Excerpt 50

Memphis

1958

In my parents’ house, nothing was traditional.

For Christmas, sometimes, my father created a tree from small green umbrellas sprouting up like giant cattails from a New Jersey swamp. Other times, Robert sprayed enormous magnolia leaves gold and bound them together like large fans used to cool off a surly pasha.

In those politically incorrect days, there was an institution in Memphis called Home for the Incurables. Nancy briefly belonged to some women’s organization that  visited the patients, all of whom could have appeared in a Flannery O’Connor novel.   I accompanied her there once.

I had never seen so many helpless, hopeless, and deformed people, and I began to cry.

A nurse softly said to my mother, “You really shouldn’t bring a young child to a place like this.”

Nancy did not respond.

When we were inside her Chevrolet station wagon with the batlike fins over the rear lights, she screamed, “Stop it with the crocodile tears! That’s life. Get used to it!”

Excerpt 49

Manhattan

1980

After work, I went to see Atlantic City in the movie theater on Seventh Avenue behind Carnegie Hall. Great acting by Susan Sarandon and Burt Lancaster.

Dinner was unbuttered popcorn and a lukewarm  Sprite. Didn’t have enough money because I bought a few Father’s Day cards during lunch for my father and boyfriends. [My boyfriends/not his!]

The girl behind the counter was so kind. She accepted one bus token and twenty cents for the Sprite.

Excerpt 48

London, England

1972

“I’m leaving right now! No one ever ever slaps me!” I shrieked. “Get away from me, Yanni!”

Hurriedly, I packed.

Yanni apologized and begged me not to leave.

I dragged my two worn-out yellow Samsonite suitcases up the two flights of stairs and out the front door and waited for one of those shiny, spacious, perfect black London taxis to pick me up and drive me back to my familiar run-down hotel in the Paddington section of London.

The following morning I looked at the fifth century-B.C. Elgin Marbles in the British Museum.

Yanni was so blindly patriotic; amazingly, he had been able to deliver lengthy disquisitions in broken English about Greek history and how those marble panels belonged in Athens: The glorious Greeks and all the infidels.

It rained all that day. London seemed almost empty; the streets were deserted; most of London must have gone away on summer vacation. Everything—buildings, sidewalks, sky, trees, and a few lost souls—all looked ashen gray.

I had never been so lonely in my whole life.

When I got hungry, I entered a small Indian restaurant and sat at a corner table. All of the customers were Indian, and all of them stared at me with large, dark eyes as I ate my spicy lamb and creamy yogurt. It must have been the first time that they saw a young woman eating alone in a restaurant.

I was a Martian on a foreign planet.

The following morning, I telephoned Yanni. “Can I come back?” I asked quietly.

“Yes, of course. That’s wonderful news!” he responded.

When I arrived at the bedsitter, there were piles of dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and laying on the small dining table was a signed black-and-white photograph of a glamorous blonde woman holding a microphone.

He really had missed me!

The night before he had picked up a nightclub singer and brought her back to “our” apartment for cold ouzo and hot sex.

Excerpt 47

April 4, 2020

Manhattan

The World has slowed down.

Fear trips over the cracked sidewalk curb.

Tense faces shaded with ill-fitting masks irritate tender ears unaccustomed to elastic and string.

The warm Spring sun mocks us in our blue latex gloves.

Everyone is guilty.

Which movie had Charleston Heston visit the leper colony? All Biblical: Sparticus? Ben-Hur? Ten Commandments?

Government officials issue our new commandments. Police cars are welcome.

All control is an illusion.

Excerpt 46

Years later, she and my father boycotted my wedding and sent a neatly typed note on engraved eggshell stationery: “Mr. and Mrs. Robert R. Smith, Jr., will not attend.”

I waited for an explanation for their absence. I waited for decades, but it never came.

My mother and I were master/slave; Hitler/Jew; shark/bloody leg; Mr. Murdstone/David Copperfield; Johan/Henrik in Ingmar Bergman’s Saraband. 

Whenever someone asked about my “Mom,” my gut reaction would have been to answer, Mom? I don’t know anyone like that. Nancy, my biological mother,  the popinjay, the vituperative termagant, was certainly no Stella Dallas.

To my mother, every aspect of life was categorized as a bargain or overpriced.

That included me: poor Return On Investment.

I had no siblings. To visit her after I left home for college, a formal invitation was required. Christmas was the only time that I was permitted to return to my parents’ house.