Protein Bars

– What is it that you’re hungry for, girl?

She hid her face behind her palms. Spread out beneath her was a kitchen table full of snacks – candy bars, pretzels, soft sponge cakes, a variety of nuts deposited into square containers, bowls of chips, gummy bears, granola bars and pigs-in-a-blanket covered every square inch of the polished wooden surface. Amanda agonized, guiltily at her denial of the perfectly fine food spread out in front of her, and selfishly at her immovable knowledge that none of it was just what she wanted.

Not that she knew what she wanted.

Her mother smacked the kitchen towel against the fake marble counter and exited the room, muttering under her breath about having spoiled her children too much. Amanda thought she heard the word “brat”, but that may have just been a projection from her mind. She fiddled with the thick blanket scarf around her neck, tucked it in more tightly around her hair and got up from the chair, avoiding eye contact with the explosion of colors still staring at her from the table. Feeling angry and exasperated at once, she made for her car, parked outside in amidst the dirty days-old frozen snow.

Once in the driver’s seat, every hair on her body standing up and protesting the biting cold, she turned the key but didn’t immediately press the heat button, knowing it would be a while until the engine warmed up enough. In a way, the cold was a relief from the emptiness in her stomach, the shaped bottomless pit that seemed to dominate the area where her digestive organs should be. Why couldn’t she just eat something, anything? But no sooner would that practical thought enter her mind, her insides would twist in agony, preferring to choose nothing rather than anything.

In auto-pilot, her hands around the steering wheel guided her to White Castle. She went through the drive-thru line, twice, and left empty handed, having confused the cashier who finally decided it must’ve been a poorly executed prank. Amanda sat in the parking lot for six minutes, drove around for another twenty and decided to park the red vehicle at the Chick-fil-A for no other reason than it seemed aesthetically pleasant. Inside, she ordered large fries, proceeded to walk back outside and then threw them in the polished black trashcan, not a look behind her as she pulled her keys back out from the coat pocket.

The sky today was a dull gray – the gray of winter, the deep in-betweenness of black and white materialized as layer upon layer of fat cloud, not only alienating all sunlight but making it seem like the sun rays would never reach this piece of Earth again. Gray skies, red car, white coat, pale skin. She sighed as she took her position in the driver’s seat again, and had an idea. The wrapper of a protein bar she used to love was still stuck to the cup holder, and she thumbed through it as if to find a crumb; she could never find this specific flavor in the store anymore. She felt mad at herself. Picking up the scraps you see because the food in front of you doesn’t seem to make you full, she thought. Scraps and crumbs because nothing was good enough to sound good anymore.

She ran a red light on the way to the Walmart, and parked her car askew; Amanda then walked up and down every aisle, even the ones for dog food, even the ones for baby toys, all the while wondering what was wrong with her and didn’t chili sound good? She could make some. She could pick out every ingredient, down to each salt grain, and make it herself. A vision of her hands on the kitchen table, sifting through an infinity of grains of salt made her feel powerful. She could do the same to the black pepper. She could add candy to it if she felt like it – nothing was stopping her – but the thought of cooking overwhelmed her, so she perused the cans of pre-made chilis instead.

Amanda must’ve handled what were 30 or 40 cans, sometimes of the same brand. She grabbed 2, walked down to the pasta aisle, dropped them in the same row as the macaroni and walked away again, deciding she would eat whatever was at home and erase the ungrateful child image from her mother’s mind.

Wishful thinking – no sooner had she gotten back yet again into the driver’s seat, her stomach growled and she hit her head gently against the steering wheel, fingertips frozen against it. She thought longingly of a pastry she had had in Japan once, out of all places, and fantasized about getting on a plane to Tokyo right now, carrying just her purse and her car keys. The airport was only an hour away, but her bank account wasn’t exactly a supporter of these plans, still drained from the past semester at school. Resigned at her fate, Amanda drove back home, where she parked behind the naked yard tree and accidentally slammed the front door, causing the holiday wreath to lose a few fake apples attached to it by glue. She didn’t notice. She walked inside and marched to her room, stomach empty, eyes hollow, mind confused. She was hungry – why couldn’t she just eat?

But it wasn’t that simple, no, she thought. Sitting on the edge of her bed as she took off her boots, she reckoned that some days it just isn’t enough. Food is a luxury – and she felt fortunate, and disgusted at herself for even going through this issue in the first place – but food is vastly different from food. She didn’t want a candy bar, pretzels, soft sponge cakes, a variety of nuts deposited into square containers, bowls of chips, gummy bears, granola bars or pigs-in-a-blanket; she didn’t want a White Castle burger or pre-made canned chili; she wanted the feeling she had when she had put that Tokyo pastry past her lips. It was a longing and craving so real she felt like crying (although at this point maybe it was just her weak body really begging for any food) but instead, she grabbed the Snickers bar from her nightstand and took a bite, an unfulfilling bite, an empty bite. An offensive bite. And she found that it satisfied her hunger – but not really.

Can the soul be hungry in a different way than the body?