Lena Dunham‘s memoir-slash essay collection slash bound to be super awkward confessional Not That Kind Of Girl, is out in September. In the lead-up to the book’s release, The New Yorker have published an exclusive extract of a chapter called ‘Difficult Girl’, which details Dunham’s life-long struggle with irrational fears, and eventual diagnosis with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
The chapter opens with a list of things that scared the young Dunham, including, but not limited to “appendicitis, typhoid, leprosy, unclean meat, foods I haven’t seen emerge from their packaging, foods my mother hasn’t tasted first so that if we die we die together, homeless people, headaches, rape, kidnapping, milk, the subway, sleep.”
The childhood angst continues:
An assistant teacher comes to school with a cold sore. I am convinced he’s infected with MRSA, a skin-eating staph infection. I wait for my own flesh to erode. I stop touching my shoelaces (too filthy) or hugging adults outside my family. In school, we are learning about Hiroshima, so I read “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,” and I know instantly that I have leukemia. A symptom of leukemia is dizziness, and I have that, when I sit up too fast or spin around in circles. So I quietly prepare to die in the next year or so, depending on how fast the disease progresses.
My parents are getting worried. It’s hard enough to have a child, much less a child who demands to inspect our groceries and medicines for evidence that their protective seals have been tampered with. I have only the vaguest memory of a life before fear. Every morning when I wake up, there is one blissful second before I look around the room and remember my many terrors. I wonder if this is what it will always be like, forever, and I try to remember moments I felt safe: In bed next to my mother one Sunday morning. Playing with my friend Isabel’s puppy. Getting picked up from a sleepover just before bedtime.
One night, my father becomes so frustrated by my behavior that he takes a walk and doesn’t come back for three hours. While he’s gone, I start to plan our life without him.
Dang. Later on, Lena describes meeting her life-long friend Audrey Gelman – the inspiration behind Girls‘ Marnie – in an elevator, and the instant bond that forms between them.
What happens over the next few months is like the plot of a children’s movie, the kind where a dog finds its owner in spite of insurmountable odds and prohibitive geography. Through shrewd detective work, Audrey discovers that her camp friend Sarah is my school friend Sarah, and begins passing me notes. They are fat envelopes, decorated with puff paint and star stickers. Inside the first one is a letter, in the kind of fun teen scrawl they use in “Saved by the Bell”: “HEY YOU SEEM AWESOME! I bet we’d get along. My mom says we would if we could meet. I love shopping, the Felicity soundtrack, oh, and shopping. Here’s a pic of me at the Wailing Wall after my Bat Mitzvah! INSTANT MESSAGE MEEEE.”
I write back an equally effusive note, laboring over which picture to share, before finally settling on a shot of me lounging on my sister’s bunk bed in a vintage crop top that reads “Super Debbie.” “I also luuuv the Felicity soundtrack, animals, acting, and DUH SHOPPING! My screen name is LAFEMMELENA.”
The essay is both funny and pretty gut-wrenching at times, and gives more than a bit of insight into the anxieties that would one day shape Hannah Horvath. Anyway, BBL, I’ll be spending the rest of the afternoon downloading the Felicity soundtrack and listening intently, imagining that Lena Dunham is here hanging out.
Photo: Michael Buckner via Getty Images