One lovely day, I find myself standing in the kitchen not knowing what to do first. Summer has found me outstandingly disheveled in its vast expanse of time and heat. Despite having no reason for the disorder - unless you count the sixteen-month pandemic and the three kids who have been home for the entirety of it - my house has become a mess. The floors, the counters, and all flat surfaces have surrendered to the chaos. It looks like I’ve given up. And maybe, in a way, I have; but it’s starting to drive me crazy. I want nothing more than to get back on track. Finally!
As I start to clean, I notice all the unused ketchup packets, broken Happy Meal toys and piles of junk mail around me. And, also – judge me as you will - the flies. Tiny little ones buzzing randomly in the air around me. Where on Earth have they come from, I wonder, almost always forgetting the obvious answer. I smack one, then fail. I try again and get it! The peskiness of its small life washes away as I rinse my hands. There will be more, but for the moment I bask in a small victory.
I shouldn’t even have to ask about their origin, though. I’ve experienced this countless times before, but it always hits me as something foreign - as though it were an out-of-body experience to be such a terrible slob - when instead it has become more natural than I would care to admit. On my path to the trash can, as I finally come to grips with the state of my countertops, the realization hits me – it’s the fruit bowl! The source of their presence, along with my other deep-seated frustrations, points to that very spot and its sadly withering contents.
I promise, I try to be a decent person. I try to be conscientious and methodical. And somewhat clean. I also try to be real and honest, with myself as well as others. But there appears to be something I can’t quite own up to; a shortcoming I can’t seem to rectify. I keep buying fruit, each week, only to end up throwing it away.
At the start of each cycle, our purchases have the highest hopes. Delectable, shiny apples lay beneath a cornucopia of colorful stone fruit. Their skins, all fuzzy and taut, look outward from their bowl with pride. “Pick me” they seem to say. And we glance back at them, with eager smiles, but dare not stare. Their aromas hang heavily with a delightful bouquet of homeyness, but we are not ready. We are never ready. Tomorrow is the word that gets batted around with frequency. Tomorrow we will eat them all, but for today we will abstain.
Almost like they are too pretty or perfect, too sacred or rare; their existence insinuates much of what we aspire to be and all the dreams yet to come. We become suddenly very existential about the matter. If we eat them – if we pick them off, like executioners, and devour them in a frenzy – what will we have achieved exactly?! Good health, sure, but think of the poor fruit bowl! It would look so lonely and without purpose. No; we all seem to hold the collective (and unspoken) belief that it’s best to reserve their purpose for appearances alone. And, so, we leave them quietly intact. Uneaten. Left to rot by the end of each week.
If I were to calculate how many pears, plums and peaches we have tossed this month alone, it would cost in the double digits. The number of bananas we have tossed in this quarter could have nourished a whole chimp colony. And don’t even get me started on the fragile baskets of berries we are constantly letting go of, and with them, every hope for a trifle or smoothie falling by the wayside.
I guess, maybe, I haven’t given up completely, which is why this keeps happening. Even though every part of me screams to just buy the chips and candies we eat and call it a day, I persist in my fruit buying habit. But, really, who do I think I am? And who am I trying to impress?! The five of us have lived together long enough – there is no pretense about our preferences or proclivities. Nor is there a presumption of good health. And yet I keep being coaxed into this madness because of sweet faces and wholesome goals.
“I promise, Mommy, I’ll eat the cherries this time.” Says my daughter, who is the very master of these sorts of cons. “I’ll eat them. Every one of them! Cherries are my very favorite thing.” Getting roped into another pricey fruit expenditure may not seem like a big deal – unless, of course, they are off-season, which they almost always are - but after five such failed attempts, I only look at another rotting bag and think of all the books I could have bought. Or new shoes. Or bags of groceries with the sorts of junk food that our family will actually eat.
But I can’t lay blame solely with her. I also dupe myself. “Just one more order.” I think. “This time they won’t go to waste; I’ll make sure of it. It’ll be smoothies for breakfast. And banana bread for our parents. Peaches and apples instead of our afternoon snacks. We can make this work. We will eat healthier snacks.” But we don’t. We never do. And by “we” I also mean me.
By now, losing money and finding shame in this deficiency should be penance enough. But, even worse, are the flies. They lay further insult to injury with the fact that they are the only ones in the house who are eating this fruit at all. They, with their tiny bodies and smaller brains, are doing something we can’t seem to quite muster in ourselves – making good choices. And that’s a hard pill to swallow.
Each time I see them, once I corner their flittering foothold, I can’t help but hear my grandmother’s voice also buzzing in my head. An inheritor of the Depression Era, capable of making do with very little, she was always so hostile in her sweetness, so disarming in her civility, she never would have rubbed my nose in this failure. But she also wouldn’t have let it go unnoticed. Instead, she would have served up four simple words, as I secured my passage on the Guilt Trip Express: “Waste not, want not.” If we don’t waste, we can’t want. If we don’t buy, we can’t waste. It all seemed simple enough. Trite, even. But, also, equally impossible to follow.
As I discarded the unseemly bowl of brown and gooey mush into the trash – AGAIN - I vowed to do just that, telling myself firmly: DON’T BUY ANY MORE FRUIT. Because it’s time to be real. We just don’t eat it. And that’s okay. We will manage and make do without. And maybe one day, when we have been ever so deprived, we will see a glistening peach on a store shelf, wrap it tenderly in a bag, bring it home, and decide that today is the day to eat it. Finally! And, if not, at least the flies will have an increasingly rare treat.