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EXCERPT from BITTER ICE

I don't remember exactly when he—my husband, Tom— started eating ice. At first I really didn't notice because it was infrequent, but gradually it became constant and the crunching grated on my nerves. Ice was a substitute for food, and frozen water gave Tom the illusion both that he was eating and that he wasn't drinking the liquid he feared would make him bloat. At the office we shared, I turned around at my desk while he was sitting across the room from me, at his desk. I tried to avert my eyes, but I always saw him slip the melting ice, wrapped in a ragged dish towel, into his top drawer. While I was working, while I was on the phone, all day long he would pull ice cubes out and suck and crunch. I heard the crunching constantly, like an ice cutter cutting through the frozen Arctic, a thousand cicadas underfoot, squeezing Styrofoam—a sound like suicide as he substituted frozen water for food. 

To rid himself of fluid, he spat. He spat into towels, new colorful tea towels, our bath towels, old or new, it didn't matter—baptizing them as his own. He left them in soggy heaps in his desk, thrown against the wall near the hamper, stashed in unexpected places, so that often when I was cleaning, my hand unwittingly wrapped around a grimy wet mass tucked in a drawer or thrown on a closet floor, even worse when it held chewed food. 

He spat on the floor, in the office, too, but mostly at home, so that sometimes, if I forgot and walked around barefoot, my toes squished in the cool slime on the Mexican tile in the front hall or on the oak stairs. Sometimes I looked down in time and saw the silvery stain, like a slug's trail, across the blue-and-orange Oriental rug we bought in Jerusalem or the flowers of the Kashan in the front hall. The slate-blue carpet on the floor next to his side of the bed and the bed ruffle above it were stained reddish brown from spit, a stain I could not remove. Eating ice—spitting out the fluids that tried to nourish his body—he attempted to fool the cycle of living into a slow process of extended dying. Alcoholism, anorexia: an obsession is exactly that. An addiction warps not only the life of the one who is addicted but of everyone around him. He saw life through a monocle, his vision one-dimensional, focused on food, his body, purging, and his fear of bloating. 

Tom never raised his hand against me, but he had beaten me down with relentless complaining and his desperate need for ritual, which made deviation from his patterns intolerable. Always the same schedule, never able to accommodate anyone else, not for business or friendship, not for his family. Always very early, a run followed by a plunge into a bathtub filled with ice and water, a sauna, another plunge, work from eight or so until two or three, then another run, a plunge, a sauna, another plunge, supper of a small bowl of food so covered in ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard it was impossible to know, or even want to know, what it was, then another sauna and plunge. In bed by eight-thirty. 

He wanted the bath to be very cold and would fill the tub with buckets of ice so it would feel like the brooks running from the mountains in the Adirondacks. "It feels so clean, so pure," he'd say. When we built the house we determined that each of us would have our own bathroom, which was less a luxury than a necessity. At first Tom just used his own bathroom, but then, when Stephen was away at school, he commandeered his as well. I asked Tom to stop because it was just one more room to clean, and he made things very dirty. But he replied that the water was colder in the downstairs bathroom and insisted that he use both. Then he started filling the kitchen sink with cold water and ice to sit while he was running so it would be ready when he returned. Sometimes when I came home, all the sinks and baths were full of ice and water except my own bathroom—which he never used. 

The ice maker couldn't keep up with his demands, so he filled the Calphalon pots with water and put them in the freezer. The bottoms distended from the pressure, so the pots would roll over and were useless. Again, I begged him to stop, to buy cheap plastic containers in which to freeze water or just buy ice, but he couldn't stop, and he ruined most of the good pots I had bought for cooking. 

Tom could no longer really run because he had injured his foot. He dressed in layers of sweatclothes to force his body to eliminate water as he stumbled down the road. Sometimes he became overheated and his nose erupted in blood. The blood mixed with the sweat and dirt, spreading over his chin and neck and down his clothes. His turtleneck was stained pink, the blood dripped crimson over his maroon Groton sweatshirt, one he requested from our children for Christmas each year and wore until it was discolored from Clorox, threadbare and frayed at the edges. His once gray ski jacket was held by safety pins and duct tape—blotched with dirt and sweat. He had sliced his running shoes to accommodate his deformed foot, and then bound the flaps together with more duct tape. He wore a green wool ski cap over layers of other caps—an orange, a yellow—each stained and dirty. In winter, the frost collected on his beard and eyebrows, a frost created by exhaling. Young men in trucks used to throw cans and apples at him as they drove past, and when he collapsed against our fence along the driveway or tried to do push-ups by the road, people stopped because they thought he was ill and needed help. 

"Some people stopped to ask if I was all right," he would report to me. "I told them I was fine, just running." He could not see himself as he was seen. 

INTRODUCTION TO 

BITTER ICE and THE HUNGRY i: A WORK BOOK FOR PARTNERS OF MEN WITH EATING DISORDERS

My parents and my stepfather died in their fifties, and as I neared fifty myself in the late 1980s the stress of living with a man who was eating disordered and alcoholic made me fear the effects I was seeing in my own health.  Stress had triggered autho-immune responses that left me aching with arthritis and menopausal at forty-two.  I began to see that if I didn't make changes, I might soon be dead myself, and my life meant enough to propel me towards a a new place.

I started by taking singing lessons, something I had wanted to do for a long time, but that always scared me. This seemingly unimportant step allowed me to move veryslightly towards a diofferent life as i literrally began to find my own voice.  Just as a headlight illuminates only a small prtion of the roa ahead, (E.L. Doctorow),  so learning to sing allowed me to see other possibilities.  next, though I had earned an MA in sociology decades before, I took undergraduate courses at a local college.  I braved the withering insults and admonitions of my former husband that I would fail or that our business would fail and we woudn;t be able to pay our children's college tuition because I was selfishly spending time away from work.  I took tiny steps until I was able to enrill in a docotral program in Boston, an hour and a half by plane from where I lived.  Fliying to Boston became a liefline and so one day I sat in a writing class that I thought would help me tackle my dissertation.

The first assignment was to redpond to an essay titled "On Food and Happiness.  When I looked at the title I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach.  How could I answer that question  I had lived with a man for twenty-six yeras who suffered from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.  Food had lost its connections with happiness and become instead a source of tension, shame, disgust, and unhappiness.  Finally I realized that earning my degree meant too much to me to turn away from the assignment and that I should write about food and unhappiness.  I did.  When he returned my paper, Professor Jay Simmons leaned over ne and said, "Two things.  I'm a former alcoholic, so I understand.  And you must write about this."  The result was my first book, Bitter Ice: a memoir of love, food, and obsession, published by Rob Weisbach - Wm. Morrow, Inc, in late 1999.

I am currently working on The Hungry i: A Work Book for Partners of Men with Eating Disorders in which I look at the cultural and historical foundations for the dramatic increase in the past ten years of men suffering from eating disorders, and ways in which we as their partners can be most helpful to them and ourselves.