I must dive right into the next installment of “Texas Toast” today, for I am apparently becoming a cave dweller, a hermit, one who possesses no life. My laptop has become an extension of my fingertips and logging all these writing hours means no time to do anything fun that could become blog worthy. The Spousal Unit is out of state for three weeks, and I hardly leave the casa. Make-up? Cute clothes? Hair product? Why? To impress the 15-year-old pimply-faced boy bagging my groceries? If it were not for the fictionalized lives I’m writing about 10-12 hours per day, I would have absolutely no life at all. It’s odd, like being in a state of suspended animation. I warned you that I have an obsessive personality. Oh balance, wherefore art thou dear balance?
In the last post, I had just had the crap beaten out of me by the lovely French police, and was stubbornly headed to the final stop of our eight-week long European road trip. I would suck up the wonders of Venice through a straw if necessary, due to my broken jaw and ribs. Three magical days in that unique city flew by, and soon we were back home in NYC.
After two months of being out of touch, I couldn’t wait to see my girlfriends again, and made a lunch date the following day with my wonderful friend Maggie. She had been in the newbie beginner’s class with me at Wilhelmina. She’d arrived from the Midwest, wholesome and fresh-faced, with an inconvenient husband in tow. She quickly met and fell in love with Chad, a very married art director of a major NYC department store. Chad’s soon-to-be ex-wife, taking exception to the inclusion of a girlfriend in her marriage, promptly blew up the Hudson River houseboat Maggie and Chad were then living on; fortunately, no one was home at the time.
Maggie bore a strong resemblance to Cybil Shepard in her days of ‘Moonlighting’ fame.
Darken the hair slightly to ash brown and they could have been body doubles. So, imagine my shock when I met Maggie for lunch after not seeing her for two months. A preying mantis wearing Maggie’s beautiful face approached my table. The woman had nothing but skin hanging from her bones. There was no evidence of muscle or tissue anywhere on her poor frail body. My alarm wasn’t hidden from her, I’m afraid. In the eight years I spent as a working model, Maggie would be the only girl I knew who developed an eating disorder.
Clearly there was an elephant in the room with us at our favorite Mexican restaurant that day. She was quite defensive and explained that she’d suffered from a protracted bout of stomach flu that winter, and couldn’t coax her appetite back. As I watched her meticulously move bits of food around from one side of her plate to another, without ingesting a single morsel, I became increasingly uneasy. Something was wrong as hell here. As soon as I had hugged that bag of bones goodbye, I hurried to the nearest pay phone and called Chad at work and demanded to know what was going on. He was as perplexed and baffled as I was. He was not as alarmed because he had watched Maggie dwindle away slowly, day by day. It’s like relatives who don’t see a child for an entire year, and whose parents are surprised to have everyone remark on how much they’ve grown.
It was Chad’s belief that the stress of the bitter divorce from his wife, the houseboat explosion, and Maggie’s own divorce from her husband, had simply taken its toll on her body and that she’d “snap out of it” and be herself again soon. Somehow, my gut wasn’t buying it. When I saw my physician the following day, for treatment of my Paris-induced injuries, I described the situation with Maggie and asked if he’d ever heard of such a thing. That wise, kindly,and extremely elderly man had more common sense in his pinky than 50 of today’s pill-pushing doctors have combined. He told me that only recently he’d heard of a psychological disorder, striking primarily young women, that caused them to have a distorted body image. They saw fat where everyone else saw lean. Taken to the extreme, it could be deadly.
Terribly frightened, I headed to the main library on Fifth Avenue to do some research. Yes, readers under the age of forty, there actually was a time, many, many moons ago, when people had no computers and things couldn’t be Googled. It was the time when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. My research was slowed down considerably by the fact that I had mistakenly thought my doctor called this disorder after a woman’s name, Annie Rexia, or Anna Riccia, or possibly Ann Aurexia. I assumed the disease was named for the first person diagnosed with it, or perhaps for the physician who first discovered it. Even at New York City’s famous public library there was precious little information in 1978 to help shed any light on the subject. The words anorexia and bulimia simply were not yet household words and were not emblazoned on magazine covers.
Chad and our mutual friends attempted what would today be called an intervention, to no avail. Her bookers at Wilhelmina tried and failed to get through to her as well. A stone wall would have been more receptive. Before the year was out, Maggie and Chad were married and moved to Miami to make a fresh start. In 1979 Chad called and asked if I would come down to Key West for a week-long shoot for swimsuits.
Seeing Maggie waiting to pick me up at the tiny air strip, my blood ran cold. If it was possible, she was even more frightening looking than before. I didn’t know how someone could be that thin and still be alive. She looked like the worst victim you ever saw emerge from a concentration camp. When we arrived at the first location to shoot, I was stunned to see Maggie donning a swimsuit and posing with the other models. Was Chad completely out of his freakin mind? What the devil was he thinking? Outraged, I pulled him aside. “Are you crazy letting her be photographed like that? The client will never use those photos. She looks like a dead woman walking!”
“I know,” Chad said, “but I love her and she really wants to get back in front of the camera. I’m making sure that there are enough good shots of you models without her in them to make the client happy. This way my wife is happy, too. What’s the harm in that?”
One year later, I received a call from an elated Maggie, announcing she’d just given birth to her first child, a baby girl. I was so relieved, knowing that she finally must have beaten whatever demons had been chasing her. Three days later, Chad called to say that their baby had died, and that Maggie had finally woken up to the fact of her illness, and realized that her disorder had taken the life of her baby. She entered a rehab facility immediately.
In a very happy postscript, I flew to Miami to visit Maggie five years later. I felt a little uneasy as I waited for her to open the door. But then it swung open and there stood my radiantly happy, healthy, and well-padded buddy. She and Chad had been blessed with three healthy, exuberant children, two Golden Retrievers, three cats, and a parrot who took showers with them.
With characteristic generosity, Maggie agreed to let me share this story on my blog, on the understandable condition that I not use real names and post no photos. It is her hope that it might reach someone in need of hearing this story and keep them from losing three years of their life, and the life of a child.
Feature image courtesy of whatthehealthmag.wordpress.com