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Breath & Shadow

Winter 2020 - Vol. 17, Issue 1

"Four Grocery Lists"

written by

Zach Semel


So.  Much.  Ice cream.  Cookies & Cream, Birthday Cake, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Raspberry Sherbet.  Nothing with peanuts or hazelnuts. Edy’s or Turkey Hill, only. Once purchased, see how much you can eat in one sitting.  Excavate every corner of each carton indiscriminately, weaving brutally through the topsoil with your silver shovel in the midst of sleepless hazes.  Spoon the cream fast, as if to cover up something in your head.  

Mike & Ikes – the small green baggies, until you move on to pink boxes.  Pour them out onto your Creative Writing desk after lunch, onto your bed sheets and your unstable afternoon-bus lap, and sort them by color before eating them orange-red-yellow-green-pink.  Listen to Mayday Parade loudly enough that you don’t hear the occasional candy pellet slide off the leather seat and clack on the metal bus floor.  


Sour Patch Watermelons – the most moderately sticky of all sugar-coated candies in your life.  A core piece of your adolescent diet, start buying small bags of them at your high school’s student-run store and don’t look back.  Spend your income quickly enough that, if you finally off yourself, you won’t leave too much money behind. 

Two one-liter bottles of Mountain Dew – your take on the subtler morning shot of espresso.  Refrigerate overnight, then tuck one per day into the side pocket of your backpack. Consume throughout school day, but never vomit; don’t draw attention to yourself.  You do not need help.


Tiny bottles of sprinkles - colorful specks of granulated sugar that melt easily on your tongue.  At night, massage them against the roof of your mouth while you wonder how your homework will get done. 


Blue Raspberry Slurpee – decide to stop for one at 7-Eleven on the way back home.  Then, walk through your bustling hometown supermarket, dodging elderly women’s wildly flailing shopping carts.  Stare at the boxes lining the snack aisles; pick up the bags of chips just to hear them crackle seductively, wondering, only for seconds at a time, how hard you’d have to poison yourself that your metabolism would finally be unable to keep up.



Cool Ranch Doritos - snack endlessly because it’s what freshmen do and because you can afford to.  Skip classes because bad grades didn’t stop you from getting into college.  


O-ke-Doke Cheddar Popcorn – at the end of the chip aisle in orange plastic bags.  This is the brand, you determined, whose bags are least filled with air. You are thrifty in such small, specific ways.


Red Velvet Cake Ben and Jerry’s or Peanut Butter Haagen Daz, depending on the day – just one pint if you think you’ll have time to come back tomorrow, too.

Domino’s – small thin-crust cheese pizza, parmesan bread bites with marinara sauce.  College discount code: 25OFF. Order on the app while waiting in line at the register: delivery, to minimize exercise and sun exposure.  You like the way that the body you so willfully sabotage looks: so fucking skinny and not hungry for another ten pounds. What is wrong with you?       


Materials for microwave nachos – Kraft Taco Shredded Cheese and Restaurant Style Tostito’s Tortilla Chips.


Pop Secret Movie Theater Butter Microwave Popcorn – eat it by the handful in bed while you listen, with no headphones, to indie music that your roommate describes as “wailing.”  Permanently coat your fifty-times-re-read copy of Silver Linings Playbook in the carcinogenic butter, but wipe your fingers off on your bedsheet before you open up your supermarket-purchased notebooks and scrawl down summaries of the nightmares you keep having in which you try to kill yourself but fail.  



Reese’s Sticks - dissociate for the entirety of class before you decide to go to the grocery store.


Freschetta Four Cheese Artisan Crust Pizza - walk there with your fingers spread wide, convinced that you can feel air that has no wind running through it, suspicious that you could push a tree off its roots if you tried hard enough.  If your head is suspended an inch above your head, how will you eat microwave monkey bread, chunk after chunk? You will find a way.


Adderall XR, 20 mg - stop at one of the college houses on your way to the store and buy a pill from the square glasses girl who smokes Marlboro Lights on the porch with a steaming mug of ginger tea within reach.  One pill should be enough to keep you all-night alternating between catching up on the homework you haven’t done and Googling ways to kill yourself as a layer of cheddar popcorn crumbs accumulates on your Celtics pajama pants.


Ore-Ida Tater Tots - skip Junior Research Seminar while you eat them straight off the baking sheet.  Skip because you have skipped so much already that you cry behind the closed wooden door, your professor then greeting you as you walk in.  

Hershey’s Kisses, usually half-melted – unwrap another one every time you picture his smile: polite, as if for a guest, not a resident.  Unwrap another one every hour that the Zoloft fails to finally start lighting you up. The body you might have loved is lost, and you don’t plan on sticking around this one for much longer.



Sheila G. Salted Caramel Brownie Brittle - Your grocery list forms itself days in advance and sits that way, sizzling like oil-coated potatoes in an oven.  Like garlic, you love the way it tastes, but not the taste it leaves in its wake; but, as with the suicidal thoughts that you’ve since un-stuck from your brain, the longer you manage to ignore the list, the more it quietly builds itself up. 


Snyder’s Wholey Cheese Swiss and Black Pepper - crave the airy crunch between your teeth, your tongue tingling under the vibrating pepper that each cracker sprays throughout your mouth. Tropical Starbursts - highlighter colors smelling sweet and smooth through the papery wrappers.


Tostino’s Pizza Rolls - browned on the edges. Toasted Cheez-Its - salt shimmering atop each piece and gathering at the bottom of the bag.  Drool as you pass the brightly colored packages; think about your fingers breaking through their opaque bags and wrappers like plastic veils.  See the aisle signs calling out Cookies, Crackers, and know that these items are there even when you can’t see them, even when you manage to look only at the white tile floor, telling yourself that you don’t need things like that anymore.  


Popcorn Indiana Kettle Corn - but murmur in your head that you still deserve to enjoy yourself, to eat things that you want to eat so bad.


M&M Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches - always end up at this Target on your way home from work, at the end of the hardest days.  The days when you find yourself believing less than usual that if you eat yogurt and bananas and tomatoes, if you take the right kinds of breaths even when it’s hard to, that the floodwaters gathering in your head will recede.  


Ritz Garlic Butter Crackers - successfully empty-handed, walk to the ice cream aisle.

Pepperidge Farm Soft-Baked Cookies - mindlessly rummage through the condensation-coated cases to find Cookies and Cream Haagen Daz.  

Keebler Fudge Stripe Cookies - take one pint.  No, a sale! 2/$7. There are more left; you are still limiting yourself!  Pick up one in each hand and walk to the checkout lines, shrill beeps and rubbery bumps faintly audible from only one or two registers this late at night.


Fuego Takis - stop before entering the line.  Initially pretend that you’re eyeing the discount DVDs stocked on shelves perpendicular to the racks of gum and mints. 

Snyder’s Honey Mustard & Onion Pretzel Pieces - pause for five or ten or fifteen minutes, and let the Haagen Daz cartons’ icy shell melt down over your fingers as you stare at the Nutrition Facts.  How many grams of sugar can you afford? For how much longer?  


Snyder’s Sourdough Pretzel Nuggets - when you’re happy and your body feels quick and alert, it feels unreal: a state that you’ve only rented.


Flipz Chocolate Pretzels - when you feel sick in your head and you’ve eaten yourself further into bedridden-ness, deeper into the grey of foggy afternoons, you are certain that you should be happier than this.  You should be happy.

Three Musketeers Minis - but are you the sort of person who’s supposed to get better?  Who ‘goes on’ to things and ‘moves forward’ and ‘heals?’  

Chocolate Chip Teddy Grahams – do you deserve to be?


Tostito’s Hint of Lime Chips – stand in that empty space at the front of the store—so wide that it could swallow you up or too narrow for your steadily bloating frame to fall down its throat—and try to decide.  

Zach is an avid Celtics fan, a wannabe psychoanalyst, and a lover of all things garlicky.  He lives with PTSD, intermittent major depression, social anxiety, and an undiagnosed processing disorder.

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