For a while there, I forgot how to eat.
Two weeks ago, Jay and I experienced our first real tragedy as a couple. For days, our usually hectic life together came to an abrupt halt. Our home reverberated with what felt like infinite periods of silence and endless long, anxious breaths, the floor beside our bed and our couch perpetually littered with crumpled tissues and crusted over bowls. Despite an in-depth agenda of paperwork that needed attention in preparation for a meeting we'd anxiously anticipated for weeks -- a meeting that could very likely help to change the shape of our business and our entire brand in the coming calendar year -- all shop-talk was put on hold. Everything was put on hold. Together, we needed that silent period together to begin to heal.
For a solid week, my spirit felt entirely broken, cracked and shattered into a million pieces that I feared I'd never find a way to mend. I knew I was in bad shape. I refused to leave the sofa. I refused to wear real clothes. I avoided phone calls and visits from people I love.
However, I knew things were real bad when I gave up on food. Real food, that is. I felt so deep in my sadness, I couldn't bear the thought of worrying about whether or not I consumed enough dark leafy greens for the day. I needed to rebel. But I don't smoke. I rarely drink. Food is kind of my thing. So rather than care for myself by way of the steaming pot of lemony chicken and vegetable soup Jay specially prepared for me, I insisted that we stock our house with all the processed, GMO, sugary, artificially-colored crap that I never, ever allow through the front door. And then I dove in.
For the next week, I filled myself with store-bought cookies and sodium-filled chips and canned soda and all the bad-for-me-things I never crave, let alone actually eat, while fresh bunches of broccoli rabe and tuscan kale yellowed and wilted in our fridge. By the end of the week, not only did I feel completely unhealthy, but strangely, completely unlike myself.
On Monday, we both finally pulled ourselves off the couch, forced ourselves to get dressed (like real people, not sweatpant-clad college kids) and took our first steps back into our normal life. We showered (big step). We went to work (bigger step). And then, very slowly, over the course of the next several days, we meandered our way back into our kitchen, still littered with boxes of store-bought brownie mix and bags of greasy potato chips.
Our home kitchen is a humble little space. It consists of outdated laminate countertops, faux wood cabinets and multiple cracked floor tiles. It is not what you might expect. I complain about it a lot, to be honest, but little by little, as I found myself back in our kitchen, finally strong enough to toss the Oreos and tortilla chips that had accumulated on our island, I found myself feeling infinitely grateful for the space.
About midway through the week, I was the first to arrive home, at that faded late afternoon hour when the light outside is not quite sure if it wants to be night or day. I knew Jay wouldn't be home for a few hours, and already my stomach was growling. As I set down my things and entered our kitchen to hang up my coat and my keys, I felt immediately tempted by the box of stale donut holes before me. It'd be so easy to grab the whole box, curl back up on the couch and indulge in a solid cry. But I knew I couldn't go on that way forever. I knew that, at some point, I'd need to admit to myself that, despite our tragedy, we still had a life to live, a life that likely required nutrients not found in a box of processed frosting.
I forced myself to throw the box away.
Then, slowly, I opened our refrigerator and our cabinets for the first time in days. At random, I began to pull out whatever items remained -- a half-decent looking apple, a mason jar filled with oats from a previous baking project -- and, without thinking, got back to work.
Though the feelings of our tragedy still lingered inside me, I soon found myself becoming lost in the familiar sounds and movements of preparing a meal -- the smooth slicing of the apples, the gentle bubbling of the oats.
I sat on our couch with this Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bowl propped on my lap just as the sky began to lose the last sliver of daylight. There, in the solitude and silence of our home, I forced myself to eat something real. I could feel my whole body begin to warm again, each of my senses slowly awakening. Food does that sometimes. While I knew at that moment that we still had a long road ahead of us, with each warm bite, I found my whole being began to feel more nourished, my mind drifting toward the belief that with just a few more simple, whole, home cooked meals, I might begin to feel whole again.
Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bowls
- 1/4 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 apple, cored, peeled and cubed
- 1/4 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats
- pinch of coarse salt
- 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Drizzle the olive oil into a small sauté pan set over medium heat. Add the apple and the brown sugar and sauté until the apple pieces are almost tender, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the oats according to the package instructions. Once fully cooked, turn off the heat and add the salt and the almond milk to the oats and stir until the almond milk is well incorporated. Pour the oat mixture into a bowl and add the maple syrup, the cinnamon and the still warm apples. Serve immediately.