indulgence isn’t illness

I’ve never craved something so carnal—I didn’t think I could be the type—yet, there I was: stripped down and saturated in warm water, steering straight for sensual decadence. White bits of flesh hung out from under my fingernails as I lost my sense of self-censorship: dew drops dripping away. I felt like an eaglet without an ego. Visceral pleasure seeped into my every pore as I peeled open the sweet fruit and tore apart its sections as effortlessly as I leafed through waiting room readings, but with unrivaled covetousness. Pressure built to the point of ballooning every time I bit in, and then there was an upsurge of sensation. Sticky sweetness slid down me, out the corner of my pink, pruning lips, careening down my neck, against my chest. I closed my eyes and leaned my head against porcelain tiles, sinking even deeper into my sensuality. Hedonism. There’s no other word to describe it. Pure indulgence.

When I first read about eating oranges in the shower, I was taken by the grandiosity of language given to something so silent. An act that seemed so needless, so unendingly soft-spoken, becoming a beacon of bodily pleasure. There was nothing particularly absurd about snacking in the shower, but the publicity was enough to make me ache with curiosity. The piece detailing the pursuit was akin to an advertisement for hand crème produced with pearls. It was fried dough dipped in dark chocolate. It was taking time out of a dripping hourglass to do nothing but feel divine. There was an underhanded way of talking about it, about doing the thing: stepping into the shower with citrus fruit. What will they think of next? You wanted to laugh and shake your head and move on, live your life like you hadn’t ever heard about it. I tried to talk myself out of it. The writers were acting as if pleasure in wetness was some unexplored frontier, our only hope. Had the ever heard of eroticism?

But I caved, a creature of capitalistic comparison between the luxury of my life and that of others. I swooped the orange from its demure basket on the kitchen counter. I telescoped my hand into my sleeve, abashed at my suggestibility. Who was I to follow my every whim? You work hard to find comfort in life. It is the lesson traced into every line of our skin. At church, in school, standing on the scale: if I suffer I will one day savor success. Maybe that’s what mystified me: so little went into eating an orange in the shower, but it promised such pleasure. Who was I to seek undeserved gratification? I rolled the rubbery skin around in my ready hands, bare feet placed against the pristine floor. I released the handle, letting bitterly cold water run out before it swiftly steamed. Damp hair pressed snugly into my scalp and I could sense the smallest weight down on my eyelashes.

Breaking into the fruit gave way to the gates. Once you walk through the walls of our regulated reality, you are unhindered in a way that’s unsettling to a society so self-flagellating. We have all had to bear a sense of unworthiness through a streak of success. Tell me you’ve never asked yourself “Who am I to be rich in a world where there are poor” or “Who am I to be happy in a world at war?” I found myself that Friday afternoon asking, “Who am I to eat an orange in the shower?” There were warm sheets to be folded, and dishes to be done, and I was so devastatingly transfixed in experiencing a feeling I had never before found. So, I peeled my orange. And I ate it. And I felt no stickiness sliding down my arm; it was all wildly washed away. It tasted like triumph, like indisputable enjoyment. Every other bit of consciousness, every sense and sentence that couldn’t taste that fruit, dropped through the drain. And when I was done, the peel went to the floor, carelessness without consequence. The steam brought citrus scent up into the enclosed glass of my shower stall. All evidence of eating on my body vanished without a trace of guilt or greed. I had indulged without really defying any principle of the “deserving” or “undeserving.” And it felt deliriously good.

Most of my life, I’ve felt rather undeserving—of both the great and the grievous. I asked myself again, and again why things, both bad and brilliant, were happening to anyone, let alone to me. “Who am I?” I wondered. And I still wonder. Who am I to go to this school? I’m no stranger to the inequality of opportunity, to my own privilege in matriculating. Who am I to be happy? In a world wrecked with wrong, I feel guilt for any gladness or goodness. But any sadness is too ceremonious in age where others had it worse. Who am I to weep? Who am I to do anything?

I believe some people are programmed to be self-regulating, even when the world doesn’t require that of them. There are some people who simply can’t feel pleasure without first feeling pensive. Others give way to joy so effortlessly. They ask no question, “come in, come in,” they say. All young people are in that part of the population. I’m not sure when I began to fall into the first.

I’ve started to wonder if indulgence isn’t an illness, if gluttons maybe shouldn’t feel guilt. Who knows, hedonism could be healthy. I dried myself after that sweetest shower. I was dripping in divinity, but as I lost that wetness, I came back into myself: a self that had to fold laundry and scrub dishes and do homework. There is no wrong in returning. But, after being away, I don’t think there should be much ado about leaving either.