You know how it is when the craving hits. That’s why they call it a craving—you can’t think of anything else, you can’t breathe without smelling it, you can’t function until you have what it is you want. Little people are lucky. They get to make a scene. To knock over the entire display of Bratz dolls, to kick the carriage so hard a shoe comes flying off and almost beans the cashier. Adults are usually not so fortunate. We have to sit and chew our nails or obsessively text with friends or grab for a substitute craving (booze, Zappos, hate looking at someone’s Facebook vacation photos) until the madness either passes or a space opens up for you to procure the thing that will satisfy your craving. It’s a sticky wicked as my father used to say. So it was for me with the chocolate cake.
For what felt like weeks I had complained/mentioned in an off-handed (though really very deliberate way) that I wanted some chocolate cake. Wouldn’t a nice piece of chocolate cake taste great right now? I said after dinner to my chocolate-cake-free refrigerator and an indifferent life partner person. Most relatively healthy adults don’t keep a stash of cupcakes, brownies, or bakery cakes around the way they keep bananas and boxes of cereal. Maybe they should in order to avoid standing in your kitchen at 8 p.m. summoning the rational to change out of your pajamas, get in the car, and go to the supermarket for cake.
You don’t need the cake, a voice whispered. That voice, we all have at least one. Mine sounds like Morgan Freeman’s evil twin, all tones of velvet and cream, consonants crisped. Evil because, well, it’s the critic’s voice, the needlessly judgey voice, the voice that tricks you into staying small, playing it safe, living a “life so common it disappears” as Paul Simon once sang. You don’t need this junk food, it said again. True. And then: What makes you think you deserve such a treat?
Right, um, yeah, yeah, ok. Makes sense.
I packed up my craving and went about my life in the way that a mostly responsible grown person does, giving myself mondo props for my willpower and discipline when days later I went downtown to meet a friend at a café. She was running late, I was running early so I claimed a seat on the outdoor patio and went inside to get something to drink and snack on.
That’s when I saw her in the glass dome on top of the pastry counter: a gorgeous, luscious chocolate ganache cake. Papery whisps of chocolate shavings clung to the outside of the thick frosting. The barista had barely gotten any words out of her mouth when I said, “I’d like a piece of cake, of that cake, the chocolate ganache cake please.” I felt mildly possessed. Suddenly it was the easiest decision I had ever made. No Evil Morgan Freeman chuckling in my ear about how many lunges it would take to make a dent in those calories, no slyly shaming me for giving myself this bit of pleasure on a plate. Or if he did, the Stars and Stripes type anthem of joy exploding in my head drowned him out.
The barista slid the plate to me on the counter while I dug out my wallet to pay. To my left, a guy was doctoring his coffee with sugar and cream when I saw him glance from me to the cake and back again. I took my order and tried not to hurry too quickly back out to my seat so I could start shoveling this magical confection into my face when I noticed other people looking, some openly staring at the fat, black wedge on my plate.
I settled myself in with an audible sigh, picked up my fork, and tucked into what can only be described as edible heaven. I was swinging my feet a little under my chair like a little kid. I looked up from the dish and caught a guy at the table diagonally across from me gawking. He was seated facing me squarely, a book open, just watching. A small smile played around his lips that at first I found somewhat creepy, but then realized was something else: wistfulness mixed with a dash of envy.
Who loses out when we censor our joy, when we smother our happiness, when we dim our light? It’s not the barista or the guy making moony eyes at my cake. Denial has its merits, but not at the expense of such simple gifts, at those things that give our spirits a lift and put us back in touch with the reasons we’re here. We are hardwired to experience pleasure though it seems like suffering and smallness and scarcity are what we know how to do best. There’s only so many minutes in a day, only so many moments in a life what’s to be gained by being stingy with them?
Kiss the girl.
Take the vacation.
Go out for the team.
Quit the job.
Tell the voice to f*&^% off.
Plant the garden.
Write the song.
Make the phone call.
Eat the damn cake.