Obviously, I’m way behind the ball as far as my eating, praying and loving literature goes. Elizabeth Gilbert’s book has been out since 2006; but due to my regular book reviewing gig, I’m only just getting to it now. Which is fine. Because some books are worth waiting for. And this is one of them.
For those of you who haven’t yet read it (and I’m assuming most of you are men,) Eat, Pray, Love is a memoir about Elizabeth Gilbert’s year of self-reclamation after divorce and heartbreaks. Yes, plural. This poor woman was kicked spiritually while she was down by the young man whose heart, soul and body she collided with soon after her divorce. Liz’s lowest point finds her sobbing buckets of tears, anguish and mucous on her bathroom floor. When this woman goes down, she goes down in big, flaming style. At this moment, she receives inspiration, in a message from “God” so to speak, to move on - first to bed for a proper night’s sleep, and then to travel the globe in search of guidance through gastronomy (Italy,) gurus (India,) and a guy (Indonesia.)
Did I mention that my new BBF (best book friend) Liz is funny, really really funny, in that sardonic, self-depreciating way that makes me laugh in recognition of finding a literary soul sister? Liz on the perfect pizza: “I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return.” On the challenges to self-imposed celibacy: “Tall, dark and handsome identical twenty-five-year-old twins, as it turned out, with those giant brown liquid-center Italian eyes that just unstitch me…perhaps I could remain totally celibate except for keeping a pair of handsome twenty-five-year-old Italian twin brothers as lovers. Which was slightly reminiscent of a friend of mine who is vegetarian except for bacon...” On roosters in Bali: “Before dawn the roosters for miles around announce how freaking cool it is to be roosters. (‘We are ROOSTERS!’ they holler. ‘We are the only ones who get to be ROOSTERS!’)” Liz gets roosters, which means we have to love Liz.
The whole time I’m reading Eat, Pray, Love, I felt like I was holding my cousin Jackie in my hands because Liz’s story is Jackie’s story. Blur a few minor details and substitute Detroit for Italy and Costa Rica for India and Detroit (again, sorry) for Indonesia, and the resemblance is uncanny. Jackie went through all of it. The good, the bad, and the ugly in the same big, flaming style. As I was reading, I kept emailing Jackie stuff like, “You are so with me as I read Eat, Pray, Love I can’t stand it.” To which she responded, “Thanks for the note. That book so described my journey: especially the part where she is lying on the floor in the heap of towel, sobbing, as her young lover looks down from the bed and says, "What is it now?" That was [my former boyfriend]: my shaman lover, my friend, my midwife through the darkness.”
I should say that Jackie is more than just a cousin to me. She is my cousin-sister-friend. When we are together, there are no walls between us. e.e. cummings would have called us jackieandpam. When we were growing up, we told everything to each other, we went everywhere together. I think I was 10 years old (so Jackie must have been 11) before I realized that everyone doesn’t accompany her cousin to the bathroom when she has to pee. This cousin connection pervaded our family.
“Is Jackie going to be there?”
“Is Pam going to be there?”
To this day, those questions are the absolute next breath after either of us is informed of a family event. If I could put my ear to the canyon of my childhood, I would hear echoes of “Is Jackie going to be there?” “Is Jackie going to be there?” “Is Jackie going to be there?”
The other day, I asked my mom how old we were when Jackie and I became such good friends. She said, “Well, when you were a baby, she really liked you, but you didn’t really react to her much.”
At first I got all adolesent pissy. I almost said, “Uh, like , I meant after I was old enough to hold up my head by myself. Duh. When did we become friends-friends, y’know?” But then I, a.) realized I wasn’t 16-years-old (thank the goddess,) and b.) began to appreciate the unintended beauty of my mom’s response. That’s the thing. She has to go back to my infancy to remember a time when we weren’t jackieandpam.
And though many miles separate us, as well as temporal and logistical hurdles, we remain connected in our hearts. When we are together, we float in a stream of constant communication. None of it small talk. (One of my favorite Jackie lines: “Enough about me. Let’s talk about me.”) I still tell Jackie everything, even the stuff I don’t want to admit to myself. Our reactions always are honest and heartfelt, ranging from, “Oh honey. I’m here with you,” (followed by welling up of tears) to “Uh, yeah. That’s really f@#*ed up,” (followed by uproarious laughter.) Most of our reactions are both these sentiments at the same time.
Our family tolerates our behavior as if we were naughty kittens. Put us in a situation where laughter is frowned up, and we’ll be the ones giggling into our shirts. A Passover Seder is like a whispered comedy club for us. Recently in the middle of a bar mitzvah, I nearly had to go to the hospital trying to stifle my outburst in reaction to her deadpan comment, “A woman in her 40’s absolutely can’t be without her tweezers. A mole is a friggin’ garden for hair!” Heads turn to see who is snorting ferociously in the middle of the service. Usually the elders just give us the evil eye without saying anything to us. They know we can’t help it.