Normally it starts with a kiss, but my marriage to Mr. Lash started with a tubercular toe. He saw it immediately, which wasn’t hard. I was wearing a Louboutin on one foot and a bandage on the other, while wielding Grandfather Money’s silver walking stick like the chib used by the Nazi nightclub owner in Gilda. “You’re the immaculate consumptive,” Mr. Lash said.
The tuberculosis had bypassed my lung, leaving no shadow, and gone straight to my toe. I’m the only person in England since records began who’s ever had this type of osteo-tuberculosis. “Someday the shadow on your lung may appear,” doctors have warned me, and they haven’t stopped looking since—any excuse to take my blood, or an X-ray, or to amputate the toe “just in case.” But I’d need the one on the other foot done, too, to be symmetrical. And how would that look when the man-servant gives me a pedi?
This illness was payback for years of hypochondria. I’d always wanted to be pale, frail and dangerous to kiss, like Emily Bronte and the actress I’m named after, Vivien Leigh. Eating ice cream for breakfast and staying size zero is a diet Kate Moss would spit blood for.
Fortunately for me, consumption is Mr. Lash’s fantasy illness too. Susan Sontag makes a good case in Illness as Metaphor for there being no such thing as romantic bacteria, but there’s no denying that coughing blood the color of MAC Viva Glam is just sexier than cancer. And now that there’s a cure for TB, you don’t have to die for your glamour, just lose a few kilos.
Of course the drugs that made me better made me blind first. “Are you sure you’re not imagining it?” the quack asked. I was sure. “Let’s hope your sight comes back later!” It’s where the expression ‘blind drunk’ comes from. Though in my case it was iatrogenic blindness, caused by too many prescription drugs rather than an overdose of extra-dry vodkatinis.
And let’s face it, there has to be some punishment. Wuthering Heights wouldn’t have worked if Cathy didn’t die. Emily Bronte’s early death from the same disease is just the olive in the martini. How would it look if they were lazy bitches who were faking their ethereal glow with Touche Eclat?
The last person I want to see when I’m sick is a quack. The second last person is my mother. Mummy is what Woody Allen would call an alarmist. Almost from the minute I was born she’s been planning my funeral. While other brats were walking in the park, Mummy loved to show me the graveyard. “This is where you’ll end up if that cough of yours gets any worse,” she warned darkly, before adding, “Always wash your hands after touching a man.”
When Woody Allen has a headache he thinks it’s a brain tumor, which is what passes for normal when you’re Jewish. When my head was exploding from pollution toxins in Beijing, Mummy said, “You must have gone mental!” Aunt Irene the Slut went from headache to straitjacket in a matter of minutes. If she hadn’t run out of vodka, everything would have been fine.
I’ll be disinherited if Mummy finds out I’ve defied her instructions to “throw vintage in the grave with Grannie,” instead retrieving Grandmother Rose’s Chanel and Dior from the bonfire. And I still have the vodka bottle Irene the Slut was drinking from when she crashed her red Ford Mustang between Fifth and Madison. Think of the germs lurking on the rim!
All I wanted for Christmas this year was a voucher for treatment at the Mayr Clinic, where Andre Leon Talley went to shrink. Everyone leaves that place at least 10 pounds (and £10,000) lighter, probably from fear of the German doctors who run it as much as the bread-and-water diet.
Mr. Lash doesn’t understand why I can’t just starve at home. And this Christmas he got his wish, when I was struck down by a mysterious Chinese flu. I couldn’t even sit up in bed to drink calorie-free water. The Chinese quack snorted at the idea of TCM. “What you need is hardcore Western drugs,” he said, giving me enough hillbilly heroin to kill the entire overcrowded city. But the withdrawal symptoms from opiates were worse than the illness. Next time I’m sick, I’m taking Mr. Lash’s advice and overdose on chocolate martinis. If I’m not careful, I’ll miss the deadline for dying young.