So for a month I became the Bubba Gump of the broccoli world.
Raw broccoli, cooked broccoli, steamed broccoli, broccoli with lemon, broccoli with soy sauce (soy sauce wasn’t on the list of approved condiments, but sometimes a woman just needs to breathe), broccoli with stems separated from the florets for no reason other than entertainment, broccoli you imagine to be purple because you’ve found the line of sanity and you’re tiptoeing it.
The most basic activities in the day became trials or what positive thinkers might call “opportunities for increasing mental stamina.” Getting the mail meant coming across a flyer featuring a pizza covered in pepperonis and … no broccoli. My friends at work, while as supportive as coworkers could be, weren’t so supportive that they came back from lunch with looks of deprivation. In their satisfied smiles I saw the joy of unwrapping foil as they worked their way down burritos the size of their forearms. I saw cheeseburgers and French fries. On a few of the darker days, even the idea of someone’s sad desk salad could make my heart flutter. I was a kid outside the gates of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. But I didn’t want a lottery ticket or for orange Oompa Loompas to canoe me down a canal of chocolate, all I wanted was some food to sink my teeth into.
As crisply as I can remember that feeling of hunger for what I was missing, I can also recall the first meal back with the living. The morning after the diet was done I met three friends for breakfast. It’s been over a decade, but I can tell you each one of us wore jackets because we lived in Denver and a cold front had blown in the night before, temporarily turning our spring back to winter. I know I ordered an omelet with biscuits, two people chose pancakes and one had waffles with fresh strawberries. And I remember that after a quick broccoli joke when we were looking at the menus the diet wasn’t mentioned again. It was easy to move on. Looking back, I wonder if it was too easy. Because here’s what I can’t remember: the meal after that breakfast. I don’t remember that night’s dinner or breakfast the next day. I don’t remember if all that broccoli changed how I ate for the next weeks or months. What bothers me most is that I don’t even remember why I went on the vegetable detox or if what I wanted to gain was accomplished.
By the time you read this I don’t know if we will all be back out in the world again. But I’ve thought about broccoli a lot over the last weeks I’ve spent at home, with my kids and husband, physically distanced from the world. We’ve become Bubba Gumps of board games and Legos. I now know I can jump on the trampoline 136 times in a row before I cry uncle. I’ve had more fun with my family than I could have imagined. I’ve also missed our regular lives like a woman with a plate of broccoli misses fried chicken. The list of things I took for granted about my days before shelter is long, and what I keep wondering is how it will be when I go back. Will I jump right into life as it’s always been? Or will I take with me something from this time — and maybe be a little better for the change.