Addiction Story #16, Sweet Pea: Big Bowl of Popcorn Doesn’t Ease the Pain

Yesterday, rather than face up to and work/pray through unease and unhappiness, I tried to fill the void with popcorn for dinner. It did not help. Here is #16, Sweet Pea, in my flower-titled series about sugar and overeating addiction.

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Rosie O’Donnell and Meg Ryan (Becky and Annie) in “Sleepless in Seattle,” 1993. Note the popcorn bowl. Image from here.

At about 5:20 p.m. on Monday, I decided I would not/could not make do with the baked salmon and boil-in-bag white rice Dan and I had half-planned for dinner.

It was a snowing, sleeting, icy day — a day to long for a fire in the hearth and candles on the mantel — and part of me wished to have a large pizza pie delivered to our door. Comfort. Party. Fun.

I was bored. I craved something exciting, but Dan didn’t want to order steamed Chinese food with ginger and garlic broth so soon again, not with salmon in the fridge.

“I guess you’re never going to eat that fish I bought,” he said. He had caught it at ShopRite a couple of days ago.

We had another long, serious team meeting that day re. Skippy’s path and her place on it, our place on it. We have had many such powwows, with yet another coming up today.

In the Amazon Chime gathering with several professionals, and after it, I felt uneasy. Scared, resentful, angry, anxious, weak, guilty, ashamed, remorseful, regretful, unappreciated, unheard, misunderstood, shaky, doubtful, skeptical, faithless and taken for granted. Unloved, lonely. Wary. Powerless.

I could have felt supported, boosted up, with that team. For some reason, I accentuated the negative in my mind.

Even after everything on this road, that is how I felt. I’m using my words.

Dan and I both showed up, sat together on the tan sofa (we have two, one green, one tan) listening and talking with the other shepherds helping to guide Skip’s path.

But he and I seem to be on opposite ends of the causeway.

I want to say here and now that I trust we will meet in the middle, but it’s difficult for me to trust that.

I am self-willed and want to steer life my way, right now.

I pray for patience and guidance and calm. And faith. I pray for faith that things will work out as they should.

As I wrote before, if I pave my path with bricks of sugar, it will dissolve under my feet in storms, winds of adversity. I will not have steady grounding.

Same is true for a walkway, or bridge, pasted together with popcorn.

Back to that pizza wish. Getting a pie was a highlight for me in a sometimes dull life.

Drive back with me now, through the 2000s, the nineties, the eighties. Back with me now to quiet Dumont, New Jersey, in the 1970s. It might take us a while. No power steering, no Google Maps.

The high school is historic —the old, original gym holds musty lacrosse sticks and archery supplies from days gone by. They look like ancient field relics. The varnished wood floor is warped and our sneakers squeak when we run and stop. We have to wear gym suits for class. Mine is a hand-me-down from Sis, green and loose. Everyone else has a new blue one.

Freight trains screech and lurch along the railroad tracks, holding up traffic on New Milford Avenue when we try to get to church on time.

Many teens in town, Catholic or not, gather outside Saint Mary’s after Saturday evening Mass to find out where the parties are. Not me. I go to 12:45 p.m. Sunday Mass with my Mom.

I like CYO dances, and the fall Barn Dance in the new gym at the high school, with hay stacks and flannel shirts. Lucky star-dusted couples slow dance to “Michelle.”

I watch, or dance when Barry Davis’s band plays faster songs, maybe “Aqualung” by Jethro Tull. I have slim hips, a flat stomach, a lace-trimmed bra, brown five-pocket jeans.

When we get our driver’s licenses, we steer our parents’ cars to the next town, Bergenfield, for the record store, brightly lit Matthew’s Diner, maybe the Mandee’s clothing store, or to Paramus Park Mall. I stop in Woolworth’s, with its worn lunch counter and red stools (don’t know why I went, but not for lunch) and the Florence Shop for small gifts, wrapped for free in shiny paper with bows.

Dumont has a heart, and people who care, it’s just not very exciting, at least for a teen like me.

Oh Sweet Pea come on and dance with me
Come on, come on, come on and dance with me
Oh Sweet Pea won’t you be my girl
Won’t you, won’t you, won’t you be my girl

— “Sweet Pea,” Tommy Roe, 1966

So it was a small-town thrill, a treat, when Dad or I dialed Uncle Frank’s from our black rotary phone (our number was DU5–2631) to order a pizza on a Friday in my eighth grade or freshman year. The pizza parlor still stands on Veterans Plaza, by the Post Office and near the old location for Denaro’s sub shop. A beauty salon was next-door — photos of women with updos hung in the window. Their glamorous eyes looked out from ornate gold picture frames.

Fresh pizza was great in a rotation of family suppers made in the kitchen, including hamburgers, spaghetti with meat sauce, fish sticks, Chun King chow mein from a supermarket kit, tuna noodle casserole in a round silver chaving dish, chuck steak slid under the broiler and, for something special, Chicken à la King, made with canned cream of mushroom soup.

Uncle Frank’s is still the best pizza I have ever had.

Dad would take me to Uncle Frank’s (which opened in 1970) after he got home from work. I went in with the cash and emerged with the large white box. On the side, in red print, words like PEPPERONI, MUSHROOMS, PEPPERS. We were purists, and penny watchers. Those choices were not checked for us.

I held the magic flying saucer on my lap as we drove home in the dark in our compact green Datsun, past the high school track, Mrs. Potenski’s house (she sent over a whole tin of homemade peanut butter cookies just for me), back up New Milford Avenue and onto Bedford Road — all the houses I knew so well, framed by the crank-up windows in our time-travel vessel.

Around the bend, across from the railroad tracks, the home of the Car Family, Dad’s name, because they had so many cars, in various stages of repair. Fleetwood Road, where my close friend Fritch lived. The house on the corner of Sherwood, where the mother took care of a son with severe physical disabilities. The house where Mr. Curry, our gym teacher at Saint Mary’s, lived.

Ranger Road — home of Girl Scout leader Mrs. Verga, in her green, buttoned and belted uniform, and her daughter Dorothy, with a good, true smile. Forest Road, where my pals Maureen and Tish lived. The road where Aggie’s house was — she was my first-grade friend.

We passed the house with a boy and a story that scared me, about the parents sometimes chaining him up in the basement. I knew the boy, and the parents, and the sister. I did not believe that.

The homes of the Cinques, the Yales.

Across from Bedford Park, where I pumped on the swings, the swings with the metal chains, and swooshed down the slide —the Rauth house. It held my brother Will’s friend, Gerry; his brother, Johnny; a blonde older sister with a VW Bug; a cute, stout dog named Lady; and a nice mom with glasses who always ordered Girl Scout cookies.

The home of the beautiful Moran girls and their Irish mother, so lovely, with a complexion like Ivory soap and pink roses. The house where Mr. Menzer, the piano teacher, lived with his mother. Kelly Ann’s house. The Komlos. Then, our house.

Our house, #187, snowball bush outside, little set of steps from the old driveway that Dad tarred himself.

Pizza with Dad. (My older three siblings are not in this memory — I think they were otherwise engaged or away at college. Mom was not a pizza fan.)

Just like when we returned from the Garden State Farms store with a glass half-gallon of milk or from the Two Guys lot on Christmas Eve with the bargain evergreen — can you see us, can you see me and my good Dad?

We smiled, squared our shoulders and walked happily into our home. Ordinary by day, finding big magic in small moments on our occasional evening jaunts. Delivering the goods.

Pizza held other special spots in my girlhood.

My friend Moey’s bowling birthday party in Bergenfield, followed by lunch at Mr. Pizza on Washington Avenue.

When Lorraine’s Mom, from Italy, made pizza and cut it with her pizza scissors in their kitchen on Richard Drive. I was among the lucky few, the privileged.

The time Lorraine and I walked to Uncle Frank’s on a January Saturday, and she treated me to a slice and a soda for my birthday. The woman at the counter brought us each a second slice for free. Bonanza.

We did not order pizza last night.

Feeling the way I felt, it would have been unwise to bring a Grandma pie into the house — that much I knew. A single pizza slice topped with vegs, okay. But not a whole pie. I am learning to work through life without overeating. I am not ready to manage eight slices with two people in the house at the moment.

Nope, the popcorn didn’t fill the void.

Neither did the pricey California walnut oil I popped the corn in, nor the peanut butter, walnuts and raisins I tossed in the bowl for good measure (to make it more of a meal).

The snacky dinner did, however, leave me overfull and tired, asleep on the couch. Checked out for a while. It lulled me into darkness. I guess that was my goal.

About two hours later, after Dan had asked “What’s wrong?” several times, I finally talked about how I felt about the meeting. How I felt hurt in certain ways.

Then I had some of the salmon and white rice he had made for dinner.

That was nourishing.

And now, it’s just about time for our next Google Meet gathering.

P.S. Checking back in after the meeting to say it went well, that I trusted in others and their insights, not just my own. Also, I asked Dan to dress up the green salad I made for lunch and he did — with black and green olives, avocado, tomato, shredded Parmesan cheese. He made that healthful food exciting, and we each had a slice of pizza (from a frozen box) on the side.

Today’s lesson: Life is not a bed of roses. You know that already. When your Figgy first went to sleepaway camp, she brought back a bedtime ritual the girls did with their counselors: Rose, Bud, Thorn. List one thing you loved about the day, one thing you look forward to tomorrow, one bad thing that happened that day. A huge bowl of popcorn will not remove a thorn.

I published my first story about sugar addiction, “#1, Buttercup: I Know an Addict When I See One,” on January 31, 2021. My next will be “#17, Pearly Gates Climbing Rose.” I’m giving the stories flower names, from the tiniest bright yellow bloom I saw as a girl on a summer night in Bedford Park to big, wide-open garden varieties, which I hope will signify my journey to self-knowledge on this sweet and sour road.

Alice Garbarini Hurley has been writing since sixth grade and lives in Montclair, New Jersey with her family. She worked on staff at Seventeen, Good Housekeeping and Sesame Street Parents magazines, and freelanced as a fact checker at Cigar Aficionado. She has blogged daily at her website, Truth and Beauty, since 2010. Alice is in a recovery program.

Magazine maven, craft coffee lover, legal guardian. Passionate about fashion and lipstick — though it may not look that way when I dash to the supermarket.

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