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A Chemo Brain, Up Close and Personal

©Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved.
(I originally posted this in March, 2010, but I feel the need for a little humor, so I’m running it again.)

I sometimes wonder if I’m plagued with one of those trendy alphabet disorders like “OCD” or “ADD” that are favorite topics of morning talk shows. Or maybe the wiring in my brain temporarily short-circuits, causing the bimbo wires to mingle and override the common sense wires. Personally, I think it’s chemo brain, a result of my eight rounds of chemotherapy for breast cancer. Regardless of the underlying cause, foods packaged in neat cardboard boxes, like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, seem to trigger a response that makes me assign them human characteristics.

Most of us have personified an inanimate object by pointing out the “shapely legs” of a chair, or by calling an old pickup truck “a good old girl” or “a beauty,” but I have expanded the bounds of anthropomorphism one step further: I behave as though dried pasta has feelings. This typically happens when I open a box of macaroni and pour the contents into the pot. I imagine the stranded pieces of pasta glued to the bottom of the box are devastated at being left behind while their box mates go on to seek their destinies, tumbling and boiling together, soon to be a satisfying meal for hungry diners. I feel sorry for the macaroni left behind and find myself ripping open the box to free them, scraping away the remnants of glue and cardboard, then pushing them onto their boiling center stage.

When this happens, I know my husband wonders if I have lost my mind, but I prefer to believe my reasoning abilities are creatively expanding their horizons: The macaroni have been together since they were first extruded from Kraft’s giant pasta machines, then spread onto conveyor belts to dry. I see the blue and yellow Kraft boxes, newly crimped and formed, jockeying for position, one after the other, their labels facing the same direction, ready to be filled with newly made macaroni. One by one, cheese packets are added, boxes are sealed, then packed into larger boxes for shipping. By the time the macaroni reach my stove, I imagine how disappointed these pasta orphans must be, stuck to the bottom and denied their birthright of being “the cheesiest.”

Maybe I’ve watched too many dancing boxes of popcorn and singing colas while waiting for a movie to start, but I take comfort from the great architect, Louis Kahn, who said “a brick wants to be something more than a brick. It wants to be a great building.” Macaroni wants to be more than a dried glutinous mass. It wants to be a meal, amazing and creamy until the last bite.

My husband says bimbos and macaroni have a lot in common. He smiles knowingly as he pats the top of my head. “They both want to be more than they are, but their brains are stuck to the bottom of the box.”