Even when I eschewed most food, I never stopped wanting it. I could ignore my desire, punch it down, beat it back, disavow it, but behind that curtain, the longing grew. Such is the primal relationship to that which we need.
I see it everywhere. In my insatiable pug who dances around his food bowl with salivating anticipation, who licks it clean for minutes after finishing the last bit of chow. In my ginger cat who nips at my heels when hungry and then seems to relish the glistening mound of pheasant or tumble of kibble I put in his bowl. In even our tank of fish as they race skyward each morning toward the shower of orange flakes –better for their color, see- raining down to water level.
It is in my garden, as the flowers shine their faces toward the sun, as that very reach determines angle of growth all around. As the soaring sugar maple tries to steal all the soil’s nutrients for itself. Year after year, I compost and fertilize on behalf of the smaller plants trying desperately to assert their worth against that tree’s. I see it in the bursts of green shooting from sidewalk cracks and microscopic fractures in the mortar between bricks; life finds a way. It longs to do so and will.
I remember the longing when I think of relationships past.
My high school boyfriend and the fettucine alfredo we cooked for each other one night.
My college love, the first real love of my life, and the way our eyes met over a high top at a bar a year in. There we drank cold pints, played darts and he fashioned me a ring from a foil wrapper, slipping it down my slim finger before kissing my waiting lips and whispering, “I love you, Emil.”
The man in Africa, next to me at the Ethiopian restaurant in Nairobi, where a slinky belly dancer beguiled the room. Frothy Naishos and plates of earthy greens and that spongy injera. We ate with our hands, scooping portions of the sumptuous food between bread and fingers, slipping bits into each other’s mouths, fingers sometimes lingering there, the belly dancer simply background noise then.
I watched it as my newborn sons rooted and suckled, hungrily and then blissfully when the milk came pouring forth. I watched their eyes roll backward before closing; never was there such a picture of heady satiety.
I saw such longing in my three-year-old when he came upon a case of chocolates, plastered his face and hands against it, and began making the big decisions when we said he could have one of whatever he wanted. I saw it too in my toddler as he pressed up against the oven, ogling the puffy muffins cooking within. “Please mama, when ready?”
I smile as I watch my husband’s eyes as I set a plate of his favorite pie or ragù bolognese in front of him. Watch him take a bite, close his eyes, and say “Thank you, honey. This is so good.”
And I think, my god, this thing called eating.