I’m going to show you a homework assignment. For my Literature of the Senses class this week, we’re to write short pieces on the sense of taste. These are just one- to two-page writing exercises and I’ve put this together. I blogged about ramen noodles some years ago, and I did look back at this entry for reference, but it’s entirely retooled, as you’ll see.
It’s hard to write stuff and it’s hard to write about hard stuff. It’s hard to think about hard stuff that happened. Maybe I should go bake cupcakes or something. Mmm … Cupcakes.
Anyway, here you are.
As a young woman, many times had I fervently wished I could zap my appetite into nothingness so that I could slim down for the summer or whatever. It seemed so simple: Just don’t eat. I was never able to not eat, though, and usually not able to eat even slightly less. My appetite was stronger, in the end, than my desire to own smaller jeans.
But when I was dying in 2008 from failed abdominal surgeries related to advanced Ulcerative Colitis, my appetite really did vanish and it stayed gone for a dangerously long time, entirely without me trying. It turns out that having no appetite is a woeful, morbid thing.
My body knew my intestines were failing, so the appetite mechanism was doing me a favor by closing up shop. If nothing came in, nothing could leak out, internally. But my doctors and my family desperately needed me to eat, even a little, so that I could heal. If I couldn’t manage to start getting some nutrition, a feeding tube was in my future.
It was frightening to want nothing to eat, to snap my head away with a grimace when food came close to my mouth. It was alienating in the extreme that spaghetti with marinara sauce, my favorite food, did nothing to stir my appetite. I desired nothing. I craved nothing. There would be days at a time that I consumed only air and the dry skin on my lips as I chewed them whenever the doctors would call with test results, which were usually bad.
“Mary, honey,” my mother would ask, coming into the living room. “What would you like to try today?”
Every day, it was the same. The proposition of selecting and then trying to get food down was as exhausting as flushing my four IR drains, which had to happen twice a day.
“I guess ice cream,” I’d say, my voice barely above a whisper.
But when the Haagen Dazs hit my tongue, even if it were praline pecan or butter brickle, which in former days I would’ve devoured, I never managed more than two bird-sized bites before I had to set down my spoon and sink back into the couch, weary, baffled, and still unfed, the cream turning sour in my mouth. I was down to 118 pounds, 117, 116 …
We tried bacon. We tried mac n’ cheese. We tried bacon mac n’ cheese. We tried pudding, crackers, chips. Lasagna, Cap’n Crunch, sushi, tacos. Everything was revolting, everything was too much. I missed my appetite, which is to say I missed being part of the human race.
Then one day, when my mother asked me what I might like to try to eat, for some reason I blurted out, “How about ramen noodles?”
I meant Top Ramen, of course. The brick of noodles you get six-for-a-dollar with the flavor packet inside each plastic pack. Mom ran to the store and got a bagful. When she brought me a bowl of the piping hot noodles, for the first time in months, I felt hungry.
The cheap ramen was salty and easy to swallow. It was fun to eat, too, those long, curly noodles and the bullion broth free of bits, chunks, or vegetal matter of any kind. It is a benign food substance, Top Ramen. There is nothing to avoid, nothing to pick out. One can surrender to simplicity, to plainness. It is the anti-foodie food. The nutritional value may normally be in question, but for an invalid like me, the 400 calories of starch and salt were 400 more than what I was getting before and for some reason, my body accepted Top Ramen. I wanted to eat it and eating it did not make me sicker.
Every day, I ate the Chicken or Beef flavored ramen for breakfast (never Shrimp, gross.) The life-force noodle soup was my sole meal of the day. I even looked forward to the moment when my mother would bring it to me after I had had another interminable night on the couch, vomiting into my bowl, leaking sh-t from my ostomy bag onto the covers. Not every night was that bad; some were worse.
It makes me cry to think of my mother, there in her red bathrobe, coming in with a chipper smile and the wooden tray with the big bowl of Top Ramen for me, a cloth napkin, a fork, and a wide spoon. She’d place the tray on the big trunk we used for a coffee table and say, “Bon appetite, sweetie.”
“Thanks, Mama,” I’d say, and I’d start to eat, slowly, bringing a forkful of noodles all the way up, high above my head. I’d tip back and open my mouth, lowering the ramen slowly down onto my tongue and the day would begin that way, looking up at the ceiling, tasting the rich, savory broth clinging to the noodles. I would let it all slip down my gullet, hardly needing to chew.
Miss Mary, please do me a huge favor. Give your mom the biggest, deepest, hardest, warmest hug possible. And have her return the favor.
The piece is wonderful – brings so much to the reader. Just enough, not too much.
And I am so glad you are doing better. You really have no idea.
This may be one of the best things you have ever written.
Mmmmm….ramen noodles, get them hot then add one slice of American cheese, mix in…..divine!
Thank heaven for Pot Noodles!
Before we got married and after (before the children arrived) we used to walk a lot. We found Pot Noodles were a nice warm up after a walk in winter – we’d take a flask of boiling water and add to the pots. Actually it was quite gross because it was off the boil and the contents stayed a little on the crunchy side! Later we’d take a little camping stove to boil water on. Sustenance!
Then after the children came we fed them with good food, proper food, organic food and as best we could afford or grow in the garden. Then what did they do when they were older? They dived and craved the Pot Noodles!!!!
On another note, when my brother was 4 years old he had pneumonia. He wouldn’t eat, but slowly drifted into a little stick boy that had been whittled down to a splinter. He would take medicine though and my mum refused to let him drift to nothing and soft boiled an egg. With the runny yolk she added food colouring and mixed it in then put it on a spoon, telling him to take some new medicine – which he did! It wasn’t until he was better the doctor told us that he didn’t expect my brother to live and thought it better he die at home instead of moving him into hospital! So now he’s 50 and has his own little family!
Just goes to show when you become a mum you also become an obstinate and protective woman that will not let your child go without a fight even if the fight has gone from the child! 3 cheers for your mum! 😀 I love happy endings by the way.GET9
Oops sorry that was the non robot code! DOH!
A powerful piece of writing that makes one want to reach out and hug both you and your mom. Evocative images and a new perspective on our relationship with food. Thank you for sharing a piece of your journey. I have always enjoyed your numerous writings, but this piece will be memorable.
Well written, who knew Top Ramen was a miracle food that all of us would be grateful for. Hugs to you and your mom
What a great piece. So concise and so many emotions. Your own miracle. So glad you are better and here now! 2008 was the year that we thought my husband would die from a staph infection that settled on his spine=his body formed an abscess around it and it put so much pressure on his spine that he was paralyzed on his right side. To the hospital, where they thought it was a stroke but after tests the next day, a nine hour emergency surgery to remove the abscess, 13 days in ICU, 65 days in the hospital. He is home and walking and moving and it is our miracle.
I am still teary from reading this piece (and strangely, wanting to give Top Ramen a try again 🙂 ) Thank you so much for sharing this part of your life and this story.
Just the other day I had no appetite, and guess what I decided to eat? Top Ramen chicken. Mine was gourmet, with real chicken broth rather than water than the seasoning packet. OK, maybe there was a little sprinkle of seasoning, too. I have loved Top Ramen since it was first in the supermarkets in the US, and they called it Oodles of Noodles. Thank goodness for Top Ramen! I’m glad you’re still here.
My husband is in hospice, here at home. Daily , his caloric consumption couldn’t be over 200. Thank you for the great idea, ordering NOW!
Ramen noodles cooked up with an egg added saved me during a period of extreme poverty. Still like them.
Hugs to your and your stalwart Mom.