In Her Footsteps


Fingers cold and numb. They are my bright stars of all time. I didn’t just see them as singers, superstars, but children protected by their loving, and financially secure, and sane parents. The brother and sister that tinkered with melody, Karen’s cry for help who sang love songs to death and made a stimulating and pretty noise inside of my head. I can’t smile just observe myself under pressure. Even Cinderella contemplated suicide once upon a time.

I thought that what they did was art. Genius. I just wanted Karen to eat. Now that everyone knows what anorexia nervosa is and how this eating disorder is tragic, self-loathing is tragic, self-pity is tragic and how it wastes away the body, the reproductive system especially. And in the last days of her life I wonder if she could even bring herself to make herself breakfast and eat it or was it just swallowing a handful of laxatives and diuretics that got her through the day, a coriander leaf. Where the hell was her four leaf clover? Anorexics, I don’t worship them as I do writers now anymore. I worship poets more. I miss her. I miss Karen Carpenter and the dresses she used to wear when she used to perform. I wonder what her voice would sound like now, her albums, what she would look like if she performed or toured in Japan. If she would have had that station wagon and those children. Why on earth wouldn’t anyone want to wear a kimono around the house? Anorexia move over. Something else has taken your place, triumphed.

It’s called suicidal illness. So if you’re special, gifted in some way, exceptionally intelligent, brilliant at falling, not falling in love, not being the marrying kind, being the divorced or flying solo or having flings or being promiscuous kind then perhaps this advice is for you. You can either take it or leave it. Behave yourself and eat all your vegetables on the plate because in the end women are designed for revolution more than men. You’ll be rewarded with a cool glass of pineapple juice or orange squash. Gulp it down. Soon it will taste like you’re getting lasagne meat on your bones that for the longest time have felt like you’re having an infidelity, like vitamins, the aftertaste in your mouth of the clinic and still you won’t put weight on. You will ask for yoghurt and ice cream. You will tell the nurse oh today you feel like a salad, a tomato sandwich, wilted lettuce and nothing else and she will just look at you with her death-ray stare until you want to punch her in the face. You will pinch your skin even though you are skinny-thin, on ‘death-row’ but what they don’t understand or do understand is that mummy never said she loved you.

You simply weren’t loved enough, good enough and your parents will tell this handsome psychiatrist who is married and has a daughter and a son that you are a superstar why do they need to tell you of all people in the world that they love you and instead of your mother taking your hand or stroking your face as if you were a child again you’re thinking I need a Band-Aid and your mother will tell you to stop sulking. ‘Karen you would look so pretty if you would just eat. I have some recipes. I made a list. I brought a tapestry along with me.’ And I will think to myself to do you love me, do you see me? I need to get back into the studio. I need to make another hit record. Maybe you were disobedient and had to be punished for something you did as a child that you can’t even remember. You did not obey someone or follow the rules. You can’t even remember the last time you ate a pizza crust. And the cute psychiatrist will ask you why are you doing this to yourself? Are you sick (is this lingo for crazy)? He assures you that he is here to help you but you can’t help but look into his dreamy-eyes and believe him. Perhaps therapy. But you mother coolly interjects and says this family does not talk about their feelings.

The whole world loves you. You have fans in Japan and maybe even in Jericho. Maybe they groove to your hip beat in Tel Aviv. You want to tell him these things but then again you think maybe he will prescribe you something. Sleeping pills. No, not such a good idea. She feels fatigue. Do you think about death, about dying? The cutie (the psychiatrist) asked. Is chocolate a food group, a protein, where does it fit on the hierarchy of the food chain is what Karen wanted to ask. Why do people go around saying all the time, ‘Death by chocolate?’ or things like, ‘Can we be buddies?’ ‘Why do I feel so deprived if I’m supposed to be the denim-wearing all-American-girl? The brunette with barrettes in her hair. Am I too rich, too out of touch with reality like all the great ones, the great artists? What I really feel is that I’m a failure, that I’m doomed. I seem to have this complex. Life is complicated enough as it is I know so why am I not fascinated and fascinated all at the same time with sadness and other people’s lives, their cruelty, their survival, my guilt trip, my survival-kit. I don’t understand that doctor, and the doctor that she wanted to impress would tell her that all anorexics suffer from a type of perfectionistic streak and that all she had to do was love the people who loved her and they would love her back.’

You see doctor I want my mother to acknowledge me for who I am and not the persona, the pose, the pout, the singer who sings love songs but I don’t think that she does. In fact I know that she doesn’t. Anorexia taught me a lot about death. You will not survive if you do not eat. Doesn’t a boiled potato with its brains mashed out like confetti taste like an exotic fruit after you haven’t eaten it in months? And turkey tastes like chicken anyway at thanksgiving. ‘You’re special Karen. We’ve always known that. I mean she’s always had this extraordinary voice and she and her brother have always been so close.’ This is her father. He is smiling warmly at her but it is merely an image, a figment of her imagination and instead of her feeling closer to him it feels as if he is killing her. She can feel that spark, but her claws are out, she feels as if she cannot function anymore or be productive. She is sick, ill. She has an affliction of some sort that we are capable of dealing with ourselves and not involving outsiders. We love one another. We don’t put each other down, laugh at our flaws, at our own expense. We are who we are.

And here I will say like Hemingway, Salinger, David Foster Wallace, Rilke, Jeanette Winterson and Shakespeare. It’s impossible to be perfect all the time is something that mother Carpenter would be likely to say. We are not like other families. We are not dysfunctional. What does that word even mean? I remember her as being livelier. Was more or less what her mother seemed to be saying or what do you want me to bring me the next time we come into town? I think her mother wanted her to say bring me a deep crust pizza, hotdogs, Chinese noodles, cheese, something to embroider while watching reruns in the tiny television room but all Karen wanted her mother to say was, ‘I love you.’ As if they were taking vows to spend the rest of their lives together with only eyes for each other. For Karen eating became something close to earth-shattering. She wrestled with the food on the plate with her fork until she thought perhaps she did need medication instead of the tender loving care of a smother who folded the kimono away that was bought for her in Tokyo by mostly Karen, who thought it would be a loving gesture towards a loving mother who put it in a cupboard in the box that it had come in and forget about it.

Eating became harder and harder for Karen and she never was as passionate about it as she had been as a ‘chubby teenager’ as one music magazine had put it years and years ago.

‘I’m fine Richard. I am ready to work. I want another number one record so badly like you wouldn’t believe it. The music scene changes all the time. We have to keep up with the trends, with what’s current. We’re still the champions of the world. Let’s open up a bottle of champagne and celebrate my homecoming. ‘ She told her brother. They all pretended she was alright. Karen Carpenter, sweet girl, superstar that she was pretending everything was alright. Everybody put on a brave front. ‘Yes, yes, everything is going to be alright.’ Their father said as they sat down to eat like pilgrims around the thanksgiving table. ‘The Carpenters all together again. One big happy family.’

Well Karen I’m going to be a beast now. I’m going to be honest with you because I feel somebody who loves you and is close to you needs to be. You look like a wreck. Why don’t you take care of yourself, look after yourself first? This is not a good look for the Carpenters, for the team. How can you feel so detached? I want you back.

The real you. The way you dress now doesn’t impress me. SALAD IS NOT FOOD A FOOD GROUP NEITHER IS EATING PLAIN YOGHURT. You are going to die if you do not eat this turkey breast. Have some sauce too. You think being thin and becoming skinny-thin is the same thing but it’s not. You were beautiful then but now you have turned into a monster but her brother knew if he had said this to her he would have made his mother crazy-mad and his sister would have cried, wept for a man who would have held the door open for her after bringing her home after a night of bowling. But he never did. When you waste away it’s intimidating at first to the atoms and the particles that you are made up of. You think you can go back to the way you were. And you often think to yourself how am I going to fix this now? Skinny is the new terrific-looking. I felt as if for the first time in my life I was being fiercely admired, intensely adored, if I staggered or stammered I staggered and stammered grandly. I didn’t need prayer. I needed to be worshiped. There was the old Karen, the singer with the stunning voice, the drummer, part of an award-wining trio, the first Carpenter who got signed to a record label, the Romantic-singing-poet and the new Karen who was a skinny-thin version of herself.

So the greats. First up. A tapestry of Hemingway. Where-every-thread-seems-harmonic. I want to put my hands in his pockets and wonder what I will find there. In the inner lining of the fabric of his garments. Will I find the disease of alcoholism there or scribbled-notes (bits-and-pieces) of his phenomenal writing? Then there’s Salinger. What rapture? Wretched rapture that rips me apart at the seams. The man, his mind, his imagination, his characters dialogue (I wanted more of his genius, of Holden). I want to body-surf in it, swim-with-the-fishes, and show them my shark teeth and how I can put it to good use. He had far too much imagination in him. I think he stalked love or he was much more in love than with being in love. David Foster Wallace forever masked in a hellish cloth experiment. I will miss him. Karen Green will miss him infinitely more. His-life-was-brief-but-beautiful and he was good-at-sketching-the-oblivious-of-the-oblivion. Rilke hated the feast of Hemingway’s-Paris in every way.

But out of all them William Shakespeare beats them down. He’s my cocaine, my marmalade, my cheese on toast, French toast, tuna fish sandwich, and poppadum. I think he was the most vigilant when it came to dying young for love, for human violence. On-the-surface he was conservative (when it came to pornography, adultery, family, children). He did not watch his children grow up and play with kittens, stroke the ears of puppies. I think he lived alone when he wrote. He was a terrific-everything and a real nobody all at the same time. Cranking out all those sonnets, play after play, poetry. He never ceased to amaze. But I wonder about his scar tissue. His wounds enthral me. I find them sexy like words like mitochondria. Hemlock. Poison. Gourmet chef. Lobster. Gift. Christmas presents under the tree. Scout. Talented-with-tools. Brilliant-with-instruments. The-mark-of-a-man. An overwhelming nurturing woman. Opinion. Probability. Rope. Catholic. Winterson was a carpenter too making drawers (with-secret-compartments) out of words. They’ve all made lovely carpenters. Children too have skills, stages and spotlights.


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