“She couldn’t get enough of frozen toes and sacrificed dogs,” the uber talented author, Ann Beattie, wrote on page 94 of The State We’re In, her recent book of short stories. I chose this as one of my vacation books because I love Ann Beattie’s honesty and wit, and because I am now vacationing in Maine, where all the characters in her book live.
I spent a long time on the first few lines of that page, where the author described a character who became “morbidly obsessed” by the story of the Shackleton expedition, frozen toes and sacrificed dogs and all. The term “morbidly obsessed” was such a great combination of “morbidly obese” and “mildly obsessed.” I said the words out loud, rolled them around my tongue.
Had I been reading on an IPad, I would have bookmarked the page, highlighted the words and moved on. But because I was on the sailboat, face to the sunshine, I was reading the old fashioned kind of book. Getting up and finding a pen, let alone a highlighter, would have required an effort that was not in my wheelhouse.
But I didn’t want to lose those words either, I was sure that if I didn’t save them somehow, they would be lost in the never-never land of my sub-conscience, where so much information seems to go these days on a one way ticket. I turned down the corner of page 94 into a triangle. I scratched at the words with my nail. Finally, I ripped page 94 right out of the book. I would not lose those words. Admittedly, I was a little obsessed, but not of the morbid variety.
Morbid obsessions are “a thing” in the medical world, and they’re not good.They include obsessive thoughts of killing and injuring yourself or others. But I don’t think that’s what Ann Beattie had in mind here. I think she meant the kind of crazy and gross things normal people get obsessed over. Sick or gruesome things we hate to love: the constant beheadings in Game of Thrones, vampire movies, car accidents (someone else’s, of course), tornados, hurricanes, Donald Trump.
My favorite topic with my husband when we are on the boat (or on a plane, or on a train, or in the rain, or with green eggs and ham) is what would happen if I died. Whether he should remarry, and who he is not allowed to remarry. The point became moot when we both agreed that it would be virtually impossible to find another woman (ok, another Jewish woman, for sure) who could trim a sail, set the lines, and pick up a mooring the way I do. (He’s screwed.)
My second favorite topic: what would happen if he died tomorrow. (First order of business: sell the boat.)
But that is not all…no, that is not all.
I get obsessed by the depth of the water under the keel (I have been told I am a human depth reader) because if we run aground and put a hole in the bottom of the boat, we could die.
I get obsessed by lightning, because if lightening hits the boat, we will lose all our electronics.
I get obsessed by the fact that Mike may have a heart attack or a stroke while we are sailing, and I would have to find the way home.
I get obsessed that my phone may go overboard while I am getting on the dinghy.
I get obsessed that I may hurt my hand, and then my ring finger will turn blue and swell and there won’t be anyone around to cut my ring off.
I get obsessed by the vast amounts of alcohol I consume on vacation, which may lead to my dying in a pool of my own vomit.
I get obsessed about losing my mind, my creativity, my memory, because if that happens, I might as well be dead.
I get obsessed about sharks lurking in the water where I am swimming, which is not so far fetched, because where I am swimming, seals are also swimming. I cannot jump in the ocean without thinking about sharks biting off a limb or two and bleeding to death in the water.
I get obsessed by the lack of exercise and huge amounts of fried food we eat on vacation, which could so easily lead to morbid obesity, heart attack, or stroke.
Mike thinks I am nuts, But he too, gets obsessed every so often- recently about me eating food that I pick from the side of deserted Maine paths on remote islands. He refuses to eat anything that is not from store; I eat everything I see.
“How do you know those are not the poisonous kind of raspberries?” he asks me every time I stop to shove wild raspberries in my mouth.
“There is no such thing as a poisonous raspberry,” I assure him, popping another in my mouth.
Fifteen seconds later, I pretend to die by the side of the road. And that is funny somehow, every time.
Page 94 ended up flying out of the book, high into the wind, and landing in the deep blue/gray sea in the Penobscot Bay. I probably shouldn’t have been quite so intent on saving those words.
But at least now, I don’t have to obsess about losing them.