Fullness doesn’t begin to describe the way I felt after ritually stuffing myself with something profoundly caloric, like Italian bread soaked in butter, salad mixing bowls filled with macaroni and cheese, and those super sized spreads where all I had to do was remain cloaked in the privacy of my car, reach my arm a little to the left, grab the paper bag and speed away in a cloud of dust. Quickly I wanted to forget the emptiness of my life…or sometimes the stress…or sometimes the desperation of the cycle of it all.
People ask me now if I had health problems from being 300 pounds + for 20 years. I didn’t. Guess coming from healthy stock has its advantages. There was no knee or back pain, or even high blood pressure (much to the dismay of those who were waiting to pounce with their “you’ve got to think about your health” speeches.) What I did have were the shackles of fat which kept me away from a lot of life…which also kept the emptiness intact. Because when I was in the cycle, it unavoidably thwarted the life force that naturally longs to course through all of us. This meant innocuous but important things like relationships were compromised. Why? Because I was too knocked out to really connect with people. I thought I was giving it the old college try, but looking back, much of my time was spent either digesting a binge or planning the next one. Doesn’t leave a lot of room for building relationships with others.
So when I recently visited one of my dearest friends on the planet, I was pretty amazed at the contrast – between the time spent with her last weekend vs. my visit three years ago. I’ve known Aunt Connie since before I could walk or talk. She was my mom’s roommate at Lycoming College and they thankfully never lost touch. Aunt Connie and I are both Libra to the core, seeking out beauty and pleasure and harmony with a passionate determination. She has always had an innate sense of how to balance pleasure-seeking while I required a few decades of fine tuning. Aunt Connie’s Heart is wide, pulsating, and ever-generous. Her passion lights up a room like a joyous lightening bolt. It used to exhaust me, now I delight in it. And she has this way of making guests feel like royalty. Little touches like new bottles of shampoo in the bathroom, lavender sachets on the turned down bed, and an elegant spread she assembles within minutes of my arrival as she describes the dance-yoga-pilates class she took yesterday followed by Aunt Connie’s review of her latest favorite restaurant, Zero Otto Nove (which she drives me to later to prove her point).
All around me were the gifts the past 15 months of transformation (from the inside out…I didn’t go on a diet this time, that’s why it worked). It was swelteringly hot and humid. I was a little uncomfortable but not irate and moaning. Three years ago, I was irate, moaning, and slumped on her couch fanning myself.
Three years ago, I would have packed some insurance in the form of potato chips or fast food and spent a significant part of my three-hour drive down I-87 eating. Instead, I pop a few walnuts and chug herbal tea (my constant road companion). I arrive at 1:30 p.m. only slightly hungry (heatwaves sometimes do that to me). She served me the elegant spread above and I savored, no I delighted in it all, from the faint hint of garlic in the potato soup to the mint leaves and the fragrant taste they left in the iced tea.
We talk about life: her book on mentoring that’s just gone to the publisher, my latest travel writing assignment, the latest books she’s reading (Aunt Connie usually has 3-4 in progress simultaneously). As usual, she has a verbal list of all the things she’d love us to experience during my visit…if only there were 48 hours in a day. So we settle for a handful of them that starts with what we both believe to be the best Little Italy in the world – Arthur Avenue in the North Bronx.
It was Aunt Connie who took me on my maiden voyage there during the winter of 2001 and the experience changed me on a neurobiochemical level. Truly the next best thing to actually being in Italia: there are signs written in Italian that announce the sale of hand-rolled pasta and fresh mozzarella, lyrical notes of spoken Italian ascend above the drone of English on the sidewalks and in cafes, and then there’s the food. I don’t have room here to give it the full scope of justice it deserves. I’ll just summarize by saying it’s all good.