Bitter Ice: A Memoir of Love, Food and Obsession

Bitter Ice: A Memoir of Love, Food and Obsession

4.4 5
by Barbara Kent Lawrence

With sensitivity and compassion, Barbara Kent Lawrence chronicles her husband's life-threatening eating disorder, starting from the days when he was an accomplished 6'1" college athlete, and ending in a hospital room where he weighed just over one hundred pounds. Through Lawrence's unflinching prose, we bear witness to her husband's obsessive exercising; masochistic… See more details below


With sensitivity and compassion, Barbara Kent Lawrence chronicles her husband's life-threatening eating disorder, starting from the days when he was an accomplished 6'1" college athlete, and ending in a hospital room where he weighed just over one hundred pounds. Through Lawrence's unflinching prose, we bear witness to her husband's obsessive exercising; masochistic starvation methods; and addiction to saunas, laxatives, and ice-baths--and the chilling effect his obsessions have on the life they so carefully tried to build. Taught from childhood that her husband would naturally be her provider, Lawrence finds herself unable to break free from his controlling ways, even when they bring their family to the brink of self-destruction. Forced to examine her own complicity in her husband's illness, and ultimately come to terms with her own childhood demons, Lawrence must make choices that are both painful and dramatic in order to reclaim her life. Bitter Ice is, finally, a story of triumph--of one woman's gradual awakening--told with al the grace and power of a novel.

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Editorial Reviews

Bust Magazine
Kent Lawrence...offers a noteworthy and powerful account of personal reclamation that, at last, inspires.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This revealing but rather suffocating memoir chronicles Lawrence's horrendous 27-year marriage to Tom, a severely disturbed anorexic. Although both came from privileged homes, each of their childhoods was marked by a lack of parental love. Shortly after their marriage, Tom's daily rituals of jogging, followed by alternating ice baths and saunas, began to dominate their lives. His obsession with eating only foods he deemed healthful kept him painfully thin. He also made demands on Lawrence to eat less, even though she was pregnant with their first child. After the birth of their second child, Tom was briefly hospitalized for psychiatric problems, at which time a physician told him, in response to his inquiry, that only women could be anorexic. After his release, Tom's eating disorder became more noticeable, while Lawrence turned into a classic enabler: she isolated herself from family and friends, hid the severity of her husband's condition and did nothing to interfere with his self-destructive bent. Lawrence devotes a good deal of her account to detailing her husband's controlling nature and truly disgusting habits (he was observed spitting into the family's food, among other indecencies), which alienated his children as well as the people hired to work in the real estate office that Tom and she jointly ran. Lawrence's focus is on describing her own unhappiness and suffering, which was considerable, rather than on shedding any light on anorexia, other than highlighting the symptoms. She does, however, accept responsibility for her contribution to this destructive marriage that ended in divorce. Author tour. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A disturbing account of family life with an anorexic, alcoholic, mentally ill husband, and an endurance test for the reader as well.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.48(w) x 9.53(h) x 1.17(d)

Read an Excerpt

I heard the car and knew they were turning past thc giant pink boulder that marked our driveway, bearing the name of the farm I had bought a few years before, sandblasted by the man who made headstones in Ellsworth. Though it was half a mile away, the cold air brought the sound down the hill and across the meadow, through the trees to where I stood and waited. I saw the gray Jetta as Stephen steered it up the curve of the hill. The frozen pond was on their left, sweeping to the pink granite that but-tressed the trees against the mountain on the far shore; to their right, in the marsh, frozen cattails and grass pierced the snow. I stood on the rise of land where we had built our house, watching them coming home, my children, away at school, home now for Christmas. Up the frozen driveway, gravel spurting out from the tires, suddenly they were out of the car and we were hugging and laughing. "Wow, you've grown, you look great."

"How are you? Where are Katadhin and Christofur?"

We carried blue canvas suitcases, duffel bags of laundry, and boxes of books into the house. Katadhin, Stephen's white cat, and Christofur, Katherine's sienna-brown cat, both Maine coons, made their entrances from behind the closet door, their tails arched like ostrich plumes, tufts of fur elongating their ears, thick ruffs around their throats, a regal pair. With theatrical precision they brushed their bodies and tails against chairs, over table legs, and against doorjambs until finally they reached my children, winding their bodies against their legs, and marking them in a ceremony of welcome.

"Where's Dad?"

"He's running, he should be back soon." I caught the apology in my throat, feeling both relieved and hurt for them that he was not there to greet them.

They dumped their bags in their rooms and came up the stairs to the large living room with its high cathedral ceiling and view over the pond, a height that made it feel like a tree house we shared with birds. We sat on the blue couches and caught up on gossip. Though Stephen and Katherine went to the same school, there was lots to catch up on.

"You mean Sam is going out with Mrs. Wiggins?" Katherine asked Stephen. The new English teacher was at least a head taller than Sam and outweighed him. When his wife left him, his face had fallen into deeply lined arroyos, but now he smiled and my children were pleased.

"It is great, but it's just really weird to think of old people doing-sorry Mom-well, doing anything, and I saw them holding hands after chapel," Katherine said, pausing. "The boys' cross-country did really well, but the girls were wimps and I don't know what Mr. Davis is going to do about it."

I thought about how separate their lives were from mine now. I lived in the past or the future. Only when my children were around me could I enjoy the present. I had thought so much about their return, hoped I could make their time with us fun and joyful, tried to make this home in ways my childhood homes never were. Because I hoped to disguise my own fears and pain from my children and from everyone else, I had enclosed myself in a little world, insular and insulated, isolating and isolated. I had pushed away old friends, members of my family who reached out to me, and avoided making new friends. I had walled myself up behind sand-bags, hoping that my love for my children and my will would build a barricade strong enough to protect them. Now, when I sat in my small office at home, staring at the faces in frames that lined the walls, I realized I lived with the photographs of people I loved, not the people.


"Yes. Hi guys." We heard him sitting in the front hall, breathing hard, and I imagined him dripping sweat on the Mexican tiles, a haze of fog rising off his body as cold met the heat of the house.

We heard him strip off the wet clothes and carry them into the laundry, heard him open the dryer door that was now rimmed with rust and shove the clothes inside, walk to Stephen's bathroom, and slide into the icy water that already filled in the tub. Finally we heard him splosh up the stairs to the living room and his own bathroom, his slashed tennis shoes flapping with each step.

"Hey, great to have you home."

He offered a glancing hug and thin smile then went into the kitchen and opened the spigot on the plastic-lined 2.6-liter carton of Chardonnay in the icebox, filled a jelly glass, swigged the wine back into his throat, swallowed, and walked into the living room.

Copyright 1999 by Barbara Kent Lawrence

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