My husband and I love red meat. We love to buy it, we love to cook it, we love to rip its fleshy bits off the bone. We like it marinated in oil before it’s basted in butter, and then we like it when the butter from our copious helpings of mashed potatoes somehow finds its way onto and around our red meat, so that our steak looks like a meaty island in a sea of butter.
But as part of our New Years’ Resolutions, my husband and I decided we would like to get healthy. Or we thought we did, until the nutritionist we sought out to help us get healthy told us that we might consider trying a plant-based diet for a while. That’s when we began to have second thoughts. Maybe we could get healthy later. After all, being healthy doesn’t mean you’re a good person: Gandhi was a vegetarian, sure. But then again, so was Hitler.
But we are grownups after all, and so after debating it over a rack of lamb and big glasses of Malbec, we decided to let this man dictate our future for a while. I informed Dr. Evil of his power over us at our next appointment, and he looked back at me with a dictatorial gleam in his eye. “I’d like to put you on a cleanse,” he said.
“I make fun of people who cleanse,” I said.
“It’s only for three weeks,” he responded. “It’s not forever. It’ll end.”
“Yeah,” I said, picturing the half-empty wine bottle waiting for me at home. “Just like life.”
Here’s what a cleanse is: it is hell. First, you omit everything you might describe as delicious from your diet—coffee, alcohol, meat, dairy, sugar and wheat— and replace them with nutritional smoothies, supplements, and three weeks of abject boredom. Next, you wait for the three weeks to be over. Which, curiously, lasts an eternity.
Those first few days we didn’t know what to do. When dinnertime came around we looked at each other blankly. “Lentils?” I suggested.
“With, um, kale?” Kurt replied.
We sat down on the couch to eat. In lieu of prayers, we’ve always clinked our glasses together and said cheers. Now we stared at each other, paralyzed in front of our water glasses and green leaves. “Um, cheers?” I said.
My husband was a merchant mariner before we met and has superstitions about toasting with water. “No way,” he said. “Enjoy your kale.”
We became stupid. Whole sections of my brain stopped working, as if they were on strike until I reinstated their coffee rights. Kurt went to the store for lettuce and came home with strawberries. Eight bags of strawberries.
“I couldn’t think of anything else to get,” he explained. And then we both stared into the ether for a while.
Without milk, coffee, wine, cheese, toast– I couldn’t even have toast, people, I was about to shoot myself in the face— life was slow. When life is this slow, you begin to notice things. Things like the clock. How slowly it moves from one smoothie to the next. You notice how much you hate the word smoothie. You notice a creeping urge to control the way your husband chops strawberries to make his smoothie. Also, how he leaves every single cabinet door open in the kitchen after making said smoothie. You notice yourself pointing this out to him in a funny-shrill sort of voice. You notice yourself watching him the way the cat watches spiders.
But, amazingly, things changed around the end of the second week. We started to sleep better, which meant we had more energy. Our conversations at dinner lasted longer because our brains weren’t sinking to the bottom of a glass, or on sleep mode while our bodies grinded through the latest hunk of beef. As the days went by and we brought each other peaches and cucumber salads, congratulating each other on meatless recipes that didn’t make us feel like rabbits, I found myself looking at my husband with a new, profound appreciation: we were doing this thing together, this crazy, life-altering cleanse. We were larger than our habits. For the briefest of moments, I even pictured the two of us embracing a sober, vegetarian lifestyle. I shared my idea with Kurt, and he laughed so hard he nearly choked on his aloe juice—and then he agreed to make this an annual event.
I won’t lie: the first cup of milky coffee after we finished the cleanse was so delicious I heard angels singing. So was the first good glass of wine. These have always tasted good, so I wasn’t too surprised. What truly surprised me was that they tasted even better knowing how well we could live without them.