I entered the world at 11:48pm on January 11, wailing like a banshee within the sterile fluorescent lit delivery room at the now defunct Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. What triggered the wailing? Was it the forced expulsion from my warm human swim tank home of nine months or exploding hunger pangs stimulated by the first nasal draw of air?
My rejection of breast milk confirmed the forced expulsion as the incentive for the wail. Food and I were not initially destined to bond so easily. I wanted nothing to do with it and only succumbed to the formula bottle after hours of belly rub coaxing.
Mom’s strict pregnancy diet resulted in low pregnancy weight gain for her and I assumed in some way I as a fetus was affected. My eating habits were cemented in the womb. I emerged into the world with an eating disorder while mom quickly dropped to her pre-pregnancy weight of 125 lbs.
I refused to eat during the formative years of 1-7 and inherited the middle name of “fussy eater”. Processed food gained favour with my taste buds in time but Lipton Tea with Pep milk (condense milk in a can) and spoonfulls of Domino sugar became my staple. Lipton tea in the morning, in the afternoon, but not before bed for the sugar and caffeine highs by then had run their course and no sense refueling while the Sandman cometh.
Mom could not get me to eat.
Breakfast was the biggest battle, as I abhorred the usual milk and corn flake cereal unless it was loaded with mounds of white sugar. Occasionally, Frosted Flakes would appear on the table-I guess my Domino consumption turned into an expensive habit. I won on ‘Food Wars’ on a continuous basis until Mom started to think.
“Elenita, turn off the TV and eat your cereal.”
“Where’s the sugar?”
“We don’t have any left.”
“I can’t eat it then.”
“Bubie, come here I have something very important to tell you. You’re old enough to know this and it’s important to know.”
“Sure mommy, what is it? Did J***y do something again? I saw her do it. She did it on purpose too.”
“Oh no Elenita, this is about the worms.”
“In the backyard?”
“No, in the stomach.”
“Little one, did you know worms live in your stomach?”
“Oh yes. Did you ever wonder why your stomach growls? It’s the worms! And when your stomach growls they are telling you they are hungry.”
“Mommy, is that true?”
“Oh yes. And you know what happens if you don’t feed them?”
“No, what happens?”
“Well if you don’t feed them they will crawl up your stomach to your throat and choke you!”
My eating disorder miraculously disappeared.
Food was no longer a problem. Forget refined sugar. I ate my Kellogg’s corn flakes and milk without it. I was ‘food reborn’.
In time my food taste became refined. Chef Boyardee, Spam, Vienna sausages, pizza, hot dogs, bologna, went into my mouth while broccoli, spinach, lettuce, peas and just about any vegetable that grew in dirt, went behind the apartment’s steam radiators. Going to the bathroom with a mouthful of food to spit into the toilet was so cliché and easily sabotaged by an older sibling’s squealing. Disposing of unwanted food behind the radiators was my dirty little secret, my statement of protest, which worked well, until the rotten decomposed ordour summoned all of Brooklyn’s roaches to dinner which led to mom’s discovery.
To say Mom was amused would be inappropriate. She was perplexed and unsure what the crime warranted in terms of punishment. The brown belt on the legs would have been severe. While thinking through her options, she sought relief by informing everyone in the immediate family of my crimes against vegetables. Of course, she didn’t realize the family’s laughter and ridicule for a month would be sufficient punishment in itself.
Eventually the need to punish faded as did my dirty little secret as the memory of the food behind the radiator became a constant source of laughter especially around Thanksgiving.