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So… David Foster Wallace hanged himself this weekend.
In 1997, I moved back to my parents’ house in my small hometown from Boulder, Colorado after escaping a relationship to which I will show unearned kindness and describe as merely disastrous. Somehow, after short stints as a temporary high school office receptionist and a telemarketer at a memorial park, I wound up working first at the pizza restaurant where I waited tables in high school and then at the record store where I worked during the summers when I was in undergrad. I had regained all the weight I so victoriously lost my senior year in high school and kept off throughout college by rigorously courting an eating disorder. Within a week of returning home, I totaled my grandparents’ car. I was unbearably lonely. I was depressed, although unable to recognize that at the time.
And that’s when I first read Infinite Jest. My mother was a member of Quality Paperback Book Club, and could never remember to stop the book of the month shipment and so IJ arrived in our home and sat on a bookshelf in what had once been my bedroom but had been immediately transformed into an office when I left for college. The last minute addition of a day bed on my prodigal return made the tiny quarters fairly uses as either bedroom or office, but that’s where I slept. I remember that the book was in my line of sight in the morning, and I looked at it a lot as I laid in that day bed until the promise of a long, reality-suspending read and the resonance of the name’s clear applicability to my life prodded me to pull it off the shelf one meandering Saturday morning and see what the giant book with the cloudy cover was all about. I stayed in bed and read most of that day, and carried that heavy fucking thing around with me everywhere I went until I finished it two weeks later. Then I took a couple of weeks off and read it again. It would be a bit too dramatic for my tastes to say that Infinite Jest saved my life, but it certainly served as the closest thing to a friend that I had during one of the stupider periods of my adult life. And it would not be an overstatement to say that for the next year or two, I was deeply in love with David Foster Wallace.
I’ve re-read IJ three or so more times since then. To be honest, I don’t love the book as much as I used to, in part because it evokes those unpleasant feelings of intense loneliness that I felt when I first read the book. But it’s still a good read, and funny, and eerie, and prescient. It still paints a starkly accurate picture of addiction and depression. It still features a tennis academy with the motto, “They Can Kill You, but the Legalities of Eating You Are Quite a Bit Dicier.” For me, I would classify the rest of DFW’s books from exceptionally brilliant to nearly unreadable. And I’m not in love with him any more, although I will always think of him fondly.
I walked into the living room on Saturday and my husband said, “Did you see this?” and pointed to the computer screen. There was the AP headline “Novelist David Foster Wallace found dead.” It would not be an overstatement to say that my knees buckled a little, and I backed up half a step to sit down abruptly on our coffee table while I read the rest of the short article. Getting up, I noticed a white blobby smear of some substance on the table where I had been sitting. I craned my neck to inspect the back of my pants to discover that I had sat on a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese, a forgotten snack that my husband neglected to return to the fridge.
It is meaningless that in my gentle grief at the lost of a dear old friend I sat on a wedge of processed Swiss cheese, but I found some solace in the absurdity anyway.