Take Me Away, Anthony

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Written by Haley Clemens

In the spring of 2016, there were times when I couldn’t move. The personhood had been pushed out of me. Haley wasn’t there, and I couldn’t really do anything but lie down and stare.

When you’re stuck inside a deep crush of depression and anxiety, perspective is a rarity. It doesn’t really exist at all—just a constant all-consuming feeling of doom. The great expanse of the planet Earth is not high on your list of Things That Matter, or even Things That Exist.

In 2016, Netflix carried three of Anthony Bourdain’s many shows: No Reservations, Parts Unknown, and The Layover. So while I was flattened against my extra long twin bed by the weight of my illness in a dorm room soaked in the smell of skater boy and weed, I watched every single episode. For a few hours a day, Anthony pulled me out of that dorm room and took me to see the world.

He didn’t only go to small plate white tablecloth establishments, he went to the local curried goat shack in Jamaica and the night market in Singapore to eat whole fried tiny crabs. In addition to insanely beautiful cured meats and fine cheeses, he ate the chicken feet, the racoon, the tongue, the cow’s blood soup.

And he did it without gimmick—not as an outsider to mock different tastes for entertainment value, but as a man in love with the extraordinary diversity of culture talking to people about life and cuisine. He presented the world in some of the most genuine reporting I have ever seen, showing the world as it is, no apologies, No Reservations.

Anthony also represented incredible success after great struggle. He was at times and by any definition, a fuck up. A heroin addict, a gambler, sometimes homeless.

But he worked so. damn. hard.  

He put all of himself into the hustle, working some of the shittiest jobs in the food service industry for years, elbow deep in dishwater and walk-in rot. For a barely functioning young adult who was thoroughly convinced that she too was a fuck up, learning the story of his life was wildly comforting.

He appeared to emerge on the other side of this struggle an incredible success. And yet he was always brazenly honest about the life-long presence of illness and addiction, that it can come back to claim you at any moment.

Snarky and occasionally pessimistic, he made me laugh when I truly had nothing left to laugh at.

I read his books while I ate alone in the cafeteria. He really kept me company sometimes.

So right now, I feel like I lost a friend and a mentor. What to do with this feeling of loss? For a man who I never met, who never knew me at all? What do we do when someone who touched our lives takes their own, where do we go now?

If you were raised in the kitchen, you learned that to feed someone is to love them, to share food is to share yourself. Anthony Bourdain shared thousands of meals with people over the course of his career. As you navigate life you cannot help but to create connection between those you meet as well as those who see you on TV or in books. A lifetime of those connections, that influence into the lives of others, has extraordinary weight. And it leaves an immense hole in the hearts of the people you touch when you’re gone.

The day the news breaks, my friend and fellow Chivomengro staff member, Jordan Upshaw, texts me to ask if I’m okay and if I need anything. I tell her that I need my idols to stop suffering in silence. She reminds me that the only thing we can control is the personal responsibility we have to manage our mental health.  “You can only take care of yourself,” she says.

I’m working on it.


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