Crying, wrinkled and 6 lbs, I entered the world at 11:48pm within the delivery room at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital on January 11, 1964. As I emerged headfirst into a sterile fluorescent lit room, who can speculate if the forced expulsion from a warm human swim tank was the motive behind the crying? On the other hand, did hunger pangs, craving for food, stimulate the response? My steadfast rejection of mom’s humongous milk-filled breast confirmed that food was not the reason for the tears. I wanted nothing to do with food and after hours of coaxing and belly rubs, I gave in to the bottle.
Mom’s strict pregnancy diet, administered by Dr. Katz, resulted in little weight gain and assuming this affected the fetus, my eating habits became cemented in the womb. I emerged with an eating disorder while mom returned easily to her pre-pregnancy weight of 125 lbs.
I refused to eat during the formative years of 1-7 and inherited the label of “fussy eater”. Processed food was gaining preference and Lipton Tea with Pep milk (condense milk in a can) and spoonfuls of Domino sugar were my staples. In the morning, in the afternoon, Lipton Tea was the main course but not before bed. By then the sugar highs of the day had worn off and sleep was eminent. Mom could not get me to eat. Breakfast was the biggest battle, as I abhorred the usual milk and cereal course, unless it was loaded with mounds of white sugar. This battle I won continuously 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 that you have worms in your stomach?”
“Oh yes hunny. Did you ever wonder why your stomach growls? It’s the worms and when your stomach growls it’s them telling you that 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 eventually 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 cereal and milk without it as if it were caviar and crackers.
I grew older and my tastes became refined. Chef Boyardee, Spam, Vienna sausages, pizza, hot dogs, bologna, made its way into my mouth while broccoli, spinach, lettuce, peas and just about any vegetable, made its way behind the radiators. Going to the bathroom with a mouthful of food to spit into the toilet was so cliché, a typical thing to do and not worth the trouble of concealment. I had to make a statement and disposing of the unwanted food in this manner was my “dirty little secret” which worked well, until the rotten, decomposed ordour, with the flock of roaches underneath, led to discovery, by mom.
T o say Mom was amused would be inappropriate. She was perplexed and unsure what the crime warranted in terms of punishment. The brown belt would have been severe. While Mom thought through the options, she also 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 but the memory of the food behind the radiator was a constant source of laughter especially around Thanksgiving when food was the focal point.