During the last of my three years living in L.A. with Jeffrey a book came out called Sugar Blues. It was about 1980 when this book came out, a paperback with a dark blue cover. Jeffrey told me about it. “Maybe that’s why you’re depressed all the time,” he said. “You should try not eating sugar and see if it helps.” Jeffrey was a repository for new-frontier psychological theories.
When I first met him, a few years before when he was 19 and I was 18 he suggested I go see a shrink. The possibility had never ever occurred to me. But Jeffrey said he saw one and I could too, and it wouldn’t cost anything if I went to the school clinic. Jeffrey was a Psych major. Not because he wanted to be a shrink but, I think, because it was an easy major and he was mostly interested in things like the effects of hallucinogens. He liked being told how people’s minds worked and being able to explain things. His sister – almost his twin – was getting her PhD in Psych, on an unambivalent express path to becoming a shrink. She added generously to Jeffrey’s stock of theories.
I was about 23 when Jeffrey told me about Sugar Blues. No one had ever said anything bad about sugar before except that it made you fat, of course, and gave you cavities. But depression? That seemed so weird.
“You have to stop eating any sugar,” Jeffrey said, throwing a bottle of coke into the freezer, and of course I had to try. Otherwise, it would look like I wanted to be unhappy. Maybe it was that simple too. Maybe I just had to stop eating sugar.
I reached for crackers at the office, then thought to look at the list of ingredients. They had sugar in them. Most of the things I picked up to eat – even if they weren’t sweet – ended up having sugar in the list of ingredients. I thought if I swallowed any at all I’d be guilty of welcoming depression.
I got up early in the morning to be at work by 9. Jeffrey stayed in bed. He didn’t have an office to go to. He could spend all day in this one-bedroom cottage with the wall-to-wall lime-colored shag carpet, but I had to put on a skirt and panty hose. I walked out to my car that was parked on the street. No one was around. It was L.A. and early morning. The street was lifeless. I drove one block north to the huge supermarket on Sunset that was open 24 hours a day. I went in and bought a large bag of cheese doodles and ate them as I drove to my office. There was no sugar in cheese doodles so I could eat as many as I wanted, but it felt wrong, like masturbation, something I wouldn’t want anyone to see, me driving, eating a whole bag of cheese doodles before 9 o’clock and feeling finally spent as I park my car – not in the office parking lot because that cost money, but several blocks away.
My car is an orange and white Pinto that a friend of Jeffrey’s gave me. They say they blow up if you get rear-ended. It is not insured. I know nothing of insurance. It leaks oil. I don’t take it to a garage to have it fixed because I am certain this will cost money it would be impossible for me to pay. The only money I have is the paycheck I get every two weeks and every penny of it is gone by the time the next one comes. I keep cans of oil in my trunk and pour one in every day.
I walk to the skyscraper where my office is up on the 22nd floor. There are two skyscrapers in this part of L.A. – Century City – and my office is in one of them. When earthquakes come the buildings sway and if you’re in them it feels like you’re on a ship.
I have my own office. This was a triumph. When I first came I was a secretary with a desk outside the office of the editor-in-chief. Now I’m an editor. It’s the first time I have my own office and my own business card. I get to write copy now and I see the words I have written on paperback books in stores.
Part of me is ashamed that I am so not an artist that I have an office in a skyscraper – while Jeffrey who is unquestionably an artist can stay home all day and be happy. He always know what to do with himself. He gets high, watches an Errol Flynn movie on TV, goes out to buy a new fish for his tropical fish tank, plays some tennis with Leonard, an actor who lives next door. When I am home I don’t know what to do. I wait for the weekend all week and then I become desperate because I can’t do anything. If I just get high and go to the movies with Jeffrey I don’t have fun the way he does. I feel a clock ticking inside of me like a bomb: empty time, empty time.
It disgusts me that I sometimes catch myself taking comfort in the office. I cannot roll up into a ball here. I cannot stare at the wall. I am grateful to have things to do here – photocopies, phone calls, chit-chat – though here too I hear the tick tick tick in my ear. I want every minute of my life to count, but it is rare that any minute feels well spent. And so even without sugar the despair remains, unabated.