by Kelly Kathleen Ferguson
Most people squeal when the iconic neon HOT NOW sign signals a fresh batch of Krispy Kreme’s Original Glazed®. God, they moan, gripping my arm, I love those freaking doughnuts. I smile but my lips are thin. I bow my head in reverence—and clutch my stomach.
I was once a Southern girl who delighted in the Krispy Kremes. Like all kids in the Alabama ‘burbs. I loved going with my parents to select a dozen. Once in the door we time-traveled back to the fifties—to an era of chipper employees in paper hats, gleaming tile, bar stools, and chrome. The crystalline-sugared beauties glittered in their display case. After debating the classic to cream-filled ratio, selecting each gem with care, we returned home where I grabbed the box of joy and stuffed my little face. This was the 70s. Back then teachers and parents didn’t monitor sugar consumption. Little Debbie Snackin’ Cakes were a food group.
Alas, my guilt-free bliss was short lived. All too soon I discovered that I would be judged for my body, and that this body needed to be thin. I was in third grade when I proclaimed myself “fat” in a bikini. That first time my inner thighs made contact as I walked home from the pool, I freaked. By junior high, the battle against my body began in earnest. I studied the instructions in women’s magazines, devising architectural plans for my body. I scooped cantaloupe and asked Mom to buy Melba toast. My best friend and I went on the Beverly Hills Diet and ate papaya until we got the runs. I don’t know how it is I have bones, as I spent my formative years drinking Diet Coke for meals.
At first, the ritual of dieting added mystique. I weighed boneless chicken breasts and measured celery like a chemist. I computed and scheduled according to the rules. But it wasn’t long before all this ounce of this and half an ounce of that business got old. I discovered it was easier to not eat. My body was changing, ballooning, betraying me—but with discipline, I could change it back. Then I’d be popular and boys would like me and life would be perfect.
But I was hungry. My young body craved fuel. I grew so fast I still have the stretch marks on my thighs, which I naturally mistook for cellulite. Nights I lay in bed and recanted my eating day bite by bite, counting calories like sheep. I devised schemes such as ordering Chicken McNuggets but peeling the coating off, or chewing food only to spit it out in the trashcan.
“Oh God, just eat something,” my mother would say, exasperated at my dinner plate picking, knowing later she’d find a Texas gallon of ice cream missing from the basement freezer.
“I’m full,” I lied.
Such was my eating life until the occasion of a particular family barbeque. These neighborhood gatherings were the dieter’s nightmare. While normal eaters came over to grill meat, drink beer, and har har har, I spent the entire event trying not to eat. At these public events people watched to see what I put on my plate. They wanted to make sure I scooped a hearty portion of their creamy casserole and tithed at the Church of Duke's Mayonnaise. Nightmarish were the piles of hamburgers, hot dogs, potato chips and brownies.
Then there was the Krispy Kreme tower. Every Southern cookout, potluck, or gathering featured a giant stack of these boxes. The Alabama fundraising product of choice, the green and white polka dots were omnipresent, everyone hoping to unload their dutiful support of junior varsity football teams and marching bands. Compounding the problem was the yeasty Krispy Kreme doughnut’s brief shelf life. From the moment the HOT NOW sign is lit, the value plummets, with each passing minute the sugared fat begins to taste less like magic and more like sugared fat. Getting the family to “eat ‘em up” became more of a chore with each passing day. Just when progress seemed possible, another cheerleading squad knocked at the door.
This particular summer afternoon I went through the usual routine of pretending to fill my plate, when all I really ate was a slice of lettuce and tomato. The grownups were too far into the Milwaukee’s Best to notice. They wanted to sit around the back deck and forget they were parents. I snuck away to avoid malt-breathed interrogations. How’s school? Do you have a boyfriend? I hid. I read. I watched TV. I stared at the wall. The entire time all I thought about was the buffet. This was the main problem with dieting in the suburbs—life was so boring there was nothing to do but think about food.
I slunk back to the buffet “just to look.” I picked at some Fritos and cut the ends off a few brownies, but that was all. Getting a plate meant admitting defeat. I needed a way to circumvent my complex regulations and my brain, low on fuel, was beginning to turn in on itself.
Then I saw the green and white tower—and I cracked. I snagged a box and scuttled back to my room.
The first five went down like butter. Anyone familiar with these glazed sweets knows that even past their prime, they require the merest gesture of a chew. Krispy Kremes belly flop down in a gleeful slip n’ slide to the stomach. Within a minute my hibernating mechanisms of digestion cranked back into full operation, my body roaring as it remembered how much it liked food after all. I was in vanilla euphoria. It wasn’t until number eight that my stomach began to send up warning flares. Hey Kelly, maybe this is enough? Um, Kelly? But my mouth wasn’t listening. As I closed in on the dozen, which signaled a sort of finish line, I began to cramp as the once delectable sugars began to ferment. No matter. I was no longer eating out of hunger. Now I chewed to fill the void. There was an emptiness inside from all the denial and hatred directed to-wards my body, but Krispy Kreme would complete me.
I went and grabbed another box, my heart flitting in rapid fire from a mixture of guilt, sugar rush, and early onset diabetes. By now each bite was self-abuse—eating was punishment I deserved for wanting to eat. I could sense the impending sugar free fall. All I could do now was make this hurt as much as possible before I crashed. I crammed in the sugary evil as fast as I could, polishing off a second box. I stared at the crystal residue and for a dizzy moment contemplated the grease stained sides—a mistake—for hesitation was my undoing. The saccharine bolus in my stomach came to life with a tidal lurch.
Which got me thinking.
I snuck into my parent’s bathroom and locked the door. Picnickers lolled and laughed outside the window as I rifled the medicine chest for a remedy my mom had kept since I was a kid and ingested a bottle of dandruff shampoo. I excavated the ancient bottle of ipecac syrup—a crusty-capped relic with the label yellowed and peeling off. This medicine would cure me. I could be right back out before I was missed, the entire mortifying event put behind me. I downed a shot straight from the bottle, choking down the bitter taste of poison.
I knelt over the toilet and waited. I coughed. I gagged a bit. But the expired medicine only angered the beast, which now roared in complaint. I graduated from bellyache to full-on torment. Desperate, I stuck my finger down my throat. Nothing. Turns out I had just discovered I have a stubborn gag reflex. Now my throat was all scratchy from my fingernail and coughing as the Krispey Kremes waged war inside of me. I panicked, waiting to hear someone to ask where I was, or need to use the bathroom. But I was determined to finish my mission.
I went out for another box and dragged it back to my porcelain lair. Eating in the bath-room was a new low, I knew this. My logic was that I needed to push the writhing, syrupy, glob past the tipping point. Chew after sugar-glazed chew I force fed myself and chased the next batch down with more ipecac. I rolled on the bathroom floor, counted brown tiles, the caulked lines, and finally, the tiny black hairs on the tiles. I prayed to a recently-discovered God for an end to this misery. My answer was the cold silence of the universe. As soon as I could muster the strength, I crawled off to bed to suffer. That night the only remedy for overeating would be a gut-wrenching night of old-fashioned digestion. I might have continued a mental battle with food issues, but I would never again try to purge.
Since I’ve left home, I’ve lived too far North for the Southern doughnut chain to appear very often, so I often forget to give thanks to Krispy Kreme for its contribution to my healthier lifestyle—I don’t eat donuts or regurgitate my dinner. My last encounter took place at Point Clear, Alabama. That evening I strolled the boardwalk that semi-circles the Mobile Bay and absorbed the warm, briny air. One story, old wood houses built by a lost generation of Southern money surrounded the lapping water. These homes feature simple, open construction so the water can swish in and out during floods and hurricanes, a system that worked for almost hundred years—until Katrina.
Alabama being the state that spells Tradition with a capital “T,” most owners rebuilt in the old style. All the owners except for one, Billy Dorgan, the local Mr. Krispy Kreme owner of several franchises. Much to the chagrin of the old guard, Dorgon built a Tara-inspired behemoth. The house is beyond overmuch—too many stories high, too wide, with too many windows and giant columns. I stood in front and imagined the interior. Bloated, golden cherubs, gilded mirrors, oil portraits, and chandeliers appropriate for a pre-revolutionary Versailles. No doubt a gaping foyer split the house open with a sweeping staircase, so the Lady of the Manor could run down in her hot pink Juicy Couture trailed by a pack of white poodles to sign off on the delivery of Faberge eggs. I lightly touched my midsection in homage.
|Kelly Kathleen Ferguson is the author of My Life as Laura: How I Searched for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Found Myself (Press 53, 2011). Her work has appeared in mental_floss magazine, Poets & Writers, The Gettysburg Review (for which she received a Pushcart nomination), McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Brevity, among other publications. She has an MFA from the University of Montana and a a PhD in creative nonfiction from Ohio University. Kelly is a Libra, Cancer rising, Aquarian moon. She is Irish/French/German, lapsed Roman Catholic, and right-brained. Kelly once received a minority scholarship for a machinist certification program at Durham Technical Community College. When Kelly was four, she ate a moth ball and had to have her stomach pumped, or she would have died. Find her at www.kellykathleenferguson.com.|