Friday, October 15, 2004


The yellow was irresistible, a vestige of high summer in darkening autumn, so I stopped and framed the goldenrod in my viewfinder. As I focused and waited for the wind and my hand to become still, an intruder entered the frame and dove, famished, into the buttery froth. Startled, frightened, I snapped the picture and backed off.

There's something about a wasp that the even disassociating buffer of a camera can't mitigate.

She was a willowy woman with a swan neck, doe eyes, apple-cheeks and a peaches and cream complexion. Or perhaps she was simply wasp-waisted and archnodactylous. Dog-eared, pigeon-breasted and extremely catty. A real bitch.

The other day a Karen Carpenter song came over some muzak or another. As usual, I cringed at the bland, beige, uninflected voice, all veneer and cheerfulness, a creepily pretty voice, edgeless and flawless. A lukewarm porridge of a voice. A treacly gruel of a voice.

Wasp-waisted. It's not an inviting image. It evokes not just visual thinness -- the Victorian, whale-bone corseted, hourglass-shaped woman -- but also an overtly masculine, even phallic dangerousness and aggressiveness. Carpenter's voice was not wasp-waisted in the least.

Dr Mack once asked me what I thought he saw when he looked at me.

I was just emerging from a flirtation with starvation, a reprise of something I'd done years prior with no treatment beyond our useless GP's diagnosis and prescription: You look like an Auschwitz survivor. You should eat. I remember, on one of many of that summer's long, anguished, kcal-burning walks, encountering a toddler standing on the sidewalk eating a sandwich. Baloney on white bread. The most normal thing in the world, eating a baloney sandwich, was beyond me. The pathos was overwhelming. Eventually, at the increasingly strident behest of the starving animal to which I was fastened, I ate. And, starved, kept eating until there was nothing left. Then I ate some more.

This time, six years later, visibly dwindling, I'd extracted a muted threat of hospital from Dr Mack. This was unheard of in our long, therapeutic conversation. He was about interpretation, not intervention. I was forcing his hand. Acting out. What power I wielded in my regression ! Not just over my body, but over him. The power of a screeching infant.

Having gotten what I wanted -- the proffer of a Freudian breast -- I reluctantly turned back to health, and grew, inevitably, anxiously, more normal in appearance. I hated it. I felt grotesque.

What do you imagine I see when I look at you ?

I have no idea.

His reply, unrecorded, lost to thirty years, was probably short and dry. Discreet and objective. But I've always remembered one phrase.

A slight woman.

The proffer of a mirror.

That's all 30 years ago. He's been dead for three weeks. I barely recognize the person who wrote page upon page of tormented journal entries on body, gender, hunger. I can call up the queer intimacy of therapy and analysis as if it were yesterday: my lonliness, isolation and confusion, and his unwavering presence. Though gone, he's here still. Disseminated in the hundreds and hundreds of lives he's touched. That doesn't much help the grief.

It's odd how neuroses and symptoms become quietly folded into character. I am, I suppose, slightly female; I eat enough, but oddly: vegan, on the fringe. An ember of the old pleasure in shrinking is in there somewhere, burning like a perverse eternal flame at the tomb of a half-dead, rejected former self. It flares up at the oddest times. Like the thought I had, when, at 3 am, after 15 hours in the ER and the diagnosis of a broken neck, the nurse finally brought me to a room and slid me into a hospital bed. A bed, diabolically enough, that contained a scale. She peered down and announced my weight. This thought popped out:

Three pounds less than I thought ! Cool !

Oh for goodness sakes, you tedious ninny, I replied, as if swatting at a half-dead, persistent wasp, Do shut up.

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