louching on top of stiff sterilized hospital bedding, I lifted my gown to expose the typography of my relationship with food. The familiar crescent-sloped outlines of reddish stretch marks — valleys signaling rapid growth — were now punctuated with five small wounds, like impact craters left on the moon.
I have been in many relationships throughout my life, but none more complex than with food. A messy and pleasurable affair between the curves of what my mother referred to as my “husky” body growing up, the bliss of consumption, and the emotional residue (both joyous and vile) of being a fat queer. This is not a reflection on food as memory or about the benefits and pitfalls of medical weight loss. It is rather a candid look into my on-again-off-again evolving understanding of food as it relates to my pursuit of self compassion for a body that has never quite fit in.
Gastric sleeve surgery required me in many ways to forget in order to find a kind of self-love. Forgetting food is the first stage of healing after surgery. Those early days and weeks post-surgery were filled with stillness and quiet. First nothing. Then water. Eventually the cool artificial vanilla bliss of slowly slurping two ounce shots of protein-drink all felt like joyful discovery. Working myself up to three ounce cubes of paste-white mozzarella seemed like a victory a couple weeks in. This slow and forced forgettting of what food had meant to me unlocked a new acceptance for myself, one formerly sought out through sex in search of emotional intimacy.
Almost as much as food has been studied in terms of nostaglia, memory, and family tradition, our bodies-as-projects have long been the discourse in cultural and feminist research as consumable, sacred, and sites of trauma. My body and it’s now 40-year-long tryst with food very much resonates across all of those frameworks; but in some ways, it also misses the rubberband-like tension between food and my body, between loving myself and seeking it in others.
Although fleeting and imperfect, I used to wait with joy for the steaming tube of plastic holding my bean-n-cheese microwave burrito to stop its dizzying trip on the microwave carousel. Molten lava hot insides that I could never wait quit long enough to taste. By the end of the burrito, the dry lifeless tortilla would harden and the bliss of the short love affair would be gone as quick as it all started. For a sometimes awkward and lonely kid, food was comfort and compassion as much as it was my first love. It was a kind of love that I could always find more of in the freezer or pantry.
Forgetting food is not an option once your stomach has been reduced to the size of a coin purse, the kind that Teva-wearing middle-aged women pull out at Trader Joes when you're in a rush, extracting tiny dirty pennies and dimes while ignoring you and the 10 people behind you. My new stomach didn’t want food or sex, it wanted to heal. I did too.
Those delicious molten-microwaved buddles of what I now understand as compassion and acceptance were survival at an age when navigating the impact of being called a fag and fat at school didn’t even fully make sense to me yet. Funny now only in reflection that I fully understand the irony of how so many lovers in my baby-gay days felt like those burritos. Hot and fleeting, more always there if you needed them, but on the whole, nothing you want as your last meal.
Maybe burritos are not the best food to have compared to men, but the truth is, both the men and the food served the same purpose; they accepted me and my body, if only for a brief time. I sought from food and pleasure, a kind of acceptance that I so deeply wanted, one that eluded me until I let go of both.
In those early post-op days in the utter silence of my recovery room, my body felt like all I had. I spent time touching the curves of my skin, knowing that it was going to change forever. Those moments of discovery still feel ever-present now. My hunger cut out, hunger-hormones cells left on the operating room floor with the rest of my stomach, I felt kind of freedom. I found comfort in my body for the first time. I dreamt that it was deflating as I lay there. What was I going to become? Would I be the same?
And then...I felt OK. I felt acceptance for where I was. I wasn’t seeking anything. Food. Love. I physically couldn’t. Forgetting food ushered an introduction to a clear version of myself, one undone, naked, and at peace.
A couple of years out now, I have gained and lost weight, but I have never forgotten how important forgetting food was to me. Bodies need love, all bodies. My body needed love, most of all from me. One of the wisest mentors in my life says that “life is just transitions.” I think about how these transitions sometimes come at the end of knife, or the start of job, the end of a love affair, or the end of life. It is at each one of these intersections, these transitions, that we have the ability to in the midst of loss, of forgetting, to find new parts of ourselves. Forgetting can be a practice of discovery; not as a solution or an end, but a practice of claiming the loss of something: fat, love, work as new territory, a space for the novel or perhaps revealing what had been hidden there all along.
I count myself lucky to have found love in forgetting and in acknowledging just how much I have to work at it. Most of all I think that maybe we could all use a bit of forgetting. In the meantime though, burritos and men aren’t that bad either.