Oh, Heavenly Fluorescence, guide me through your aisles of stale Little Debbies towards the Promised Land of fiber-rich spinach and low-cal feta. While your countenance reflects some jerkwater-South Carolina-rat-bastard-Baptist infused little town, I look upon your glorious neon red letters through the window of my 2008 Volvo and I see the promise and strength of a supernal light.
I steadily walk through the dingy gravel parking lot, guided by the pulsing glow of the red ENTRANCE, the sign of the Messiah. Praise be upon you! As I glide through your magically opening doors, my soul is inundated with the blast of Guns N’ Roses on the overhead speaker. The synth echoes across glossy shelves and edges, operatic as a choir of angels. I bask in the warmth of your burning white lights high above me that reveal my lowly presence on the beige linoleum. My humble flesh curves in on itself as I catch my reflection in your pharmacy’s window. I bend myself over my ribs to hide the binge of Doritos that occurred 2 hours previous.
Oh, forgive me InStyle Lord, for I have sinned in carbohydrates. Draw me towards your salvation, the chilled salad section that rests in the corner beyond the balloons and edible arrangements. I pick up the plastic tongs and the to-go container and I browse through your glory. Oh, extravagant feast of Kings! Iceberg lettuce overflowing, shredded carrots infiltrate the container of Raisinettes, the plethora of dressings cascade towards the crouton options, toasted white or black. I shower my love upon you; I fill my plastic box with mixed greens and mushrooms, guilt-free, protected from the looming threat of calories, cellulite, and Lucifer.
Oh Mighty Market Chain of the Regional Southeast (Heaven), I praise you for your presence in my adolescence. For your 5 minute drive from my house, for your 24/7 hours. For your salad bar on days when I feel obese, and I fill myself with unsatisfying leafy starches drenched in low-fat ranch. I praise you for my hungry nights and 2 day binges of the snack aisle, for my unmoving, crossed arms that act as a barricade in front of my stomach rolls, for my unfinished food journals, and my diet pill Google search history.
All of this is made possible through you. May I never lose sight of the biblical calorie markings displayed above the salad toppings, the weight loss facts plastered on the protective plastic. May I never feel comfortable enough to go to the pool parties in the suburbs, or wear that polka-dot tank top I like, or talk to Michael in Algebra II. Praise be to you, Ingles Salad Bar.
I had the pleasure of writing this piece about 9 months ago, in a creative writing nonfiction class at Northwestern University. As I started my second year in college, I often found myself in heavy moments of introspection. I focused a lot of thought on the influence of my hometown environment on my self-image and worldview.
It’s an odd feeling, knowing that you’ve become a new person since you lived at home, but not being able to pinpoint the exact moment when that new person emerged. I have faced this strange phenomenon especially when reflecting on my mental health. I have struggled with anxiety and depression since I was around 15 years old, with these issues often relating to self-image. While these problems are certainly not fixed for me, my outlook on my mental wellness journey has wildly transformed since I first identified these problems as a sophomore in high school.
When I was 15, I felt incredibly alone, confused, and uncomfortable in my skin. I lived about 2 minutes down the street from a Southern grocery store chain, Ingles. Every now and then I would take myself down to the ingles DVD rental section and stuff myself from the salad bar. In this creative piece, Ingles roughly stands in for a number of stores I would patron, guilt myself for, then return to.
While looking back on this time in my life, it is impossible for me not to inject the sarcastic and comedically self-critical part of my personality. The idea of a regional supermarket chain as some omnipotent deity is hilarious to me. It also accurately reflects the amount of influence these commercial food options held over my mental state during adolescence.
Today, I’m not sure where I stand with Ingles. I still struggle with food and self image issues, although I have bounds more confidence than I used to. I guess I’d call me agnostic.