I accidentally saw him one day. I was out shaking the dust from my rugs, he was circling his car after having gotten groceries. He walked clockwise around his car, knocking three times on each window, looking under each side of the bumper, would push each already-closed-door with 3 hefty pushes, and end this mad routine with a deflated sounding "boop."
He was my neighbor, this oddity. Wiry, restless hair - like the nest of a bird, except where the eggs should lay was a hollowed-out bald spot. His clothes were threadbare and stained, his shoes rotted from the toe to the sole. One would expect a better kept man for someone bound by such rigidity. After each lap around his Toyota - the knocking and noises - he'd carry another brown bag in from the grocery store. Even when the bag was light and under packed, it was one bag only, carried in his left hand. He'd shut the door, remotely lock them, the lights flashing on and off while he hit the clicker 3 times. He dawdled into his apartment, shut the door, only to open it seconds later to repeat the same process for the next bag.
It was an excruciating and fascinating thing to watch. Like a large and doting Ibis, he was. A squat body with only an illusion of height from his ghastly long legs, and his face that was forward heavy. It was like gazing on the wreckage of an accident. Out of privacy, you wanted to turn your head, but the curiosity kept your gaze tight and steady. I grabbed my rugs and was ready to head inside, to get away from this man bound by threes. I could walk in, throw my rugs down onto the semi-clean floor, and never think about it again. He however, had to put all of those groceries away.
He was a blue-eyed, blonde-haired, shell of a man. Introverted, even more than I. Eccentric, withdrawn, mysterious in his own rite, and one of the sweetest people I’d met. We were roommates. He was one of several. I overlooked him for months because of his awkwardness, but I began to see the stars around him as we worked on the New York Time’s crossword puzzle every Sunday afternoon. As he was scratching his number 2 against 4 down, I was drinking in the child-like nature he possessed. The world had been cruel to him too, but his eyes still lit with hope.
“Your turn,” he chuckled as he passed the paper to me for the next answer. He put his hand up under his chin, and I smiled when I saw the contrast of his pale skin against the stain of black newsprint on the heel of his hand. He had no clue. He never really did.
He was safe. He didn’t ask questions about the things that didn’t matter - about things of the past. He lived for what was, and I could hide well within that. For the first time, I felt a little more human. I didn’t love him, in fact, this was so very causal that I almost felt like I was using him. I wanted to slurp him from a straw – taste what goodness I could – all without letting him stain my lips. His intentions were much different from my own.
We spent the night at home. I was having a glass of wine and crocheting while he read some obscure science-fiction book. After a small pour of merlot, the room felt like a planetarium. White trails shooting around and about the ceiling, everything spinning into a blurry mass of confusion. My meagre glass gave the illusion that I had been black-out drunk. Revolving in my living room, the rising vomit touched my tongue - bitter, pungent, it went back down. Blue-eyes came to me, held me against his chest and reassured me that I was okay. I eased off the alcohol and fell into him. The following days were filled with excruciating abdominal pain. I figured it was the endometriosis - that gnawing disease that fills a woman’s insides with scar tissue, rendering infertility in some cases. I was never really disappointed with this diagnosis. It really served as a get out of jail free card for my reckless lifestyle.
My pain-management plan consisted of my getting a monthly injection of synthetic hormones into my hip. I quit those after 5 years of asking for a better solution. Birth control typically renders women incapable of having children for a short period of time. For me, they said if conception even was possible, it would take a good year, possibly more. So when I went to a new clinic and they said that pregnancy tests were protocol for new patients, I surrendered my urine care-free.
I watied in that confining office, on the pregnancy test I knew would be negative. Ten minutes later I found out that my life was being recreated; like origami, I unfolded with the news that I was with child. A child I would love, and that wasn't his.
Breaking the news to Blue-eyes wasn’t easy. It felt good to let him know he had no further obligations, even though that's exactly what he wanted. Because he was good. Although he would’ve been a nurturing father, I can’t say I wasn’t relieved still. The fragile strings of my heart didn’t want to make him a more permanent fixture in my life. He was a short-lived sanctuary; a place where I felt safe for a while, where I felt redeemable. But I didn’t love him. So with a snip of the scissors, he fell from my life like a quiescent puppet - broken, used, and utterly disappointed, still donning that empty plastic smile.
As my husband and I fumble through this life caring for our family of 7, we have undoubtedly pushed through some difficult financial spells. Although we are in the best place we've ever been, we have hit a rough spot due to some fairly large unforseen's, and some other big expenses. The children can never tell the difference, because what's normative for them, remains. Justin and I, however, go a little hungry. This feels so pretentious even mentioning, because we don't understand true lack. We never go a full day without eating, it's more like cutting back just enough to make the groceries stretch longer, conserving for our children. It's not a gnawing pain, but an ever-present hunger. Even in our "need," our closets are bulging, our corners crammed and compact with yesterday's wants, and the underneath of beds spill with non-essentials.
I only mention these personal details because this is exactly what's compelled me to see how much of an advantage hungering has given me. As the weeks drag on and our finances balance out once again, I realize that to have a stomach that perpetually petitions for food, serves as a gentle reminder of how grateful I should feel for what I DO have, especially when all we usually have to do it pick up some of those (mostly) available hours of labor to compensate for a tough time.
When my stomach churns for sustenance, it pushes me to think of all of those around the globe that have no hope or expectation for nourishment. It gives space to think about how we spend our money and what value of food we're serving our bodies. It also creates a deep place of empathy for those who experience a violent desperation for their basic needs. I've been able to meditate on the truth that when we are a little hungry, it leaves room to seek out things that will nourish us in more lasting ways. Because denying yourself leaves space to look to something greater than ourselves for answers and for provision.
It's counter-cultural to deny ourselves in any way, isn't it?! We have come to believe that the American Dream is more of a position to attain, than an equal opportunity for all. We are a country who has the most, and yet remains the most unfulfilled. Our eagerness to consume, has led us to have the largest trade deficit AND national debt ($40,000 per second) in the world. That's 196 independent countries, and we have the largest amount of "stuff" that we still owe for. Does all of this overconsumption leave us happier? Well, we also have the highest rates of depression, and the most people reliant on pharmaceuticals in the world. I'd say not. We are the most starved, over-fed nation. We dump loads of money on our happiness, when it is simply not something up for purchase. We spent 248 million dollars on Starbucks in 2016 alone, while there are countries begging for aide for their people who are dying of ACTUAL starvation, lack of health services, and poor sanitation. At 248 million dollars a year, I’d say the American Dream is about drowning in our own pursuit of happiness. We are surely acquainted with suffering, but it's not from the deep recesses of hunger and need, but rather, being bloated on the American Dream.
I'm not claiming to be enlightened from an occasional growling stomach, but it sure has urged me to discipline my body with humility and self-denial, so that I don't become another statistic of the over-fed. I'm understanding that my comfort really has nothing to do with what actually matters and fulfills, and that the reality is, physical food only leaves me hungry for more.
I want to be counter-cultural in my efforts to be satisfied. I don't want a bigger appetite for my own desires, but one that enables me to give more deeply, to feed more selflessly, and to be more naturally inclined to deny myself for the sake of others. This is true fulfillment - to give my food to those who are hungrier than I, and feel well-fed because of it.