Will I Break the Fast, or Will the Fast Break Me?

My annual struggle begins at the end of every Fat Tuesday. Before midnight, I indulge in every sweet thing I can cram into my mouth before I swear off all sweets for the 40 days of Lent. My menu on February 25 of this year, five weeks ago, included: four Monteleone’s mini cupcakes for breakfast (one of each color), a theater-size box of classic flavors Mike & Ike’s for my morning snack, Oreos AND Pepperidge Farm Lido cookies at midday, left-over birthday cake I found in the break room at work in the afternoon, and Oreos and ice cream after dinner. 

That night I thought, “Bye-bye till Easter, sweets!” I mean it every year, but my will is weak. The longest I’ve ever abstained was ten days. That’s one quarter of the whole duration of Lent. I was raised Catholic and I’m Latina, so there’s no points for effort, just guaranteed eternal damnation. I’m no sinner, though. I’m a sugar fiend.

Sugar soothes me. I need it most during this pandemic panic, but I haven’t had sweets in the five weeks since Fat Tuesday. It takes three weeks to form a habit. I wonder if the same applies to breaking a habit. The restrictions and anxieties caused by COVID-19 have disrupted many of my habits. I’m grateful for my mind-clearing long walks, but sugar used to be part of the pleasure of walking. I know all the newsstands and bodegas within the three-mile radius of my home, which ones have tubs of candy on the counter, and most importantly, the ones that have my favorite candies. 

The newsstand at the southeast corner of Newark and Summit Avenues was my favorite stop. They offered at least four different flavors of Laffy Taffy. (Not just one or two, like the State News on the Boulevard. What is a sugar fiend to do with just banana and sour apple?) They also had Sour Patch Kids, Swedish Fish, the twenty-five cent Mike & Ike boxes in all the flavors, chewy Now & Laters. There was nothing better at the end of a work day than walking home in the sun along Newark Avenue with my pocket full of individually plastic-wrapped doses of joy. 

I would reach into my pocket, delicately take hold of a piece of candy, unwrap and pop it into my mouth. Cold weather required more chewing of hardened candy and a quick prayer that my dental work would not be compromised. Hot weather brought the annoyance of candy stuck to its wrapper and the risk that I might not be able to eat the candy at all. As I walked, the sugar coated the flavor receptors on my tongue and the buzzy giddiness hit my brain by the time I got to the corner of Newark and the Boulevard. 

During these past five weeks, I still walk but continue past the newsstand. The space is too confined. I imagine the candy coated with microbes from all the unwashed, unknown hands that rummage through the tubs. I’ve thought about carrying wipes to pick up and clean each piece and place them not in my pocket but in my own disposable bag. However, I’d be too anxious whether I exposed myself to the virus by entering the newsstand or handling the merchandise or whether I’ll be poisoned by the Lysol antibacterial wipe residue on my fingertips. The candy wouldn’t taste as sweet as I walk briskly and anxiously along Newark Avenue concentrating on social distancing.

Every year, I typically break the abstinence of Lent by stocking up on bags of discounted after-Easter candy and gorging myself with jelly beans till Halloween. That won’t happen this year. This Lent, I gave up trolling the candy aisle of Duane Reade, ogling the bags of jelly beans—Starburst, Sour Patch Kids, Nerds, old school Russell Stover and Brachs—and picking each up tenderly, giving it a shake, listening to the soothing rattle of the jelly beans within and thinking, “After Easter, you will be mine for 75% off.”

News reports last week announced that loss of smell and taste is a tell-tale sign of COVID-19 infection. I worry COVID-19 will alter my sense of taste. As these weeks of Lent pass, not breaking my sugar fast becomes less of a struggle. The challenge is to not let this new reality break me. I wonder when I can again safely and confidently enter the newsstand and buy candy. When and if I do, I wonder if my candy will ever taste the same again.


Nancy Méndez-Booth is an artist of Puerto Rican descent. Her work has appeared in print and online, including Poets & Writers, Latina, Salon, OZY, VIDA.org, and the Latina Outsiders: Remaking Latina Identity anthology. Nancy has performed at venues including Cornelia Street Café and The Moth, and has attended Vermont Studio Center, Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, and Blue Mountain Center. She was selected in 2017 by NJ Women Playwrights Program for support for her solo show “I Don’t Know How She Does It.” Nancy is an alumna of Amherst College (BA) and Rutgers-Newark (MFA, MA). She currently seeks representation.

Jersey City, New Jersey

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Life in Quarantine: Witnessing Global Pandemic is an initiative sponsored by the Poetic Media Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University.

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