Friday, June 5, 2009

Mothballs and Twix

Three . . . Two . . . One . . . Ready or not, here I come! My friend's voice traveled down the hallway of her family's large, Los Angeles house. We were playing Hide and Seek: my friend, her older sister, and I. The girls went to my elementary school (we were in our last years), and they lived just down the canyon road from where I did. I remember being at their house fairly often, and also some kind of occasional car pool our moms had worked out. I remember that breakfast for them was often of the powdered sugar donut variety. Did I wish for the same, instead of my hard boiled egg and toast? Maybe, but not with conviction. Overall, I accepted (and now am very thankful for) my mother's firm belief in breakfast being the most important meal of the day and therefore her insistence that it be nutritious. I am now debating how to relate the next bit of info in a way that will not sound uncharitable. My intention is just to describe a fact, not a judgment, but, well, there aren't many delicate ways to say that my friends' mother had a significant weight problem. The girls were on the heavy side as well (as you might deduce from the donuts), but not yet what anyone could call fat. Not really. The father sticks in my mind as being the opposite: kind of wiry and full of nervous energy. On the afternoon in question, the afternoon of Hide and Seek, I'd gone into the master bedroom, then into a small walk-in closet to hide. I remember the space was boxy, square: I opened the door and faced a U-shaped configuration of clothes rods jammed with hangers, from which flowed colorful, voluminous fabrics. The racks were crowned with a single U-shaped shelf, and it was up on that shelf that I decided to hide. I don't know how I got up there, but I did it fairly quickly. Up on the shelf, it smelled faintly of mothballs. Not an overpowering smell, but it's an odor you simply can't miss, even if only in trace amounts. The other thing I discovered up there, besides the mothballs: a jumbo, "economy" package of Twix. The pack had been opened, and maybe two sets of Twix bars already consumed. At the time, I thought it was the weirdest thing in the world. Why would anyone—especially someone as generally "take me or leave me" in attitude as my friends' mother was—hide candy in the upper reaches of her closet? Of course now, although still disordered, I recognize the behavior as a natural part of the psychic landscape of the chronically overweight and unhappy. I imagined then that if she hid the candy there, maybe she also ate it there, too, chewing quickly and swallowing in silence, standing among the pleated, patterned garments or else crouching down among the shoes. (She certainly wouldn't be perched on the shelf as I was!) The thought made me feel strange, embarrassed that I'd discovered this secret; I felt almost ashamed, as if I were the one bingeing on chocolate-caramel-coated wafer cookies in the tiny room. And actually, I have to confess: I was. Ready or not, here I come . . . my friend's voice warned, I had only a moment to act. I told myself I was doing the woman a favor, saving her from herself. I scraped the thick layer of chocolate and caramel off the long shortbread cookie with my teeth. It was a hit of sugar, drug-like, and when the cookie was also eaten, I crumpled the empty, metallic-gold wrapper and jammed it into my pocket. I was ready to be found.

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