Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Velveteen Grapefruit and the Practice of Pain

At the bar the other night (The bar!  How novel, to go to the bar again!), a friend was telling me about his aversion to brown spots on bananas.  It seems that he nursed many a high school hangover working at an ice cream parlor where his job was to un-sheath over-ripe bananas in a cloud of fruit flies, and he finds himself transported to that place whenever he encounters the slightest hint of senescence.

Food associations have been on my mind lately.  The other morning I peeled a grapefruit, and as I began to eat it, I found myself back on Mercy 3B, in that constant awareness of the struggle for sustenance and the psychic significance of wholesome food.  Will a grapefruit always take me there?  I am reminded of the velveteen rabbit in the famous children's story, who carried the boy's illness for him and was rewarded for his devotion by being tossed on the burn pile.  Is there a kitchen-magic fairy who will take away the cancer-embodying grapefruits and turn them into Real?
Apotheosis of the Grapefruit
 I adore grapefruits, their perfect play of bitter and sweet.  Wallace adores them too; he would eat a dozen a day if I could afford them.  They remind me of my grandmother, with whom I also associate crisply made beds of ancient, silky sheets, and the Reader's Digest.  Did she even get the Reader's Digest?  I don't know.  Certainly she got Yankee Magazine; if you knew her you would understand the necessity of this.  As for Reader's Digest, I can't remember, but it's an association nonetheless.  I digress; allies and detractors alike will tell you that I am a terrible one for digressions.  That and hyperbole.  But I digress further, and now this has gotten awfully self-conscious.

Probably, I should not have been at the bar.  Certainly my struggling immune system does not require fancy beers and pub food, but my soul does so I favored it for the night over my other concerns.  The cold that became a sinus infection became an ear infection and has now become a ruptured eardrum.  My homeopath says this is all wonderful; having been relieved of its responsibilities to manage my errant and murderous marrow, it can turn its attention to those petty punks, the vulgar viruses.  I can be rebuilt.  The sinus infection was rather mundane, just days of relentless headaches and green slime.  On the other hand, the ear infection was exciting and dramatic.  I bounded from my bed, shrieking in agony, and rifled through my home remedies in a madness of pain.  Imagine my kitchen as the cinema laboratory of a crazed scientist: innumerable little vials, amorphous blobs infusing in beakers, flasks lying broken in pools of oddly-colored and viscous liquids.  While hoping for something to take effect, I propped myself up in the guest bed and waited for the cleansing fever to come wash away the bacteria.

Pain is wonderfully clarifying; it is a great tool for meditative focus.  When one is experiencing acute and piercing pain, one does not worry about the disintegration of wealth or the violent death throes of the empire.  One does not dwell on the obstinacy of the family budget or the inexorable aging of one's beloved automobile.  Nor does the mind linger on whether to start a business or move the whole family onto a boat and sail to Tahiti.  There is no anxiety in a week's worth of unopened mail or the prospect of managing the care of two small children on an hour of sleep.  There is just pain, exquisite and sublime, offering a respite for the hamster on the wheel in my head.  So bitter, so sweet.


  1. What a wonderful post Sarah. It's got me thinking maybe I should stab myself in the foot to escape my own hamster. Damn thing won't leave me alone. You know it took me six years to be able to eat a tofu dog after an unfortunate experience with a stomach bug after eating a couple one night.

  2. This is why I told you to eat nothing but butterscotch lifesavers, or something equally disgusting, the whole time.
    Seriously, though, grapefruit with transcend. Don't worry.