He said, “I want to tell you about hunger.”
I was listening.
“When you are hungry,” he said, “You can think of nothing but your hunger. Hunger is a world, your world. Before you do anything, you consider how it will change your hunger. Will it make you hungrier? Or will it help you be less hungry, even if for a few moments? Help you forget you are hungry...That is what hunger does. Hunger controls you.”
He was not telling me anything new. I think it was the way he was telling it.
There are people who tell you life lessons and you know in an instant they are lessons they learned by sitting in a classroom and taking down lecture notes in their clipboards. Or they were gleaned wisdoms from bored afternoon couch readings, when the TV is on mute, but the reader could not go out, because it was so chilly, and the wet earth and thought of cleaning their shoes made them stay in-finally start on that prestige title book they bought-has been on coffee table display.
He was not like that at all. When he talked about hunger, about knowing hunger, somehow I could tell he had had contact with hunger in intimate ways I never wanted to know hunger at all.
When he said, “When you have not eaten for a week, food will never be just food again,” I could imagine, faintly, though he did not eat a lot, every mouthful of food he now ate had meaning to him. I could understand now, why he ate so slowly, why when we ordered food in a restaurant, I would be on my second beer, before he finished with his food.
So we talked about hunger.
Or rather he told me about hunger. Hunger he had known.
Hunger where hunger was like the friend who knocks on your door, all too frequently visits, a friend because the choice sometimes was between being hungry and being killed trying to satiate the hunger so he chose the hunger. Because hunger he already knew. Being hungry was better than being dead-there was always something after the hunger. But being dead, well, being dead he did not know was after being dead. Was it a nothingness? White wall blankness nothing? He preferred the hunger. Hunger he knew.
We talked about his hunger of wanting to be free of his hunger. Yes, there’s such a thing. When he could buy what he craved to eat-eating his desires to excess, but the hunger not abating, never ceasing. Nauseous from over eating, but when he was not thinking about the nausea-hunger still there. Hunger always there. Wondering what he would have to do to make it no longer a part of him.
“Once you have known hunger, you will always know hunger.”
He talked to me about the look. About how those who have been hungry, on meeting, know each other at once, without words, never having met before: by the look, know each other.