Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Bingeing, Boredom and (More) Bruises

My sister's dog is anxious if anyone hangs around the kitchen just after his breakfast has been dished up – he won't eat until the coast is clear. It's been more than two years since the days my sister and her husband had to lure their then-newly adopted puppy into the kitchen with food before fencing him in there for the day, but the poor dog apparently just can't forget the experience.

I fear that's going to be me – seized with fear on a daily basis because of the events of the past couple of years.

Sunday morning, for example, my sister said she was ready to leave, and then walked into the kitchen and started hunting for her missing keys. "Why is it that men and women seem to have such different definitions of 'ready to leave?'" her husband remarked casually.

I froze, waiting for an explosion. BN2 used to be furious if I said I'd be ready in "two minutes," and it was four. Or if I said I were ready and then needed to dash back into the house to grab something – basically, if I ever kept him waiting. Even if I apologized for "wasting his time" (he had me well-trained by the end), it often wouldn't be enough to stave off his sour mood infecting whatever we were doing.
"BN2 used to have a fit if I said I was ready to leave when I didn't actually have a foot out the door," I said to no one in particular.

"Well, I wouldn't have a fit, but it is funny how women and men think it's two totally different things," said R., my sister's husband.

Something similar happened on Christmas Day, when my sister – whose solution to morning sickness is to always have something in her stomach – packed a bagel with peanut butter to take to the film we were seeing.

R made a joke about it I can't remember – but it was quite obviously (to anyone except my sister) meant to poke fun at her being a Jewish girl taking Jewish food to the movies on Christmas Day. My sister, however, interpreted it as either a dig at how much she was eating (she isn't, really – just a lot of small meals) or the fact that she was too cheap to buy food at the movies.

"Stop picking on me," she snapped at him.

I held my breath, waiting for him to explode, the way BN2 would. BN2 was very happy to point out my every infraction of whatever code I wasn't privy to but was still expected to adhere to, but almost any time I ventured the slightest comment that could be perceived as a criticism of him, I might as well set a huge flame to my evening, and possibly the next day, too. It would be consumed by him turning whatever I'd said on me – as evidence of some character defect of mine.

But R didn't do that. He looked puzzled. He told her it was a joke, and explained what he meant. He tried to understand why she felt the way she did, and even though he thought she was being irrational, he let it go for the so-not-a-big-deal it was.

Is that what normal people do? I guess so.

* * *

"So how did the corn pudding go over?" I asked my sister when she arrived back after an evening out Sunday night.

She made a face. "Jen is 8 months pregnant and has a texture thing with eggs, so she couldn't eat it."

That was all it took for me to know I'd made the right decision to stay home alone – which I'd made even before I knew it was going to be my pregnant sister and her husband and her husband's friend and his pregnant wife. I'd already done the math that two couples + two football games + tons of food (very little of which I'd have control over) + not-remotely-public-transport-accessible locale (meaning I couldn't leave until my sister and husband were ready, and her husband is never ready to leave) would equal one very bored and trapped Beth, which would mean danger on the food front. A repeat of Christmas, probably.

I know – because she's said so – that my sister thought I was over-regimented and obsessive about food for staying home, but she doesn't have the whole picture. I do hate to have my life ruled by food and fear, and I try to avoid allowing that to happen. But in this case I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything but a lot of counting down the minutes until we could leave. I didn't want to watch football and make polite conversation for more than six hours (my sister and her husband left at 5 and got back at nearly midnight). In some ways I feel like I've wasted at least a year to 18 months of my life having every evening ruined or otherwise ruled by BN2 (the first six months of our two-year relationship weren't that way) and, well, the pain stops here. (Plus I've got to spend New Year's Eve as the lone single with six couples who are friends of my sister and her husband, more than half of whom are pregnant and – if previous experience is any guide – more than half of whom I will have next to nothing to say to. So... there is plenty of time for obligation.)

I spent the evening reading, writing, blog reading and (virtual) window shopping – and was perfectly happy. Funny how the same sort of evening in London – particularly on a weekend evening – is no doubt going to depress me over the next couple of months.

* * *

I'm on a 4 1/4 hour bus ride (traffic willing) from DC to NYC and I'm looking around -- partly in amazement, partly in sadness -- at all of the food people have brought to sustain them through the 255 minutes. (The sadness is because I'm thinking about what I once would have brought, and how furtively I would have eaten it. Also, how trapped and desperate I no doubt would have felt if and when I ran out of snacks. Travel, as I know I have said about a million times, was always binge time for me.)

The bus left at 2:30 and is due to arrive at 6:45 pm. I ate lunch before boarding and I'll have dinner when I arrive, so that means I needed to pack exactly one snack: an iced Christmas cookie. (I have extra snacks only because I may want them over the next day and a half in NYC -- though if I know myself there will be all sorts of treats there I'd rather have!) It is still novel to me that that is all I need for the bus ride, and that -- 3 hours into the trip -- that is all I have had. As I said to my sister yesterday, I am not where I'd like to be with food and bingeing, but I have come a long way.

Monday, 28 December 2009


So I went absolutely bananas (well, bananas would at least have been vaguely healthy) at the Christmas buffet. I haven't seen that much food in one place in years, if ever. The Rosenbergs have a huge island in their kitchen, and it was covered completely with food three times over: once for appetizers, a couple of hours later for mains, and after that, desserts.

"And this year they couldn't even contain it," observed my sister, who is a veteran of these events. (This was my first time.) "It spilled over onto the counters and the stove."

I can't really blame BN2 for this one (though I did receive an upsetting text from him just before we left, and – here is another bruise that needs healing – panicked about how angry he would be if I didn't respond in a timely fashion, or didn't respond at all. As my brother-in-law says: "There has to be a last text at some point.") But I guess maybe I can blame boredom and feeling trapped. The room was full of Rosenberg family and friends I didn't know – and, in the words of my sister's husband, also a veteran, probably didn't really want to know -- plus a newly engaged couple plus my pregnant sister and her husband. Also I was freezing cold – so cold my brother-in-law and sister suggested I drink a glass of red wine to warm up. (I stopped at two glasses.)

I wasn't able to exercise Christmas Day due to circumstances that really were beyond my control. So I arrived at the buffet about 6 pm already feeling a bit anxious. I'd told myself I wasn't going to have any of the appetizers except maybe some shrimp, but after about 45 minutes of being too cold and too bored, that quickly spiralled into a taste of just about everything: cheese, crab balls, pigs in blankets (how I love anything in pastry), little bacon and cheese pastries, some kind of grilled meat.

And somewhere in there I discovered the bowls of chocolate covered almonds and chocolate nut clusters. And I went, um, cocoa loco. Quite possibly at least 10 of each. This I ate in spite of – or maybe because of – all of the desserts I caught a glimpse of when someone opened the door to the garage.

"Beth, there's so much dessert coming the chocolate really isn't worth it," said my sister, who's suffering from morning sickness and has lost her taste for anything sweet. Somehow I managed not to be annoyed by this and eat out of defiance and instead to take it in the spirit it was intended – my sister, who cannot understand binge-eating and how beyond control it can make me, trying to be helpful.

I didn't eat any more chocolate clusters. But I did attack the mains with a vengeance: corned beef, short ribs, kugel (the one thing I really could justify overeating as it's not something I'm able to get very often), mushroom risotto, spinach and feta pie, pasta with seafood. (I did manage to skip a few things, including all the potato dishes – there's potato aplenty in England.) I was sneaking bits into my mouth before I even sat down at the table – something I always used to do when I didn't want anyone to know exactly how much I was eating.

It wasn't pretty.

"How are you doing?" said my sister at one point.

"I feel like everyone's staring at me – the fat girl who's taking too much food."

"I think you're the smallest person here," said my sister, who was tugging uncomfortably at her shirt, complaining that – at seven weeks pregnant – it was already too tight around her chest. This would be more comforting did my sister not have a long history of trying (whatever weight I was) to convince me to eat more (I think) so that she could feel better about whatever she was eating. And yes, she did make the helpful comment about the chocolate clusters, but – like my grandmother – my sister has always been of the pushing-food-yet-telling-me-to-lose-weight school.

"No, I'm not," I said.

"OK, maybe the second smallest," said my sister.

I'd call dessert an unmitigated disaster, except that it wasn't. I was already full when it was brought out, and although I ate far too much of it, I was vaguely strategic about it. Someone raved about the ice cream pie, but when I heard it was just basically chocolate ice cream on crust, I passed it up. I got one of the homemade ice cream cookie sandwiches my brother-in-law had spent several minutes on the car ride over raving about, but really, they were not-fabulous homemade chocolate chip cookies with not-fabulous chocolate ice cream (if they'd had vanilla, maybe I would have finished mine instead of just taking a bite). I did take a dessert-sized plate with a sample of just about everything else: the cinnamon coffee cake (probably the best thing there – in retrospect I'd have done well with a hunk of that and nothing else), banana bread, cream puffs, banana cream pie, oreo cheesecake, lemon bars, chocolate trifle (well, not trifle in the English sense – more like a mess of chocolate and cream)...

I didn't finish everything on my plate, partially thanks to my brother-in-law R.

"Let's get up now," he suggested, pushing his plate away. Which is probably how I was "only" up 7 pounds the next morning, instead of about 17. Seriously, I was lucky – had I not gotten up then it's very likely I would have been ill and spent the whole car ride home counting down the minutes. Instead I felt over-full but not lay-down-on-the-floor-and-die miserable.

The next day I woke up still full, and feeling huge. This, of course, was not helped by someone asking if I were the twin who was pregnant with triplets.


I have to note I've been averaging about a binge a week since Halloween. Not good. Yes, there has been a lot of stress in my life, and yes, everyone overeats in the holiday season. But I need to break this weekly cycle, especially as I've got several long plane and bus trips ahead of me (Miami-DC, DC-NY, DC-London)... My goal is not to binge for the rest of this trip, which would put me at 11 days clean by the time I'm back in London.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Mirror, Mirror

At an orphanage for the children of Chernobyl a colleague of mine reported from, there are no mirrors. The kids don't have to confront, on a daily basis, how they look. Maybe they even forget completely.

Over the past few days, various friends have held up a mirror to me, and I am as shocked as if I've lived in the orphanage myself. BN2 thought I was pretty and sometimes glamorous – that I know, because he said it – but otherwise the image of me he reflected back was unrelentingly ugly. I was selfish. I was a downer. I was cheap. I was dishonest. I was boring. I was a cold fish. I couldn't be bothered to make the slightest effort.

But a Christmas card arrives from a friend: "Thanks for being such a great friend. An evening with you is always a pick-me-up."

Another friend emails that I have been so generous with her Christmas present that she thinks she owes me something in the new year.

At dinner with friends last night I haven't seen for months – mostly because of BN2 – they say how much they have missed me. I don't feel like myself – whoever that is, I'm not really sure at this point – but they seem happy to see me, anyway, and in fact stay up much later than usual.

Maybe as much as a year ago, one of my best friends told me she feared for me in this relationship. "Every day you stay with BN2 is another day there's more damage being done to you."

With every hour that goes by, it seems, I find another bruise. It's scary, and it hurts.


My sister and a couple of friends kept saying that if I could just disentangle myself from BN2, my whole life would suddenly be full of possibility. It's a promise that's already being fulfilled, in ways large and small.

Sunday night I accepted a last-minute invitation for drinks at Shoreditch House. With no one keeping tabs on me and no hour and a half trek to make it, as one friend put it, to "the ass end of Putney and Wimbledon," I feel free just to let the conversation flow, as opposed to worrying about packing in as much as possible into a couple of hours of freedom. (I should say here that I've realized every binge of the past six months was in some way related to my knowing I was about to be shoved into the BN2 cage again, the door slammed shut.)

One of the people I had a long, freewheeling chat is a Big F**king Deal at a major London department store. I wasn't trying to impress her and didn't even know they had a job open, but at the end of the night she told me what fantastic ideas I had, and suggested I should come in and meet with them. (I don't really want to do PR, which is what she had in mind, but I'm never one to turn down a meeting. It's all about, yes, possibility.)

Today I am frustrated because I can't check in online for my flight to the US. My ticket is a ludicrously overpriced last-minute purchase, and now I'm going to be crammed into a middle seat for eight-plus hours?

It turns out it's because I've been chosen for an upgrade not one but two classes, to Business Class.

"When that happens your e-ticket number is wiped from the system, and so you have to come and do check-in in person," explains the BA agent, who's wearing a silver tinsel boutonniere. Of all the days of the year to be fast-tracked through security, oh yay. I nearly cartwheel through Terminal 5 to the lounge. I remember briefly a huge fight I had with BN2 last New Year, when he thought I spent too much time (translation: wasted his time) buying some food for the flight. When flying economy (I say this like I ever fly anything else), I like to bring my own – (a) why waste (so many) calories on crappy airline food, (b) there's often peppers in it, to which I'm allergic, and (c) travelling is a huge binge trigger for me, so it's better and cleaner for me to know exactly what I'm going to eat. BN2 was particularly angry because he had lounge access, which he didn't get to use because I was too, as he put it, obsessed with sorting myself out. (I'd told him to go ahead, but he wouldn't.)

Note to self: Even if you are at home with your married pregnant sister and her husband, it cannot be worse than last year, a story so awful I've almost repressed it, and can't bear to tell it. But I digress.

In the lounge I am seized by fear. There is food. Loads of it. Everyone is eating and drinking: wine, shortbread, pasta, crisps, sandwiches, cakes, cheese. I think of how much I would have eaten three plus years and nearly 100 pounds ago. But what do I eat now?

It's 3:30 pm and I'll be needing a snack soon. Before I'd gone to the lounge I'd looked in the chocolate shop, where I debated buying a 500g buy-one-get-one-free sampler of Lindt for £7, which would be an economical and probably delicious way to sort out a couple of weeks' worth of snacks. But I always have to consider – particularly when travelling – what would happen if I ate the whole thing, and in this case, the risk was too great. (Besides, whenever I have a lot of something, I inevitably don't want to eat it when the time comes, which cancels out the economy.)
I was hoping for some (snack-size) chocolate, but there is none to be found. Instead there are packages upon packages of Walkers shortbread in different varieties. They are snack-size (no more than one or two biscuits per package), but without calorie counts. I confess to still being (slightly) freaked out by this. I'm OK doing it occasionally, but I want to try one of each, which is certainly several days' worth of snacks. More to the point, I'm slightly worried about whether I'll eat them all on the flight – being trapped (and not just by BN2) has always been a massive trigger for me, and usually I bring just enough food to get me through, with maybe one extra snack.

Feeling like one of those old ladies at a Florida fundraising luncheon (they bring plastic bags and take tons of food – so much so that when my mother ran these lunches she wouldn't allow buffets) I take one of each: chocolate chip, ginger, oatmeal honey, double chocolate, the works. For a snack I have a bag of Kettle crisps. I also grab a Granny Smith apple for the flight.

Onboard I am torn about whether to have the dinner I've brought or to sample the business class fare. I figure I'll feel too much like a martyr doing the former, and of course, now that I've decided to let go a little bit, true to my black-or-white form, I want to go crazy. I decide on the healthy starter (some kind of marinated leeks), a salad (which comes with everything), and the beef casserole with a dumpling and mash. (The "healthy" option is a cold salad, which I cannot face.) The pudding is some kind of orange thing, so I decide ahead of time I'll skip it and have the cheese. I'm incredibly hungry (have been all day), so I eat the apple when everyone else is eating nuts.

The casserole is too salty but I eat it anyway. I also have a few glasses of champagne – I love champagne. The dessert turns out to be mince pie or cheese, and I opt for my pre-chosen cheese, though I do have a (possibly champagne-fuelled) moment of wanting to ask for the mince pie, too. But I don't. I eat ¾ of the cheese (it's two kinds: one blue cheese and one brie) and the three oat biscuits. I eat the piece of chocolate that arrived at the beginning of my meal with a cup of tea. I think briefly that it's BN2 who got me in the habit of thinking tea to be the perfect accompaniment for something sweet, but the thought actually doesn't pain me.

Usually when I fly to the US I plan to have an extra meal – sometimes even an extra snack and an extra meal – but as I've eaten more than usual I'll have to play it by ear, something I am never very good at. (Except immediately post-binge, I honestly think I could easily and happily eat at any time of day, should I be offered food.)


Update: I wrote the above on the plane, before going on to consume a pear and a piece of chocolate (silly me for not realizing they were serving more food.) I then had half the sandwich they served and the tiny piece of Christmas cake, plus a package of 100-calorie Weight Watchers lemon biscuits (I usually hate "diet" food, but these were pretty good) and 30g of nuts, seeds and dried fruit I'd stashed in my bag. Then I managed, despite staying up until midnight (5 am London time) not to eat anything else.

I'm unlikely to be able to run today, which ideally I'd do to feel a bit stronger at the Christmas party we're attending at a friends' parents tonight. But my goal is small, and one I challenged a friend to: Don't eat anything you don't like. (You laugh, but I actually do the opposite more often than I'd care to admit.)

Happy Christmas, and enjoy!

Thursday, 24 December 2009


"I'm not going to try to win you back this time," BN2 told me, and he hasn't. I thought I might hear from him – or his mother, who called and texted me when I broke things off in May – but there is... silence.

I wish I could say it's a relief, but it's like waiting for the other shoe to drop. All day yesterday I was nervous when I saw the flashing light on my blackberry indicating a text or an email. I emailed him yesterday saying I'd transferred the money I'd owed him, switched my mobile broadband from his company account to my own account, and asked about the logon details to a URL he bought on my behalf. (It's always been a bit of a sore spot with him that I've done nothing much about setting up shop on it, but honestly, I don't think it's a great way to get assignments, so it never made it to the top of my priority list.) Silence.

I think it's going to take an awfully long time to get his voice – the voice of disapproval – out of my head. Even writing the email described above took about 10 times longer than it should have, as I thought about how he'd write back angrily about how clinical it was; how final. Every sentence I wrote I could imagine his response.

Because of the onslaught of texts and emails the last time, I feared my ability to get through until tomorrow (well, later today), when I get on a plane for the US. I thought I would only truly be safe – by which I mean, safe from any chance of going down there for Christmas, and thus entangling myself in this relationship yet again -- when the plane door closed.

Basically, I just want to go to sleep and wake up about six weeks to two months from now. I'm doing OK at the moment, but I know from experience that the worst moments aren't actually in the days immediately following a breakup, when all your friends are checking up on you. It's in a couple of weeks, when everyone goes back to their normal routines and there's just you and... you're not sure what. Or I'm not sure what. Luckily a very lovely friend emailed me a 2010 agenda – lots of lovely things we've spoken about doing. So there is that to look forward to. Plus I have actual work to do – had an essay commissioned at the last minute that needs a bit of work before the Jan. 4 deadline, and I have to submit some story ideas Jan. 6 to a magazine I'd like to write for. I do dread the first weekend I'm back as currently it's pretty empty, but I guess it wouldn't kill me to do some major work on flat-clearing. After all, I've just had to dump 12 bin bags of my stuff at BN2's in the middle of it...

I keep seeing two images in my head of him that make me sad: him limping away (he had a gout attack) as he followed me down the street Saturday, and then finally gave up. And then him limping back into the house after I left Monday. It's the limp that kills me.

In November, when I didn't have the courage to leave but knew I couldn't go on as I was forever, I started jotting down notes about his behavior. Partly it was to reassure myself that I wasn't making this up, or imagining how bad it was. Partly it was to gauge the frequency with which my nights were being ruined (that was one of the things I said to him a couple of weeks ago: That I couldn't bear to have at least every other night of my life ruined by him having a go at me for hours, and not letting it drop, no matter how much I apologized). And maybe partly it was to have a record – something to look back at now and remind myself that leaving was a good decision. Probably the only decision.

I didn't write down everything and what I wrote was only the barest of detail – when I had a few minutes when he wasn't around (which wasn't often), and when I could bear to relive it (which also wasn't often -- I don't think I wrote down the very worst things) Here's a sampler from early November:

5 November
He'd just asked me to give a DVD a test play on the computer – he was trying to get it out the door to a client. It didn't work. After the computer monitor went out because he leaned against the desk (while I was trying to eBay his daughter's car seat, for the record), I told him the monitor had gone out.

"Why are you telling me that?" he snapped.

"Because I thought you might be giving me a DVD to try again."

"Well, I'm not, so can we just leave it?" he snapped.

I struggled to get the computer to work again, checking all the cables. He came over and flicked the power switch on the wall. "I think that's your problem," he said.

"I didn't touch it," I said.

"Who fucking cares?" he yelled, so loud it made me shake (quake?) with fear.

Silence. This after a morning where I (a) looked after his daughter, gave her breakfast, took her to nursery because he was ill and (b) made him a doctor's appointment and then walked with him to the doctor's (I didn't WANT to walk to the doctor's with him, but when he suggested it I knew it would cause a fight if I didn't. Ditto with the night before, where I stayed up at least an hour and a half later than I wanted, because he wanted me to stay up with him while he finished his work.)

I chalked it up as stress and thought maybe he'd apologize once the courier had picked up the DVD. Nope.

I wondered idly what would happen if I ventured (timidly) that I thought I was owed an apology. I didn't dare find out.

8 November
I arrive home from a weekend away – a weekend he has fought for ages in every way he knew how, but I have stood my ground. He tells me about an email from his ex-wife – they have a very acrimonious relationship, and I have spent hours and hours and hours listening to him on the subject, not to mention reading court papers and generally feeling like I'm his punching bag because of her misdeeds.

Although I expressed sympathy he looked angry. When I asked what was wrong he told me that I hadn't told him anything like that she's a cow. I told him I was surprised that he'd even question my support at this point – see paragraph above – he told me that sometimes I said I could see things from her side. This spiralled into a massive tirade on his part about what a cold fish I am, and how wrapped up I am in myself that I can't even do the little niceties. It was about a half hour of apologizing before he calmed down.

Later that night while drinking Beechams – I have come back from the weekend ill, which also makes him cross (he snaps that I wouldn't have gotten ill if I'd stayed home) -- he told me to inhale it because he could hear me breathing loudly. I said that I was. He said that I clearly wasn't, and began a very familiar tirade about my "squirming" – that I lie, and that I only admit it when I'm cornered. To which – certainly about the Beechams – I wanted to scream: "Who fucking cares?" We went to bed in silence.

10 November
On the phone with a repair man he's asking me if I'm free various times. I can't do the Wednesday because I'm supposed to be picking up his daughter from nursery and taking her to ballet while he's doing his volunteer police shift. He asks me about a time Thursday morning and it takes me a minute to respond – I'm not sure why. I think it's because I'm not sure he's asking me about Wednesday or Thursday, so I tell him I'm clarifying (which I thought I did). This becomes a whole argument about me lying/squirming/whatever that I wish I could reconstruct, but it makes my head explode. When I apologize and say my head was muddled because I was sick, he says I'm the one who drags these things on and on because of my lying/squirming. This pisses me off at this point and I snap back: Yes, BN2, I lie and make sh*t up all the time. Then, of course, I promptly apologize. Again.

Later that night, playing a computer game, he's helping me on a quest and starts yelling at me in a nasty tone (not that you can yell in a nice tone, I guess) about whether I'm alert. He's furious when my character dies, and when his character then dies, too. A few minutes later my character dies after his and I don't tell him and he thunders at me that I can do this one on my own. I apologize and apologize, but there is silence for the rest of the night.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

I Quit, I Quit/Because Loving You Is a Job I Don't Need

(Aka, scenes from the past four days in life of Beth.)

Friday night I attend a Christmas party given by a friend of BN2's. BN2 himself is guaranteed not to be there, as he's home with an attack of gout.

I feel spectacularly awkward being there. In my single days I accepted every party invitation I got because you never know who you might meet, but now BN2 conditioning has taught me almost to dread them. We'd inevitably have a fight at the end of the very few we actually went to, usually about my "single girl" behavior, which consisted mostly of not paying enough attention to him – or spending too much time chatting to friends, especially if the friends are male. And heaven forbid I should laugh at any of their jokes...

(Why did we go to so few parties? Well, half the time we'd have had a fight beforehand and he'd say he wasn't in a party mood, or that we needed to reconnect and rebuild before we headed out into the world. Sigh.)

My friend O is at the party. The last time I was out with BN2, he berated me for hours for spending a chunk of the evening talking to O, saying my behaviour was insulting and disrespectful. I hadn't spoken to O since. I wanted to tell him what had happened, but at the same time, I didn't want him to feel bad. (O and I do go through periods of being in touch every other day and then not for several weeks, so it wasn't a big deal.)

I apologized to O for having disappeared, and said briefly that BN2 had reacted badly to that evening.

"I could tell," he said. "That comment he made about whether the story you were about to tell could be told to everyone or just to me – what was that about? What does he think is going to happen if you talk to someone else?"

"He seems to think I am this stunning vixen who leaves a wake of men in her path," I said, rolling my eyes to indicate I knew this description of myself was pretty far off the mark.

O smiled and gave me a kiss on the cheek. "You are a stunning vixen who leaves a wake of men in her path."


After a horrible run-in with him Saturday, I return from the gym Sunday to find two texts from BN2, saying he is leaving for Christmas Monday night and I need to collect my stuff or he'll leave it outside, and wouldn't it be a shame for it to end up for sale somewhere in Archway? He notes there is some "valuable stuff" there. He also texts that he's leaving his Christmas present for me beneath the doormat, and asks that I wear it as a reminder of "two people who loved each other, but one kept flying away." It is, I know, a Catherine Weitzman locket I love, with a bird at its center.

I text back asking about logistics, and thanking him for the locket. He calls while I'm in the shower.

But in the 20-or-so minutes between when he's texted and when I responded, he's apparently also called O to get him to relay the message to me. I am slightly irritated by this – he himself used to not respond to text messages for hours sometimes, and I don't get 20 minutes before I'm deemed to be ignoring his messages? Honestly, though, I am too exhausted by all of this to be very angry.

O – who is in a strange position here, as he has known me longer than BN2, but is best friends with BN2's best friend – says both he and his girlfriend will come with me to get my things. O has never said anything bad about BN2, but this time he says: "Beth, this has been a nightmare for you. This has been going on for too long. Get your stuff, don't ever sleep with him again, and get on Guardian Soulmates and have a good time." (O was at one point the most popular guy on Guardian Soulmates dating website. I like to think this – and the lovely woman he met there who's now his girlfriend – are at least partly because of the profile I wrote for him.)

I call BN2 and it isn't about logistics, despite his promise that that is all he wants to talk about. It is about why I am leaving, and how if there were even a 1 percent chance this could work why can't I stay through Christmas? The conversation goes on for an hour, and I am alternately sobbing and stamping my foot in frustration. I can almost see how he is trying to argue me back into the relationship – that if he can win this argument (and he wins every argument) I will crumple and crawl back. It has worked before. I know I can't allow it to work this time.

He asks me to come on my own at 4:30 pm. This time is not at all convenient and also means I'll have to be in a cab at the height of rush hour Christmas traffic, but I decide, as I so often did with him, that I'm not up for a battle. Basically, I think I've endured so much hurt and pain that another hour (I'm planning on booking the taxi to arrive for 5:30 pm) can't really, um, hurt.

But it does. Oh, it does.


I dread the meeting all day. It seems important to do before Christmas – a clean break. I don't want to still be dealing with the wreckage of 2009 -- my own annus horribilis -- in 2010. Plus, to be fair, if the situation were reversed I wouldn't want to be living amid all of his things.

I think how I won't miss this journey to Putney – all these hours and hours of my life I will get back, as my own flat is very central. I wonder what he's going to say or do. I think of ways to say: "There is no chance of us getting back together," and hope that I won't have to. I think of the Ramona Quimby books I loved as a child, remembering an episode where Ramona's mother helps her pack to run away, deliberately making the suitcase too heavy for Ramona to lift.

I walk up to his house as he's packing the car to leave for his parents' once I've gone. I see all of my things piled in trash bags in the entryway. I thought he'd wanted me to go through some of the bags – he said something on the phone about how he could just leave me to it – but there doesn't seem to be anything to do.

He gives me a long hug and says: "I'm not sure what I can say, so I'm going to offer you a cup of tea." He's wearing the cologne I have always loved, and which is something of a joke between us. I wonder -- in a brief moment of detachment -- if it would have had more of an effect were he not also wearing a shirt that was last year's birthday present from a woman he slept with while we were going out. BN2 always hated how observant I could be.

His 3 1/2-year-old daughter is there, and she wants to know why he's crying. He says he'll tell her in the car.

I go upstairs to the bathroom and see he's taken down a photo of us from a ball we went to the day after my birthday in 2008. In the bathroom, I see he's clearly packed everything I ever touched – there isn't so much as a ¾ used tube of shower gel left. For some reason, this makes me feel very sad and guilty. I have caused him pain.

When I come back down, his daughter says: "Why can't we take Beth to Grandma and Grandpa's with us?"

BN2 (to me): "I didn't put her up to that." (To his daughter) "You'll have to ask her yourself."

I say I don't know how to answer that. He says something about how if I don't, he certainly doesn't.

He gives me my Christmas present, which he has wrapped because he knows I love anything wrapped.

"It's a phoenix," I explain to his daughter.

"It can be any kind of bird you want it to be," he says. Maybe because the air is thick with so many things unsaid, this comment, too, seems teeming with a meaning. What exactly, I'm not sure.

He is tearful, holding my hand. Sitting in his kitchen – that familiar kitchen – it would be shockingly easy to forget all the hurt and just surrender to him. To go back. To say, when he asks, that I will come to Devon for a few days. (I have a sudden image of him packing me in the car against my will and speeding down the motorway.) But I know that I can't. I tell him I'd cry the whole time (which is true), and he says he will be doing the same thing, so what does it matter.

He asks me if there's anything he could have done, and I say no. I'm not going to open that one up. He says he fears his love for me will turn to hatred, and I say I hope it doesn't, but that if it does I will have to understand. He says something I don't quite process about my need for self-preservation being so strong that I have to ruin everyone's Christmas.

It is snowing, I'm to be O's guest at a dinner at 7.30 (I knew I had to arrange to see a friendly face), and more importantly, I'm not sure what there is to say – or at least, what there is to say that doesn't spark anger, and I don't want to be angry. Or hurt. Or resentful. Or tired. Also, this is so sad I can hardly bear it.
He says he has this fantasy that we will be snowed in – that I will have to spend the night. I don't say that that is my nightmare. It isn't, exactly, though it is an outside fear.

I know he's hurt that I'm checking my phone for notification that the cab has arrived, and that I'm worried that I don't seem to have any mobile service. (Another thing I won't miss: How isolated I felt there, partly because my phone had such crappy service. Must keep reminding myself of things I won't miss.)

The cab arrives and we throw the bags in the car. He tells me to ask the cab driver to wait for a couple of minutes, and I don't argue. I don't have the heart.

He gives me a proper kiss goodbye, which is odd, and then he prompts me to say goodbye to his daughter, a behavior that has always irritated me – that constant being told how to behave. I hug him again and say something like goodbye and -- because this is me, and I can't help it -- I know there's also an "I'm sorry" somewhere in there.

In the cab I check my phone. BN2 had said to me in his kitchen that I was well-loved, and for the first time in an age, I really feel like it -- thanks to a handful of supportive messages from friends. BN2 often made me feel so unloveable, and yet there was written proof on my phone to the contrary. I thought of my sister saying how the world would be full of possibility if I just did something about this relationship. I pictured myself in a Technicolor world that looked like a cross between Mika's album cover and the Wizard of Oz' yellow brick road. In the cab, we pass the spot where -- after a fight about my not looking up directions that BN2 claims was about my dishonesty -- he pulled over the car and told me to get out, leaving me to walk home 45 minutes in the dark and freezing cold.


It takes two and a half hours in the snow to get from BN2's to mine, so it is 8 pm before I leave my flat for a dinner that started at 7:30. This is a wound from BN2 that may take a while to heal: I am so freaked out about being late and how that ruins the entire rest of the evening with BN2 that I send O a couple of crazily apologetic texts.

"No problem!" he writes back. (I am particularly appreciative of the exclamation mark, which -- in my overanxious, BN2-addled mind -- means it really isn't a problem, as opposed to the sort of sullen "no problem" it could be without the punctuation.) And it really isn't a problem. I arrive at 8:30 and nobody, least of all O, particularly minds. (In a classic case of sod's law, I did bump into BN2's best friend – who lives in my neighbourhood -- en route to the Tube.) They just look happy to see me.

We have a proper three-course Christmas dinner – smoked salmon followed by turkey with stuffing, bread sauce, roast potatoes, the works. I eat it all, including the Christmas pudding with custard and cream. I'm eating perhaps a bit quickly, and I can't help thinking perhaps I shouldn't eat it all, but I don't really feel in danger of bingeing.

This is O's writers' group and apparently there's a Secret Santa. Ooops. O smiles and says: "Don't worry, you bought some really bad wine." He's even wrapped it in a Sunday Times supplement. I end up with the most creative Secret Santa present I think I've ever received: A fossil. It can be used as a paperweight.

After dinner, O and I walk for at least a mile in the ice and snow and I fill him in on what happened at BN2's. "Just forget you ever knew him, inasmuch as that's possible," O says. "I don't think you ever need to see him again."

Just downstairs from my flat I stop and buy a pint of milk.

"Hello darling," says the guy at the counter. I inhale sharply, as if something hit me. BN2 calls me darling.

I think briefly – OK, not so briefly – about texting him to let him know I'm thinking of him, and that I hope he's all right. But I know I can't make it OK for him, and in fact, the harder I try to do that the less OK it is for me.

And I'm trying to be OK with that.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Six Years

Who knew Selfridges sold Yahrzeit candles? There I was having a quick peek at the American delicacies (such as they are) in the food hall – killing time while waiting for a carol concert, if you must know, and trying to keep myself away from the Temperley sample sale – and there they were.


My mother died six years ago today, and I struggle with how to observe the actual date – never mind with the fact that she's gone. Sometimes it is all fine – someone asks me, say, where my parents live, and I respond that my father lives in Connecticut. Or somehow the subject will come up, and I will say – in a voice so preternaturally calm it seems to belong to someone else – "My mother died a few years ago."

And then there are other times when you would think she died yesterday. Or at least, recently enough to explain the state of unglued I become over the smallest things: the soaring voices of a choir, for example. It is the randomness and complete inexplicable-ness of what sets me off that makes it all so difficult. It's like limping to avoid a pain, yet occasionally getting this breathtaking shock of it anyway.

When I was last in my grandmother's kitchen I caught sight of a photo of my sister, my mother and my grandmother on a Mothers Day that had to have been at least 15 years ago, maybe more. (Was I taking the photo? I don't know.) My mother and grandmother were both heavy in a way that I can barely remember either one of them being – my mother refusing all food in her last days, and my grandmother these days mostly uninterested in it.

I was struck by how happy they looked, how solid – as if you could burrow into them and they would make everything OK.

Another memory bubbles up to the surface now – one I haven't thought about in years. I'm not sure when this is from – I think my freshman year of college.

My sister had a horrible time adjusting to school – my mother would say that she knew it was my sister on the phone only because there would be no sound on the other end of the phone but sobbing. My sister wanted to come home, she wanted to transfer, she wanted my mother to fix it. And my mother – who really only ever wanted to be happily married with kids (she got half of that, I guess) – couldn't fix it.

We were having one of those rare conversations where I felt especially close to my mother – like I was getting a piece of her nobody else saw. She was telling me how horrible it was to have your child so upset and to be so powerless.

"But you, I never worry about you," she said to me, explaining why she rarely questioned decisions I made. "You think about things. You could tell me you were going to do just about anything and I know you'll be OK."

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes

So Cinderella did go to the ball, and she didn’t lose a glass slipper – only some self respect as yours truly binged in front of (a) the editor of Glamour, (b) fashion designer Roland Mouret (whose dresses I can only dream of ever owning), and (c) Simon Le Bon’s daughter, all of whom were seated at my table. Maybe they didn’t notice that I ate the entire plate of not-very-petite petit fours. (Roland, for one, was jetlagged – he’d been in LA having dinner with Demi Moore – and drunk.) Seriously, a whole plate of chocolate, macaroons, cocoa-dusted almonds, et al – on top of my dinner (fish in some sort of girolle cream sauce), which I consumed at such alarming speed that the so-not-Prince-Charming at my left even commented. Ugh.

With only one exception, these days I only binge when I drink, and it’s not automatic. There are plenty of times I can go out have a couple of drinks – or even a lot of drinks – and be fine.

And then there are the times when I know – I just know – before I’ve even taken the first sip that I am in a f—k it all kind of mood. Sunday – the night of the ball – was one of those evenings. There had been lingering crap with BN2, and I was just… sick of it. I didn’t just want him out of my life – I wanted him out of my head. Alcohol isn’t exactly a fantastic eraser, but in the absence of anything else (maybe because binge eating doesn't really work any more?), I guess I decided it would do.

* * *

The ball was Elton John’s, and I actually was there as a guest, not a reporter. It’s hard to believe writing about celebrities was once my job, when you consider the following: I am dashing (well, as fast as four-inch gold heels allow) down the sweeping staircase when I see a stunning woman whose dress I’ve been admiring all night about to pass me on her way up.

“Your dress is amazing,” I say.

She smiled and said: “Thank you. I love yours – I noticed it earlier. It’s Marchesa, isn’t it?” (Actually, it was.)

The next day I see her picture on the front page of the Evening Standard. She’s the singer Sophie Ellis Bextor.


* * *

Early in the evening, when I am (fairly) sober, but Roland Mouret is (by his own admission – I didn’t know the French ever got drunk) not, I gush over his most recent collection.

I interviewed him several years ago for a profile for my former employer, and I’ve seen him at parties in the intervening years.

“You definitely have the figure for them,” he says. I don’t care if he was drunk – I’ll take it.

* * *

I'd planned to go back and edit what I wrote above, to make myself sound like, um, a little less of an alcoholic binge-eating freak. Except I had several missed calls from my sister, plus a message: I need to talk to you.

My sister and I do not use those six words unless it is urgent. If you have ever had a seriously ill relative, you probably know why.

She's pregnant. With triplets.

"I hope I'm going to live through this," she says, telling me her own doctor has already informed her she's got to go see someone for high risk pregnancies.

I feel strangely tearful. I'm thinking: Nothing had better happen to my sister.

"Sorry for the urgent messages," she says. "I didn't want you to be the only one in the family who didn't know."

My father and grandmother are delighted -- my grandmother apparently told my sister she considered this something to live for. And it is. And yet I can't help feeling a little sad -- or maybe that's just sorry for myself -- standing on the shore waving as the boat leaves, and then trudging home alone.

Monday, 14 December 2009

In Transit

I’m typing this on my blackberry while hungover on a District Line train to nowhere (well, not really, but the District line creeps along so slowly it always feels that way). Hungover, you ask? Yes, Cinderella went to the ball last night. No word on whether the coach and horses turned back into a pumpkin and mice, because in this version they were made of chocolate, which means I ate them. Along with about eleventeen million Grey Goose cocktails that involved pink grapefruit (so, um, if this were Weight Watchers could I count these as a fruit?). And sugar. Lots o’ sugar. I think there was also one that involved cognac. And possibly elderflower. But not in the same cocktail.

Anyway, I’m moving slowly today, as is my computer, which appears to be importing the blog archives more slowly than even the District Line. A proper update from last night – and on life in general – is coming. Thanks again for reading, and for your patience!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

My Sister Breathing Light

This is the season for gratitude, and almost every day for the past couple of weeks, I have been grateful for my sister.

Anyone who knows me – either virtually or otherwise – is likely to be wondering what I’ve been smoking, or if the four pounds I’ve managed to put on in the past couple of weeks (more on that later) perhaps is clogging my brain. (I can just picture all those fat cells greedily grabbing the fat like, um, me at a buffet, preventing the thinking cells from having so much as a single marshmallow.) After all, my sister and I have a long and tortured history. This is, after all, the person who said to me just this summer: “Who knew there was such a little body beneath all that fat?” The person who, when I told her I was going to try to give up sugar for a while, said: “I just can’t bear the thought of you never eating ice cream again.” Etc. Etc.

But for the past couple of weeks, I have genuinely felt like my sister would do anything in the world to make me happy. She’s also become so much wiser than I ever gave her credit for – is it possible we were always too busy fighting for me to listen?

We lay in bed one morning talking. Normally I’d have gotten up immediately and gone for a run, but it seemed important to suck up every moment with my sister. I listened to my sister breathe and had a sudden image of the last time we shared a bed: when my mother was dying, and we fell asleep holding hands.

“You know, everything seems dark to you now – all these areas of your life you’re so unhappy with,” she said carefully. “You think this relationship [with BN2] is the only thing you’ve got, but all these other areas of your life would open up if you just did something about that. It’s in your control. You’re so unhappy, but you can do something about it. I know it’s hard, but you can.”

She went on to tell me – in a nice way – that I hadn’t been myself for a couple of years. That I was never the person who took crap from anyone; that she thought of me as someone who did what I wanted (she actually used to tell me how selfish I was), and who always had something on the burner that I’d pull out at the last minute – and now, for my next trick. “We never knew what you’d have up your sleeve,” she said, laughing a little bit. “Remember you even applied to colleges you didn’t tell us about?” (I actually hadn’t remembered that.) She went on, saying that I’d done a lot of work on myself in the past several years and that I deserved so much better.

“I know it’s hard, but you can do it,” she said.

We talked a bit more and she sounded almost desperate. “I just worry that he’s going to propose and you’re going to be miserable for the rest of your life. Can’t I come with you and just get your stuff?” I remembered my sister and I visiting my mother one weekend and realizing we’d done nothing but set the clock on her VCR – something tangible we could do in an otherwise uncontrollable situation where we felt helpless.

“He’s not going to propose,” I said.

“You can come and live in my guest room,” she said. “You can do the dishes.” I didn’t point out that she had a dishwasher. A dishwasher in her gorgeous Capitol Hill row house that she lives happily in with a husband who adores her and a very adorable dog.

Later that day I tried on her engagement ring and diamond band. It’s almost a habit – she likes to see how it looks on someone else (for some reason that gives her a better idea of how other people see it on her), and I am still amazed that I can get it on my fingers (I couldn’t when I was heavier). This time I held my hand out and let the diamonds catch the light, the way you’d imagine someone newly engaged would. I thought of all the small ways my sister’s husband shows that he loves her; of how adorable and funny he finds some of the things I find the most irritating (that’s the very definition of love, isn’t it?) The sparkle seemed to taunt me: If you don’t do something, you’ll never even have a chance at this.

* * *

Saturday I had one of the worst binges I’ve had in ages. I could feel it coming on Saturday afternoon, like a migraine. There had been too many days and weeks and months of balancing things – of trying to make everybody happy and in the process, making no one, least of all myself, feel that way. It was like all the obligations and everyone else’s needs were squeezing me into a tiny corner, chin on knees, and I needed to inflate myself so I could claim some space back in the only way I knew how.

I don’t remember exactly what I ate – I know there was at least half a package of cookies in there, plus a muffin and some chocolate bars and some fried food. I just remember a point of jumping off the bridge, of thinking: F—k everything. I can’t deal anymore. And I’m not going to.

And then I ate until I couldn’t feel anything anymore but full.

I felt full – and ashamed – the next morning. I thought briefly about my reasons for bingeing – in the scheme of things, my reasons are pretty understandable -- and wondered if I were addicted to bingeing or addicted to beating myself up about it.

Anyway, I’m up somewhere between four and five pounds, which I’m not nearly as upset about as I think I should be. Normally the extra weight plus the prospect of several weeks of being out of my routines and eating lots of holiday goodies would have me in full frontal freak out, but I’m just not. I’m not delighted about it, but I just don’t think it’s a disaster. Maybe I haven’t got the energy to spare? Or maybe, just maybe, I’m a little bit better than I thought I was.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Someone Who Loves Me Went to Miami And All I Got Was This Lousy Klondike Bar

No news is generally bad news in bloggerland, reliable sources inform me, but I am OK and haven't jumped off the (relatively) healthy living bridge just yet. Yes, I did eat two Klondike ice cream bars for breakfast one day (all that was in my grandma's freezer), and mixed my serving size box of Dorset muesli (left in my bag from some other trip) with lowfat chocolate pudding another morning (the milk at Grandma's had gone bad – have to say this combo actually was fairly tasty, or would have been if the pudding weren't fake). But, you know, everything still fits. I think.

There has been family illness and personal drama, and yes, I am being deliberately cagey as (a) I'm in a hurry (Hemingway always said he wrote a letter because he didn't have time to write a postcard) and (b) I decide whether or not to password-protect the blog, which I am very, very reluctant to do. (No bonus points for guessing who's found it.) But as it stands at the moment I'm not sure I will ever feel the same freedom and safety to say what I like here, and I am mourning that deeply.

Stay tuned.