Read Loud in the House of Myself Online

Authors: Stacy Pershall

Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Personal Memoirs, #Psychology, #Personality

Loud in the House of Myself (9 page)

BOOK: Loud in the House of Myself
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I couldn’t tell my parents we were back together. They hated him, and rightly so—I’d wept and wailed and gnashed my teeth over him for so long that they just simply couldn’t take it anymore. The grand high drama of my adolescent love life, combined with the grand high drama of my adolescent self-destruction, was the reason they were paying Dr. Thornton the big bucks to talk to me. But with Owen’s love, Dr. Thornton’s positive influence decreased somewhat—I was complete, I was whole, as long as Owen gave me any attention at all. I did not need to be anything more than his girlfriend (and skinny). I sank into a malnourished calm, a path-of-least-resistance serenity, in which I viewed starvation as voodoo, my primary means of making him behave the way I wanted him to. I snuggled my tiny broken body into Owen’s muscular arms whenever possible, and I tried to ignore the people who said they saw him with Lana Hailey in the parking lot at the bonfire and that all you could see was her bare feet pressed against his windshield. I had discovered the great secret: Stop eating until nothing matters anymore. Stop eating until you have no more energy to fight. Stop eating until you’re eighteen and you can get out of Prairie Grove.

Phil called it a “moratorium.”

“What’s that?” I asked, from the island of the couch, wrapped in two sweaters, my bones like glass bells.

“It means you’re putting everything on hold until you can deal with it.”

“I can deal with it.”

We stared some more. My heart leapt unexpectedly across the room at him,
please save me,
then ricocheted back into my sternum.

“It’s not doing us any good to talk about weight. We have to find the thing that’s going to give you a reason to stay alive.” I opened my mouth. He said, “Besides Owen. You want to leave Prairie Grove, right? You want to get out? Okay. Let’s make a plan for you to do that. You’re too important to starve to death.”

I crumbled. I cried. I tried to find the right words—
I don’t mean to be so stupid, I’ll eat, I won’t eat, I’ll do whatever you want me to do
—but the words didn’t come. Finally I wiped my eyes and said, “What I really want is to be an exchange student in Europe.”

“Fine, then,” he said. “That’s a perfectly reasonable goal. But you have to be healthy to do it, so let’s get you healthy again.”

That spring, tears came more and more frequently. I buried my face in his couch and I realized, for the first time but certainly not the last, that apologizing could be a weapon. You can apologize until people think you’re crazy. Your whole body can become an apology. You’re not skinny enough or smart enough or pretty enough or talented enough or sexy enough or popular enough or sophisticated enough or tall enough or short enough or blond enough or like the last girl enough and you’re sorry, you’re sorry, you’re sorry. When you realize that not only are you not making people love you, you’re actively making them hate you, you think,
Oh, they still hate me, I knew it all along, but surely five more pounds or this color hair dye or winning this award or making my 2,500-word papers exactly 2,500 words, surely
that
will make them love me. Of course, they hate me now, I’m not enough yet, but I will be. I promise.
Anorexia is good at making you think your own thoughts are those of other people.

At Phil’s insistence, and despite my mother’s opposition to travel of any sort, I went away in the summer of 1988 to Arkansas Governor’s School. It was a six-week liberal arts camp at Hendrix College, started by Bill Clinton, who had breakfast with us the first day. I remember sitting and watching him eat a lot of biscuits. Today, in New York City, when people say, “Arkansas? Do you know Bill Clinton?” I answer, “Yeah, I once watched him eat a lot of biscuits.” If I’m feeling saucy, I say I blew him.

While he was eating the biscuits?
they ask.

In order to get into Governor’s School, you had to be one of the “hundred most gifted and talented high school students in Arkansas,” which apparently someone decided I was. I had struggled over the application in Phil’s office, while steadily gaining just enough weight that he, my pediatrician, and my parents would let me go.

“I’m very proud of you,” said Phil on the day I brought in the acceptance letter. “You’re putting yourself in harm’s way, just like we talked about. You’ll just do it bigger and better every time from here on out.”
Harm’s way
was one of Phil’s favorite expressions—he often told me it was where I needed to put myself, to teach myself that I could do it in a controlled manner and survive. His words were prophetic, foretelling not only the achievements but the manias and the suicide attempts to come. Bigger and better every time, yup. I would become a master of the melodramatic spectacle. I would take everything positive out of the idea of “harm’s way,” focusing only on the harm.

Hendrix College is in a little town called Conway, half an hour from Little Rock, where you can buy a T-shirt celebrating the fact that Conway is between two towns called Toad Suck and Pickles Gap. In the town square, there’s a big green toad in a big red circle, and the toad is wearing overalls and a straw hat and chewing a blade of grass, and around the circle it says
TOAD SUCK DAZE
, the name of a local festival. I decided these embarrassing facts would not keep me from learning something about literature during my time in Conway, and learn about literature I did. Governor’s School would be one of the best things to ever happen to me.

My parents moved me into my dorm room on a sweltering June day, my mother and I barely speaking. She was mad at me for wearing only one earring, which she thought I was doing in an attempt to get attention for being weird. She told me I needed to stop trying to look like Denise Huxtable and tone it down a bit if I was ever going to have any friends; I told her she was being ridiculous. She wished me a tight-lipped goodbye, and I sat on the foot of my bed with my feet on my suitcase and got to know my roommate Julie, who had come to Governor’s School to study drama, as she attempted to hang a
Les Misérables
beach towel on the wall with Sticky Tack. She wore a
Les Misérables
T-shirt and had a
Les Misérables
pillow-case. Her parents took her to New York City, she said, so she could see the Broadway show for her birthday. She had among her tape cassettes two versions of the cast recording.

“I’ll have to play you ‘Master of the House,’” she said, “It’s so good. You’ll sing it for days.”

At one point she punctuated her chatter with, “My shrink’s really glad I’m here,” and I was shocked, but then realized she was from Little Rock, where people were rich and sophisticated and probably everybody had a therapist, just like in Woody Allen movies. When Julie told me she was Jewish—the first Jew I’d ever met, which meant I found her very exotic—I knew I’d finally found my way into an environment where people were truly sophisticated. I said, “Yeah,
my
shrink’s glad too.”

She brightened, ready to hear the lowdown on someone else’s craziness. “Why are you seeing a shrink?”

“Because I’m anorexic and bulimic,” I said, having decided that here, if anyone asked, I would admit it. I had started to think I might spend the summer writing a story about it to send to
Seventeen
magazine.

“Eww, you puke?” she said with glee.

“Yup.”

“Every day?”

“Not anymore.” It was true. I had gotten better, a little bit, tenuously.

“I’m just dyslexic,” she said. “And hyper. I take Ritalin. Just about everybody I know takes Ritalin. Do you?”

“No.”

“Most of us just sell it to the cheerleaders as diet pills,” she laughed, pushing her glasses farther up her nose and wiping her brow with her forearm. The towel, at last, was secured to the wall with so much Sticky Tack the little urchin’s face looked all lumpy, like on top of everything else she had to endure, she’d come down with the mumps.

“Well, I take diet pills already,” I said.

“You
do
? That’s so bad for you.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but not as many as I used to. I used to take a lot.”

“Moderation is a good thing,” she mused. “Excess is so Edie Sedgwick.”

I was in a place where people knew who Edie Sedgwick was! My heart swam. I was with the cool kids, finally, at last. For the next six weeks, I could be anybody I wanted. I decided that I would wholeheartedly embrace my one-earringed weirdness and become an eccentric literary genius.

I quickly settled into the whirlwind, mind-blowing routine of Areas I, II, and III. Area I was your primary subject. You had two Area I classes a day; mine were creative writing and short stories. Then you had Area II, which was basically a philosophy class, where you and twenty other kids from different majors talked about the existence of God, the pros and cons of torture, and the idea of utopian society. Area III was the touchy-feely one, where you “processed” everything that was happening to you. When asked by our hippie watercolor-painter teacher to write on notecards what we expected from Area III, I made the embarrassing mistake of writing in smudgy erasable pen that I expected it to be a little like the sessions I was missing with my shrink. She pulled me aside to talk to me; I reiterated the eating disorder story. I must admit I liked the cachet it gave me. Eccentric
troubled
literary genius: I relished the extra adjective.

I presented myself as a Very Serious Author, wearing the hell out of my F. Scott Fitzgerald T-shirt. Because I was obsessed at the time, having read that she was Sting’s favorite author, I started the Church of Anne Rice, which meant I wrote
Interview with the Vampire
with red and black Sharpies on a lot of people’s jeans. I went to a costume party as Gabrielle de Lioncourt, Lestat’s mom, who wore black spandex pants according to my interpretation. At night I danced with the visual arts kids to the Smiths on the roof of the library, and I loved them because they all dressed in black and had bangs that obscured one of their eyes. If they were wearing more than one earring, their asymmetrical haircuts didn’t show it. Swaying beneath the moon, surrounded by kids who looked like Deiter from
Sprockets,
I felt gloriously at home.

We watched films; I became a film freak at Governor’s School. I learned about Leni Riefenstahl and Frederick Wiseman, and took in
Dr. Strangelove
and
Brazil
and
My Life as a Dog,
as well as Pink Floyd’s
The Wall
(which, embarrassingly enough, was probably the one that affected me the most; perhaps it is a not a film meant to be seen sober). Exhausted, my brain overloaded with stimuli, I nodded off at my desk after writing in my journal:
Maybe Pink shaves his eyebrows because he wants to mutilate himself out of mourning for his friends in the hamburger grinder
.

We read
Kaspar
and
Offending the Audience
by Peter Handke. A man who freely admitted to being an atheist came in and gave a lecture on subliminal advertising to all the Area II classes. I learned that they stamp
SEX
into Ritz crackers and put pictures of screaming faces in the ice cubes in liquor ads because this will remind alcoholics of withdrawal and they’ll keep drinking. I gleefully turned into a Socialist conspiracy theorist with a penchant for German Expressionism. I wrote stories about girls who were incarcerated for killing their parents. Then I discovered Flannery O’Connor, fell madly and passionately in love, and declared Anne Rice a hack.

The moratorium, as Phil called it, was over. One day, in the cafeteria, my new friend Nicki and I picked up a package of NoSalt, the salt substitute, and because we had been primed for weeks to rage against the machine, we taped NoSalt packets to pieces of posterboard and marched around protesting. Our protest consisted primarily of running up to people, ripping open a packet, throwing it at them, screaming
“No Salt!”
and running away. Given permission to question anything, I questioned everything. I told Julie that actually I was not such a big fan of “Master of the House.” I decided I definitely, for sure, did not believe in God. I was one step closer to grown-up. Officially freed from Christianity, the eating disorder fading in the presence of stronger passions, I was almost happy.

So why, then, did I buy the Dexatrim? Maybe because when I walked into the student bookstore one day with a headache and a plan to buy some aspirin, the Dexatrim was
right fucking there
.
Hmm,
I thought,
college girls take it
. Julie had found the box I’d brought with me to camp and thrown it away, and I’d been okay without it. I knew I didn’t need it. But in an instant I forgot about the aspirin and got the Dexatrim instead, easy as that. Seeing it on the shelf in the Hendrix bookstore made it acceptable, normal, no big deal. Because I didn’t want to be seen buying just diet pills, I picked up an M. C. Escher poster. This seemed like a well-rounded collegiate bookstore purchase.

In my room my fingers tripped over the box in my rush to open it:
My love, I have missed you
. It had only been a month, but a month was a long time. How many pills could I have taken in that time? Ten a day, that’s what, three hundred? Three thousand? Something like that? This box had only thirty. I could take the whole thing.

As I popped open the blister packs, I thought of all the other things I could be doing: writing a story, reading a story, dancing with the artfags, protesting something. Seeing a movie, having a discussion, walking through the library smelling books. Coffee in the student center, cigarettes on the fire escape, anything, the world was my oyster. Right? I mean, that’s what they tell you. They tell you you can do anything, they tell you your brain is important, they tell you you’re one of the most gifted and talented blah blah blah blah blah, and then they say,
Look, here between the books, doncha wanna be skinny, little girl?

College girls did it. It had to be okay. I took Julie’s plastic
Les Misérables
tumbler to the bathroom, turned on the tap, and served myself what was for all intents and purposes a bucket of water. A 44-ounce
Les Mis
commemorative beverage was just what the occasion called for.

BOOK: Loud in the House of Myself
10.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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