They’d made an afternoon date out of a trip to Costco. The life of a family with four kids is not glamorous, and finding time alone with each other often comes in the form of small insignificant moments.
“Should we just grab something for lunch while we’re here?” she asked, and he agreed.
“Get me a sandwich, please,” was her request.
“Let’s split one,” was his.
“No, I’m hungry. I want my own.”
He raised his brow, a look her disorder understood as, “Really, you don’t need a whole sandwich.”
This is where it went wrong. A lovely afternoon shot to hell.
“Never mind, I’m not hungry.”
He doesn’t know what he’s done exactly, but she is gone. Eyes blinking, fighting back tears, and a hard knot in the throat, like she swallowed a stone that won’t go down. She pushed through the crowd, avoiding eye contact with everyone, desperate to get outside. She is embarrassed and angry, and she is embarrassed about being embarrassed. It feels important and silly all at the same time.
In the moment he questioned her she became a young girl again, asking for more food, feeling ashamed for being hungry.
One time she was 12, on a Spring Break trip across many states, with long days in the car. She asked when they would stop for lunch because it was eight o’clock in the evening and they hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Another time she was 14, they’d been sightseeing in San Francisco all day and somewhere at a McDonald’s she was still hungry after splitting a kid’s meal. When she asked if they could order one more, she became ashamed: “No, we’ll eat a real dinner soon.” She was not starving, there was no threat of malnourishment, and she was not being mistreated or neglected. But this primal need, to eat, felt threatened, and it elicited a near-primal reaction. Defensive, angry, feelings of rejection and shame. No one should be ashamed of basic needs, but she did not know this as a child. She decided there must be something abnormal about her for wanting more. She decided she is bad for being hungry.
The memory is strong, and by the time she makes it to the car she is no longer able to hold in the tears. She feels like a child. For her, the disorder is so much about childhood. Lack of some kind, a hunger unmet, and a shame unresolved. What is it be like to be married to the mess, she wonders. In a moment of conversation about what to eat for lunch, her disorder made her hurt; frustrated by miscommunication and her husband’s inability to understand her. He is left confused and trying to piece it together. He pays for the unresolved problems of her past. He is forever walking on eggshells when the “f” word, food, is being discussed. Good thing he’s a patient person; she’s not sure many men would put up with the baggage he’s asked to carry.
At the car she realizes he has the keys, still inside Costco, standing in line for food. She has time to stand foolishly at the car, time to process what’s happened and how she should handle it. The last few weeks with the disorder had been so good, day upon day of feeling in control, and now she stood at the car, feeling it all overwhelming her. She’s beginning to believe that the time it takes to recover will be equal to the number of years she’s spent with the disorder. A long time. The disorder has a presence in each of her relationships, creating little moments of chaos. Her most valued relationship is her marriage. Can it handle years of recovery and back stepping? How long does a good man put up with behavior he struggles to understand? He seems to be an unending source of patience, but she worries about taking advantage of it, that perhaps she is capable of depleting the supply.
When he makes it to the car they load the groceries in silence. Two people unsure of what the next step is, what the right words are. Two people who are flawed but trying to piece together a life and family. Two people who are willing to accept imperfection because it is outweighed by the good. The car ride is quiet, as he has learned to give her distance until she can be clear-headed.
“I misunderstood, I didn’t want to make you feel bad for wanting a sandwich, and I was confused because I thought you had said you wanted to share. I was just trying to clarify.” He’s fumbling through it, trying to make it okay.
Apologies have become normal dialogue in their relationship. She gets tired of it sometimes, she feels beat down from being this way. Sometimes she doesn’t want to have to say sorry anymore, she doesn’t want to be a mess.
“It’s not your fault, I’m sorry this is what you have to deal with.”
“It’s okay,” he says.
She is not a mess. He sees more in her, he knows better. She is stronger than she remembers, she is capable of more than she allows herself to realize, and he knows this. He hangs on to it, reminds her of it, and encourages her in her healing. It is okay. They are okay.
Read Jodi’s last column.