"Food and Loathing" by Betsy Lerner

In this excerpt, the author binges through a lonely weekend, and contemplates suicide.


Salon Staff
February 22, 2003 1:00AM (UTC)

I had a minor breakthrough in my junior year, when our writing professor assigned us to write a sestina, that highly unpopular verse form using six-line stanzas in which the end words of the stanza are repeated in varied order. I wrote a poem titled "Calories and Other Counts," in which I described my food obsession, albeit in a lighthearted way with a feminist gloss. Until then my weight problem was the last thing I would have revealed about myself. I even read the poem in a poetry slam at a popular downtown venue. I pushed myself to take the stage in the open-mike session and chanted out my poem, my personal "Howl." Surely this was progress.

When I took my seat, a cute guy two seats over stretched his arm around me and whispered, "Baby, you're not fat." I wish I could tell you that he and I made our way to his East Village apartment and made passionate love all night. Instead, I looked at him as if he had a third eye and fled the club for a nearby bodega, where I picked up a package of my best friend, Little Debbie brownies.

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Long weekends were my downfall. On Labor Day before senior year, I ate my way through an eightplex, going from movie to movie with a new box of Milk Duds or Junior Mints or a bucket of popcorn for every show. And on the single Thanksgiving of my life that I didn't spend with my family (my OA group had endorsed the choice -- families are generally considered highly toxic to "recovering" types), instead of going to extra meetings and taking care of myself, I started the holiday by having two full breakfasts -- buttered bagel, scrambled eggs, fries, and bacon -- at two different diners in the Village.

That particular lost day ended with a midnight visit to a deli on First Avenue, wearing only my raincoat. In my rush to get more food I forgot to wear my glasses -- something I had never done before. I didn't realize my mistake until I reached the street and found the world an unfocused, bleeding mess. I clutched at my coat -- did I really leave the apartment with nothing on underneath? I knew I should go back for my glasses or, better yet, go home and stay there. I had been eating nonstop all day. But in the window of thought when I might have considered that sober course, the compulsion was urging me on down the street. Just one more thing. Day One starts tomorrow. Only I wasn't interested in tomorrow. I wanted only to wipe out the present. Or to go back to the time when Rick was running his finger along my protruding hipbone. Where was Rick now? Where was my hipbone?

I wanted to slip inside the deli unseen, gather my items, and disappear. I spent a great deal of time cruising delis, looking for a counterman who wouldn't make a sarcastic remark about my purchases: Hungry? Nice little appetite you've got there. How had I come to care more about the deli man's opinion than about how I looked to the hundreds of men I passed in the street as I ate my way through Manhattan? Now, however, I didn't just want to disappear temporarily, I wanted to turn up in the Hudson. A girl with no identification, found floating in her trench coat -- another sad news item in the New York Post.

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I grabbed two thick Hershey bars and asked for three croissants. The counterman smirked. I threw a twenty on the counter and fled. I heard him calling after me about my change, but I ran across the street oblivious to the oncoming traffic, a blur of lights and horns with me in the headlights, my bag of food already grease-stained from the croissants, wishing those cars would plow me under and end the daily battle. And through the confusion, the lights, and the blare, I heard those compassionate New York voices: Get the fuck out of the way! What's your fucking problem?

From "Food and Loathing," by Betsy Lerner. Copyright 2003 by Betsy Lerner. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


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