When I had the flu the other day, I had zero appetite. The mere mention of eating was enough to make me holler in anguish from my sickbed. Except that one thing actually did sound good: chicken-flavored Maruchan Top Ramen.
Look, I don’t make the rules. I have no idea why a block of sodium starch is a curative for me, but when I am at death’s door, convenience store ramen noodles save the day. I can say with conviction because when I was gravely ill with ulcerative colitis and the first of the surgical complications years ago, Top Ramen kept me alive. Fine, okay, the horse pill antibiotics and the doctors did their part, but if it weren’t for the inexplicable deliciousness of cheap ramen, I would have had a feeding tube earlier than I did.
I would sit on my mother’s couch, an increasingly wispy wisp of a thing, dazed with morphine and woozy from the blood thinner delivered in my hindquarters twice a day via injection. I would watch something on television (I think?) and I would try and get up to walk because that was supposed to be important, but mostly I just waited till Mom or my husband at the time would come to flush my wound drains. I’ve described a fraction of it. It was horrid.
“Honey, what do you think you can eat?” my mother would ask, coming into the living room. She had new lines on her face.
We tried ice cream. We tried cheese. We tried pudding. We tried crackers. Chips. Soups. Cookies. I would take one bite and push it away and I missed my appetite. So many times as a twenty-something woman I had dieted for periods of time, fervently wishing I could have no appetite — it sounded so simple! — so that I could slim down my hips for the summer or whatever crucial event I felt couldn’t be fun or successful unless I was skinny. But when my appetite actually vanished, and for such a long time, I mourned it. Nourishment is not just about calories; it’s about vitality. I was not vital. There was no bloom in my cheek.
Then one day, I said, “Mom, I think I want some ramen noodles.”
I ate them. The whole block. They were salty and easy to swallow. They were fun to eat, those looooong curly noodles and the bullion broth was free of bits, chunks, vegetal matter of any kind. It is a benign substance, Top Ramen. There is nothing to avoid; there is surrender to simplicity. It is the anti-foodie food. The nutritional value is dubious at best, but dammit if there aren’t 400-something calories per block and at that point, that was 400 more calories than I was getting.
Every day, I ate ramen for breakfast, my sole “meal” of the day. I even looked forward to the moment when Mama would come in with my tray. It makes me cry to think of her now in her red robe, coming in with a chipper smile and the wooden tray with the big bowl. She always had a cloth napkin for me and a dinner fork. She’d place the tray on the big trunk we used for a coffee table and say, “Bon appetite, sweetie,” and I would say “Thanks, Mama,” and start to eat, slowly, bringing a forkful of noodles all the way up, high above my head. I’d tip my head back and open my mouth and the day would begin that way, looking up at the ceiling, at nothing but the moment and the noodle at hand. At that dark time, the moment was the wisest place to gaze.
My regards to Mr. Maruchan.