The Cancer Chronicles

Part 61: When I was growing up, both shopping and eating were equal parts thrilling and shaming. I looked forward to them the way a lover anticipates a forbidden and clandestine meeting: heart pounding with the soon-to-be dive into a world of adrenaline and sensory delights. My entire life has come down to this, only this. This bowl of ice cream, this striped sweater.

After my mother and I would shop at My Darling Daughter, we’d sneak the orange heather sweaters and skirts into the house and hide them under the bed so that my father wouldn’t see, wouldn’t know how much we’d bought (until he got the credit card bill). We knew we’d “been bad” but we liked it. Sneaking and hiding and lying was fun.

After I snuck into the kitchen and hid frozen Milky Ways in my pajamas, I’d eat them quickly bent over the garbage pail in my room in case I heard someone coming and could spit them out quickly. I’d sneak and hide and lie about eating candy and ice cream and Ring Dings—and then I’d cry from the shame.

I grew up having learned two main things about joy and pleasure: the first was that they weren’t free and that I needed to pay for getting what I wanted with guilt and shame. That I needed to hide my appetites.

But the act of hiding and lying and sneaking also taught me that pleasure was out there, by acquiring, by eating, by getting more, then more. That by myself, in myself, I wasn’t enough. I needed the donut, the sweater, the thing I was not allowed to have without guilt to be whole or happy.

Now that I am neither shopping or bingeing (the photograph is when I was, when I did), I notice that without the lover’s anticipation of meeting her beloved donut or new sweater, without the double-edged thrill and shame of eating and buying, life is humdrum. Depressing. Dead. Flat. And then I realize I’ve popped back into the past and that those feelings are the ones I had as a ten year old. And as soon as I name those feelings, I can notice them without being them. Tenderness arises for that lonely, chubby, crooked-bangs child, and I pop back into the present where there is the whirr of hummingbird wings and a breeze on my face and the warmth of sun on my skin. Where life is good.

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To read the entire Cancer Chronicles retrospective, click here.

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