When Darla and I had our first real conversation, she was so sick of hunger that she passed behind the self-help section, where she was pretending to be sheltering for books. I found him lying on the dingy store carpeting, a pencil-thin hand, flapping eyelids, trying to focus on me.
Months later, she tells me that she was not able to differentiate between me and one of our co-workers, at this time, an acne-covered teenager who probably resembled me, I think, in the eyes as he was. Anyone was hungry like that. I was neither a smoker nor a teenager but a 22-year-old aspiring writer working on a chain bookstore in Minneapolis for lack of any better ideas.
“Are you fine?” I asked.
He nodded and held my hand. Hers felt so cold that I had an impulse to rub some warmth into it.
“Did anyone see me falling down?”
I shook my head no. “What happened?”
“I haven’t eaten in days. I am anorexic. “She said in such a case, she accepted it without thinking as if she was telling me her birthmark.”
“Do you want me to eat you something?” I asked.
She smiled, perhaps recognizing me for the first time in conversation. Although we had worked together for a few months, we barely knew each other.
“It doesn’t work like that,” he said. “Sit here near me until I regain my strength.”
So I did it.
After that, we talked a lot. I told him about my plan to take my old Chevy Malibu to Kansas City, where I was planning to crash on a friend’s friend’s couch when I had saved enough money. She told me about the poem she was writing and the crush she was upset over our assistant manager. We came to know that we shared Jack Kerak’s love. I told him that my Kansas City adventure would be considered my “On the Road” moment.
“Do you know that the Walker Museum has a Beat Generation exhibition right now?” he said. “You can see the Keurac typewriter with the actual scroll of ‘On the Road’.”
We went to the exhibition and saw the scroll. She talked about all the places she wasn’t, and I told her how badly I wanted to see the world, to go on an adventure.
“Maybe you’re having an adventure now,” he said, taking my hand. Hers was hot at this time.
Soon he stopped talking about the assistant manager, but he did not starve himself.
I did not try to help him. I’m not sure why. It is as if I have accepted his struggle as one of his facts. I recently found myself struggling after a heartbreak and trying to teach myself how to do basic things again: thinking for myself, walking properly, holding myself upright, sleeping and breathing.
To see his struggle to force solid food, to spread a thin layer of butter over a salt, to see that he would chew a paste before going down (it was his only meal a few days) did not look natural. Was, but it is somehow infallible to me. I stared at him and caught him while kissing.
Some people can call that Samarth. I called it love.
Maybe I wasn’t so wrong. A few years ago, I read about a study in which researchers suggested that kissing can counteract diet. I am sure there is a healthy and worthy doubt about such claims, but would it not be good if it were true, that love could cure a dangerous disease? Anyway, a scientific experiment that must have been!
Darla and I kissed for the first time, it was nothing to treat her, but it did cure my dream of moving to Kansas City. I still never went, after all these years. I have no desire to leave.
No one was watching us then, with Darla being so dangerously thin, I looked like a spectator who had fallen victim to an accident in a burning car and instead of pulling it from the flames Asked about music.
It is not that I did not want to risk burning my hands. It is more that my instinct was to burn with him. A better person, I realize, would have taken him to the nearest rehabilitation center, but it never occurred to me.
Instead, Darla and I engaged in our own personal version of Kiss Cure. What were the results? It will take a long time to find out.
Those first few months were our adventure. We quit our jobs at the bookstore. Instead of driving alone to Kansas City, I sold my Chevy Malibu and used the money to buy us tickets on the westbound Amtrak train.
As we looked at the map of America at the station, he said, “Where shall we go?”
I asked him to choose the most romantic-sounding name with the Empire Builder line, which led to us buying two tickets to the sleeper car at West Glacier in Monterey.
For those taking part in the Kiss Cure, I have an Amtrak Sleeper Car, where you can seal yourself away from the world, ripping through the night and waving together under the sheet with each curve of the tracks. Would recommend berth. At every station, we put on our glasses (we had the same recipe and sometimes wore each other) and stared out the smokers’ window on the station platforms before “all the riders” made their final Used to rush to the residence! was appearing.
The sleeper car attendant refused to let us down before pulling the train to the West Glacier. “It’s a summer resort town, my dyers,” he said, “and it’s November. As long as you want to sleep at the station, you’ll be better off to whitefish.”
This was good advice. We had not booked anywhere to stay in the West Glacier, thinking that when we landed we would get just one hostel. The truth is that we probably ended up prematurely with our adventure, cried, frozen and back home.
Thanks to the attendant, however, we stayed up to the whitefish, spent a week in the mountainside and then rode the Empire Builder in the lure of our sleeper car, this time to Seattle, where we spent a week before in a hostel. Tha Coke takes Starlight to Sacramento. From there, we took a bus to San Francisco and then to Flagstaff, Ariz., Where we used the remainder of our savings to rent a trailer in a trailer park where we had our first Christmas.
By then Darla was eating a little more. Not much, but little. He felt more energy. We stayed for a few months, supporting ourselves with Temp Work, driving a $ 500 car the owner of the trailer sold us – until they stopped running.
When our money ran out, we ran back home to the Midwest and were married shortly thereafter. Recently we celebrated our 23rd anniversary. Last year, our son turned 18 years old.
For those interested in kissing treatment, I will say this in support: Darla is the year that she was really thinking about going on a diet until the epidemic lockdown has gained enough weight on both of us to prick (many people Was put on the pound during this time, but our instinct was to limit trips to the grocery store, which had little impact).
We have been together long enough now that early versions of ourselves seem like children. In a snapshot from those times, I see her in overalls and a T-shirt, thinner than skeletons but with the promise of joy and adventure of new love.
Our married life was not without struggles. I have taken him for myself, put my needs ahead of him, overcome my weaknesses. But I never regret the fact that I had probably acted irresponsibly, then worried about her anorexia, by not pressuring her to do anything about it, and instead of loving it for her. She never wanted heroic intervention from me or anyone else. She overcomes her problems with food on her own terms and is happy to share her story to me now.
This is the confession of an enabler, I think. Or maybe I just don’t know the difference between enabling and loving. What I do know is that I never wanted to be a participant in any experiment other than one darla and I inadvertently enrolled in all those years.