Wolfing down a cheeseburger and fries alone in the quiet, empty back room of a restaurant (so no one can see me), I find myself humming along to my animalistic chewing and gulping. Head bopping side to side, happily swilling a pint of Coca-Cola and allowing crumbs to explode freely across my hair and face, I half-expect a doting adult to pat my head as I hungrily swing my legs back and forth underneath the banquette.
Flash back eight days and I’m carefully dissecting a delicate chicken breast with dainty silverware, softly scooting stray steamed veg out of the way and laughing graciously as I sip a flute of something fruity, casting loving eyes across the table.
Sporting my best LBD, my hair is freshly washed and “blow-dried.” I’m wearing perfume and a pair of shoes that are not Converse.
This is the life of a girl in a long-distance relationship. One minute you’re Holly Golightly, the next, you’re like one of those children who is accidentally raised by wolves before being restored to a human home at age 13. Priorities take an almighty shift, and a fridge full of kale, avocados and almond milk suddenly becomes a carnivorous wreckage speckled with half-eaten blocks of cheese and back-up Big Macs.
I like to allow myself a day of comfort eating when he leaves. This always turns into a week. At least.
The four weeks prior to arrival spent counting calories like a demented Sesame Street character tracking the four pounds I might lose and that he will 100 percent not notice take a dramatic turn. The scale is violently thrown into the back of my wardrobe, the mirrors are wrapped up in garbage bags and I descend into monstrous indulgence.
For normal people, this is what we call Christmas.
This is the “losing” of weight in order to bountifully “gain” it again over a two-week long period of what we will call “turkey,” but which actually means “chocolate, cake, cheese, bread, cake, candy, cake, shortbread and cake.”
However, when people want to lose weight, they eat turkey. Turkey curries, turkey salads, turkey turkeys.
So, let’s not lie to ourselves. It’s the diabetic comas we regularly induce via pudding and midnight trips to the fridge foraging for the leftover caramel sauce to spread on thick slices of toast that are the real killers here. Leave the poor turkeys out of it.
I have now come to the end of my tether. The word “food baby” has been thrown around a lot, and I felt a rush of fear as I thought someone was offering me their seat on the subway this morning (not the first time that this has happened, by the way).
Now, on my desk, I see a banana, an apple, a black coffee (because the tiny teaspoon of sugar and splash of skim is LETHAL and should NOT BE USED EVER) and some coconut water – for effect. The binge is over.
Then again, it is Halloween on Friday, and my colleagues are insisting on over-stocking the office with candy “just in case” we get trick-or-treaters. They have been doing this since August, so my guess is this is another version of Christmas where we blame the babies dressed up as pumpkins for our rising blood pressure.
This sugar-pile must be avoided at all costs, but I am weak. So very weak.
Seven weeks until I return to the Green Isle for Christmas – actual Christmas – and the “diet” must resume. This is the endless long-distance cycle of self-preservation/abuse.
Some people tell me it’s “unhealthy” (of course it is), but I tell them it is “the ONLY way to cope” – and, more often than not, it is. Each departure is like a miniature stint of grief, and must be treated with nurturing care, love and treats.
A male friend of mine (yes, I do have some of those) is also in a New York City–Ireland long-distance relationship (I need to come up with an abbreviation for this), and has recently taken to growing questionable facial hair which he then shaves into “fun shapes” while wearing a pair of old white Asics runners. This paired with a colorful array of over-sized shirts make him look like a man called Terry who is a regular at a pub in Yorkshire where he exclusively drinks dirty pints of ale which he pronounces “pahhnts.”
However, once his girlfriend arrives, he will return to a clean-cut, clean-shaven, skinny jean and slim-fit shirt wearing, boot clad Brooklyn boy with a book under his arm and a faint whiff of aftershave.
For all of you who have seen and/or remember the British TV show "Stars in Their Eyes" (where regular plebs dress up as famous singers and then actually sing song on stage – it’s amazing), these transformations remind me of the moment right before they disappear into the backstage transformation mist.
There Terry stands in his baggy jumper and doc martens, puffs up his chest and says to the presenter “Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be…. (audience holds breath) Rod Stewart.” (applause applause applause). Terry returns as a pretty convincing Rod Stewart, and for a butcher working at Tesco’s he’s got a pretty solid set of pipes and everyone is highly impressed. Good on ya, Terry.
So I am a Terry. Even the last week’s Skype sessions have been conducted in the dark to hide my burger-filled face and swollen eyes (from weeping uncontrollably).
Long-distance is hard, and we are ALLOWED to fall apart a little during the immediate aftermath of shipping our significant other off to the airport, okay? If I could grow some really disgusting facial hair, I would!
For now, the seemingly insurmountable uphill climb towards Christmas looms ahead, and I begrudgingly dig the scale back out from the wall into which it was flung a mere eight days ago. Not only do I have to look fabulous for my boyfriend, but for the inevitable slew of family photographs that will haunt me for the entire year if I return looking like the Terry I currently resemble.
So, I remove the garbage bags from the mirrors and say to myself, “Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be…”