Somewhere, in the catacombs of the computer’s motherboard, there is a photo of me wearing an oversized t-shirt with the Nutella logo on it. Chocolate is smeared across my chin, my forehead, my cheeks. I smile widely, showing off the specks of cocoa powder between my teeth. If you look closely enough, you can even see the batter stuck in my hair.
I am baking brownies with my mother for a pitch-in at her work. As an adolescent, I am not that useful in the kitchen, but my mother allows me to mix the triple-chocolate batter and the peanut butter-hazelnut spread anyway. We both know that I am truly here for the clean-up. After the brownies are in the oven, I begin to “help,” working only as hot water, washing all of the utensils dry with my mouth. I remove the whisks from the mixer one by one and lick them clean, carefully sticking my tongue between the slits of metal, lapping up every drop of the batter as if I am one of those bone-thin extraterrestrials posing as a starving child in Africa. But the camera says otherwise. My mother snaps a photo of me while I am busy working to polish every speck of the spoon that is caked in sugar. When I am finished, she shows me the picture and laughs. “It’s perfect,” she says, pointing at the mess on my face, “it’s so you.”
I have never loved my body. This is not to say I remember actively hating my flabby arms and chubby stomach as a child, having memories of standing sideways and naked in front of the mirror and sobbing. Rather, I hated myself in smaller ways. I remember constantly wondering if I could carve the fat out of my stomach like I could a pumpkin. I remember feeling ashamed and disgusting every time my father measured my height and weight against the wall of the shoe closet on the first day of school. I remember having to keep my friends from entering the shoe closet whenever they came over, because I couldn’t have them seeing how much I weighed. The number haunted me.
My family is a food family, and by that I mean we value cooking, and by that I mean we are all big-boned. Although my mother considers cooking to be a chore, she works as if it is an art form and our plates are her canvas. Pork roast, Hawaiian sliders, chicken gnocchi, baked lasagna—when she is finished, our stomachs are on the brink of bursting, leaving the walls of the house looking like Pollock paintings.
When I open my lunchbox in the cafeteria the next day, a leftover brownie in hand, I am greeted with a scoff by my classmate, Skinny Girl #1. Although she stares at the treat longingly, her voice reveals disgust. “I can’t believe you’re eating that,” she says, but it sounds more like “Ikea be leaves you’re the Iliad” because I am so focused on the taste of this brownie that I can’t hear a thing. It’s taking all of my senses to even begin to appreciate the morsels of art I’m chewing. Fuck DaVinci and his Mona Lisa. If I die from happiness, fly the remains of this brownie to the Louvre.
Because I’m practically on the brink of experiencing a food orgasm, Skinny Girl #1 has to repeat herself, louder this time. She flings her empty milk carton to the side—of course she’s a lightweight who can only handle skimmed milk—to the table. “I can't believe you're eating that,” she repeats until all eyes are on me.
I finish licking my fingers clean before I ask, “why?” genuinely wondering what her issue could possibly be.
“Because she’s on a diet!” Prettier Skinny Girl #2 protests, standing up for her less-pretty friend. Following my instincts, I roll my eyes, not giving a single shit about Skinny Girl #1’s diet because a) we’re fourth-graders, and fourth-graders shouldn’t have to diet, and b) her “diet” changes every day, usually coinciding with whatever the cafeteria is serving.
“And it’s Friday,” Skinny Girl #1 says, tossing her slick ponytail over her shoulder.
This remark really throws me for a loop, considering Fridays come around pretty often, and this is the first time anyone’s ever really felt the need to tell me about it at lunchtime. So I shrug and continue cleaning my face, wiping the icing off of my lips, trying to become blissfully unaware of my reality once again.
“God, Samantha,” Skinny Girl #1 says, “it’s Lent.”
Oh, yeah. I forgot about that. The season I always confuse with Advent, the season of giving versus the season of giving up. Although we’re still kids in Catholic school, we’re taught to take Lent seriously. With a gulp, I swallow the rest of my dessert, grappling for an excuse for my behavior. “But I’m not eating meat,” I assure my classmates, simultaneously trying to reassure myself that I am not a Deadly Sin. I’m no Glutton. I’m definitely not breaking my “sacrifice” either—there’s no way in hell I could last forty days without chocolate—the trick is to give up something easy. But Skinny Girls #1 and #2 are onto me.
“It’s not meat,” Prettier Skinny Girl #2 says, “but you’re not fasting, and that’s gluttony. You’re a pig.” She smirks at me, along with Skinny Girl #1 as they jokingly play priest and command that I repent for my sins.
They have tapped into my biggest fear—the world seeing me for who I truly am. Suddenly, I am ashamed and guilty and angry all at once. Part of me wants to apologize for my lack of self-control, for not being as disciplined and as beautiful as they are. Another part of me wants to spit, “why don’t you crucify me?” but I don’t learn that phrase until my senior year of high school. Instead, I flee the cafeteria, feeling persecuted like Jesus was as he marched toward his own death.
That night, when I look in the mirror, I see a smorgasbord, a sow with flab like leather. I am a part of a food family, but I am angry because I only have myself to blame. I don’t take my faith or my health seriously enough, and I don’t know if I ever will. Maybe if I go to Mass more, God will grant me the loss of ten pounds. That’s how it works, right? I slam the bathroom door shut as I trudge into my bedroom. To soothe my feelings, I gorge myself on chocolate.