As I ate half the chicken, I was remembering the first time I ever saw rotisserie chicken in the flesh. I was in high school and had to volunteer, a couple afternoons a week, at the senior citizens' center in my hometown for National Merit Society credit. I'd work there from about 4 to 6 pm in the afternoons. I would be starving to death the whole time because I barely ate in those days. I was always trying to lose weight or afraid of gaining weight. I was five foot four and 135 pounds and thought I was grossly obese and that that was one of the reasons why I couldn't keep a boyfriend; I thought if I could magically drop the weight down to oh say 105 (which never happened) then someone would love me, and my life would magically change into a happy proposition rather than the monotony that it was at that point. Lunch, what there was of it, usually half a baloney sandwich and maybe an apple, had been at 11:45 am. Dinner wouldn't be till at least 7 most nights because my dad liked to eat late and my mom (who also barely ate for different reasons from me) arranged our life around my dad.
So pretty much all I ate most days was a breakfast of one small bowl of Cheerios with some fruit on it and maybe, if forced, a glass of juice. Lunch was the half a baloney sandwich. Dinner, I would try not to eat, especially since it was so late at night (not only did all the diet books say not to eat a lot after 6 pm, but I usually hate eating a big meal late because it just sits in your stomach), but I would be forced to eat something because if I didn't my mother (who hated cooking dinner anyway) would yell at me and accuse me of being Unappreciative of her efforts in Slaving Away Trying to Cook Healthy Food and tell me that If I Didn't Eat I Would Get Sick and all kinds of other crap that parents yell when they're being stupid. I couldn't wait to move out of there, and I still consider it a minor miracle that I never actually came down with Ana or Mia.
It wasn't for lack of trying---I just couldn't get the throwing-up-on-demand thing to work, and I also couldn't go without eating. I would get so hungry and I just wasn't strong enough to resist. I would go three days on as little as possible and finally break down and eat a normal-sized meal and hate myself. I realize now that the stuff that I did eat, such as baloney sandwiches, even in small halves, just contributed to my hunger. For some reason, possibly a food allergy, bread and baloney and some other foods I consumed then, such as the occasional non-diet Coke, trigger hunger in me like some people get when they have Chinese food containing MSG. I could eat six baloney sandwiches and still it wouldn't be enough. I also tried not to drink liquids because I was afraid of the fact that I would weigh two pounds more after some glasses of water. It took me many years to get over this, and meanwhile it was not only very hard on my digestive tract, but it also wrecked my metabolism to the point where I could barely lose any weight because my body would stubbornly hold on to every single ounce of food and drink I begrudgingly put in it.
God, did I hate myself. It seemed normal. All the other girls I knew hated themselves too, and many of them hated themselves even worse than me.
But anyway, back to the rotisserie chicken. So, there I was, working at the senior center with nice little old ladies who fussed over me and snuck me dirty books, and starving to death to the point where I would go in the coffee room and eat the powdered government-issued non-dairy creamer. I'd just spoon it into my hand and lick it off my palm. It tasted good. I got so I was going in there every 20 minutes for a fix of non-dairy creamer. I hated myself for that too because the label said it was 90 calories a teaspoon or something, but I couldn't help myself.
At some point while I was working there this chicken place opened up next door. It had a mechanical spit thing in the window, and about six chickens would be going round and round and dripping sizzly fat and getting crisp and brown. I was, and still am, fascinated by Mechanical Moving Machines (even as an engineer I always wanted to work on the moving servo stuff rather than the digital microprocessor boards that all the other young enggs were het up about), and between that and the roasting chickens dripping their fat, I was mesmerized. I would stand there and watch that thing for ten minutes and want, so badly, to eat one of the chickens. I had never seen a real commercial rotisserie before, although oddly enough I had had a little plastic battery-operated homemaker toy that I had begged my mother to buy me--it didn't take much begging as she loves watching mechanical toys and window displays--that had these plastic chickens going around and around on a flat rotisserie under some battery-operated lights. The chicken place was my toy come to life and imbued with calories.
I never thought of buying one of the roast chickens myself. I just assumed they would be Very Expensive (which they actually weren't but I never thought to find out the price) and I never had more than a dollar or two in those days. I had no allowance, no job. I asked my mom if we could have one of the chickens for dinner sometime and got back some answer about how they were Too Fatty and Too Expensive and nobody in the family liked them and I wouldn't like them either if I had one, etc. I guess I also thought that they probably were too fatty and I shouldn't be eating one, as it would make me gain weight. I felt pretty bereft from time to time, thinking that I would never get to taste one of those rotisserie chickens, but I had a lot to think about in those days, my dad being sick and me planning to escape to college and all, so I didn't lay awake nights over it. Just got reminded every time I came home from my volunteer job.
I finally did get to eat one of those chickens. The circumstances surrounding the chicken-consuming were less than pleasant. As many of you know, in college I finally Got a Boyfriend, whom I loved dearly, but who also had some problems. One of his problems, and I'm not sure how much of this was genuine forgetfulness/bad judgment and how much was passive-aggressive anger coming out towards me, was that on about three separate occasions he failed to pick me up when and where he was supposed to. In those days, I had no car, did not drive, and was afraid of taxis (which in that part of the country are not easy to come by anyway and required money I usually didn't have). I was therefore dependent on my boyfriend and/or the bus system to get anywhere.
One day I decided I wanted to go to the Cleveland Public Library, so he either drove me down there from my dorm or I took the bus. He was supposed to pick me up later and we'd go out. After a few hours at the library, I settled down in the front of the building to wait. I waited and waited and he didn't show up. There were no cell phones in those days, and no pay phones from which I could call, plus if he was out in his car he wouldn't be home to get the call anyway. So I sat and waited, getting increasingly anxious and emotionally upset at the idea that someone I Loved would forget to come get me. Finally the library closed, which meant I was stuck Downtown (not a real safe place in those days, worse than it is now for sure) as it was starting to get dark. I had almost no money and nothing to eat and I felt as miserable as the Poor Little Match Girl. I went over to the Statler Office Tower which (I knew from interning at WMMS there) had pay phones, but I had no quarters for the phones (and of course in those days I didn't have a phone credit card either). I was crying by this point and some long-haired older guy passing by saw me and asked if he could help, so I got him to give me some change for the phone. I tried calling my boyfriend's house but nobody answered. So at that point I went across the street and caught the bus back to school, which like I said was scary because it was starting to get dark and some homeless old 70's-pimp-looking druggie was circling me at the bus stop like he was going to grab my purse (I thought), and when he finally approached me and started hitting me up for spare change, I snapped and screamed at him to LEAVE ME ALONE so loud he said, "OK, OK, JESUS! CALM DOWN!" and took off. I hid in a nearby health food store till the bus came.
I got back to my dorm when it was practically dark, and called that weasel again, and this time he was home. He told some long story about having been at the library and not seeing me sitting there or whatever, and assuming I'd left. After many tears and some yelling, I accepted that it was true at the time, even though logically it would have been nigh impossible for anyone to miss me given where I was sitting in full view of the doors. I think this was the first time he failed to show up when he was supposed to. There were other times later. Anyway, I had missed dinner and I was very hungry so to make it up to me he said we would go eat. I asked if we could go to Lakewood and get one of those chickens from the rotisserie place. Because I had never had one, and always wanted one. So we went and got a rotisserie chicken and some Cokes and it all was surprisingly (to me) cheap and we took it all back to the dorm and ate it and went to bed and That was the end of That. Except that I made the mistake of mentioning to my mom that we had been in Lakewood and she yelled at me for a while because I was in her 'hood and didn't stop by her house to say Hello. There wasn't any point in explaining that I had had a Really Upsetting Day already, and the last thing I wanted on top of that was to have to deal with her and her emotions and her dislike of both rotisserie chicken and my boyfriend.
Remembering all this now makes me sad and angry. Fear of abandonment, fear of eating, fear of not being loved. Fears I've been spending my life trying to get rid of. I have not cleaned out the whole storage closet yet, I'll admit that. But at least I have reached the point where if I want a damn rotisserie chicken I can get in my OWN frickin' car (owned or rented), drive MYSELF to a chicken place, buy one, pay for it MYSELF, eat and enjoy it without self-hatred, and not be dependent on a parent or a damn boyfriend for any phase of that process. Hell, if the chicken is better in Minnesota or London, I can take my own ass to all those places too. And if somebody ditches me then I ditch them back. The End. I will never be that sad little abandoned person crying in the Statler Office Tower again. Independence isn't everything, it's the fucking ONLY thing.
* * *
Babe was harassing the hell out of me earlier while I was typing this. He always does anyway, but extra bad today. Because he WANTED SOME CHICKEN. I gave him a piece. Maybe I'll give all the cats some. I understand what it feels like, to want that chicken.