The Ghost of Carrots Past


Sometimes what you don’t eat can come back to haunt you.

The Ghost of Carrots Past

He showed up one night in a dream. He was reasonably good looking except for the fact that he was dressed in a carrot costume. “Hi there, I’m Carrot Guy,” he said. “Or if you like Dickens, think of me as the Ghost of Carrots Past.”

Strangely enough all her dreams took place in what looked like a movie theater. She yelled up to whoever worked in the projection room. “Hey, let’s get on to something a little more interesting here, okay?”

Nothing happened. She turned to face him. “How can you stand to go around dressed up like that?”

“If you think this is bad, try being a cabbage sometime.”

“Look, no offense, okay, but I don’t appreciate you taking up my valuable dream time. I want to dream about Kyle tonight.”

“This is really important stuff here. I’m going to take you on a nutrition journey in your dreams.”

She yelled at the projectionist. “I want another dream, and I want it now!”

“Nothing else is going to happen until I’m finished.”

Down in front of the theater a dim figure who looked like Kyle was standing in the shadows.

“Kyle, is that you? Look, come and take me to the junior prom. Or else we could go on a picnic. You don’t have to make any serious commitment here, you know, because it’s only a dream.”

Kyle stayed where he was.

“It’s no use. We need to begin our journey.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you dressed like that.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t go out with carrots.”

In a flash he was gone, and in another flash he was back. This time he was wearing jeans and a shirt. The only clue about his identity was a designer carrot sewed onto his shirt. “How’s that?” he asked.

“Better.”

“Are you ready to go?” he asked.

“Where are we going?”

“To lunch.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“We’re not going to eat. We’re going to watch you eat the lunch you were served at the school cafeteria today.”

Suddenly they were in the school cafeteria. People walked right through them. “Busy place,” he said.

“Can we go see Kyle?”

“He wouldn’t be able to see you.”

“I just want to stare at him.”

“Instead of that let’s watch you eat lunch.”

“And then can we watch Kyle for a while?”

“We’ll see.”

They walked to the table where she’d sat at lunch that day. “Let’s see,” he began. “We got two slices of bread, some margarine, carrot and celery sticks, a bowl of soup, and a tuna sandwich. That’s what they put on your tray. What did you eat?”

“Nothing.”

“All you had for breakfast was a glass of orange juice. So why weren’t you hungry?”

“I don’t know why. I just wasn’t.”

“Why don’t we ask your stomach if you were hungry?”

“Look, if my stomach is going to start talking in this dream too, then I’m out of here. I’m serious. I’ll wake myself up and never go to sleep for the rest of the night.”

“Relax. Stomachs don’t talk; they just growl. And your stomach was growling while you sat there and looked at your lunch. You were hungry, but you didn’t eat.”

“I’m trying to lose weight.”

“Why?”

“I weigh too much.”

“Did your doctor tell you that?”

“No. I can tell that I do though.”

“How can you tell?”

“I just can.”

“You didn’t eat anything for lunch then, did you?”

“No.”

He sounded hurt. “You threw away everything—even the carrots?”

“I tried to get my friends to eat some of my lunch but they didn’t want it either.”

“But you were still hungry.”

“Not really.”

“Your stomach was growling and you felt weak. You lasted until two thirty and then you bought two candy bars and ate them.”

“I only had one candy bar.”

“It was two. And then you felt so guilty you promised yourself that, to make up for it, you wouldn’t eat supper.”

“I want out of this dream.”

“Sorry but you’re stuck with me for a while. You hardly ate a thing at supper, and then you went to your room to study. At nine o’clock you went downstairs and dished out a quart of ice cream and took it to your room and ate it, and then you felt guilty again and promised yourself that tomorrow would be different and you’d skip breakfast and lunch to make up for the ice cream. Would you like to see those scenes again?”

“No.”

“There’s a pattern developing that can do you a lot of harm if it continues. Why is this happening?”

“I told you before. I need to lose weight.”

“You want to look like the girls on TV that advertise diet soda, is that it?”

“No, but what’d be wrong if I did?”

“Why not accept the body you have rather than the one the billboards and magazines and TV ads say you should have?”

“I just want to lose ten pounds, that’s all. What’s so bad about that?”

“What do you know about nutrition?”

“Enough.”

“The truth is you don’t know much, and what you think you know is wrong.”

“How do you know what I know or don’t know?”

“Let me test you. You think that to lose weight you have to really cut down what you eat. Right?”

“Yeah sure.”

“Wrong. If you quit eating then your body thinks there’s a famine and it starts storing fat cells like crazy, trying to get ready for when there’s no food at all coming in. If you want to lose weight, you have to eat a lot so your body doesn’t worry about where the next meal is coming from.”

“If I ate a lot then I’d gain weight.”

“Not if you eat the right things.”

“What are the right things?”

“Vegetables, fruits, bread, cereal, things like that. And cut down on those double cheese bacon burgers and fries.”

“Basically you’re telling me to eat the way my mother says.”

“Yeah basically.”

“It’s got to be more complicated than that.”

“Is what you’re doing now working for you?”

“It would if I’d just stick to it.”

“Right now you spend most of your time thinking about food. You’re either feeling guilty you ate something or else you’re craving something to eat. You’re becoming totally preoccupied about food. If you ate normally, you’d have more time to think about other things.”

“Like Kyle.”

“If you ate more normally, you’d have more energy to go over and talk to Kyle instead of just looking at him from a distance.”

“I could never do that.”

“Why not?”

“I just couldn’t, that’s all.”

“He’d like to have someone he could talk to.”

“He would?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, I’ll do it, but first I want to lose ten pounds.”

“If you wait that long, Diane will be his best friend.”

“All right, I’ll do it, and I’ll eat sensibly and everything. Now can you go away so I can dream about Kyle.”

“Not yet. We have one more visit to make. We need to talk about something else.”

Suddenly they were standing in her kitchen at home. “This is last Sunday right after church,” he said. “Do you remember what happened?” You wanted to watch TV. You asked your dad, and he said he thought you shouldn’t watch TV on Sunday. It really made you mad because the reason you wanted to watch is because you were writing a report about dolphins in school and this was a special hour show about dolphins. Do you remember being angry?”

“Yes, I had a good reason to watch the show.”

“You were angry, but all you did was get up from the table and go to your room and shut the door.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“You didn’t explain anything. You just kept your feelings inside of you.”

“What do you think I should have done, started yelling?”

“No, it’s good to control anger, but you need to express your feelings. You could have told your dad you didn’t think it was fair. You could have explained why you wanted to see that particular TV program.”

“It wouldn’t have done any good.”

“Maybe you still wouldn’t have been allowed to watch TV, but at least talking about how you felt would have got your feelings out in the open instead of keeping them bottled up inside you.”

“It’s no big deal.”

“I think you got even by eating that quart of ice cream in your room later that afternoon. And then you felt so guilty about it you went in the bathroom and on purpose threw everything up. Didn’t you?”

She wouldn’t look at him. “I promised myself I’d never do it again.”

“You’re getting into a pattern that keeps repeating itself. It doesn’t leave much time for anything else, does it?”

“I told you, I’ll never do it again. Now can I dream about Kyle?”

“This is probably not something you can stop all by yourself. You need to tell your parents what’s going on.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“It would really upset them.”

“They’re not china dolls that’ll break at the slightest problem. They can handle it.”

“Why do I have to tell them?”

“So they can get you some help if you need it.”

“I can stop it myself.”

“Maybe you can, but you still need to tell them right away because they already sense something’s wrong. They just don’t know what it is. Promise me you’ll tell your parents in the morning.”

It took her a long time to decide, but finally she said, “Okay.”

The scene changed and Kyle was there with a big smile on his face. “Thanks for calling me last night,” he said.

“I called you last night?” she asked.

And then it was morning and her mother opened the door to her room and told her it was time to get ready for school.

As she walked into the kitchen a few minutes later, her father was reading the paper and her mother was fixing breakfast. She sat down at the table, looked around, took a deep breath, and began. “Mom, Dad, there’s something I need to talk to you about. There’s this problem I have and I may need some help.”

Her father put down his paper, and her mother came away from the stove.

And then they talked.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh