Our recent Longreads Member Pick by National Magazine Award winner Andrew Corsello from GQ is now free for everyone. Special thanks to our Longreads Members for helping bring these stories to you—if you’re not a member, join us here.
"My Body Stopped Speaking to Me," is a personal story about Corsello’s near-death experience, first published in GQ in 1995.
"I was circling the drain in the spring of 1995—convalescent, out of money, literally within days of quitting the business—when David Kamp, a friend from college who’d become a senior editor at GQ, called to ask if I’d be interested in a staff-writing job. ‘You know I’m damaged goods, right?’ I asked. He didn’t, but made things happen anyway. The day I arrived at GQ, David introduced me to the mag’s longtime editor, Art Cooper, an old-school manly man’s man who’d have insisted on christening my arrival with a hard drink or three (even though it was 11:00 a.m.) had David not preempted it. ‘Now, Art,’ David explained as Art took my hand, ‘you can’t take it personally when Andrew declines the drink you’re going to offer him—he’s been told by doctors he can never drink again.’ Art asked why. Over the next 15 minutes, I told him the bizarre story of my near-death from liver failure six months before. ‘Wow,’ he said. ‘That’s your first piece for the mag!’ At which point I reflexively wondered, ‘But what’s the angle?’ And, answering myself, said, ‘How about, “If I were in an HMO, I’d be dead”’? Before I could finish my next sentence, Cooper said, ‘Nah, just write the story.’ But what about, you know, the health care angle… ‘Huh?’ Cooper said. ‘Forget that. Just…write the story, like you just told it.’ But what about… We went back and forth several more times, with me burping up inane buzz-crap like ‘nut graf’ and ‘policy relevance’ and Cooper saying ‘Write the story.’ Finally, half laughing, half pissed, he growled, 'Just write the fucking story.' So I left his office, sat at my new desk, created a new file, sat staring at the screen for several minutes and then realized: The story was already written, and written as well as it ever could be (at least by me), in my journal. Creating this piece, which Kamp edited, was almost entirely a matter of splicing journal entries together.
“Even now it amazes and annoys me: that until the moment Art Cooper told me to write the fucking story, it had never even occurred to me to use in my published work the voice in which I had been speaking to myself for years. That is, it hadn’t occurred to me to publish work…in my own voice. How stupid is that? All this is to say that this story, or rather the editorial injunction that birthed it, taught me that a vivid writing voice is less a matter of talent—far less—than license. Dave Kamp’s headline for this piece plays at multiple levels.”
My Body Stopped Speaking to Me
Andrew Corsello | GQ | November 1995 | 26 minutes (6,489 words)
It is 5:30 in the morning on the first of June, 1985—my eighteenth birthday. I’ve just graduated high school and am now at a rich boy’s home, pacing about a guest room in my boxers. Though I’ve spent the past seven nights abusing myself—too much junk food and beer, too little sleep—my body has shown Promethean resilience, reporting for duty every morning at dawn: the marvel of a teen metabolism. Indeed, two weeks prior, three other boys and I ran a baton over the distances of 400 and 1,600 meters faster than any boys in our New England league ever had. My physique brings me a bliss that usually finds expression in trash talk and high fives; other times, it forms inwardly, as a sense of virtue.
I pass the other guest rooms, descend the curved staircase to the foyer and open the front door. A heavy fog has dropped through the treetops and settled on the lawn. As I stand there eyeing the ancient plane trees, the sculpted hedges, the gurgling Cupid fountain, a message comes quietly from within: Run.
It begins as a trot, my feet pattering softly on the driveways, then falling silent on the long lawns in between. Soon the homes become estates—great, open expanses—and I lengthen the strides, gaining height as I move up onto my toes. The arms close in, thinning me to the wind; the hands straighten into blades to cut the air. For a moment, my body quakes with strain, then, as if breaking the skin of a bubble, passes through. I’m all glide, buoyed on a cushion of air. I leap onto a stone wall, my foot ripping its beard of moss, and land in a fresh-mowed field. A man in a robe is watching. I see through his eyes: a half-naked kid running for his life, his chest hairless and lightly muscled—you can still see his ribs—hair blown back, mouth open, body aimed at some far-off point. I picture my legs whipping the low-lying tendrils of fog into upward spirals that quickly dissolve.
Later, lying in a hospital bed waiting to die, I will conjure this flexing of my youth. Yet the fog, the field, the man, won’t seem as vivid as things happening beneath the skin. I will recall the roar of lungs, heart and rushing blood, amplified in my head the way it is underwater in a swimming pool. That is my body speaking to me: One of the superstitions I’ve retained from childhood is that objects—including parts of the body—are imbued with spirit, and that I should treat them as I treat people and animals. At 18, I am a person who actually talks to his body, who after crossing a finish line, seeks a quiet place to congratulate and thank his legs. It’s my childhood desire to beat death—to make my body a blood brother so that it can never, will never, turn on me.
My body has a voice, and as I fly over the field, it whispers to me. This is as strong, this is as swift, as you will ever be.