I need to eat. This we both agree on. I listen as he explains the difference between need and desire. The very early morning light finds his face through the blinds. I rarely see him like this and I watch with a smile, letting the morning unfold for me with a golden promise. My stomach aches just slightly and I sip my tea and milk as I latch onto an idea that has nothing to do with need. I do need to eat. My body needs nutrients. These soft muscles long to take the iron and deconstruct the protein and metabolize the sugar. This is a necessity, to keep working in this shape, in this small 5’3 body, I need to keep eating. I finish my teas and drive home, a particular thing on my mind.
But what I desire is specific. I don’t just want “food.” Once I start imagining particular shapes and tastes and textures, it goes from the need aspect of a body requiring fuel…to desire. And this is fixation of the mind, not even something I have created, something the world has created for me, something I latch onto and hold upon a shiny golden pedestal, the thing that will make me happy, the taste to complete the morning.
I desire a particular breakfast. I look out the open blinds of my large window and look at the long eucalyptus leaves swaying. I remember it from last week. A warm side of refried pinto beans, next to it, a modest scoop of plain scrambled eggs, they were just a shade darker than the white paper plate. Forming the perfect triangle was another side, a pile of tortilla chips covered in a spicy red sauce. It was on the verge of being too spicy, but it was just barely bearable and though my tongue stung, I went back for more.
I sat on a narrow cement bench beside the ledge of the pier. The sun warmed me and I could think of nothing better. I turned to the people sitting next to me, a couple that were as unfamiliar as everyone else in the crowded outdoor market. They shared the same dish off an identical paper plate. I watched the man push a red tortilla chip into his mouth. I stared in awe. “It’s worth every penny!” I blurted with a smile. They looked up, taking only a second to realize I was feasting on the same meal. They nodded warmly, equally as amazed with the dish. It was a perfect blend of spice. The hot tortillas chips were balanced out with the mild eggs and creamy beans. That was last Saturday. And this morning, this Saturday morning, I am hungry. I do need to eat. I have food in the fridge. Some eggs, a bag of fake meat in the freezer, a few small pieces of zucchini, I could make myself some breakfast, save ten dollars, not give into the urge I know is only desire. I am hungry. I need to eat. I desire that specific taste. I don’t need it. I just want it.
But I cannot will myself to make some food. I look at my only three pots, and they are dirty. In the sink are my only two plates and a pile of dirty forks. I am repulsed by my own filth. “If I go downtown, I’ll have time to take some photos,” I reason with myself. Bargaining with the devil. It is a lie, a perfect excuse. I need food. I desire the refried beans. I want the spicy chips. I want the same blend of perfect, on-the-edge spice.
And so I leave in a rush of excitement. Somewhat believing my own excuse, but knowing all too well what I really want.
I get on the subway. Three stops after my own, a young man gets in and sits across from me. He sniffs over and over. I think about changing my seat, but I never do. On 24th St., an old, wide Latin man enters. He stands by the front double doors for a few minutes, looking perfectly normal until he starts yelling. At first we react with wide, startled eyes and nervous smiles, but soon, no one pays any attention to him, even his cries for attention go unanswered.
When I arrive at the farmer’s market, I stand in line for the food. There are at least twelve people in front of me and I use the time to take photos, like I promised I would. When the paper plate of food arrives it looks just as it did the week before. I walk to a small cement planter box and sit on the edge. There are people all around me. Most are in groups, sharing plates of food and talking softly. In front of me is the Bay. Two small boys chase the pigeons that lurk for our crumbs. I take a bite. The chips are a bit cold. There isn’t a kick. My face melts. It isn’t the same. I keep eating, but I laugh mildly.
I had desired it so much. He warned me. He had explained it to me just an hour before. I didn’t need this particular plate of food. This is desire laughing in my face. It is not as good as I remembered. Something has changed.
No river is ever the same. No taste will ever be the same as the first time, no experience can ever be replicated, no matter how many times I desire the same meal.