Some encounters in college stay with you forever. These first meetings become pivotal life moments, fixed centers of space and time that deeply change a part of you. Looking back at the freshman-year hallway hangouts that would eventually wander their way over to Crossroads for Late Night, I can pinpoint the moment a month into school when innocent late night food cravings somehow became something powerful. My entire world changed when I decided to try the chicken wings.
It was love at first bite. My teeth sunk into the tender white meat as spices wafted into my mouth. The crispy skin tasted more like comfort food than anything I had eaten in weeks. I was a changed woman, glowing in my crispy chicken wing bliss. I’ll come back for you, I thought to them as we trudged out with full bellies all too quickly. I’ll always come back for you.
A few nights later, everything fell apart. Some decisions are simultaneously completely smart ideas and completely horrible ideas. My freshman-year floormates and I deciding to look up the nutrition facts for Crossroads late-night food falls unequivocally into this category.
The three of us sat on my dorm room bed, laughing nervously as we clicked around on the nutrition list of the food that we had been eating together periodically over the past month and a half we had been at college. We did our best to shrug off the fat content for the steak plate, and my roommate groaned at the carbohydrate content for the garlic fries.
But then we looked at the chicken wings.
My floormate beside me let out a quick and decisive “Nope” before we shut the laptop, eyes wide and stomachs wincing. My gut fell to the floor, and only my barest hint of a crestfallen face showed my heartbreak.
My newly found, beloved chicken wings were going to kill me. The caloric content was obscene. The future I had imagined for us together was now tarnished by the threat of even bigger thunder thighs and Type 2 diabetes. I had to be smart, and I had to make the difficult decision, even if it hurt.
I went to Crossroads Late Night less after looking at those nutrition facts, attempting to avoid facing my broken heart. While 10 p.m. hunger pains still drew me there on occasion, I at least felt overwhelming guilt as I ate. In my mind, that somehow made it better, as if the calories would feel less welcome in my body and leave before they settled onto my stomach. And I knew nothing I was eating was as bad as those wings that I sadly skipped over on the menu now. In my overstimulated freshman mind, “less terrible” turned easily into “basically healthy.”
I was well into my sophomore year and looking at old Facebook photos when I realized I no longer looked the same, that my thighs and love handles had more padding to them than they had a year and a half before. I started to notice the curve of my stomach more, and my flabby arms in photos made me cringe. The Freshman 15 had crept up on me while I turned the other way. My long-lost chicken wings had not betrayed me; my real failure was in believing they were the only danger.
In hindsight, the biggest culprits were the silent ones. My genetically-bestowed slow metabolism and insatiable craving for anything and everything chocolate were things that had been part of my life for so long that they became easy to forget about. The fact that I was still dancing at least six hours a week made it easy to scoff at the idea of walking several blocks to the RSF for elliptical sessions and yoga classes. In my attempt to “be healthy,” I applauded myself for my tearful refusal of late-night chicken wings, but I went back for seconds at the Crossroads mashed potato bar while the yoga mat and brand new gym shoes I’d brought to college collected dust under my bed.
In the pressure to do it all, things inevitably fell by the wayside. Promises to go to late-night yoga crumbled in the face of that paper I just hadn’t had time to work on yet. Saying no to a suggested In-N-Out run would deprive me as much of bonding time as it would animal fries. By no means am I happy with my current shape. I know I can be better. I know my arms could be more toned and that I didn’t need to eat that slice of cake. But I also know that beating myself up too much has never done me any good.
A few weeks ago, as I stayed up late studying with a friend, one of our housemates came in with leftovers brought from late night.
“Do you guys want these? I’m so full, I can’t finish them.”
In our midterm delirium and late-night hunger, we were quick to say yes. And as she set down the trays, my stomach did a flip. In the grease-covered containers were tater tots and my once-loved, never-forgotten chicken wings. And for the first time in over two years, I gave into them.
And damn it, they were good.