I eat Ellen and I drink Sally. These are the words of a mother about her two daughters. The mother eats Ellen, reveling in her searching intellect, her boundless curiosity, her Ellenness. She drinks Sally, sipping Sally’s sharp wit, her simple joys. If Sally is a drink, she goes down quicker, permeates the mother’s insides with Sallyness. But she is not full. It takes Ellen to fill her up. Ellen takes longer to digest, to take in. Ellen is a meal.
But this makes Sally seem less substantial. The mother doesn’t mean that. As a little girl, Sally says she wants to be a doctor, and the mother reminds her, encourages her, pushes her towards this goal. Perhaps she spends less time, has less patience, for Sally is a nervous one. Ellen does not worry about her feelings. She lives in a world of ideas, in a life of the mind, a place the mother prefers to linger, as one lingers over a meal.
She said these words, I eat Ellen and I drink Sally, when told that Sally had always felt she favored Ellen. No, but I feel very differently about them, she said. I eat Ellen and I drink Sally. She was speaking to a psychiatrist friend of the family, a woman of her daughters’ generation whom she had mentored as a girl, drawn out, been endlessly kind to. Helen never talked to a psychiatrist as a patient, poopooed the very idea. But to this friend, this woman who had once been a girl, grateful for her attention, she said many things she never told her daughters. The psychiatrist friend reported the remarks in a letter to Ellen years after the mother’s death. She also reassured Ellen (and Ellen sent the letter to Sally, toute suite) that both of them were the center of their mother’s life.
Yes, of course. One must eat, one must drink, to live.