Read a selection from Sarah Gerard's new, fearlessly blunt novel about a young woman struggling with bulimia.
I told a friend we were running an excerpt from Sarah Gerard's forthcoming novel Binary Star, which will be published in January. A few minutes later, my friend wrote, "I think she wrote a novel about her experience as an anorexic. She got better. She wrote the core draft of the thing in a trailer where she secluded herself for a month and supposedly didn't get up to shower. She has a really interesting face. I was telling my friend about her. I said, 'Of course she had to get up to use the bathroom. Of course she could have showered. She just didn't want to shower. For some reason that woman just did not want to bathe.' I thought it was funny."
A few minutes later, she added, "I'd go crazy like that." She meant she could understand about the trailer and the showering. I thought that kind of nailed it. Sarah Gerard has an interesting fearlessness with regard to the subject of food and weight. It seems like there was a time when women wrote about that stuff, and then they stopped. Maybe it's the comment boards? Sarah Gerard has a bluntness about the subject, a simple statement of fact, so you can tell she just sat down determined to do it—to describe her relationship to food without lying—and she did it.
Her work has appeared in the New York Times, New York's 'The Cut,' the Paris Review Daily, Slice Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Bookforum, and other journals. She is the author of the chapbook Things I Told My Mother and a graduate of the New School's MFA program for fiction.
Last winter, we spent a month driving around the country's perimeter. John's parents paid for everything: hotels, food, and gas. Our job was to drive and come back in January: to find something new. At first, we didn't know what.
To step out of time, place ourselves entirely in the present, which is also eternity.
The week before we're set to leave, I spend the night at a friend's house on Jones Beach, cramming for a final. I call John at two in the morning, speeding on Adderall, and tell him that I weigh 98 pounds, which is true at the time. I had weighed myself several times during the night. Then I'd become afraid.
I tell him that I'm bulimic, which is also true, but not the whole truth.
You can't purge when we're away.
Then you can't drink, I say.
We'll find equilibrium.
We make a pact for balance.
We'll shed our lives in order to see ourselves clearly.
As long as we're together, we'll be fine.
This will bring us closer, I say.
I'm here for you, he says.
And I'm here for you.
We start in Chicago and drive west toward North Dakota. All of our necessities are behind us in the backseat. Two cups of coffee sit between us and two iPhones full of music, none of the songs of which are repeated.
How long have you been doing it? John asks me.
Ever since I was little.
I don't know. Why do you need to drink?
I don't. I just like drinking.
I never see more stars than I see driving along the edge of the buttes. We pull over so that I can see them still, and I lie down on the shoulder of the road to stare into the space between them. John stays in the car. The curve of the road is dangerous. John is often afraid, but he doesn't know it.
After a minute, he makes me get back in the car. He can't be alone.
We are inches away from the edge of the road and a plummet down the cliff.
I get in and shut the door. I strap into the car. It is dark like the vacuum of space.
I can't see my hands. As long as I'm in here, I'm safe.
We're silent with each other.
In the early days of space travel, researchers feared that astronauts would disassociate with Earth once they lost sight of it.
They would lose the sense of having a body that belonged on the ground, held by gravity.
They would lose their sense of human value.
And reimagine themselves as cosmic beings, bound by nothing.
They called it psychosis.
In July 1976, Russian cosmonaut Vasily Zholobov suffered a nervous breakdown when his spaceship failed to dock at the Salyut 5 station and lost power for 90 minutes.
No light, no oxygen coming in, no communication with Earth.
They were on the dark side of the orbit. It was Zholobov's first flight.
He had to go home.
The next day, John and I do donuts in the lot of a Butte community theater. Leaving, we're pulled over and searched by a cop who doesn't believe that John needs his pills even though he has a prescription. As we wait for him to check our IDs, I read the billboard across the street over and over.
Hail to the Beef. Hail to the Beef. Hail to the Beef. Hail to the Beef.
The events are unrelated except that, if you take a wide enough view, they happen at the same time.
We don't plan to stop in Seattle, but John hears about a vegan donut shop on the outskirts, so he makes me take a detour, saying it's for me. The shop is flanked by a Dunkin Donuts on one side and a Starbucks on the other, and is across the street from a Fantastic Sam's in an otherwise residential part of town. John orders six donuts and four holes and we sit in the window eating them and taking pictures of each other and the display case. We finish and I throw up in the bathroom. I don't make noise because I know how to open my throat and purge in silence.
When I come back, John knows what I've been doing.
Going to the bathroom, I say.
Let me smell your breath.
I know that it smells like donuts because donuts are all I've eaten.
Show me your hands.
My hands are washed.
We came here for you. I'm not the vegan one here.
Later, I look at the pictures and notice a cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee on a table in the background.
When I ask John to stop at Walgreens for Dramamine, I buy a bottle of Hydroxycut as well. I take them sitting alone on a toilet in a bathroom lined with stainless steel walls, like the inside of a spacecraft. I wash them down with water from the sink and hide the rest in the lining of my purse, so they don't rattle.
Most spacecraft don't have seats anymore because sitting is unnecessary without gravity.
When I come out of the bathroom, John is at the cash registers buying a Mars bar. I read the racks of magazines near the register and stare down the aisles of corn chips and candy and Christmas decorations, beauty products and toys and Ace bandages, and over-the-counter medicine. I relax my focus and they all look the same. I feel far away from everything.
We find a Days Inn and I stay awake all night staring at the parking lot, buzzing all over while John sleeps and I finger the edges of a Star Magazine. In the morning, he asks me what's wrong.
I couldn't sleep.
I wasn't tired. Something was upsetting me.
Are you sick?
(Yes.) No. I don't know what it was.
Another thing the researchers feared was that, sending astronauts into space alone, they would lose the feeling of belonging to any species.
They would forget what it's like to be human.