On Breakfast Cereal

I just downloaded the new Word for Mac, and I opened up some old documents to test the program out. In doing so, I found this memoir that I wrote three years ago though I never posted it anywhere. It made me laugh, so I thought I would share.

* * *

With my chin propped on my right fist, I stared at the ingredients list of the carton of soy milk in front of me. Low calories, low fat, low carbs. A little fiber. Lots of protein and calcium. Plenty of riboflavin, whatever that is. Maybe it’s a B vitamin. I made a mental note to look that up later.

I untwisted the cap and poured a small amount into my glass. I stared at the white liquid for a few seconds, then drank it. Swallowing, I set the glass down. Then I returned my soy milk to the refrigerator, reached for the fat-free peach-flavored yogurt, and finished eating breakfast.

*

The next morning, I found myself staring at the soy milk carton again. This time, however, the milk was joined by a box of healthy, grown-up cereal, a spoon, and a bowl that once belonged to my grandmother. Using a white plastic measuring cup, I measured out three-quarters of a cup of cereal and dumped it into the bowl. Once I started pouring the milk over the cereal, I began to question myself. How much should I pour? When should I stop? Should I pour just enough to wet the cereal, or should the cereal be completely covered?

Finally, I stopped, realizing the amount of milk really didn’t matter. I slid the spoon into the bowl and pushed the cereal around, enjoying the sound of  the flakes hitting against the spoon. As I put the first spoonful of cereal and milk into my mouth, I realized that I was experiencing this for the first time in my life. At twenty-two years old, I had never eaten a bowl of cereal and milk.

As a baby, I had been diagnosed with a milk allergy, so I avoided most dairy products as a child. Eventually, I was able to eat cheese and ice cream, but I never liked the taste of milk. As a secondary result, I rarely ate cereal, save the occasional bowl of dry Froot Loops, which I sorted by color. First, I ate pink, then orange, then green, and finally purple and blue together because they’re my favorite colors. But I never drank milk.

Until now. A few weeks before, I’d been diagnosed with diabetes. In addition to insulin and other medication, my doctor put me on a 1,500-calorie diet. I had to have a certain amount of dairy products per day, and the dietician suggested I try soy milk, which, combined with grown-up, healthy cereal instead of my beloved Froot Loops, became just one example of the dietary changes diabetes had forced upon me.

So I sat at my kitchen table, eating cereal and milk for the first time and wondering whether I actually liked what I was eating. The cereal tasted good, but wet? And combined with milk? I started thinking absurdly. Who was the first person to pour milk on cereal? And how many other Americans were eating the same breakfast at that moment?

I finally finished the cereal, then looked into the bowl at all the milk left. Should I drink it? I imagined myself tilting the bowl into my mouth and slurping, but that didn’t appeal to me. Neither did drinking it with a spoon. So I ended up pouring the milk down the drain. After putting the cereal and milk away, I realized that, although this could be some sort of rite-of-passage in my life, I still had no idea how I felt about cereal and milk.

I vowed to try again the next week . . . after I got tired of yogurt.

* * *

For the record, I was right. Riboflavin is vitamin B2.

Also, I still don’t like cereal and milk. I tried it a few more times after that first one, but I’m not a fan. Give me cereal bars, low-sugar oatmeal, cinnamon rolls, omelets, almost any breakfast food, but not cereal and milk.

Another note: although it sounds made-up, I really did measure out the cereal. During those first few months, I counted every bite that I put in my mouth, exerting superb amounts of control over the food I ate. I was afraid of eating one flake too many. 🙂

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Morning. Evening. Autumn.

 Awake and Alive

7:40 a.m. Morning always comes too soon. I’m never quite ready to face the world, but the 25 minute drive to work helps. I drive the same route, see the same sights, and sometimes pass the same motorists. I’m in the world, but still secluded. I can see other people, but I don’t have to interact with anyone just yet.

The drive is ritualistic. I know that, depending on the music, I can generally get through six tracks on a CD. I watch the dashboard clock and know that if I don’t turn onto a certain road by 7:54, I’ll be late for work. I scan the drivers of other vehicles, hoping to spot a familiar face. My co-worker Mary, perhaps, taking her daughters to school. The lady who wear an awesome cowboy hat and drives a red Jeep. Others that I recognize but will never know. We’re each isolated. We occupy the same space, but never interact.

I watch others’ rituals, too. Sometimes, I count the people drinking coffee, the people on cell phones, the women putting on mascara in their rearview mirrors.  

I also observe progression. Gas prices, displayed on roadside signs, rise and fall. A church is almost finished with its new building. New houses, built mere feet apart, appear in a growing subdivision. Leaves transform from green to gold, burgundy, and brown.

During the last five minutes of my drive, however, the observation ends. I turn off the busier highway onto a curving back road, and the interaction begins. I drive with the window down. Leaves flutter down to the pavement, then swirl up again as I drive past. Some mornings, fog lies low on the landscape, cloaking the ponds, farms, and cows in a supernatural mist. The sun hovers above mountains painted in autumn colors.

I’m awake and alive. I’m part of this creation. And I’m ready for the day to begin.  

 

Headlights on Dark Roads

9:30 p.m. On my way home, I drive the same roads in reverse. Rarely do I make this drive in the dark, but I stayed on campus after work to watch a movie with friends. I’m tired, so I roll the window down, but a chill pervades the air. I compromise by turning the heat on and pulling down my sweatshirt sleeves. Autumn is here, and it’s too good not to be breathed in as often as possible.

The road is unfamiliar in the dark. Reflectors and yellow lines shine in the glow from my headlights. The autumn leaves, so bright and colorful in the mornings, seem dull and muted, but still beautiful. Stars hover in the clear sky.

I’m alone, but not lonely. Solitary, but not isolated. The road feels like home. I feel grounded. My identity is solid. I have no one to impress, no one who needs me. In this moment in time, nothing bothers me. Only this moment exists: the cool November air filling my lungs, the black asphalt running beneath me, the music that I love vanquishing the silence.

I’m finally where I belong.

Beauty and Truth

Several years ago, I blogged avidly, even obsessively. My readers were mostly my best friends, and just in case we didn’t spend enough time together in reality, we interacted virtually through our blogs, as well. Around the same time, we were all also taking a life and memoir writing class, and valiantly defending the act of blogging as a form of memoir writing.

Then I started to burn out. I had writer’s block, or I didn’t feel like what I was saying was worthwhile. For about a year, I blogged only infrequently, until I started my totally diabetic-related blog, “The [Artificially] Sweet Life,” in April. Even now, I update only when I feel it’s necessary, unlike before, when I often wrote several posts in a day.

Now, however, I’ve decided to attempt another blog, hopefully with better results. I do miss the community and the sharing of blogging. I miss having an account of my life that I can look back upon. Additionally, I’ve decided to take an advanced tutorial fiction writing class in January. Converse College, where I’m a graduate student, has a January semester, and all the classes are intense and accelerated and crammed into four weeks. The writing class is the best one to fit into my schedule, and I’m excited about it, as well as a little nervous. I feel as though I’m a better memoir writer than I am a fiction writer, but I’m excited by the challenge. To prepare for the class, though, I need to be writing more. Ergo, this blog. While I may attempt to post fiction, I might also post memoirs I’ve written or just write about life. What does it matter, as long as I’m writing, correct?

So to start off with, I’m going to post a memoir that I wrote in the spring. I actually submitted this piece to a Writer’s Digest contest just to see what happened. The results haven’t been announced yet. It was a national contest though, and I’m sure thousands of other aspiring writers submitted memoirs, as well. Still, this one is mine, and I’m proud of it. It’s really personal, as a memoir should be, and I wrote it in an effort to figure life out.

What is Beauty?

 

July 2004

            I sat in a darkened classroom, chin propped on my hand and pen poised above my notebook, gazing up at a projected image on the screen. The painter had rendered an image of a wrinkled, old woman, sheathed in a bright dress with a tight, low-cut bodice. Her fingers were threaded through several paste necklaces, and her sad eyes gazed out at the viewer. I thought she was hideous and pathetic . . . until Mr. Craft, my art appreciation professor, voiced a question that made me really see instead of just look:

            “Is this beauty?”

            Of course it isn’t, I thought. Why would he ask that?

            “I’m not asking if you like it. That’s a matter of taste. I’m asking if it’s beautiful,” he continued.

            I sat up straight in my seat. Could it be that this sad, old woman who sent shudders down my spine was beautiful?

            “We look at her with pity. We think she’s trying to look young again. But what do you think her husband would see? The man who’s been married to her for fifty years?”

            Mr. Craft paused again, and my classmates and I sat silent. Beauty. I rolled the word over and over in my mind, testing it, searching for meaning, thinking about it in a new way for the first time.

            I gazed at the old woman before me. Mr. Craft continued to expand upon the difference between taste and beauty. Between the subjective sense of beauty and the objective Beauty that is intertwined with Truth.

            Could it be that there was more to Beauty that merely attraction? And if that sense of Beauty applied to art, did it also apply to people? Is the cliché true? Does beauty go beyond the surface?

 

  

* * *

January 2005

            I stared down at the number on the scale, then compared it to the little book my friend Jessi held. To reach my target weight for my height, I would have to lose 100 pounds exactly.

            I stared horrified at Jessi before stepping off the scale. “There’s no way! One hundred pounds?” I felt the anxiety wash over me.

            “Don’t panic,” she said calmly. “You’re not going to lose it all at once. It’s a step-by-step process. That’s why we’re meeting together every week.”

            “Okay,” I said, reassuring her, but not feeling the panic dissipate. I took a deep breath and walked out of the bathroom and into my dorm room. I couldn’t stop the tears from welling up. Why had I never realized? And how was I ever going to overcome this?

 

* * *

January 2006

            I flicked the light off, climbed into bed, and heaved a sigh. Tears dropped onto my pillow, even while I silently berated myself for feeling so panicked.

            My friends had planned a surprise makeover day for me the next morning, which they had revealed to me only a few hours before. They weren’t giving me any time to make excuses. It was going to happen—willingly or unwillingly, on my part.

            They planned everything. A haircut at a spa downtown, makeup at the Laura Mercier counter at Belk, even new clothes, all to be followed by a reveal at a coffee shop downtown, where several of my friends were meeting us.

            It all sounded great. Any other girl would be excited. So why was I panicking?

            Inside, I believed it would do no good. Other girls were beautiful. I was not. I would never dare voice this to my friends. Instead, I had merely looked at them wide-eyed and asked, “Why?”

            They laughed. Explained that I only needed confidence, and a cute haircut and makeup could do that for me.

            I agreed, seeing as how I had no other option. I grinned nervously at their excited chatter. Eventually, I began to hope that maybe they were right.

            But alone, in the darkness in the middle of the night, hope withered away.  I let the tears fall, believing what I dared not admit aloud: “beauty” would never be a word used to describe me.

 

* * *

May 2008

            “He’s in a band!” I exclaimed.

            “So?” she asked.

            I paused. Shouldn’t that explain everything? I outlined all the reasons why he would never be interested in me: I’m a librarian, I’m awkward, I’m not one of those club-hopping scene kids. But most of all, he’s gorgeous and a musician and could probably have any girl he wanted. As I gushed about how amazing he is, my battered heart heaved a sigh of frustration and confusion.

“And I’m not beautiful.”

            When I said those words, I felt her anger. I looked away. I’d uttered the words aloud, finally. Dared her to contradict me.

            “What do you think beauty is?”

            I paused. “I’m not it. I’m not skinny and . . . ”

            “You look great! You’ve lost so much weight.”

            I shrugged, still unwilling to relent.

            Then she asked the question that just won’t go away:

            “How do you know you’re not beautiful if you don’t even know what beauty is?”