoff. The day you realize you are, in fact, a fourteen, and not just a twelve having a bad day, is the day a new diet begins.
She continued, "But what size are those jeans?"
" . . . a ten."
And then it hit me. I got it. Her brain was just fine. She was wise, this malnourished goddess of the frozen food section. When would it stop? When I achieved single digit numbers on my Made in Indonesia jeans tag? Where would it end? Would it end?
In my experience, no woman is ever completely happy with her body. Although I understood her logic perfectly, I looked at my reflection in the glass case and immediately spotted my bulging hips. I raised an arm and checked for the wobble that has plagued me since the birth of my first child when I was nineteen. It was still there. I turned to show her my horribly disfiguring flaws, but she was gone. I crossed myself again in case she vaporized from starvation.
Just then, my husband, who happens to be 4 1/2 years my junior, rounded the corner. He walked up with a grin and playfully smacked me on my backside. "Hey there, my cute college girl."
I love it when he calls me that.
"Are you done yet?"
I sighed. "No. I can't decide."
He looked at the case of frozen delights with a frown. "It's no wonder. Does that stuff actually qualify as food?"
"Let's go get pizza and some beer and watch a movie."
I agreed, abandoning my buggy in the aisle for some other desperately weak dieter to use for balance.
Stepping out into the sunlight, I felt renewed. I was happy. I was as thin as I'd hoped to become when I started this last diet. I had a gorgeous man walking beside me, flirting, making me laugh, enjoying the day. But when we drove up to the pizza place, I was afraid. It had been so long since I tasted real food, I didn't know what to expect.
"What if I like it?"
He looked confused. "Aren't you supposed to like pizza?"
"Yes, but what if I really like it? What if I gain the weight back?"
He shook his head at me and smiled. "Sweetie, one meal isn't going to kill you. And if you like it 'too much' and gain the weight back, that doesn't matter to me. You know that."
I knew that.
So for one day, one glorious day, I held my head high. I was able to walk into a grease-laden pizza parlor full of judgmental teenagers without wondering if those pubescent girls with low-rise jeans and bellybutton jewelry were whispering about the fat lady getting a pizza. For one day I felt normal. We went home, had our beer and pizza and watched a movie. I lifted my glass toward the heavens in salute to the wise Frozen Food Aisle Angel. But then setting my glass back on the end table, the not-so-perky flesh of my arm caught my eye. I said a naughty word. I put my plate of pizza on the coffee table. Then I asked "Sweetie, is there still some cottage cheese in the fridge?"
"Yep. And the Melba Toast is in the cabinet."