National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Après l’Ondée

I had been out of the hospital for six months when I went to see the Zelda Fitzgerald art exhibit at a local museum. It was only right to pay my respects. She was one of ours, after all. Hopkins was the first American hospital at which Zelda was treated for schizophrenia. She was on Meyer 5, one floor above the eating disorder ward. She wrote her one and only novel there before moving on to the Highland Hospital in Alabama, where she died in a fire at age 41.

I chose Guerlain Après l’Ondée as my perfume that day. It’s a French perfume created in 1912, and Zelda had spent a few years in Paris while her husband was writing The Great Gatsby. I thought it would be nice to wear a perfume that she might have recognized.

It was an awfully small exhibit. Only four paintings, and none of them her best. Some of her paintings were really gorgeous, you know. All of these bright colors. I was about to leave when I noticed a tiny frame in the corner. It was a paper doll. A blonde man with painted cheeks and pointed shoes. I had read that Zelda had made hundreds of such paper dolls for her daughter Scottie. And in front of two college students and a very bewildered tour guide, I absolutely lost it. I didn’t understand her other paintings, the ones with the grotesquely muscular ballerinas. But oh, God, did I understand that paper doll.

Zelda Fitzgerald paper dolls.

I still remember the hospital very well. I remember every person that I met there. I remember the sickening smell of the carrots and green beans left steeping in hot water for too long. But what I remember best is the boredom.

Eating disorder patients were required to stay in a main room from 8 in the morning until 10 at night so that the nurses could make sure that no one was purging or exercising. This room had a TV, but the remote was controlled by an older woman who insisted that her Christian morals would be violated by anything other than the Charlie Brown Christmas special. We were allowed to have computers, but not computer chargers. Apparently someone had used one to hang himself shortly before I arrived. The other eating disorder patients mostly kept to themselves. There was nothing to do. The boredom was agonizing. That’s how I got started with the piggy banks.

Every morning at 11, a lovely woman named Ashley would bring up an arts and crafts cart. I’ve never been much of a crafts person, but what else was I going to do? So every day, for one hour, I would paint piggy banks. I made them for my parents, my roommates, my boyfriend. I covered them in stars, hearts, gemstones. I honestly can’t explain it, but those damn piggy banks were the happiest and calmest part of my day.

When I saw Zelda’s paper doll, I thought about my piggy banks. I got to leave the hospital after 29 days, finally free of my sickness. I got to give my boyfriend his University of Iowa piggy bank and watch him laugh and admire it.

Zelda never did. She kept making those paper dolls, dreaming of the day that she would be able to give them to her daughter. That day never came. She just got sicker and sicker until she died alone in a locked room. She never got to see what life is like après l’ondée- after the rain.

It never snows in September in Baltimore, but it was snowing hard when I left the museum. I couldn’t get a taxi home. The end result was a 45 minute walk home in a t-shirt and (un-waterproofed) Uggs. Truthfully, I barely noticed. I was enraptured by that freakish, glorious snow, as exquisitely delicate as the perfume on my wrist. Some people call Après l’Ondée a sad perfume. Nothing could be further from the truth. Après l’Ondée exists to remind us that we must get through the rain, because what comes afterwards is beautiful.

23 thoughts on “National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Après l’Ondée

  1. Gorgeous. Especially this: “She never got to see what life is like après l’ondée- after the rain.” I’m glad you did, Ari.

    1. I gratefully accept your smooches, Mals. I feel so lucky that I got to be around to know how great things can become after the rain.

  2. As usual another glorius post. I understand the bit about the boredom while being in the hospital. I really craved the part of the day when we got to go to crafts. I still have some of the ceramic figures made during that stent. Everytime that I look at those pieces, it reminds me of how good my life is at the moment and all those steps it took to get here. When we learn to love ourselves unconditionally, then the majority of the battle has been accomplished. May the universe always continue to shine the sunlight of happiness upon your face and into your heart. You are such a remarkable person. Your blog is one of the top three blogs I follow everyday. How lucky was I the day I found your little hole in the universe.

    1. I don’t even know what to say to such generous and effusive praise. Thank you so much. I am so happy to hear that your ceramic figures can be such a positive force. I gave away all of my original piggy banks, but I still make them whenever I need to remind myself that I turned my life around once and I can do it again.

  3. What an incredibly moving post. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences in such a beautiful way. When I was getting treated for mental illness in college, I made these bright paper fish from pilfered construction paper and legitimately acquired crayons. I hung them from the bunk beds with string and would kind of hide out in them when I felt all foggy. There was something very soothing about manipulating colors when everything felt so grey, so I really loved seeing your piggy bank pictures and reading the paper dolls story.

    1. Stephanie, just reading about your paper fish filled me with joy. Thank you so much for reading and for sharing that memory with us.

      My eating disorder unit was in the same ward as the affective disorder unit, and it always struck me that none of the affective disorder patients ever participated in the crafts. I thought that it might have been really helpful to them, but unfortunately the therapy groups weren’t mandatory for them. They were there until the doctors figured out their medications, and then they were released. I wasn’t even IN their unit, and their treatment program still bewildered and angered me.

  4. A few years ago i got sick and for some reason it took them months to diagnose me, so in the meantime i was going to all kinds of specialists and getting a million tests done and having these symptoms that doctors couldnt find an answer for. I spent so much time on WebMD trying to diagnose myself and freaking out because i thought i had something terminal. It turned out to be mono of all things, but i did spend a few measly hours in the hospital at one point and i was bored as hell, so i cant even imagine what you went through. I am so thankful i am healthy now, and that you are as well. I happened to be wearing Guerlain today, L’Instant pour Homme. Good stuff. I dont think ive ever smelled Apres L’Ondee. I might need to see if my girl would enjoy it.

    1. You poor thing! I had mono my freshman year, and spent a few hours in the hospital for it too. Unfortunately I came down with it right during the swine flu craze, so they misdiagnosed me with that for a good two weeks. Apres l’Ondee is really beautiful, and I imagine that both you and your girl might like it.

  5. Meg says it exactly. And thank you for yesterday’s post as well. It inspired very thoughtful comments too.

    After reading this I will cherish even more the sample of Apres L’Ondee I received from you through one of your draws. I agree that it’s not a sad scent: that exquisite feeling it has of the liquidity of raindrops still clinging to flowers after the storm does rather evoke the beauty survival and incorporation of struggle.

    Besides your choosing Apres L’Ondee to honour Zelda Fitzgerald, you might be amused to know that Susan Irvine in her Perfume Guide describes it as “having a cerebral quality. For brainy types.”

    1. Oooh, I do like that! 😉 I’ve heard a little about this Susan Irvine, but I think that her Perfume Guide has been overshadowed by the newer LT and TS Guide. What is Ms. Irvine’s like? Should I try to track it down?

  6. I thought I already had a powerful emotional connection to Apres L’Ondee, but thanks to this moving post I have an even stronger one now.

    And you can embellish a piggy bank for me any day…You’ve got real talent! : – )

    1. Oh no, I have no artistic talent whatsoever. The stars and hearts are made by tracing stickers, and a far more talented girl on my unit drew me the stencil for the Iowa piggy. But nothing would be happier than to make you a piggy! If you get anything at this upcoming perfume sale, I will be sure to include a little one with your purchase!

  7. Ari, your first post was very moving, and this one is particularly poignant. Your strength will carry you through many storms, and your sense of humor and ability to see the silver lining will brighten up the darkest of days. And not just for you, for also for those near you and for those of us who read your writing.

    1. Thank you so much, Victoria. I have to tell you that I really love your more personal Apres l’Ondee review. It really struck a chord for me, as someone who was also terribly quiet and serious when I was younger.

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