Sick a la Americana, Part Two

23 10 2012

I can’t wait to get out of here to call everybody.

“ I’m not anorexic!!!! No, it’s not anorexia that has fucked me up.”

The reception area is empty.  What, when did it turn after five?

At three or so, I handed my insurance card through the window. When a human hand picked it up at the other side, I was shocked. Not about the five-inch plate glass between us – grumpy cancer patients with nothing to lose could cause security risks, I suppose, but that there was a hand, a real looking hand with a human attached that can speak!

During the last three weeks I have placed roughly 70 calls to this office. But an automated menu hangs up every time before I finish my message, no matter how fast I hop on the beep and rush through my line.

So I planned another strategy:  What if I don’t call at all anymore? Somebody has got to notice the sudden lack of frantic attempts to get through, miss being wanted and end up calling me!

Why not?

I was aware of a could-be glitch in my otherwise clever plan: the likelihood that my surgeon’s answering service was not programmed to act like a typical guy was a possibility, but I had to at least give it a try.

Well, nobody called.

That’s when it finally hit me: There’s no reasoning with an app.

A cyber-office is just not human, period.

I’m stubborn in matters that don’t matter at all.  Give me resistance or ignore me and I will fight, even if I don’t care for the price I win – once it is mine, you can have it. This challenge however, was the first one I remember that I could have sat out without a dent to my pride.

Was it not for several “Sowhatsupwiththeresultsofthebiopsy?” nags day after day, I’d have left it at losing to an app for cash strapped and awkward surgeons.

But naturally, the first time an ex-man called the very same number, the doctor himself picked up.  At the very first try.

Now I’m inside the elevator I don’t remember I called and stare at the buttons. There are three parking levels, three! Why can’t I ever write this shit down? It even says so on the ticket!

Damn, the ticket I should have had validated.

I cannot deal with this right now.  But since I can’t locate it, nor figure out where to look for my wallet, it’s just as well that I didn’t validate.

A yellow-haired lady cased in piggy-pink stretch-velvet fills every cubic inch inside her parking booth and is resting her eyes over a brand new US-Weekly. A spit bubble wobbles in the left corner of her lower lip. It bursts when I brake in front of a wimpy stick of brightly painted plastic, down in clear barricade mood. One of her lilac eyelids opens slowly and waits. She smirks and points to a slit in a box, very much next to my face.

“See that? That’s where the ticket goes. Thank You.”

“A ticket? I don’t have one, I mean, I might have had it but now I can’t find it, I think.” I say and hope I sound sweet.

With both eyes open now, her blue-pink-silver shaded nails – if you can call something twice as long as the hand it belongs to nails – draw my eyes to a sign spelling it out:

“Lost Ticket Pays Max – 28$” it says in English and Spanish.

“Cash or Credit.” She yawns.

I look in my purse, under the seats and tap my pockets, appropriately frantic.

“Can’t find my wallet either, I’m sorry”

She rolls her eyes. “ Pull over there, you’re blocking traffic.”

“Traffic?”

My car is the only vehicle in the whole building.

“I said pull over there. Or pay. Whatever”, she barks, as if this was her own business. “I’m having to need to call the supervisor. She’s out for lunch and she ain’t going to be back here today.”

That stick blocking my way, is no match for my German engine. There won’t even be a scratch. The speed with which she shoots up and rolls out of her container takes me by surprise, but that’s a sight already in my back view mirror.

‘Chill. That’s why your boss has insurance’, I think.

I step on it, around the corner onto Hollywood Way and even though there is no reason, I speed up once I hit Riverside.  A yellow light ahead turns red. I argue with myself and calculate for a moment. But since I’m usually a good person, I stop.

My hands-free microphone is tangled up in knots. No matter if I roll it up with care or throw it as it is inside the glove compartment, that’s how it looks when I taake it out. How it ties itself is one of those miracles nobody will ever be able to explain.  But without my glasses, I won’t be making that call, I can’t tell what’s my phone or my ancient Chanel compact.

I will never get used to not seeing everything I want to with perfect 20/20 vision or with not beeing young anymore, no, not without my contacts.

They’ve worked for years. But after this storm last year, when electricity was restored after four days, either my eyes or my contacts started to act up.   Even fresh out of the package, they were spiked with thorns – on better days, they made me think of sand-schnitzels. After a few hours in a bar or party, the first thing to do, was peel them from my stoner-red eyeballs. They were suddenly useless. And expensive: I wasted two two-week-supplies every day.  My eye-doctor in Santa Monica – the sight-god of Southern California’s aging visual-art A-Listers – wondered if I ate them. Hahaha, that was funny. But two days later I found another year’s supply of lenses in my mailbox.

This is just one of the reasons my credit card statements don’t make it out of the envelope. No, I never throw them out! No way! I keep them in a folder for later – in a clutter-free box of folders. Two years and never-missed-a-meeting in an anonymous program for people like me – people who look at money as a drug that always runs out – was not for nothing!

Always a sucker for public shaming I had an open mind and was prepared for a percentage of crazies. Even when everybody who shared sounded like a sales-pitch for  “The Secret”. Even when none of this added up – and, oh really, The Secret? Ouch.

However,  by the time we held hands I was sold. Twenty years of other ‘rooms’ fell off me like my jeans from last year. This was the real thing. I was in and cool with everything. Nothing could keep me from those weekend retreats in a rented two-story buiding , hidden in a monastery by Santa Barbara.

When I wasn’t rolling on the floor in giggles or tears, I power-walked through the lush gardens to the meditation park.

I clearly  had finally reached the root and the answer to all my problems.  Sometime during childhood, I must have entered into a fucked-up agreement. Part boarding-school guilt, part romantic sainthood, mixed with early hippie- dogma and with  what I picked up at home, I had chained myself to a screwed up mindset of deprived poverty, regardless of how much I was paid for my ideas.  Those things alone guarantee depression and constant anger, but I spread this believe out to every inch of my life. Money was only the visible tip of an incomprehensible chaos inside me.

Always late, time had long ago turned into my enemy. Never enough, always running out, yet not able to enjoy a free minute, I had not the faintest idea what comfort was supposed to feel like. Massages made me impatient, a TV was for couch-potatoes and forget doing nothing!

Suddenly I saw another connection:   my  bulimia –  behind me for more then a year then –  even its utter wastefulness, was  proof of my never ending productivity. Since I somehow didn’t deserve to take time out and read Vogue, I mean, not without something to show for,  I made sure that I had plenty to show.  Empty boxes and crumpled bags, dirty dishes and collapsed shopping bags justified wasted time somewhat, but the toilet bowl full with vomit, myself empty again provided a feeling of accomplishment I had not yet replaced with anything equally effective.

So I related and connected with everyone, even the reallly crazy Urban Campers –  the few who snagged a scholarship for the retreat – the New-Age priests and the competitive over-spenders that had of course hoarded all the good magazines while we others were at dinner. Leaving  only AAA-Westward and lame golf-magazines to harvest for our vision boards, they all left the retreat with wall-sized and intricate visions, but I forgave them.

Even when the wedding to my long-term sweetheart fell on a Friday,  day one of another retreat, I arrived at the ceremony with my own car, packed and anxious to leave as soon we were declared man and woman – hey, whatever one puts in the path of recovery will be removed anyway….

I can’t find my glasses  without my glasses.  Of course, those ones, carelessly stuck in my bag are not the ones I need. They are at home. After I capitulated the battle with my contacts, I went in to get glasses to really see with. But being able to focus wasn’t pretty. Noticing chewed-up nails, unnecessarily magnified, I returned them to the stylish box they came in and set my Word-program to Times 16 and up.

If only that was possible with seams and other details I need to see for my work.  Even if it’s all about delegating, the way my eyes are acting crazy, I’m gonna be way more confidant once I’ve met a blind fashion designer.

Damn! One minute at a red light is enough to scramble the simplest plan.  My mother is right. I must see to it that I get properly medicated for this ADD thing. Everybody else has it!  I bet I could up- (wo)man-ship everybody with the quantity of my distractedness and that’s without getting into the quality of it.

The light jumps to green. I’ve missed my chance to prepare for this. I haven’t even dialed a number with my glasses still on. I pull over to the curb, detangle the cord and start over. But suddenly, it hits me:

What was I thinking? This stupid line about anorexia is just the opening act, but then what?

I have to keep this to myself! At least for now.

Because if I tell friends or my family what the doctor just told me, the people pleaser in me will also hope – at least a little bit –  that I don’t have to take that back. I know myself by now. I can’t stand the idea that even one single thought  about me could be that I cried wolf or worse, that I enjoyed the pity and attention.  Oh yes, somebody will think it.  I will always wonder and search faces and hearts. The way I turn everything over until I find an unkind idea about me in others, I will surely discover plenty. So what if I end up not dying, after all? That’s easy: I will look like a pathetic attention-hogger.

This conflict will encourage those crazy out-of-control fucker cells to spread out, if they haven’t already. What if they start to rush? Empowered by my desire to be right,  Cancer will know that I would rather die soon  then be looked at as a liar.  It will spawn and nest with new energy!

I hit END on the call.

I can’t take a chance with this now, because I do want to live, I have to. Until this, until cancer, my life was the best it had ever been, exciting, beautiful and even at times comfortably peaceful and sweet.

What the bleep do we know about cancer?





Sick a la Americana

31 08 2012

Sick a la Americana – Drop your Health Insurance, float and sink…

“Ms. S, we both know this will a difficult conversation.“

The doctor’s face is narrow like the blade of a knife; it could easily fit through the slats of a baby-crib.

Huh? Why is my mind on baby-cribs? Anything to escape, hahaha.

 He shakes a tea-tree-oil toothpick from a plastic box – I got a least five of those in my glove compartment.  They always look like a good idea in the checkout line at Nature Mart.

“ I understand why you’ve avoided the calls from my office. But believe it or not, as hard it is for you to hear what I have to tell you, it is also difficult for me to say.”

A black Brillo-Pad sticks out from the top of this long head, the sides shaved close – this man does not have a woman in his life.

“What a handsome husband I got! All that thick hair? Just like a 20 year old. It’s so true, thick hair, it is a sign of, uhm, of, virility, it sure is! But, honey, I know you have your own style, a style like nobody else and in no way am I trying to change anything, but, I made us an appointment with my hair guy, yes, Billy for tomorrow. I can’t wait to take you home after….”

Who talks like that? His wife, would he have one, if. Hmm.

“ This is the part of working in the medical field I could do without. Not the long hours, not the humbling fact that since Penicillin nothing really new has come down the pipeline, so to speak, nope.”

He trails off. His large fingers diddle nervously with a corner of the folder he holds, snap, snap, snap. The way he sucks his toothpick echoes inside the dead silence of the closet-sized examination booth. According to the nurse I’m supposed to sit on the rolled out paper on the table, but I’ve taken the only chair in here instead.

Did you know how uncomfortable your exam-table is to sit on? How it feels to be the patient? No? Well, now you do.

 

The paper crackles under him.

There’s no spot for your ass. But keep trying.

He puts the folder on top of an overflowing instrument stand, stumbles through a stack of lab-results and finally pulls a shiny page with two rows of vivid photographs of my Esophagus. This thing has caused me to lose 20 pounds, my sanity – a 72-hour Psych-hold at UCLA attests clearly to this, as well as constant crying and a total loss of confidence – put an end to feeling pretty for the first time in my life and wiped out my hard earned ability to have fun.

Fun with boys, fun with men, a few girls and still enough room for serious work, I dumped salon blow-dried, caramel highlights, age-appropriate shirts and a stale march into middle age for a dive into light headed, silly worlds I was way too serious to enjoy the first time around. In short skirts and high heels, bangs and wild black hair, I dancing and laughed from a party to this bar, that dive to a ghetto club, and finished the nights in somebody’s arms.

“I love my work. But this? One would think it gets easier,” the doctor studies my sunken face he’s seen only three times. “ No. It gets worse.”

You should have seen me last year! My cheeks and my skin were plump and full. Not saggy and grey, tight from panic and pain.

His starched striped shirt is totally crooked, two buttonholes wrong, and those ugly tasseled loafers – why any man thinks they are attractive is beyond me – have seen shinier days.

He points to the pictures he took while I was out.

Brown and black blisters interrupt the vivid spectrum of a whole rainbow inside me – witnessed by a camera, not bigger then the top of a match.

“It’s not so bad with old patients, but a young and beautiful woman in the prime of her life? That’s when I always I ask myself: Why did you chose this?”

I’m far from beautiful and any prime, but I still dress as if it mattered and smear my eyelids with black powder, my lips all beige and sometimes I can pull it off.

“I know how hard you work to be so thin.” A woman I hardly know laughed.

“Come on, you can’t fool a vain chick like me!”

Try cancer, bitch.

 

There was a time just before I discovered how to throw up, after I gained 60 pounds coming off Meth, I investigated parasites and how to get one.

 

“I removed three of those growth. Yes, I told you they were most likely pre-cancerous cells, papillomas, not very dangerous or aggressive, even if not detected early. But the biopsies show a different story. Now it is a matter of how far it has spread”

He scribbles orders for scans, labs and ultra-sounds, more tests, an all you can eat orgy of medical questions and hopefully, answers.

I always knew I would get this. Since I was eight, since that summer between third and fourth grade and then during every day of the bulimia-years. Every day it was right here, my worst fear and terror of this. It never left. Everything else changed since my last lonely feast more then five years ago, everything but this.

 

At eight, I know nothing about bulimia.

I am 22 years away from the first purge and its tremendous surge of power.

I know things an eight year old shouldn’t know. Sometimes I eat and eat and eat until my stomach screams, but making myself throw up? No way! I am horrified of barfing, so much so, I’m obsessed with how I would make it to the bathroom in time if I got sick in class, or in the car, or inside a store…wherever, losing control like that, I can’t imagine anything more humiliating. Throwing up is right there on the top of all my fears, even before dogs and the disgusting guy, sleeping in our house at times.

My grandparents reside in one of the plushy elegant apartments provided for doctors and people like my grandfather. He runs the pharmacy, a part of a huge City Of Illness complex, complete with parks and swans, a church, huge trees, a flower-stand, knick-knack shops and countless hospitals.

I’m in one of them, recovering from a one-inch scar – for a whole week! Imagine this. I’ve picked up two of my husbands after a hernia-operation, the same day.

They have labs too, with real animals.

We get to pick one guinea pig each and are crazy about them. But soon enough – they are quite boring – we fight at first over whose turn it is to clean the cage. So, the cage just stinks, another week goes by and even feeding them gets too much.

One of us forgets to shut the door of what is more like an outhouse then a nice place for guinea pigs to live in. They are on their own. Free to roam, shit and gnaw wherever they want – and to multiply.

One morning before school, I try to count them. Eighteen? They all look the same and they run, so who knows?

After school there’s a note on the bathroom mirror, perfectly taped on all four sides.

“Until you learn how to care for your pets you do not deserve to have them. I took them back to the lab. But if for any reason, I missed one or two, I expect you to call immediately. This mess up here is disgusting.”

Care for your pets. Those things aren’t pets, not like the baby-bunnies we get to raise once a year. I never forget to feed them. I love each one, even when they grow big and mean – which is when they switch from pet to dinner.

The size of my scar, “as small as possible and low enough, it will never show! So small she can wear bikinis and not feel embarrassed…” is extremely important to my grandfather. Why? I have no idea. I’m too young to understand that my body is my currency to negotiate a husband, part of the dowry or so.

He was in Siberia for eight years, before PTST was a word. His sudden rages, brightly flagged landmines, are easy enough to avoid. But when he explodes, it’s a tremendously hilarious and pitiful spectacle.

But here in the hospital, my grandfather is a respected and feared “Herr Doctor”. Rooms hush when he enters and people kiss his ass when we walk in the park.

That’s why I am in a room with only two beds. Everybody else is sick in long halls, beds lined up like the in the dorm of the Catholic Boarding School, my sister and me just were kicked out from. I don’t know why. But it’s not good.

My roommate is an ageless nun with nothing to do.

She asks me about my life and hangs on every word, mesmerized, as if there was nobody else in the whole world. Curios and awestruck, she urges me to go into details, no matter what I serve; homemade fantasy tales or more and more about the chaos at home, the man my mother wants to marry but never will because he hates us, things I know I shouldn’t tell and don’t quite understand. But dumping secret after secret, they suddenly start to make sense. I get that the things I don’t want to do are dangerous, that I’m not just a wussy girl, not brave enough like boys would be and that climbing rocks in beach sandals with a rope around my waist tied to my dad’s wrist is just stupid.

On the 5th or 6th day, even I am bored of myself. I turn to the only comic book – Donald Duck and his obnoxious smart-ass nephews – that I still have. I found it somewhere and so far it hasn’t been discovered and replaced with the library-card I always lose.

I’m only on page seven, when the nun asks what’s wrong.

“ Sister Adrian, I don’t have anything more to tell you.”

“ No! You’ve got to remember something! I have nothing else to entertain me, so you better not run out of things to say.”

“Why don’t you read?” I have never seen my mother without a book. We have no TV. But doing nothing? That’s not allowed.

Propped up in a sitting position day and night, she never gets up or moves at all. I’m surprised to see that she has a hand. It is horribly bony and crawls out from under the covers towards a tattered fat book all the way back on the metal nightstand. Getting a grip with those trembling skinny fingers takes forever. I stare at how she goes this way and that way and finally, using her other hand too, lifts it up – only to drop it right away.

“It’s the only book we are allowed to have. It’s not even mine. But it wouldn’t matter because,” her lips curl into a tiny smile. “Can you keep a secret?”

“Dohhh!”

“I never learned how to read.”

“No.” I sit up way too fast. The pain shoots stings and darts from under the fat bandage.

“Everybody can read.”

“No. Not everybody can read. Many other sisters can’t read”

“Not fair, Sister Adrian!” I drink some apple-juice from my sippy-cup. “I always say ‘Warning’ when I make something up. You just forgot the rules.”

“I swear it’s true. Our school was far away and difficult to get to. Most days my parents needed me on the farm, so it was just as well.”

She leans back and closes her eyes.

“What? Wow. Now it’s your turn to tell! You know everything and I know nothing about you. Where do you live? How old are you? Where are your parents?”

The only visitors, a black clad nun without a face and the hospital priest have come twice, but they just there, not saying a word. My grandmother brought flowers and chocolate. The next day, the box was still sitting there, untouched. I ate all of them before dinner.

“There is nothing much to tell.  The Order took us in when mom got sick. I’ve been there all my life.”

She looks tired. I should leave her alone. But I’ve read that comic book so many times; I know what’s inside every bubble.

“What’s an Order? What do you do there?”

She sighs and takes a really long breath. Finally, she talks, but why so slow?

“ It’s like the school you went to. I work in the kitchen and clean. The other sisters teach. I really wanted to be a teacher.”

“You would be such a good teacher. I wish I had you and not Sister Hildegard.”

“I wish I could teach too.”

Wow! I see her at the black board and suddenly, school is fun.

“When can you?”

She grabs a napkin and starts to cough into it.

“When?”

“ I was learning letters and numbers and then I got too sick to eat. That’s all”.

The napkin does not help. Tightly pressed to her face, she hacks out a hard cough that comes on faster and faster. Wait, there’s no time to breathe in between! She’s got to breathe, everyone knows that.

“Sister Adrian?”

With one hand up, she shakes her head, no.

That’s when I see the blood. It seeps out from under the napkin.

“Evi gets this all the time, this girl in my class, she gets really bad nosebleeds.  I was so scared the first time, but I’m not anymore. Just hold your head backwards, it will stop, I promise you. ”

But Evi never coughs like this. Oh shit. It’s everywhere! On her sleeves and on the covers, it spills and gurgles and sounds like when they come with the huge grey hoses and suck our sewage into that filthy truck.

I jump off the hospital bed – the first time since the surgery.

“ I’ll get somebody to come. Don’t worry”

Hitting every red button in the room on my way out, I bite my cheek to keep from freaking out. I make my eyes go lazy and the blood disappears, I know I would be stuck there, glued to the floor if I looked at it again.

The vast hall outside is silent and creepy like the church I had to go to in school or when there’s not enough snow to ski.

“Help! Sister Adrian is bleeding!”

The cold tiles under my naked feet feel so good.

I hop from door to door, banging on each one and scream, “Help, Blood, Help”

“What are you doing out here?” a nurse-voice from behind echoes off the walls.

“Come here! Quick!”

A white coat flies into our room, followed by another man, a few blue nurses and the priest.

It’s all so far away. I can’t run anymore. It hurts like nothing ever before. I want to lie down on the cool floor. It smells fresh and clean, just washed.

But I am the only one Sister Adrian knows in here. With one shoulder against the wall, I set one foot in front of the other, trying not to move anything else, and suddenly I remember the thing I can do when he beats me.

Hurt is a dark red square. I can force the red back into the corners. Inside the white space in the middle, I feel nothing. Until now, I wasn’t perfect at it. The right upper corner wouldn’t budge. Ugly red, like old blood sticks to it, but now I concentrate so hard, I squeeze it out, all of it. My square space is now all white.

The curtains around Sister Adrian’s bed are tightly drawn. Urgent commands, clipped and sharp mix with clangs of metal against glass over a monotonous whispered carpet of I don’t know what.

“Sister Adrian is a very, very ill lady. She got her last rites and will die soon, so don’t you bug her, you hear me!” My grandmother sits on the side of my bed. The curtain is still shut.

During my last day in the hospital, she nods a few times, twinkling her eyes to say,

“A story please!”

She is right; I still have more to tell.

The morning I go home, the artist surgeon checks his work and smiles.

“Nobody will ever know that your appendix is gone. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, but you never know, it could have been irritated when you had that bad belly-ache.”

I had that because he hit me so hard and kicked me in the stomach. But what can the doctor do? Nothing. I lied about where it really hurt. I picked that up when a girl in the dorm had her appendix taken out. She was gone for a long time and this is all I wanted, to be away from him. Maybe this time he will not come back from Lebanon or somewhere, like he said.

“It’s good to have it out, it has no purpose to be there and you don’t want to be on a cruise or in a strange country when it goes bad. You’ll be fine now.”

Maybe. I hope so. I hope they have a war and need him there. He’s so stupid anyway, he’ll step on a mine and blow himself to pieces, or maybe, his parachute doesn’t open, or they catch him and torture him! He always brags about it, how they cry and beg for mercy. This asshole laughs about it. I hate it when he makes me listen to how exactly what he does to make them “sing”, I hope they do all this to him and cut his ugly thing off and feed it to the hungry dogs…..

By the time I’m back, he is not only castrated, but has no tongue, no hands – each finger sliced off slowly, just one last toe that’s just about to go.

This makes me happy and with a big smile, I bound through our door to say good-bye.

Her bed is stripped. Empty tubes hang from the post and only one big upside- down bottle is still up there.

Knotted at both ends, rolled up into a fresh white sheet, Sister Adrian resembles a sad Caramel. I have no idea why I always roll them in my hands until they get long and skinny just like her, before I unwrap and eat them.

“If the tumors have not eaten through the 3rd wall of the Esophagus, you are out of the danger-zone. But this cancer is aggressive, very aggressive. It loves to spread.  I’m very concerned about two elevated tumor markers.”

I pick the heavy photography paper from the folder and stare.

Life is so bright. Perfectly arranged in Kodak-Chrome True Rainbow hues. The purest intricate interior designs I’ve ever seen are right here, right there inside my mortal body.

Without the cancer, I would have never known this.

But for what is all this beauty and wasted colors that will never attract a mate nor delight a bank-lobby, hell, not even generate cash? How very uneconomical. I mean, for functionality, wouldn’t grey do, no?

Wait. Is this Abundance?

 

I’ve shoved truckloads of money, time and hope into every piggy-bank slit of well-oiled knowers; pontificating on abundance, effortless wealth, and smug happiness.

“ It is all so simple and easy to get to, but for one little snag:  You have to be ready! Ready to receive.”

Well, fuck me. I’ve been ready all my life. I still am.

 

Hicks, Hayes, Tolles, Secrets, Bleeps, Steps, Keyes, Yoga this, TM that, mindfulness, wise-sages-in-the-woods, Primal Screams, Gestalt, vision- boards, hello? I’m ready.

“It’s all right here in the flow, in front of you, all around you! Here! Here, not there, Stupid!”

Every endeavor makes clear I’m that dumb frog they always use as example:

Starving to death, surrounded by abundance it can’t see, it waits in vain for the one shape and color of the fly it is programmed to recognize as food.

Because that poor fuck frog is not enlightened!

Like me.

But I’m not only dumb but also irritated as hell and so over all this crap.

“It looks smooth. But if it has spread to the liver and the pancreas?” the doctor says with his eyes in my charts, “You have a family and there are things to sort out and consider. That’s why you need to know ”,

He looks up and for a second our eyes meet.

“ It goes without saying that I hope I am wrong. But you need to be prepared. You might not celebrate another birthday, Miss S. “

I looked it all up when Christopher Hitchens died from it. Less then 15 % of patients with this kind of cancer are alive for another year.

Whatever the tests will show, one thing is clear: this is my new demarcation line.  Until now I had May first, 2007-When-I-Got-Free-From-Bulimia and before that, it was When-I-had-My-Daughter.

For the rest of my life – a few months or 30 years – I’ll have   EverythingBefore-Cancer.





  Belly Dance…

13 05 2012

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

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A very honest and emotional interview….

28 11 2011

Monah Li to Host Show on Indie1031.com Tomorrow, Nov. 27th – LA …
We had a great time last week sitting down with design icon and author Monah Li . We shot a video blog of the designer (currently being edited) in her chic new …
www.lafashionweek.com/…/monah-li-to-host-show-on-indie1




Toilets, trashcans and how to be sorry

24 09 2011

FOOD, TOILETS AND TRASHCANS

We sit down in a both at Musso’s and Frank’s. My hands shake and my artfully applied eye makeup is a runny mess. I need a drink. But that’s unimaginable.
Were the master AA couple. People are in awe of my husband who is sweating profoundly because he has ADD and is medicated more then adequatelty with pure pharmacy Amphetamines.

I’ve dreaded this couple-)date for weeks. Any time we leave our house , the chances that we return as a couple afterwords are not good.
My boyfriend of too many light is red, oh yes! Because both windows are decorated in MY Designs. My work. Exactly the same stuff robbing his sanity now.

He sees it too and grumbles.
Just before the light turns green, he slams his forehead once more
” I can’t do it. I need an elegant wife comfy in a wellcut simple dress, not a freak bathing in attention any chance she gets ” he says this with an expression that makes him look 90 years old after biting into an extra hot peppe r. Suffering, plagued and not able to let me go for longer then a day, two max.
This we have in common. Besides books, it’s the only interest we share.

The valet Parker hands me a tissue and I rush into the ladies room.
When I return, Payne beams
” you know, this guy here, This legendary director knows beauty when he sees it. He almost had a coronary whe you walked in. He thinks you’re achingly beautiful” he turns to the lion maned legend, firmly patting his arm,
” you’re ok now, man? Your sure?”

HIS dining companions are a celebrated an respected director of real Hollywood movies ( no indies at this table) , a famous costum designer and her bear of a boyfriend. He’s sexy. Not handsome, but hot. The kind of guy dragging the woman of his choice away from a loveless marriage – he’s an animal man. He smelled that there was no passion. He would change that. And he did.

They are in love. Embarrassingly so. In love with each other and as much with the predictable scandal they caused, they tell and retell and repeat the story over and over. And over.

All of them intimidate me.

But I have the best intentions  to eat like a “normal person”. So I imitate what they order. I have no idea what a normal order looks like.

Starched linen napkins, plates and nice silverware – at home, I don’t bother with niceties like that – at home, I use my sleeve to wipe my face, eat with my hands right out of the bag or pot  – and plates?  Oh man, plates are too much work to wash, so why bother?

But here, cultured and successful people everywhere, I pretend to have manners. I mean, I grew up in a civilized house hold, my dad was a judge and my mom a psychiatrist. I went not only to a catholic boarding school where I learned how to keep my arms close to my body and eat like the educated, privileged lady I was to be one day. But I learned much more when I snagged that scholarship for the international boarding school , how to be sexy and coy and how to fake what I lacked. Hand me downs from the 13 year old busty Lolitas and stuffed bras turned me into a creature that caused blue collar daddies on their way from work to crash into traffic signs.

I order a perfectly healthy, low-calorie and balanced meal and pace myself, careful not to look greedy and weird. But I barely participate in the conversation at the table – I’m too pre-occupied to make sure to stop, so there is a little bit of food on my plate left.

But like always, that hungry ghost inside me starts his shit with me. I touch my thighs and my stomach under the table and feel myself swelling into monstrous dimensions. I’m a fat pig, an overweight monster, growing from 100 pounds into 120, at least.

I have to get rid of it.

And since I will get rid of it, why not pack it in, now that it’s all over anyway. I finish what I left so politely on my plate. I’m too embarrassed to order another dish, so I grab the bread from the basket, the bread that everybody else shrinks away from as if it was poison, smear it thick with butter and olive oil and under the horrified eyes of my boyfriend, I stuff it down as slow as I can.

“I missed lunch today – busy day – and I just realize how incredibly starved I am”, I smile apologetically.

“You are not you finishing this?” I ask my already suspicious boyfriend, while I reach for his plate that has a napkin thrown over it – obviously done and ready to be taken away

“You don’t mind if I try what you had?” I already stick my fork into his tiny piece of half-eaten fish.

“No, not at all, it was delicious, but I’m full” my boyfriend remarks while everybody else watches with growing curiosity as I shovel his leftovers.

“That’s incredible! Next time I have to order this!” I lie. I don’t taste anything. I could be eating horseshit balls or cat vomit. It doesn’t matter. As long as I can go on and chew and swallow and stuff myself into oblivion.
I discover another plate that has not been eaten all the way and go for it. Fuck it. Those people don’t like me anyway. They just put up with me because I am his, the famous and charismatic guy’s date. So, yes, fuck you too.

“I’m glad you like it, it was a little to salty for me” the well mannered date of my boyfriend’s movie star friend smiles with fake kindness, when I reach for her half-eaten meal. How could anyone leave food on his or her plate – what a waste! There are people starving outside on Hollywood Boulevard. There are people starving all over in this world.
Most of all, me!

“Knock yourself out,” my boyfriend mumbles with growing embarrassment. He has experienced this before with me:

Once in an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet in Santa Barbara, I got up twelve times to refill my plate. He looked like he was going to vomit, watching me descending in an uncontrollable binge neither he or I could stop.

I finally lost control after our  three day horror vacation in a five star hotel, filled with fights and silences and make-up sex that left me angry and jealous of the obviously happy couples, that seemed to occupy all of the hotel. The tension of it all exploded when I got a look at the overflowing tables with salmon, eggs, deliciously stuffed little mushrooms and oh, the deserts!

My boyfriend lived on a strict diet of vegetarian, no fat, no sugar diet, presumably to protect his damaged Hep C liver, but I knew better: he ate like this to keep his worked out and perfectly slim body. He picked at his food, the little he choose from the way too rich offerings of the rich-people buffet.

“You are eating AT ME,” he hissed, when I returned with the fifth overflowing plate.

“Why would I do that?” I spat back, “I spent the last three days biking and swimming with hardly a bite and it’s catching up with me. Look at me! Do I look like I eat too much?”

“That’s what’s freaking me out,” he whispered with blazing eyes, trying to keep his anger under control.

“Excuse me, I have to go pee” I squeezed by him, rushing to the bathroom, my stomach a filled to the rim , an end term pregnancy ball, making me look like a skinny, in control expecting mom.

Of course, I had checked out the bathroom before, the locks, the flushing and the privacy.

I have trained myself to vomit without a noise. When I see that there is somebody in the stall next to me, I flush to scramble the sound of splashing, bend over and let it all come out. I have this insane believe, that since it is so easy, I am meant to do that. If God would not want me to do this,  it would not be that easy, I tell myself.  No big deal.  No retching and burping, just a little splash and it is all over, all gone.

But in America, toilet stalls let you see the feet of the person next to you. Why is that? Why this lack of privacy in a land of puritanical rules and PG ratings?
I don’t get it. It’s a pain in the ass, that’s what it is.  It makes it so much harder to barf when I know that my feet, turned into the wrong direction can give me away. So I taught myself to throw up sitting on the toilet with my feet turned into the same direction as the person next to me. I have to practice this skill a lot, but eventually, I manage. I’d sit all the way back on the toilet seat and throw up between my spread legs. It’s not easy, let me tell you, but years of Yoga and Pilates had made me limber and strong enough

Where there is a will there is a way, and believe me, my will is incredibly strong and unbreakable. I make sure to remove my pantyhose and panties or my jeans and I am proud to tell you that I never had an accident. No wait! Once, in a hurry, I hit my expensive La Perla panties with a stream of hot vomit. I took them off and left them in the trashcan. For the  rest of the night, I tried not to scratch my newly waxed and tender crotch inside my new jeans.

But this night, at Musso’s with that annoying lady outside, sitting there with her out-dated offerings of hairspray and deodorant, with my boyfriend taking care of the bill while I sneak off to the toilet, I realize that this toilet looks kinda old and might not be able to handle the load I’m about to let off.

I’m so full and so disgusted with myself, I don’t need one more problem, like an overflowing toilet with a bored and resentful lady, just waiting for some kind of drama to make her shift more interesting .

I flush the toilet, lift the lid of the wastebasket, that is supposed to be used for female sanitary napkins and barf inside the plastic bag that lines the trashcan..

Now, skinny again and very relieved, under a surge of adrenaline and dopamine, I’m able to return to the table and finally join the conversation, high and happy, with much more enthusiasm than before my visit to the ladies room.
Of course, this high never lasts. All too soon, I find myself hungry, shaky and desperately looking for the next food-fix.

“Damn it, I just remembered that I have a deadline for tomorrow morning, I’m so sorry, but I can’t spend the night with you today” I whisper to my boyfriend, when he is about to sign the check.

“She is so busy with fashion week,” my boyfriend tells everybody at the table “You should come to her show at the Max Factor Smashbox studios next week”

“Of course we will” the movie star grins “I would not wanna miss that”

“Sure you wouldn’t” My boyfriend says “the models are something, exquisite and they would flip out to see you there. And there is always lots of fun afterwards at the party”

The movie star’s date looks a little miffed but plays along.

“I’d love to see your fashions, I heard so much about it” she forces a smile that looks almost happy.

“I’ll make sure to tell my PR agent to save seats for you all” I promise with confidence, but my thoughts are already on the Trader Joe bagels, the cereal with full-fat milk and the cans with whipped cream I have stuffed into my fridge before the date.

But this is now way too long for me to get to. I blurt: “
“Hey, what about dessert?”

“How can you eat a whole meal and still have room for dessert?” one of the female guests asks.

“Oh, I’m just blessed with a real good metabolism.  Look at my mom and my dad! That’s where I got it from”
I lie with practiced lightness in my voice. The people who have met my parents nod their heads.

“Your parents are really in great shape. Man, you are lucky! I wish I could eat like you and be as skinny as you. I guess it’s all genetic after all” the movie star’s date sighs.

What I fail to disclose, is that both my parents are anorexic, obsessed with exercise and diets and that I grew up despising overweight people, as if they were the source of all evil in the world.

And of course, I never, ever let on how panicked and terrified I was to gain weight and join the group of humans that had obviously no self-control and dignity and no right to take up so much space in the world.

Once, as a teenager, when I had to live with my father and my overweight stepmother, my dad told us during our usually meager dinner, that he had gotten into a shuffle in the subway. He was full of pride when he relayed his triumph:

“I was pissed that there was standing room only and when I saw this fat cow taking up two seats, I asked her politely if she had paid for two tickets. Of course she snapped at me, told me to mind my own business, but I got right into her face and ordered her to get up and make room for others who had paid their fair share. Half the wagon got into it and agreed with me. She heaved herself out of he seat, huffing and shuffling her weight and got out at the next station. Everybody was laughing. What a hoot that was and best of all, I got a seat!” he boasted.

Not funny, you asshole.
I kept that thought to myself and pushed the food on my plate around, high on diet pills, supplied by my grandmother, who was always on a diet.

Finally, after my disappointed and embarrassed boyfriend drops me off, alone at home, I don’t have to keep up the show of being a normal eater. I prepare enormous amounts of food, plates and pots lined up in front of me before I sit down to read fashion-and literary magazines; well written, convincing, intellectual and smart articles about politics, global warming, conspiracy theories and manifestos that would scare me to tears without the buffer of food between me and the information I inhale and even comprehend. I am able to focus and read difficult to understand information because I am stuffing my face with a drug that keeps me emotionally removed enough to read on for hours.

I am very well read and informed during those years and could join just about every conversation. People think about me as smart and intelligent and are in awe of the amount of knowledge I can provide at every discussion.

But during those reading-and food sessions, I have to get up every twenty minutes or so to rid myself of the food I shovel into me without tasting anything. Then I can go back to my books and magazines as if nothing had happened and keep going until I either pass out from fatigue or because there is nothing left to eat.

I have read about bulimics who are so desperate that they eat what they threw up and that really grosses me out.
I would never do THAT.
That would be really sick.

Until one day, I am out of food, but not ready to stop just yet.

I sneak to my neighbor’s trashcan. It is after two AM and everybody is asleep.  I find a few spoiled and disgusting leftovers that are thrown out for a reason, but what does it matter? It will not be long enough inside my stomach to do any damage. Leaning against the trashcan, I munch on green bagels, gruesomely covered with fungus and rotting chicken wings, spoiled cheese and suddenly – be still, me heart, I come across a half eaten birthday cake, fresh and moist, dripping with rich frosting and sugary letters on top. All I have to do is to scrape off the drips of candle wax. So? Hell, what’s wrong with eating a perfectly good birthday cake that somebody threw out?

I am sick a lot during those years, going from doctor to doctor, from quacks to healers, always complaining about the bloating of my hands and my stomach, the pain in my back and my kidneys and the paralyzing fatigue that makes me dizzy, tired and sometimes suicidal depressed.

Today, more than four years later, in recovery by some undeserved and wonderful grace, I always worry how to make amends to the poor fucks who had to handle the garbage bags. I imagine a tired overworked janitor, lifting the bag out of the basket, ready to go home after a 12 hour shift of cleaning toilets and tables, getting splashed by a totally unexpected exploding and leaking bag of vomit.

There are things that cannot be excused or explained.

The only thing I can do now, is to always tip generously and make sure to be extra nice to every janitor or toilet lady providing paper towels or deodorant. I leave at least two bucks even if I don’t need gum or hairspray. Sometimes, I hear the tell tale signs of some poor women throwing up in a toilet stall next to me. Their feet are always turned into the wrong direction.

I listen and am filled with gratitude and wonder that I’m not that person anymore. All I do now in a toilet is what everybody else does. I can leave without shame or fear of exploding trash bags or clogged up toilets. I don’t scarf other’s leftovers. And I can even leave food on my plate, without thinking about it.
I call this grace.

Some things cannot be explained.
But hopefully, they can be forgiven.





Interview with the Hip Mix Membership Team about Belly Dancing

4 08 2011

1)     What brought you to belly dance?

I had just gotten into recovery of the most awful addiction I can think of (and I’ve had quite a few others, so I know): 19 years of non-stop bulimia.

19 years of binging and purging, day after day. A good day would be three times, but most days, I threw up five to 15 times. Even when I was not binging and just eating a perfectly healthy and low-calorie, vegan and balanced meal, the feeling of food in my stomach was unbearable and I had to get rid of it.

Every restaurant I went to, the first thing I did, was make a beeline to the restrooms and check out if the doors locked and the flushing worked. Only then did I order and eat. Most of he time, I managed to eat like a normal person, ordering what everybody else ordered and eat just that. But when anybody left food on their plate, I wanted to snatch it and stuff myself. I could not understand, how one could leave food on their plate – what a waste! I always cleaned my plates down to the last morsel and as soon as there was nothing else to munch on, I’d sneak off to the bathroom.

I could vomit without a noise. Even with somebody in the stall next to me, I flushed to scramble the sound of splashing, bend over and let it all come out. I had this insane believe, that since it was so easy, I was meant to do that. No big deal. No retching and burping, just a little splash and it was all over, all gone.

If the toilet looked like it might not be able to handle such overload, I’d just throw up in the wastebasket. Still today, more than four years later, I wonder how to make amends to the poor fuck who had to handle the garbage bags. I imagined a tired overworked janitor, lifting the bag out of the basket, ready to go home after a 12 hour shift of cleaning toilets and tables, getting splashed by a totally unexpected exploding and leaking bag of vomit.

Afterwards, I’d feel such relief, such a surge of adrenaline and dopamine, that I could return to the table and rejoin the conversation, high and happy, with much more enthusiasm than before my visit to the ladies room. Of course, this high never lasted. All too soon, I’d find myself hungry, shaky and desperately looking for the next food-fix. I’d suggest “Hey, what about dessert?” and greedily grabbing the dessert menu.

“How can you eat a whole meal and still have room for dessert?”

“Oh, I’m just blessed with a real good metabolism.  Look at my mom and my dad! That’s where I got it from” I’d lie with practiced lightness in my voice. The people who had met my parents nodded their heads.

“Your parents are really in great shape. Man, you are lucky! I wish I could eat like you and be as skinny as you. I guess it’s all genetic after all”

What I failed to disclose, was that both my parents were anorexic, obsessed with exercise and diets and that I grew up despising overweight people, as if they were the source of all evil in the world.

And of course, I never, ever let on how panicked and terrified I was to gain weight and join the group of humans that had obviously no self-control and dignity and no right to take up so much space in the world.

During dinner, when I had to live with my father and my overweight stepmother when I was a teenager, my dad told me that he had gotten into a shuffle in the subway. He was full of pride when he relayed his triumph:

“I was pissed that there was standing room only and when I saw this fat cow taking up two seats, I asked her politely if she had paid for two tickets. Of course she snapped at me, how to mind my own business, but I got right into her face and ordered her to get up and make room for others who had paid their fair share. Half the wagon got into it and agreed with me. She heaved herself out of he seat and out at the next station. Everybody was laughing. What a hoot that was and best of all, I got a seat!” he boasted.

Not funny, you asshole.  I kept that thought to myself and pushed the food on my plate around, high on diet pills, supplied by my grandmother, who was always on a diet.

Finally, alone at home, I did not have to keep the show of being a normal eater going. I prepared and ate such enormous amounts of food, plates and pots lined up in front of me before I sat down to read fashion-and literary magazines, and book after book; well written, convincing, intellectual and smart books and articles about politics, global warming, conspiracy theories and manifestos that would scare me to tears without the buffer of food between me and the information I was able to inhale and comprehend. I was able to focus and read difficult to understand information because I was stuffing my face with my drug that kept me emotionally just removed enough, to read on for hours.

I was very well read and informed during those years and could join just about every conversation. People thought about me as smart and intelligent and were in awe of the amount of knowledge I could provide during every discussion.

During those reading-and food sessions, I had to get up every twenty minutes or so to rid myself of the food I shoveled into me without tasting anything. Then I would go back to my books and magazines as if nothing had happened and keep going until I would either pass out from fatigue or because there was nothing left to eat.

I had heard of people who would eat what they threw up and that really grossed me out. I would never do THAT. That would be really sick and I was not that crazy. No, not me.

Until one day, I was out of food and sneaked to my neighbors trashcan to look for left over’s. They were spoiled and disgusting, but what did it matter? It would not be long enough inside my stomach to do any damage. I ate green bagels, gruesomely covered with fungus and rotting chicken wings, spoiled cheese and once – be still, me heart, I came across a half eaten birthday cake, fresh and moist, dripping with rich frosting and sugary letters on top. All I had to do was scrape off the drips of candle wax and – hell, what’s wrong with eating a perfectly good birthday cake from a trashcan?

I was sick a lot during those years, going from doctor to doctor, from quacks to healers, always complaining about the fatigue and the bloating of my hands and my stomach and the paralyzing depression that I could not explain.

Even during my pregnancy, I was binging and purging day after day, racked by guilt and fear of what this would do to my unborn baby. But no matter how firm my promises and decisions would be every morning to stop and eat like a normal person – by noon, I’d find myself shuffling tuna, corn and beans from the can, not even bothering to use a plate. I was a hopeless case of an addicted women, so out of control, that nothing, not even the concern about my baby, could keep me from gorging myself with food I did, for the most part, not even like or enjoy.

Then, after almost 19 years of this insanity, I stopped.

I was on an airplane, returning from New Delhi where I had spent two weeks in a factory, designing my new collection. The night before I left, I looked at the samples I was about to bring back to my business partners and knew with squeaky and shaky certainty, that each one of those dresses and tops I had worked so hard on, sucked and would certainly be rejected and ridiculed by my nasty French Business Partners. After I packed the ill-fated samples and my belongings, I called and ordered room service.

The cart with covered dishes arrived, complete with a set of four plates and I signed the check, made out to my room that was paid by my partners.

“Where is your company?” the polite and quite attractive waiter asked as he laid out the feast.

“They are on their way” I smiled “leave the covers on to keep it warm, they are delayed by an accident on the main road”

“As you wish, mam” the waiter smiled back and handed me the room-bill to sign.

“Would you like me to keep you company until they arrive?” he winked.

“No, no, it’s quite all right, they’ll be here any moment” I flirted back. Get the fuck out of here you smuck and give me space to do what I need to do.

He finally left and I sat down to my lonely dinner, not even bothering to get to the bathroom a few feet away to throw up in between stuffing the excellently prepared cuisine down my throat. I used the flimsy wastebasket to get rid off the shrimp and lamb, the chutney and rice to make room for more. I tried to pace myself and at least enjoy the excellent and quite expensive meal for four, but it took less than an hour until it was all gone. Now what?

My fear and apprehension about the ill-fated samples in my suitcase stuck to my brainpan like the sticky mango-rice I could not vomit up, no matter how deep I stuck the hotel supplied toothbrush down my raw and bleeding throat.

I woke up bloated and fat, tired and so depressed, that I could not even look at the array of empty dishes, covering every surface of my beautiful hotel room.  To the cleaning personal it must have looked like the end of a decadent party and I dropped a handful of Rupees and Dollars on the nightstand before I rolled out of the room, dragging my overstuffed suitcases out to the waiting taxi cab.

I did not know this then, but for reasons that I still don’t understand, this hotel-orgy was to be my last binge.

On the airplane, I asked the stewardess to remove my tray with gloppy and over-salted grub after a few bites. I snaked my way through a crowded isle to the dirty, piss smelling lavatory and before I could bend over to relieve myself of the few bites I had eaten, a vision of an enormous, old-fashioned picturesque scale with grains on both sides of the scale in perfect balance appeared between my face and the dirty toilet. It stopped me cold. I saw this scale and in a vividly bright and eerily colorful vision, I imagined how my self-destructive action would add the one-grain to cause the scale to tip over, causing a horrible earthquake, floods and worldwide destruction.

The precarious balance of our earth, already tipping towards irreversible damage and death was just one grain away from total annihilation and adding that grain would be my fault. Shivers ran down my spine and I sat down to pee. A wave of diarrhea gripped my body and I sat there for what seemed like hours, wracked with cramps and fear.

When I was finally able to get up, I had decided not to be the cause of the destruction of the world that was after all, home to my daughter and my friends.

I retuned to me seat. For the first time in 19 years, I had left a toilet without vomiting. A sense of peace and calm enveloped me and I joined a conversation between a professor of art who flew back after evaluating a collection of antique paintings and a women who had just gone through a serious cleansing process in one of the many ashrams in the South of India.

When I arrived in Los Angeles, I stepped into a limousine my wealthy boyfriend (and almost husband) had arranged for me to pick me up.

As I had expected, my partners in our fashion company rolled their eyes when I presented them with my work. I excused myself, claiming extreme fatigue from traveling and drove home to the crappy cottage cheese ceilinged apartment I had rented; so that my daughter could go to the High School she had begged me to go to for years.

I quit my job and spent the next few days at my future husband’s mansion in Mt. Washington. I was done with the bulimia. I ate very little and never once threw up. We got along and were in love. I attributed this to my sudden honesty and lack of secrecy and maybe I was right – at least during those first few, almost magical days.

But I was terrified of gaining weight, I fact, I was convinced that I would certainly get fat, so fat that somebody would eventually ask me to give up my seat – not in the subway, since I never had set foot into the LA subway (except once, when the only way to get to the anti-war protest in Hollywood was by subway), but maybe somewhere else, on a plane maybe?

My solution to that phobia was to spent hours at the YMCA. I did not enjoy this at all – to work out, run on treadmills, doing Pilates, Yoga and swimming, because I only did it to feel good after words and to calm my overwhelming panic.

To make matters worse, my back, that had been bothering me for years, started to hurt again. I was in constant pain, probably from over-exercising and at one point; it had gotten so bad, that I was scheduled to have back surgery. Thank God I backed out of it at the last moment. But now, with my new, even more brutal and Nazi-like regime, the pain had become almost unbearable.

One Saturday afternoon, on my way downstairs to the hateful smelly locker room and the torture machines, I noticed a belly dance class going on in the big hall upstairs.

It had been a difficult and painful day so far. My new husband (we had finally gotten married after 13 years of me nagging him to) let me know once again that he had done me a huge favor by marrying me and I felt unloved, unwanted and alone. From the moment I woke up, I could not stop thinking about food. I needed relieve so badly. I imagined and obsessed over the almost orgasmic pleasure I would get from buying a cake at the Glendale Armenian bakery, sit down with it at my kitchen table and read all the magazines that were heaped on a huge stack of things I could not read without food. I missed reading. I missed my best and always reliable friend to provide me with comfort and ease, if only for a few hours. I knew how horrible and disappointed I would be afterwards, but the tension that had built up inside of me over the last five months was about to explode and take me down. I ate my regimented breakfast of one egg and half of a toasted bagel and took a bite out of the other half.

I chewed for a few seconds, relieve and pleasure washing over me, the trance I was so familiar with, so close and so available, almost winning, when I remembered.

What the fuck are you doing? You know where this one bite will lead to!

I spat that bite out, jumped into my workout clothes and raced down  to the Gym.

I gingerly opened that door to the class in progress, guilty and scared because my new husband had told me at several occasions that “the last thing I want in my life, is a wife who belly dances”

Why? I don’t know. I was too sacred to ask. I was a co-dependant and scared little women and pretty much followed all his (sometimes quite bizarre) rules.

But as soon as I stepped into that room, I immediately fell in love. With the music, the clothes and the challenge of it. I had done ballet as a child and some go-go dancing, but I never was any good at it. I had tried Jazz- and Modern dance but quickly given up because I was to inpatient and un-coordinated to follow the simplest choreographies.

Now this wasn’t any easier either. But something inside me, the same power and determination that had kept me from being bulimic for five months by then, made me stay inside this room. I was totally bad at it, I could not even make a turn without bumping into somebody and I was anything but graceful. I was a wooden stick figure, ungraceful and ugly. Every glance into the huge mirror reflected a stupid and ridiculous creature back to me, an untalented creep who drew undisguised contempt from the other dancers and what had to be annoyed disgust from the pretty and snake-like moving teacher.

But I stayed. I tried. And suddenly, that one step and move that looked like I could never do would never be able to conquer fell into place. I was doing it! Damn it, I did that little combination without stumbling and falling over my own feet.

I dared to take a closer look at the teacher. Something about her felt familiar. Her voice? Her dark hair with the bangs that fell over her eyes? That small, but curvy little body, clad in tights and a shimmering hip scarf?

Before I could figure it out, she walked over to me, took my hand and announced to the rest of the class: “This is Monah Li, one of my oldest and dearest friends in the world. Please welcome her. I am so happy to see you here!”

Oh my God! Now I remembered her. Eloise, the long time girlfriend of my ex husband, the father of my daughter. I had stolen him from her, just as he came out from rehab. He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen, a Billy Idol, but way more attractive and hot. We fell in love immediately. The fact that he had a girlfriend, who had been standing by him through the years of his heroin addiction, was lost on me.

Now, almost 20 years later, this same women offers me, not exactly friendship, but kindness and welcomes me into her class. I start to go to every one of her classes, two times a week for two hours and slowly, but steadily, I learn the moves that save my life.

2)     In what ways has belly dance improved your life?

First of all, my back problems have completely disappeared. I became friends with some of he women in my class and I needed those friends when I finally left my husband. Going against his rules was my way of taking my life back and I started to ask myself what I wanted, not what he asked me to like.

I wanted to become good at this and I started to go to other studios. Soon, belly dance was all I did  – in regards to exercise – and every little success, every little step I mastered, made me more confident. I realized that I could learn if I put my mind to it. No more watching the clock or the treadmill read-out, hoping that the hour would be over soon. The hours I spent learning to belly dance went by way too fast.

I also watched other women with bigger bodies and I was able to see their beauty – every women of every size became beautiful once they danced.

I stopped being so paranoid about gaining weight, because I could see a different kind of beauty that did not depend on size. To my surprise, I did not gain any weight, even though I had stopped all my other exercise routines and allowed myself to eat more. I actually have a better body now, more shapely and defined than when I was slogging through boring routines.

3)     How long have you been dancing/performing/teaching?

I have been belly dancing for more than three years now and have performed in a few showcases in different dance studios and street fairs. I take classes 5 times a week, about 7 hours per week and I’m steadily learning and progressing.

One thing is sure: I have talent in many areas in my life: fashion design, writing, meeting new people and making friends , painting, even some singing and playing guitar– but dancing is not one of them. I lack the natural ability that I see in other dancers who pick up moves and steps much faster, with way more ease than I do. I have to make up what I lack in talent and natural ability by working really hard.

4)     How does belly dance make you feel?

Happy. Pretty. Accomplished and excited. It has influenced the style of clothing I design and I have new love and interest in designing. Most of all, it helps me to say abstinent from the bulimia – because I dance almost every day, I never want to be to weak or too ashamed to show up. Whenever I learn a new step, I new move, a new cill-combo; I realize I can learn in small steps and it all adds up eventually. No step is ever too small, a achievement too little to let me know, it pays to be humble and willing to admit that I don’t know something, so I can be open enough to learn it.

5)     Who is your biggest inspiration?

Mesmera, Oceana, Kat Scraba, Brandi Centeno, Jen at Dance Garden – almost every teacher inspires me.

6)     Who is your biggest supporter?

I think my teachers. Most of my friends. One of them, Jane Cantillon just asked me to do a little solo performance before her next show, her band “Dick and Jane Family Orchestra” (Good bluesy rock and roll) at TAIX Restaurant in Echo Park. It’s at 10.30 at night and with most people in the audience, including myself, being a little intoxicated by then, I think I can do it. I’m working with Brandi on a cute little 4.30 minutes choreography. But the best part of doing it solo is that nobody will know that I’ve messed up.

7)     In what ways has belly dance boosted your confidence?

I think I described that in detail in my answer to your  first question. Basically, the fact that I’m able to learn and get steadily better gives me confidence. And of course, dancing at parties and clubs and getting attention for dancing the way I can now, makes all this a lot more fun than it was before.

8)     How do you practice?

I go to different teachers 5 times a week and have no time to practice at home, unless of course before a performance. I do little moves in my car, like hand-rolls and hip-shimmies at read lights.

9)     What was your “Ah-Ha! I’m a belly dancer moment”?

One was when I bought the red belly dancer sandals from Mesmera and they made me look like a real belly dancer.

The other one was when I could do a shoulder shimmy for the first time. After almost a year of trying, suddenly, there it was.

10)   How does belly dancing help balance your life?

It gives me something to look forward to, especially on days where I feel like smoking cigarettes or relapsing into bulimia. It gives me much needed structure that I don’t have as self-employed artist/ businesswomen. I am not so much tempted to skip meals, because I don’t want to collapse during class, so my way of nourishing myself has greatly improved.

11) What made you want to try belly dance?

Ten years ago, when I opened my first retail store, the guy who designed and organized my fashion show at the store, hired belly dancers and drummers for life-entertainment and life music. The sow was a huge success, mostly because it was totally different than most other fashion shows. But I was so scared of my husband’s disapproval; I did not even dare to look into the possibility of doing it myself. Plus the knowledge that I was so devoid of talent when it came to dance, kept me away from it for another decade. Until that fateful day when I stepped into the class at the Y, instead of getting downstairs into the gym-torture chamber. Please refer to more on this in the first question.

11)   Where would you be without belly dance?

Without being too dramatic, I probably would still be married and be mousy, quiet and scared little women. I might be dead, because if I hade gone back to bulimia, I would have been dead in a year. Women, who suffer from this illness, usually die in their late 40ies, when their bodies just give out. At the very least, I would still be dragging my starving little body to the gym, to Pilates and onto the treadmill, counting the seconds until I could go home again.

12)   Any obstacles that you faced or still face as a belly dancer?  Please share.

My lack of talent for dance in general – it does not come naturally to me. That I started so late in life, when my body was already battered by my disease – I have full blown Ostheo Porosis – and that I have to be extra patient with myself and my progress.

13)   What advice would you give to a newbie?

Enjoy and take it easy. Belly dance is not a competitive sport. It’s okay to feel like the last person in the class to get it. Make friends with other dancers and develop a friendly, kind and helpful atmosphere. Be patient and kind to yourself and others – you will learn it, no matter how long it takes. And last, but not least: appreciate and celebrate every tiny success.

14)   What’s in your practice bag?

A few skirts and tops that are light and not too heavy (it does get very warm sometimes) to change into, since I usually come to class from work. Ratty ballet shoes. A bunch of hip scarves to loan to newbie’s who show up in sweats. A few veils to loan out. Cillls and a hairclip – my very long hair, as pretty as it looks, sometimes feels like an extra blanket of heat. Dance cards and fliers for upcoming events.

15)   What do you wish people outside of belly dance knew?

That belly dance is meant from women for women and has nothing to do with strippers, even though they use a lot of our movements just because they are sexy, looked at it in the wrong light. The moves are sexy, but because this empowers us as women to experience our selves as sensual beings, that enjoy our connection to our bodies. Belly dance is therapeutic and spiritual. It’s no coincidence that the Eating Disorder Community of therapists and doctors has started to recommend belly dance as an additional tool to healing.

16)   Anything you want to leave us with?

I said already so much, too much – please feel free to edit my ramblings and story telling.

I do credit belly dance with my new, really awesome life.

 





The Kindness of a real big Heart “Showrooms of Perfection”

28 07 2011

Kindness of a real big heart (that saves my life)

 

I had just gotten into recovery of the most awful addiction I can think of (and I’ve had quite a few others, so I know): 19 years of non-stop bulimia.

19 years of binging and purging, day after day. A good day would be three times, but most days, I threw up five to 15 times. Even when I was not binging and just eating a perfectly healthy and low-calorie, vegan and balanced meal, the feeling of food in my stomach was unbearable and I had to get rid of it.

Every restaurant I went to, the first thing I did, was make a beeline to the restrooms and check out if the doors locked and the flushing worked. Only then did I order and eat. Most of he time, I managed to eat like a normal person, ordering what everybody else ordered and eat just that. But when anybody left food on their plate, I wanted to snatch it and stuff myself. I could not understand, how one could leave food on their plate – what a waste! I always cleaned my plates down to the last morsel and as soon as there was nothing else to munch on, I’d sneak off to the bathroom.

I could vomit without a noise. Even with somebody in the stall next to me, I flushed to scramble the sound of splashing, bend over and let it all come out. I had this insane believe, that since it was so easy, I was meant to do that. No big deal. No retching and burping, just a little splash and it was all over, all gone.

If the toilet looked like it might not be able to handle such overload, I’d just throw up in the wastebasket. Still today, more than four years later, I wonder how to make amends to the poor fuck who had to handle the garbage bags. I imagined a tired overworked janitor, lifting the bag out of the basket, ready to go home after a 12 hour shift of cleaning toilets and tables, getting splashed by a totally unexpected exploding and leaking bag of vomit.

Afterwards, I’d feel such relief, such a surge of adrenaline and dopamine, that I could return to the table and rejoin the conversation, high and happy, with much more enthusiasm than before my visit to the ladies room. Of course, this high never lasted. All too soon, I’d find myself hungry, shaky and desperately looking for the next food-fix. I’d suggest “Hey, what about dessert?” and greedily grabbing the dessert menu.

“How can you eat a whole meal and still have room for dessert?”

“Oh, I’m just blessed with a real good metabolism.  Look at my mom and my dad! That’s where I got it from” I’d lie with practiced lightness in my voice. The people who had met my parents nodded their heads.

“Your parents are really in great shape. Man, you are lucky! I wish I could eat like you and be as skinny as you. I guess it’s all genetic after all”

What I failed to disclose, was that both my parents were anorexic, obsessed with exercise and diets and that I grew up despising overweight people, as if they were the source of all evil in the world.

And of course, I never, ever let on how panicked and terrified I was to gain weight and join the group of humans that had obviously no self-control and dignity and no right to take up so much space in the world.

During dinner, when I had to live with my father and my overweight stepmother when I was a teenager, my dad told me that he had gotten into a shuffle in the subway. He was full of pride when he relayed his triumph:

“I was pissed that there was standing room only and when I saw this fat cow taking up two seats, I asked her politely if she had paid for two tickets. Of course she snapped at me, how to mind my own business, but I got right into her face and ordered her to get up and make room for others who had paid their fair share. Half the wagon got into it and agreed with me. She heaved herself out of he seat and out at the next station. Everybody was laughing. What a hoot that was and best of all, I got a seat!” he boasted.

Not funny, you asshole.  I kept that thought to myself and pushed the food on my plate around, high on diet pills, supplied by my grandmother, who was always on a diet.

Finally, alone at home, I did not have to keep the show of being a normal eater going. I prepared and ate such enormous amounts of food, plates and pots lined up in front of me before I sat down to read fashion-and literary magazines, and book after book; well written, convincing, intellectual and smart books and articles about politics, global warming, conspiracy theories and manifestos that would scare me to tears without the buffer of food between me and the information I was able to inhale and comprehend. I was able to focus and read difficult to understand information because I was stuffing my face with my drug that kept me emotionally just removed enough, to read on for hours.

I was very well read and informed during those years and could join just about every conversation. People thought about me as smart and intelligent and were in awe of the amount of knowledge I could provide during every discussion.

During those reading-and food sessions, I had to get up every twenty minutes or so to rid myself of the food I shoveled into me without tasting anything. Then I would go back to my books and magazines as if nothing had happened and keep going until I would either pass out from fatigue or because there was nothing left to eat.

I had heard of people who would eat what they threw up and that really grossed me out. I would never do THAT. That would be really sick and I was not that crazy. No, not me.

Until one day, I was out of food and sneaked to my neighbor’s trashcan to look for leftovers. They were spoiled and disgusting, but what did it matter? It would not be long enough inside my stomach to do any damage. I ate green bagels, gruesomely covered with fungus and rotting chicken wings, spoiled cheese and once – be still, me heart, I came across a half eaten birthday cake, fresh and moist, dripping with rich frosting and sugary letters on top. All I had to do was scrape off the drips of candle wax and – hell, what’s wrong with eating a perfectly good birthday cake from a trashcan?

I was sick a lot during those years, going from doctor to doctor, from quacks to healers, always complaining about the fatigue and the bloating of my hands and my stomach and the paralyzing depression that I could not explain.

Even during my pregnancy, I was binging and purging day after day, racked by guilt and fear of what this would do to my unborn baby. But no matter how firm my promises and decisions would be every morning to stop and eat like a normal person – by noon, I’d find myself shuffling tuna, corn and beans from the can, not even bothering to use a plate. I was a hopeless case of an addicted women, so out of control, that nothing, not even the concern about my baby, could keep me from gorging myself with food I did, for the most part, not even like or enjoy.

Then, after almost 19 years of this insanity, I stopped.

I was on an airplane, returning from New Delhi where I had spent two weeks in a factory, designing my new collection. The night before I left, I looked at the samples I was about to bring back to my business partners and knew with squeezy and shaky certainty, that each one of those dresses and tops I had worked so hard on, sucked and would certainly be rejected and ridiculed by my nasty French Business Partners. After I packed the ill-fated samples and my belongings, I called and ordered room service.

The cart with covered dishes arrived, complete with a set of four plates and I signed the check, made out to my room that was paid by my partners.

“Where is your company?” the polite and quite attractive waiter asked as he laid out the feast.

“They are on their way” I smiled “leave the covers on to keep it warm, they are delayed by an accident on the main road”

“As you wish, mam” the waiter smiled back and handed me the room-bill to sign.

“Would you like me to keep you company until they arrive?” he winked.

“No, no, it’s quite all right, they’ll be here any moment” I flirted back. Get the fuck out of here you smuck and give me space to do what I need to do.

He finally left and I sat down to my lonely dinner, not even bothering to get to the bathroom a few feet away to throw up in between stuffing the excellently prepared cuisine down my throat. I used the flimsy wastebasket to get rid off the shrimp and lamb, the chutney and rice to make room for more. I tried to pace myself and at least enjoy the excellent and quite expensive meal for four, but it took less than an hour until it was all gone. Now what?

My fear and apprehension about the ill-fated samples in my suitcase stuck to my brainpan like the sticky mango-rice I could not vomit up, no matter how deep I stuck the hotel supplied toothbrush down my raw and bleeding throat.

I woke up bloated and fat, tired and so depressed, that I could not even look at the array of empty dishes, covering every surface of my beautiful hotel room.  To the cleaning personal it must have looked like the end of a decadent party and I dropped a handful of Rupees and Dollars on the nightstand before I rolled out of the room, dragging my overstuffed suitcase out to the waiting taxi cab.

I did not know this then, but for reasons that I still don’t understand, this hotel-orgy was to be my last binge.

On the airplane, I asked the stewardess to remove my tray with gloppy and over-salted grub after a few bites. I snaked my way through a crowded isle to the dirty, piss smelling lavatory and before I could bend over to relieve myself of the few bites I had eaten, a vision of an enormous, old-fashioned picturesque scale with grains on both sides of the scale in perfect balance appeared between my face and the dirty toilet. It stopped me cold. I saw this scale and in a vividly bright and eerily colorful vision, I imagined how my self-destructive action would add the one grain to cause the scale to tip over, causing a horrible earthquake, floods and worldwide destruction.

The precarious balance of our earth, already tipping towards irreversible damage and death was just one grain away from total annihilation and adding that grain would be my fault. Shivers ran down my spine and I sat down to pee. A wave of diarrhea gripped my body and I sat there for what seemed like hours, wracked with cramps and fear.

When I was finally able to get up, I had decided not to be the cause of the destruction of the world that was after all, home to my daughter and my friends.

I retuned to me seat. For the first time in 19 years, I had left a toilet without vomiting. A sense of peace and calm enveloped me and I joined a conversation between a professor of art who flew back after evaluating a collection of antique paintings and a women who had just gone through a serious cleansing process in one of the many ashrams in the South of India.

When I arrived in Los Angeles, I stepped into a limousine my wealthy boyfriend (and almost husband) had arranged for me to pick me up.

As I had expected, my partners in our fashion company rolled their eyes when I presented them with my work. I excused myself, claiming extreme fatigue from traveling and drove home to the crappy cottage cheese ceilinged apartment I had rented; so that my daughter could go to the High School she had begged me to go to for years. I felt guilty for the resentment towards my daughter, specially once she started to fuck up in school. Our house in Glassell Park, that beautiful, spacious and oh so quiet house –  my property wall was also the wall of the Forest Lawn Cemetery, so besides birds and fighting sqirrels, it was peaceful and surrounded by huge trees – quiet like a cemetary should be.  Now we lived next to the Freeway and had to sleep with earplugs.

I told my partners and their assembled wives, to go screw themselves, slammed the door to the sweaty studio without A/C and spent the next few days at my future husband’s mansion in Mt. Washington. I slept for a whole day, protected by his midnight blue black-out curtains and when I woke up, I was still in the same place about the bulimia – I was done.

I ate very little and never once threw up. We got along and were in love. I attributed this to my sudden honesty and lack of secrecy and maybe I was right – at least during those first few, almost magical days.

But I was terrified of gaining weight, I fact, I was convinced that I would certainly get fat, so fat that somebody would eventually ask me to give up my seat – not in the subway, since I never had set foot into the LA subway (except once, when the only way to get to the anti-war protest in Hollywood was by subway), but maybe somewhere else, on a plane maybe?

My solution to that phobia was to spent hours at the gym. I did not enjoy this at all – to work out, run on treadmills, doing Pilates, Yoga and swimming, because I only did it to feel good after words and to calm my overwhelming panic.

To make matters worse, my back, that had been bothering me for years, started to hurt again. I was in constant pain, probably from over-exercising and at one point; it had gotten so bad, that I was scheduled to have back surgery. Thank God I backed out of it at the last moment. But now, with my new, even more brutal and Nazi-like regime, the pain had become almost unbearable.

One Saturday afternoon, on my way downstairs to the hateful smelly locker room and the torture machines, I noticed a belly dance class going on in the big hall upstairs.

It had been a difficult and painful day so far. My new husband (we had finally gotten married after 13 years of me nagging him to) acted as if he had done me a huge favor by marrying me and I felt unloved, unwanted and alone. From the moment I woke up, I could not stop thinking about food. I needed relieve so badly. I imagined and obsessed over the almost orgasmic pleasure I would get from buying a cake at the Glendale Armenian bakery, sit down with it at my kitchen table and read all the magazines that were heaped on a huge stack of things I could not read without food. I missed reading. I missed my best and always reliable friend to provide me with comfort and ease, if only for a few hours. I knew how horrible and disappointed I would be afterwards, but the tension that had built up inside of me over the last five months was about to explode and take me down. I ate my regimented breakfast of one egg and half of a toasted bagel and took a bite out of the other half.

I chewed for a few seconds, relieve and pleasure washing over me, the trance I was so familiar with, so close and so available, almost winning, when I remembered.

What the fuck are you doing? You know where this one bite will lead to!

I spat that bite out, jumped into my workout clothes and raced down to Oak Street, to the YMCA.

I gingerly opened that door to the class in progress, guilty and scared because my new husband had told me at several occasions that “the last thing I want in my life, is a wife who belly dances”

Why? I don’t know. I was too sacred to ask. I was a co-dependant and scared little women and pretty much followed all his (sometimes quite bizarre) rules.

But as soon as I stepped into that room, I immediately fell in love. With the music, the clothes and the challenge of it. I had done ballet as a child and some go-go dancing, but I never was any good at it. I had tried Jazz- and Modern dance but quickly given up because I was to inpatient and un-coordinated to follow the simplest choreographies.

Now this wasn’t any easier either. But something inside me, the same power and determination that had kept me from being bulimic for five months by then, made me stay inside this room. I was totally bad at it, I could not even make a turn without bumping into somebody and I was anything but graceful. I was a wooden stick figure, ungraceful and ugly. Every glance into the huge mirror reflected a stupid and ridiculous creature back to me, an untalented creep who drew undisguised contempt from the other dancers and what had to be annoyed disgust from the pretty and snake-like moving teacher.

But I stayed. I tried. And suddenly, that one step and move that looked like I could never do, would never be able to conquer fell into place. I was doing it! Damn it, I did that little combination without stumbling and falling over my own feet.

I dared to take a closer look at the teacher. Something about her felt familiar. Her voice? Her dark hair with the bangs that fell over her eyes? That small, but curvy little body, clad in tights and a shimmering hip scarf?

Before I could figure it out, she walked over to me, took my hand and announced to the rest of the class: “This is Monah Li, one of my oldest and dearest friends in the world. Please welcome her. I am so happy to see you here!”

Oh my God! Now I remembered her. Eloise, the long time girlfriend of my ex husband, the father of my daughter. I had stolen him from her, just as he came out from rehab. He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen, a Billy Idol, but way more attractive and hot. We fell in love immediately and the little fact that he had a girlfriend, who had been standing by him through the years of his heroin addiction, was nothing but a small nuisance to me. I stared at her with ill-disguised contempt, when she came by our loft to pick up the furniture she considered hers. It bothered me and creeped me out that she looked like my twin – the same haircut, the same short and fragile figure, the same slightly slanted dark eyes and the same high cheekbones. She made me feel like a slut.

The whole situation was weird and I felt guilty and awkward. It got even more uncomfortable when she started to cry and I fled outside. Through the closed door I heard her sobs.

“Why do you have to do this? I’ve waited for years for you to get clean and now you just exchange me for somebody who looks just like me. What is wrong with me that you have to leave me like that?”

“I’m sorry, Eloise. It’s not your fault. You are the perfect woman, the best girlfriend I deserved. But I’ve fallen in love with Monah and we are getting married in May. I’m sorry,” he mumbled.

I listened with me ear pressed to the door and when she started to smash his dishes, I ran off. To the Japanese Supermarket, a few blocks away, where I cowered in the French Bakery, stuffing myself with croissants and macaroons until I felt like the Michelin-Man and ran off to find the bathroom in the mall.

When I returned to our loft, the massive antique kitchen table and a chest of drawers were gone.  Clothes piled up on he floor and shards of smashed dishes covered the concrete floor. Peter was bent over a pile of broken plates, pushing them onto a dustpan.

“Let me help you with this” I said and pushed him away, grabbing a broom.

‘No, this isn’t your fault. I’m taking care of this” he said gently and continued the clean up.

“I know it’s not my fault, but let me help you”

“No” he said with unusual sternness. “Come back in an hour”

“I’m staying, Peter.”

He looked up, tears clinging to his lashes and I was sure I’d never felt such love for anybody. We moved to the bed, tearing each other’s clothes off.

Hours later, the mess was still there. It didn’t bother us anymore. It took a few days until we cleaned up and shoved the broken plates and glasses into the trashcan.

Now, almost 20 years later, this same women offers me, not exactly friendship, but kindness and welcomes me into her class. I start to go to every one of her classes, two times a week for two hours and slowly, but steadily, I learn the moves that save my life.








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