In case you haven’t heard, my memoir, The Body Tourist, is coming out in November, 2014 from Little Feather Books, a small, independent publishing house in NYC . Last Saturday night my good friends Frank and Carol White had a congratulations party for me, complete with a feather centerpiece (get it? Little Feather Books? Feather centerpiece?), basil-infused gin and tonics, and a chocolate cake with an image–printed in sugar–of me holding the signed contract on the left half of the cake and the book cover on the right half. It was truly one of the most creative and amazing and thoughtful things anyone has ever done for me. Thirty-five of my closest friends were there, and while they all know I’ve been working on the book for many years, and know basically what it’s about (the 6 years following my so-called recovery from anorexia), I wanted to give them a bit more about the book without giving a formal reading, and I wanted it to be quick so as not to disrupt the party’s energy. So before the party I went through the manuscript and picked one line from each of the 34 chapters of the book. Saturday night, just before we dove into the cake, I read the lines aloud in quick succession. If you weren’t there and you’d like a flavor of The Body Tourist without the time commitment, here it is:
The Body Tourist In 34 Lines
“We’ve been robbed,” my mother says.
I sit down and hand him my resume which suggests, by omission, that I attended not three colleges but only the one that conferred my degree, and which lovingly details a six-month internship at the state hospital but says nothing about my collection of lost jobs.
Rage in all its forms–impotent, seething, weepy, diabolical–was her only recourse.
To the observer I look like any new employee taking in the information about her duties—but behind the scenes, my heart is acting out a tragic drama in articulate palpitations.
Linda’s bifurcated world of puking and fucking is already beginning to wear on me, and I’ve known her for less than an hour.
“It smells like a train station in here.”
My peers’ outward accoutrements of sophistication paled in the face of my American boy and our king-size box of condoms.
It’s a proven fact that everything that happens to an addict is someone else’s fault.
I was in love—not with freckled, butterfly-loving, ten year-old Richie, but with the troubled boy-man with the mysterious, brooding core, the Richie undone by his own father, the bewildered, betrayed Richie who, in the moment before he died, might have looked up from the hole in his chest with a mix of apology and incomprehension.
“Do not fuck him.
I am vaguely aware of being angry now at my own anger, and doubly angry with my father for making me have to be mad at myself.
At the heart of my predicament is the relationship I have developed with my illness: the love affair I have with feeling in exquisite control of my appetite, the reprieve I feel, in focusing on food instead of real issues—my loneliness for example, my many fears, and now my father’s illness.
A lifetime of sickness and management, an incalculable madness that began as a benign thrumming in his chest and translated to the malignant rattle of pills in his pocket, ceases, with a profusion of tumors in his bladder, to exist.
‘Up and coming’ is a euphemism for ‘down and out,’ my mother says.
Something in me is fumbling toward a larger realization that has to do with my mother and my mother’s mother, with the kinds of loss that pull us up and away, out of the warm lake of childhood and into the dry, cool lap of a world we won’t fully understand until we are older.
Patti holds the baby out to me and I do not reach for it.
“You might not make friends easily, but I do.”
“It’s a long story,” I say, although it really isn’t any longer than sex.
The fact is, unless I am a social worker or a probation officer, I have no business being in this North Augusta neighborhood, and so I move in.
The area that presently concerns me is the narrow strip of terrain between my navel and my crotch, the gentle female swell whose existence I have always believed I must nullify in order to be found praiseworthy and desirable.
“I don’t want to be happier!” I yell.
I have only to do this simple thing—decline Austin’s hand in marriage—to set myself free.
Wouldn’t it be funny if I fell from a balcony onto a freeway?
Blind certainty believes, utterly and wholly, in itself.
Beside me in the passenger seat my paycheck lies open and smoothed flat, and every few seconds I look over at it admiringly like it is a new baby.
It certainly does not occur to me to consider that Fisher, unable to dress properly or cook for himself, might, like the house itself, have good bones but cavernous deficiencies.
“I just know how sneaky Jesus can be,” I say.
On the test, I claimed that my father was a good man and that I had never stolen from my workplace.
And then I remember: my father had an alias.
His face, while handsome, lacks the deeply etched crease I so loved in Fisher’s, evidence (I believed) of profound thought, which left its mark on especially reflective men.
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha‑olam, bo’re p’ri ha‑gafen.
I have a recurring dream about a house.