Upon finishing the salad, I wouldn't be anywhere close to satisfied. I wouldn't be in the same hemisphere as satisfied. And the sound of that dissatisfaction, like a drumbeat in the center of my brain, would grow louder and louder.
Pum-pum. I could have had a burger. I had seen the cafeteria workers cooking burgers on a griddle. There were burgers to be ordered. I could have had one.
Pum-PUM. Macaroni and cheese. There was macaroni and cheese. It looked sort of congealed and stiff at the edges. I love it when it's sort of congealed and stiff at the edges.
PUM-PUM. Remember the smell of the hot oil that still clung to the fried chicken on the food line? And the way the chicken seemed to have a palpable crispness? And yet ... and yet ... the breading didn't look all that thick. Could one piece, a breast, hurt so much? Hadn't Mom always said that white meat was less caloric than dark?
I'd go back to the food line. I'd get a fried chicken breast. I'd eat it, and then I'd worry — no, I'd conclude — that I'd miscalculated. That I'd eaten too much and would have to get rid of some of what I'd eaten. This decision made, I'd get an ice-cream sandwich. And a cookie. Two cookies, actually. If I was going to empty my stomach — if I was going to go through all of that messy, beet-faced trouble — I might as well make the most of the buildup, might as well acknowledge and address all my cravings and satisfy them. That way, I'd be less tempted the next day. I'd be less likely to need to throw up.
Off to the second-floor bathroom in the back corner of the student union I'd go. I'd walk in, listen for the sounds of anyone else, bend down and glance under the stalls to check for feet, making sure the coast was clear. I'd stop briefly at the sink, turn on the water and moisten the index and middle fingers on my right hand, so that they'd slide more easily down my throat. Two fingers were better than one. They brought the gagging on faster.
Throwing up wasn't the first weight-management strategy I tried after I got to Carolina and realized how many pizza deliveries were made to the dorm every hour after noon and how many pints of Häagen-Dazs were scattered through convenience stores and snack bars and how irresistible the South's biscuits were, especially when cradling eggs, cheese and sausage.
First I signed up for a physical-education class, a twice-weekly regimen of calisthenics that had the additional benefit of fulfilling some requirement. But at the initial meeting of the class, the teacher talked about something called a body-fat index, then produced a contraption with pinchers to grab and measure any folds of fat around our waists. We had to roll up our T-shirts so the measurement could be made. I registered a higher body fat index than half of the other students. And dropped the class later that same day.
Then I became a vegetarian, figuring I wouldn't have to be vigilant about how much I ate if I limited the categories of food I allowed myself. When friends got hamburgers, I got grilled cheese. I ate plain pizza instead of pepperoni. O.K., so I sometimes ate five or six slices, but wasn't the food I was giving my body supposed to be easier to digest than meat, and wouldn't my body respond by digesting and getting rid of it more easily? I believed that for about four weeks, after which point it became clear that my particular approach to vegetarianism wasn't making me thin.