Instead of going to the cafeteria with the rest of my classmates during lunch period, I bought a can of diet soda from the vending machine closest to my locker and drank it on my way to the library, where I stayed until the bell rang and it was time to go to the next class. It was my regular routine.
The library—or rather, many libraries—had long been my refuge. As a very small girl I spent long, hot summer afternoons in the cool quiet of the air-conditioned public library just around the corner from my home. I read the Betsy-Tacy books, Nancy Drew mysteries, novels by Katherine Paterson, and nonfiction as my curiosity led me: I read about the children raised in the strict residential ballet academies of Communist Russia; about children with leukemia and childhood diabetes; about how to make all sorts of things that neither I nor anyone in my family ever made—quilts and doll clothes, or bread and ice cream from scratch.
My teenage lunchtime trips to the library were not an extension of the insatiable curiosity about other lives (real and imagined) that had driven me there as a child, nor did I pore over books that showed things I could make or do. And even though I was shy and awkward and the lunchroom was loud and overheated, I didn't retreat to the library for a cool and quiet atmosphere. I gulped down my diet soda to quiet the rumble of my empty stomach and headed straight for the periodical racks, where I'd pore over magazines on diet, exercise, and beauty. Before heading back to class, I'd stop in the one bathroom with the long mirror for a quick assessment.
I never, ever measured up.
Although I probably couldn't have articulated it then, I am now quite sure that what I was seeking during all those hungry lunch periods in the library was a cliché: I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. I was a hungry, growing teenager—a teenager who was hungry not only for the wildly diverse and delicious foods available in my native New York City, but for acceptance and approval, not only from other people, but also from God. And somehow, in the warped logic of a culture that offered me abundant food with one hand and retouched images of anorexic models (and tips on how to look "just like them") with the other, I came to believe that I would please God most if I kept my hunger—my appetites, my desires, my longings—on a very short leash.