Excerpted from Choke by Chuck Palahniuk. Copyright © 2002 by Chuck Palahniuk. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Introduction: The Story Behind "Choke"
Bill was the first man I ever met who called himself a sex addict. This was in a church conference room, on a Thursday night, where a couple dozen men and women sat in plastic chairs around a table stained with poster paint and glue. Bill is a big guy, wearing three layers of plaid flannel shirts, with a big square chin and a booming gruff voice.
This is just after Christmas, the first Christmas in almost twenty years that Bill says he didn't spend with his wife and kids. Instead, he put on a dress and went downtown to an adult bookstore and gave blow jobs all day.
This is the world of sexual compulsives. One by one, almost everybody around that table, very ordinary folks, young and old, hip and square, men and woman, they took turns telling about their week's worth of sex with prostitutes, lingerie models, and strangers. They talked about internet sex, public bathroom sex, and telephone sex. None of these people were
anyone you'd look at twice on the street, but their secret lives were amazing.
Everybody in my family does something compulsively. My brother exercises. My mother gardens. I write. That's part of the reason why I was at this meeting.
This is the rest of the reason:
Ten-plus years ago, my brother joked that the best place to meet women was at support groups for sexually irresponsible people.
At the time, he was engaged to a beautiful woman. She was funny and charming and looked just like Vanna White. The two of them had met at work, and my brother knew about the support groups because she went to them. They'd almost gotten married, but he'd heard some rumors about what she did while he was gone on business trips.
To resolve the issue, before he left for his next trip, he put a voice-activated tape recorded under the bed in his apartment. When he came home, the tape was run all the way through. Rewinding it and listening, he says, was the hardest thing he's ever done in his life.
On the tape, his fiancée was drunk and bringing home guy after guy—to his bed. The second-hardest thing he's ever done was confronting her with the tape and ending their engagement.
Today, he's married with a beautiful family, married to someone else.
He told me this story one summer while we drove to Idaho to help identify a body the police said might be our father. The body was found, shot, next to the body of a woman, in a burned-down garage in the mountains outside Kendrick, Idaho
This was the summer of 1999. The summer the Fight Club movie came out. We went to our father's house in the mountains outside of Spokane, trying to track down some x-rays that showed the two vertebrae fused in Dad's back after a railroad accident left him disabled.
My father's place in the mountains was beautiful, hundreds of acres, wild turkeys and moose and deer everywhere. On the road up to the house, there was a new sign. It was next to a boulder that lay beside the road. It said, "Kismet Rock." We had no idea what the sign meant.
Once at a toga party, I was drinking with a friend, Cindy, and she said, "Let me tell you about my mother. My mother gets married a lot." It was such a great line I used it in "Invisible Monsters." I knew exactly what Cindy meant.
Part of visiting my Dad was always meeting his latest girlfriend. Or wife.
Before my brother and I could find the X-rays, the police called to say the body was Dad's. They'd used dental records we'd shipped to them earlier.
At the trial for the man who murdered him, it came out that my father had answered a personal ad placed by a woman who's ex-husband had threatened to kill her and any man that he ever found her with. The title of the personal ad was "Kismet." My father was one of five men who answered it. He was the one she chose.
This was the dead woman found beside my father. She and my father had gone to her home to feed some animals before driving to my father's house where he was going to surprise her with the "Kismet Rock" sign. A sort of landmark named for their new relationship.
Her ex-husband was waiting and followed them up the driveway. According to the court's verdict, he killed them and set fire to their bodies in the garage. They'd known each other for less than two months.
That first support group for sex addicts, I went because I wanted to understand my father. I wanted to know what he dealt with and why his life was girlfriend after girlfriend, wife after wife.
At the meeting in the church conference room, here were very everyday-looking people, telling stories that even their own spouses didn't know. I just sat there, and even though everyone was supposed to limit their sharing to a few minutes, we always ran out of time before everyone had to speak. People were so hungry to share their pain.
Several months after meeting Bill, after his story about blow jobs on Christmas Day, he came to the group upset. The fourth step in the twelve-step process is to keep a record of your addiction, recording all your transgressions, past and present. Bill's wife had found his notebook. She'd told him she made copies, and—if he didn't give her the kids, the
money, the house, the cars and then move to another state—she was going to give the copies to all his family and coworkers.
Bill was frantic and his only way out, he told everyone, was to go home and kill her and kill himself.
He seemed so resolved.
I kept thinking, This is how it happens. All those newspaper stories about murder/suicides, this is how they happen.
The group got Bill calmed down. He wept. A few weeks later, he and his wife had resolved to stay married and face his addiction, together.
During this time, a friend introduced me to a woman. This was at breakfast in a restaurant, and it was funny because her name was Marla. Like Marla Singer in "Fight Club." I'd never met a real Marla, and it turned out she's a therapist who works with sexual compulsives. Piece by piece, the ideas and themes of "Choke" were coming together.
I wanted to write about the moment when your addictions no longer hide the truth from you. When your whole life breaks down. That's the moment when you have to somehow choose what your life is going to be about. Doping yourself with sex or drugs or food, or choosing something like writing, body building, gardening. True, in a way this is trading one compulsive behavior for another, but at least with the new one, you're choosing it.
Funny, but all my former junkie friends are either fervent Christians or triathletes. Nothing in half measures.
As Paige Marshall says in the book, "You have to trade your youth for something." With "Choke" I wanted to show someone actively choosing their future, instead of perpetuating their past.
Here, I want to tell you how lovely and clever my brother's former fiancée was.
I want you to know how happy it felt to see Bill resolve to save his marriage.
I want to tell you how my father spent years with my brother and I, building huge model train sets with paper mache mountain ranges and working street lights. We'd go into town, to Bailey's Toys and Hobbies and buy a new locomotive for our birthdays. We'd glue specks of sand, just so, to create the perfect miniature road bed for our tracks. Yeah, it's sounds
like compulsive behavior, but it was so sweet.
Here at the end, I want to thank you, for your time and attention. And thank you for taking a chance with my books. This is the story behind the story.
I'll shut up now,