In the stories my parents tell about our early years, my brother always appears wielding a chicken thigh in his hand (a polke, as it is called in the language of Jewish mothers), swallowing wedges of grapefruit whole without puckering, calling for more brisket, deboning fish with one arm behind his back—all before the age of nine months. And then, a year later, I arrive on the scene, the hunger artist in a hair-shirt onesie, refusing, with a gleam in her eye, to eat. My mother became so worried that she took me to the doctor, who prescribed a course of pickles to stimulate my desire for food. (The remedy backfired: I still didn’t eat, but 20 years later, once I was all grown up and living on my own, I would survive for many days on jars of pickles alone.)
Of the anecdotes my parents tell about me as a child, most concern my legendary lack of appetite; the rest involve my stubbornness. My unwillingness to eat baffled them—I’d like to think that in some way it even impressed them. Whatever the case, from the start they didn’t know quite what to do with me, and this refusal became the first story in the story of my life.