Excerpt 74

Both of my parents smoked after our restaurant dinners, and I hated the smoke, but we always sat at the table for an interminable amount of time.

Nancy feverishly discussed current events, which usually involved vehemently lambasting the local politicians and complaining about the price of everything. That was the pattern: Nancy talked her staccato talk in her rebarbative tone. Robert and I listened.

Sometimes, I took a book to the restaurant. I knew that was very bad manners, but my parents permitted it, as I sat quiet and motionless, with my ankles daintily crossed. One of my favorite books was a biography of Julia Ward Howe; I was spellbound when I read about her writing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, which became a famous Civil War song.

The orange-and-black hardcover book had been borrowed from the library. (I must give my mother credit where credit is due; she often drove me to various libraries, dropped me off, and picked me up hours later.)

Why did that book make such an indelible impression? At age eight, did I understand that to survive my childhood, it would take all my emotional strength? That not enough would be left over to support any kind of conventional life? That the battles that awaited me would color the rest of my days?

Afterward, the three of us walked to the two cars, but never together. Nancy always charged ahead several paces in front of my father. He held the middle position. I brought up the rear like a little ugly duckling.


My pretty, blond mother was German; I have always had a special affinity for dark, Jewish men. (What would Freud say about that?)

Or, as Elizabeth Hardwick wrote in Sleepless Nights to her mother in Kentucky: “I love the Hebrews.”


Writing in my diary is my therapy. Goethe said:

“The beginning and end of all literary activity is the reproduction of the world that surrounds me by means of the world that is in me, all things being grasped, related, re-created, molded and reconstructed in a personal form and an original manner.”

Often, I wish I were a ballerina so that I could sweat blood for beauty and for art. I gesticulate in front of the mirror, with my arms outstretched reaching farther and farther.

Art has helped more people recover from abuse, abandonment, and betrayal than all the psychiatrists in the world.

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