The latest Memoir I’ll Never Write: Confessions of a Mayonnaise Addict isn’t exactly on par with Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821), a wildly successful and poetic account of his laudanum addiction, but there are a few parallels.
In Part I, “Preliminary Confessions,” de Quincey talks about the childhood emotional experiences and psychological factors which paved the way for his opium addiction. Part I of my latest “Memoir I’ll Never Write” depicts a childhood experience, which resulted in my lifelong addiction to mayonnaise starting at age 9.
I’ve refrained from writing about it because mayo addiction lacks the cool factor of heroin or opium … probably because mayo makes you fat, not terrifyingly thin like H and Opium … and thin, whatever the cause, is tres fashionable!
Slathering mayo on bread is gross compared to chic addictions requiring snorting, free-basing or shooting up. Face it: No mayo-addict fashion model ever graces the pages of Vogue! Smack chic? Sure. Mayo chic? NFW.
Part I: Preliminary Confessions
I remember walking home from grammar school, opening the front door and entering a dust-mote still house just after 3:00 pm. The livingroom was mortuary-quiet with curtains drawn with the unspoken rule writ loud in my brain: “Don’t disturb your Mother."
Sometimes I’d go straight to the kitchen and hurriedly make myself a sandwich slathered with mayo and some mystery luncheon meat and stuff it down. I was starved for my mother’s attention/love but the sandwich sufficed like an understudy on opening night; not quite the real thing but good enough given the circumstances.
Sometimes instead of going straight to the kitchen, I’d tip-toe upstairs where I’d inevitably find the hallway dark and the outer doors to my parent’s bedroom and adjoining bathroom, locked.
My younger sister remembers the darkened house and locked doors too, and the feeling of missing our mother every day after school, but she won’t discuss it (or speak to me) because it's a betrayal of our mother. For me it's a self-betrayal if I don't look, remember, sift/sort, feel and write about it.
Why was she taking a nap everyday we came home from school and refused to see us? It was a taboo subject. Discussions or explanations were off limits. I understood her nap (and all her needs) were far more important than those of two energetic, smart, loving, silly school girls. We soldiered on, learning without words that our craving for a quick hug or a “how was school today?” were frivolous expectations.
Homelife was governed by unspoken rules that revolved around her, our glamorous changeable high-octane attention-starved brilliant but frustrated and furious Oscar-winning narcissistic mother. I knew to never ask for or expect any form of attention, physical or otherwise, so I suppressed my childlike need to interact and be seen/heard/loved.
My surrogate mother?
A gooey, salty, fat oozing sandwich.
Stuffing the mayo-sodden bread in my mouth I felt instantly better, the hallow feeling in my stomach fades along with the question: why did my mother not want to see or talk to me? Whatever. Just one more bite ... I remember ...
The mayo is luscious
Sliding past my lips
Into my mouth like
An imaginary kiss.
My mother would appear around 5:30-5:45 PM: turning on the lights, descending the stairs like an older but still dewy-cheeked starlet, her red lipstick freshly applied, glossy dark brown hair newly combed, posture erect, her eyes toggling between intelligence and fury as she prepared the evening’s dinner.
By the time my father arrived home she was gregarious and charming, at least in the early years. He never knew how my sister and I, only 20 months apart in age, came home everyday to a dark house after school with a mother at home but refusing to greet or see us. We were happy to keep the secret because we loved her and besides our family was perfect.
Did her nap behind locked doors involve a discrete glass or two of Almaden? I remember, as does my younger sister, finding half-drunk wine bottles in the laundry hamper or in the hall closet … Wine played a large part in the dinner dramas starring my mother in those early years … so perhaps.
Part III: Mayo As Pain Relief
It was lovely discovering how slathering mayo on pimento loaf distracted me from my mother’s theatrical disdain/fury and calmed the loneliness/confusion I experienced not knowing what was happening or why. But a mayo-slicked sandwich seemed to work...
I ate the scream back into my throat, swallowed it into my belly where it grew ... and before long ... I was fat.
A fat girl.
Never a good thing.
Still I engaged life with a vengeance.
By seventh grade I played varsity volleyball for hours after school; and was out of the house as much as possible. In high school I continued varsity volleyball and added a new-found love: theater. I took drama class, was cast in 2 major musicals/plays every year at my all-girl school and at the Catholic all-boys high school spring musicals and began to direct plays. Junior year I added student government to my interests and by senior year I was elected Student Body President and basically was never home.
At the age of 17 I fled as far as I could from San Francisco and went back east.
At age 19 I embraced New York City for university. After graduating I worked bread-and-butter jobs, then I founded/started/ran two avant-garde theaters in downtown Manhattan and eventually went to grad school thanks to a two-year Oscar Hammerstein scholarship earning me an MFA from NYU TSOA.
Living in Manhattan I felt at home, weaving thru crowds of strangers/ stories/worlds, searching for the doors that were mine to open/explore/become. I learned all I could, inventing and remembering myself while discovering the great poets, musicians, classical composers, contemporary playwrights, painters, sculptors and authors whose work inspired me to create and in time develop my own.
During these years I never craved mayo. Rarely ate it.
I got thin.
Not so much these days.
Do I still eat mayo?
Sure but I’ve found other ways to soothe my agitated spirit like meditating, swimming, walking my dogs, stretching, writing, sharing company with trees, listening to Bach and Couperin, and making myself remember the roses of my childhood along with the thorns.
Final Confession: I still love mayo … the fatty silky ribbon tickling my throat … taste buds zinging … mainlining fat and salt … my heart distracted … forgetting.
I’ll always be addicted to mayo and one day I’ll have to go cold turkey but I won’t mind because cold turkey on toasted rye with lettuce and a generous slather of mayo, in the words of Mr. de Quincey, still “brings an assuaging balm.”
© Didi Balle. October 2020
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