The second instalment of Chapter Three – Food and Waste.
He tormented me about waste. If there were any fragments of food left on my plate he would complain that I was childish, leaving such a small amount of food on my plate.To him, I should eat it. If I refused he’d call me an “animal” then take back his insult and say, “No, an animal appreciates their food, you’re worse than that”. Staring through me, he’d wait for my reaction. He take his place at the head of the dining table and wait. Patiently. Until there was no other choice.
I would eat the last remaining slivers of food. In front of him, under his watchful gaze. Feeling sick, I’d try to bring it back up moments later in the bathroom, but most of the time I’d go upstairs, lock myself in my room and cry.
Eventually he grew much, much worse. Bones from chicken or fish and crusts from bread had to be saved so he could throw them out to the birds (although they would only ever draw foxes and rats to the garden). If I forgot and just threw them in the bin he would scream at me and force me to retrieve them. Hovering beside me whilst his heavy breathing and powerful stance intimidated me, I’d crouch down to the kitchen dustbin. By now (having made his discovery later in the evening) the food was usually covered by his dirty tissues, cooking oil, old leftovers and vegetable peelings. Sickened, I’d reach in with my bare hands and pull out the rotten food, placing it on a plate ready to be thrown out the following morning. On the odd occasion where I refused, I would unlock his boiling rage. Insults would ensue, “You have no concern for others!” or “You’re a filthy pig!”
It was pointless to fight but the feeling of unbelievable degradation was also too much to bare. I was powerless with him.
My father’s waste fixation was incessant. If food grew old in the fridge and cupboards, he’d leave it there. Then he’d pick his moment (most certainly a time when I may have been in a good mood) and pile the items on the kitchen worktop ready for me to see. A confrontation would follow. I’d receive a lecture on my “immature” behaviour and my longing to squander his money and treat him with disrespect. He’d tell me how shallow I was, how I only cared about myself. Truthfully – I despised myself.
His obsession reached a peak in my mid-twenties. As he still paid for my food and he still had that control he would use this as his tool. If I left any food in the fridge that went past its sell-by-date he would once again place it for me to see. He told me that I would have to pay for my wastage. So if I ate half a packet of salad and had left the rest, I would have to pay half the cost of that salad.
One day I came home to find bottles of sauces (that were several years old), a shrivelled up cucumber, a small chunk of cheese and some meals I had put in the freezer, laid out on the dining table. He wasn’t home so I knew they’d been out all day. I also knew what was coming later. Once he returned I was summoned downstairs.
“What is all this?!” he screamed. I remained silent; it was the best way to be.
“You disgust me, do you know that?” Of course I knew it. He’d been saying it for years.
“I’ve worked it out. You need to pay me six pounds. I’ve rounded it up. Come on then!” He shouted, holding out his palm, “You need to learn!” His sick satisfaction was beaming as he let out a side smile.
More and more the same thing would happen. Occasionally I would wonder if he planted some of them. Perhaps they were his wastage and he would just blame it on me. Of course I never had any proof of this. For three years I allowed him to do this until one day I began paying for my own food. He reluctantly let me do this for a while but it soon failed as he began ranting that I was yet again being disrespectful for not letting my father ‘look after me’. That I was “foolishly choosing” to waste my own money or that I should be saving up all the tiny dregs that I get. I could do no right. He forever droned on about me being independent but when I attempt to be I’m apparently disrespecting him.