Within a few months, Jane Alpert jumped bail and went underground. Rat announced her departure with a truly arresting graphic: a dripping faucet and the words, "Jane, you left the water running. Two eventful years later, while visiting the offices of The Village Voice, I saw a typed manuscript by the fugitive Jane Alpert lying in Dan Wolf's outbox. Five minutes of reading told me it was political dynamite.
Jane had repudiated her previous revolutionary positions, admitted the failure of the underground radical left, and produced a lengthy theoretical statement of her new-found feminism. Jane's piece was eventually published in Ms. When Jane made the decision to resurface late in , Robin Morgan called some of us together to counteract a nasty smear campaign conducted by Pat Swinton and her lawyer with help from Flo Kennedy the activist and Bob Fass of WBAI, among others. Jane was sentenced on two counts, the bombing conspiracy and bail jumping, and went to prison for two years.
After she was released we met for the second time. To our mutual surprise and delight, we became good friends. Friendship is based on complicated emotional factors. One factor for me, as I've told Jane many times, is that I've always believed that if I'd been her contemporary in age, my rebellion might have taken a similar turn. The Jane I know today bears little resemblance to the grim-faced, implacable young revolutionist I first saw in the offices of Rat.
In terms of appearance, she's thinner than she used to be, is very chic, and has a ready, engaging smile. Like most other New Yorkers, she works long hours to earn a living and would like a larger apartment. She reads widely and is always up for a good political or literary discussion, and we usually end an evening by complimenting each other on our eclectic, sagacious views.
She hasn't lost a jot of her intensity, but she has channelled it most determinedly into writing and editing, strenuous amateur swimming competitions, and vegetarianism. It is with the vegetables that I occasionally catch a glimpse of the old, holier-than-thou Jane of the certainties. When Growing Up Underground was published in , some of the reviews were unduly harsh.
In the intervening years, as memories of the Vietnam War faded, people had grown irrationally angry at the Sixties. Jane's autobiography presented some critics with an opportunity to vent their rage against those siren calls of extremism that had once disturbed their sleep. Her report of the effects of acid and mix-and-match sex upon a generation of activists was turned against her, as was her careful attempt to explain Sam Melville's mesmerizing influence on her state of mind.
Jane was misunderstood by some who should have known better or given her a more careful reading. The cynicism and somnambulism of America in the Eighties will have to give way to something else, and the sooner the better! I admit to a bad case of nostalgia for the idealistic aspects of the Sixties and for the Thirties as well, although I wasn't there. Dreams about a radical transformation of society are always appealing; the trick is not to sentimentalize, or to gloss over a previous generation's mistakes.
Jane Alpert's autobiography, which captures the fervor and sickness of impatient, would-be revolutionaries in a nonrevolutionary time, is utterly unsentimental. In fact, it is merciless in its self-examination. And therein lies its greatest strength. Susan Brownmiller New York City March, 4 Prologue: A Meeting— Squeezed in a corner of the dilapidated sofa, my feet tucked under me, I kept staring surreptitiously at the earnest radicals crowded into the storefront office.
The time was early September , almost four years since President Johnson's bombings of Vietnam had transformed the New Left into "the movement"—a hodgepodge of politicos, working people, students, hippies, and drug-and-rock freaks united by their opposition to the war. All wore the movement uniform of faded work shirt, jeans, and sneakers or lace-up boots. I felt out of place. I had to remind myself that I too had been actively opposed to the war from its beginning. Since , my sophomore year in college, I had argued that the bombings should stop, the troops come home, and the Vietnamese people be left free to determine their own form of government—even if they turned out to prefer communism to Western-style democracy.
I had signed petitions opposing the draft and calling for a permanent bombing halt and had been to the mass antiwar marches in New York and Washington. The year before, at the Pentagon my roommate Jean and I had escaped by only hours being tear-gassed by the National Guard. Yet in the past twelve months, the movement and I had been going in different directions. While I was concentrating on my graduate school grades and a promotion at work, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, prompting furious disillusionment among black people and formerly idealistic whites.
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Last April students had seized five buildings at Columbia and openly declared war on the university's corporate trustees. Last month the Chicago police had assaulted thousands of protesters at the Democratic convention. Now, at my first movement gathering since the Pentagon, I was torn between the feeling that I had walked into someone else's movie and my childhood-old ache to belong.
I wondered if my uncertainty was visible beneath my bourgeois appearance. Actually, I looked as inconspicuous as the couch. At twenty-one I was still more girl than woman: an inch or two shorter than average; a sturdy, not glamorous, figure; dark brown hair which wouldn't grow long; pale skin; a broad Jewish peasant's nose; wide-set hazel eyes, extremely nearsighted but still my best feature; contact lenses; only passably straight teeth, in spite of orthodontia when I was twelve. I was wearing an old corduroy skirt and pullover, chosen so that I wouldn't look overdressed.
Still, I was the only woman in the room wearing a skirt. In a more ironical mood, I might have joked about the conformity of these supposed noncomformists. In my current crisis of doubt, I could not afford such glibness. The larger question was not my dress but how I was living my life, which I would have had to answer, "Unproductively, unhappily, and with narcissistic self-absorption.
I had graduated from Swarthmore in June two years younger than most of my classmates because of grades skipped in grammar school and in a year had become a full editor at Cambridge University Press, with particular responsibility for books on Greek and Latin subjects, my college major.
I was taking graduate courses in classics at Columbia, where my grades were good enough to make an academic career a plausible alternative to publishing work. I had used the money from my last raise to move out of the apartment I had shared with Jean and another college friend into a high-ceilinged studio of my own on Riverside Drive. I was getting along well enough with my parents so that my monthly trips to their Queens apartment were almost pleasurable.
They were proud of my new career and satisfied at how well I had "straightened myself out" after a troubled adolescence. But I suspected my own collaboration with their values. I loved them, yet it had been clear to me since I was thirteen that I would never be happy living as they did. Now the only difference I could see between my life and theirs was that I was lonelier. They at least had each other.
A year out of college and into the business world—I could already see the next forty years marching on. Having climbed the promotion ladder at Cambridge, I would move on to a larger publishing firm, finally becoming the trusted assistant to a top male executive at a major house.
I would have an affair with my boss or perhaps with a vice-president at a rival company, recognizing that my lover would never divorce his wife while I turned to emotional putty in his hands. I would hate my job but would work until nine every night, then swallow two pills and go to sleep. I would read Glamour and Mademoiselle on airplanes, looking for clues to contentment, and would gossip nastily about the new twentyyear-old girl at the office who thought she had the answers.
How did other women survive decades at jobs where they were not only relatively underpaid and powerless but unlikely ever to meet a reliable, loving, unattached man? Nor was graduate school—once my hedge against the future—any more promising an alternative. During the protests at Columbia the only students I respected were polarized to the left, the ones I despised to the right, which left me floundering in the middle, feeling like a coward.
I glanced down at the leaflet in my hand. This afternoon, before the first course meeting of Greek Orators, I had stopped at the Students for a Democratic Society booth outside the Columbia gates. The skinny, long-haired recruiter had the bulging eyes of a speed addict and looked barely old enough to have graduated from high school.
The SDSer dropped his sneer and flashed me a sympathetic smile. I grabbed at it gratefully, remembering to return his clenched-fist salute, and then just skimmed the printed sheet as I dashed to class. Last spring, while SDS was mobilizing the Columbia campus, the CACers the majority of whom were over thirty and lived, like me, on the Upper West Side had held a sit-in of their own at a university-owned tenement on West th Street, protesting Columbia's plan to raze the building for a school of social work.
Most of them had been arrested at the sit-in, and this group arrest I gathered from their conversation had been a kind of communal baptism, binding them all in their commitment to each other and to CAC. At the present meeting they were discussing whether to hold a similar protest at a single-room-occupancy SRO residence called the St. Mark's Arms, which was owned by the Episcopal church of St.
John the Divine. John's was about to evict the tenants in order to build a modem nursing home on the site; the view of the CAC members was that the church, whose parishioners included a few Columbia trustees, was interested only in making more money, not in the tenants' welfare. A sufficiently militant demonstration might stop the marshals from carrying out the evictions, at least temporarily.
I knew the conditions in buildings like the St. Mark's Arms. I had accidentally visited one or two SROs while I was looking for my current apartment. The radicals' angry descriptions of them as rat-infested slum dwellings were not in the least exaggerated. Yet I was disappointed to hear their plans. I had come to this meeting because I wanted something cataclysmic to happen in my life. I wanted to respond to the emergencies created by the Vietnam War, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, the police stampede against protesters at the Democratic convention. The poverty that distressed the CACers had been part of the world long before I was born and would go on after I was dead.
Was this very resistance of mine only a sign of how profoundly I had sold out? Greg Rosen, the chairman of the group, gave a sigh. How are we going to do that before the weekend? These CACers were not, after all, so very different from me. They had jobs and went to graduate school.
They lived alone or in couples. They had been arrested once or perhaps twice, and they were trying, as I was, to hold on to the commitment they had once felt to social change, not to yield to the fear and apathy of an older generation. I raised my hand. Will that help? In a few minutes the entire phone list had been spoken for. Small knots of people gathered around Rosen to discuss printing leaflets, notifying the news stations, convincing the radical newspapers to print announcements.
I had to wait some minutes until Greg was free and could tell me where to find a copy of the list and suggest what I should say to the people I called. By the time I left the storefront it was nearly midnight. Usually I was afraid of this borderline neighborhood after dark. The way to my apartment was along a narrow part of Riverside Drive, elevated above the river and so quiet that footsteps behind me sounded like echoing tom-toms.
When I started living alone here, I had promised my parents that I would always take a taxi to my door. The idea of such precautions now left a sour taste. I would not hail a cab—perhaps in full view of a CACer coming up behind me—and slam the door against imagined dangers.
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I turned the comer on foot and with my back to taxi-land, began the twenty-block walk home. I was looking forward not just to the demonstration but to the telephoning this weekend. Already it was beginning: a sense of purpose, of hope, was coming back. The CAC meeting had been the first step in what I thought of as a radical cure. The commitment I made that night led me eventually, through a circuitous route, to forms of protest more dramatic than picket lines. In November , after I had helped to set off bombs at eight government and corporate buildings in New York, I was arrested, pleaded guilty, and went underground, where I spent more than four years.
I still don't understand all the forces that drew me into the conspiracy or the underground—any more than I understand exactly why I raised my hand at that CAC meeting. But I am certain that politics was only one part of what inspired me. While I am proud to have moved decisively against the Vietnam War, I also know that my motivations stemmed as much from a longing for acceptance as from a passion to rebel, as much from the kinds of relationships I formed in childhood as from my outrage at the United States government.
How I came to believe and act as I did—and later, in a spirit of renunciation, to surrender and go to prison—is the core of this autobiography. Highly qualified criminal attorneys have advised me that the statute of limitations has expired on all the illegal acts described in these pages. To protect the privacy of those involved, I have changed many names and identifying details.
I have also taken some liberties with minor aspects of settings that are impossible to recall or verify after so long a time. However, all the characters are real, all the events took place, and dialogue has been re' created as nearly as I can remember it. I offer this book not in the service of any particular ideology or with the intention of discrediting any persons or movements but rather to set the record straight on my own role in a turbulent period of American history.
They met about fifteen years later in Baltimore, where my grandmother had been brought up and where my grandfather had come from Boston to open a men's clothing store. They married, and soon after, the new business folded. They moved then—with two children of their own—to the Lower East Side of New York, where, my mother told me, they lived in the only apartment building in the neighborhood that had an elevator. This background of failure spiced by extravagant new starts was a dominant theme of my childhood, too. In the 's Abraham Kahane rejected the Orthodox Judaism of his youth and became a socialist.
On Friday nights, while Freda still observed the Jewish Sabbath, he met in a storefront to discuss Stalin, Trotsky, and the latest developments in the revolution in the old country, with other Jews who had also turned away from the tradition. Freda grew closer to her own family. With their three children of whom my mother, born in , was the second she spent up to six months of every year in Baltimore.
My mother regarded that city as her second home until she was in college, when she came to prefer the company of the more educated and cosmopolitan Boston Kahanes. Abraham Kahane died suddenly of a heart attack when I was less than a year old, a tragedy Freda believed was a punishment from God. Descriptions of Abraham always reminded me of my own father: loving, generous to a fault, a keen sense of humor, and a tendency toward bad luck in business combined with a dogged ambition to do well. In the photograph on my grandmother's desk he even looked like my father, a short, rather plump man, trying to smile in spite of the blinding sun.
I suspected I would have preferred him to my stately, undemonstrative grandmother. My mother was the only girl in the family. Her responsibilities began early. When she was nine, her older brother, Morris, became ill with a brain tumor. For the next six or eight years he was mostly in the hospital or in bed at home. He lost part of his sight and hearing and developed a bad stutter. Leon, the youngest, was a baby during Morris's illness.
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While Freda cared for her eldest, the babysitting fell to my mother. I never heard her complain about this, although it did make it difficult for her to appreciate that most children spent their time playing. She was extremely capable, not only helping to manage the household but also graduating from Hunter High School at fourteen and from Hunter College at eighteen.
Her interests, for a girl in the 's, were unusual. She was mechanically gifted and thought she might become an inventor or a research engineer. Instead, she majored in statistics and married an engineer—my father, whom she met on a boating party the year after she graduated. His father, Henry, had emigrated from Russia as an adult, under mysterious circumstances—in the absence of information, I guessed he had run up debts. He took the name Alpert at Ellis Island, while his brother, who came over at a different time, took the name Schwenkerman. No relative I knew had the slightest idea of the original family name.
They had three children, Gladys, Ira and, in , my father. A year later Chava died of influenza. The three children were farmed out to aunts and uncles. My father had four different homes before he was ten. Then he settled in with his maternal uncle, Jake Bronstein, and Jake's wife, Ida. Uncle Jake—whom I always called simply Uncle, as my father did—was a bony, yellowish man with decaying teeth and a fierce temper.
I used to shrink in fear when he pinched my cheek. Aunt Ida, whom we called Tan short for the Yiddish Tanta , was a sweet, self-effacing woman, whom my mother halfcontemptuously called the saint. I hated visiting the Brooklyn tenement where they lived: narrow, stuffy rooms smelling of onions and old floor wax. I associated their poverty with the cruelty and anger that reverberated through the apartment and couldn't understand how my father, who made rooms glow when he entered, could have been raised in such a place.
My father, despite his disadvantages, was an excellent student and earned high marks on the entrance exams for Cooper Union's prestigious tuition-free engineering school. For seven years he worked as a draftsman during the day while attending classes at night. He was twenty-two when he met my mother. She was slender with auburn hair and a tiny, heart-shaped face, pretty enough to have worked part time as a floor model at Saks.
He was blond, not tall, but well muscled, a good dancer and swimmer, with a high forehead like Henry Fonda's, my mother said and candid green eyes. My mother hinted that her mother had not been enthusiastic about their engagement, but when I asked why, she brushed the question aside. The preservation of image at the expense of honesty was also a theme of my childhood. They were married in June , the same month in which my father graduated. My father was working in a division of a company exploring ways to produce artificial rubber and had an automatic essential-job deferment.
But after the company underwent a reorganization, he became dissatisfied and started looking for a better opportunity. Eventually he found a position at an international corporation making equipment for the army signal corps. His job change created some confusion at the selective service board, and he temporarily lost his deferment, causing some consternation in the family.
In time, however, the board determined that his new job also entitled him to a deferment, and so he was able to avoid combat duty after all. This is, I think now, close to how it really happened. The version I was told when I was growing up was different. I was told, from about the age of five, that my father had longed to join the Navy and had gone so far as to enlist when the selective service office positively forbade him to leave his crucially important job.
The reason for this, my mother said, was that my father, although he didn't know it at the time, was working on the atom bomb. She didn't know it then either—but she concluded that must have been what he was doing when the mushroom cloud blossomed over Hiroshima and Nagasaki and finally ended the war. My mother quit her job and the family moved from Manhattan to a one-bedroom apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, with a dinette my parents converted to a nursery. My earliest memory is of going to sleep there to the comforting murmur of their voices in the kitchen.
The family album is filled with pictures of me crawling across my parents' bed, playing on the beach, practicing standing up before an admiring crowd of relatives and neighbors. In those early years of my life my father took a new job, in a company owned by a relative. In the summer of a series of accidents began. Playing with silverware on the dining room table, I tipped over an electric percolator full of coffee.
My mother rushed me to the hospital for what proved to be third-degree burns over most of my left side. While I was still in the hospital, my father broke his leg in a household accident. My parents were out for a drive with my father's sister and her husband when a third mishap occurred. A car rammed into theirs while my mother was behind the wheel, waiting for the light to change. Only my aunt was seriously injured, but the accident had repercussions.
My mother, then two months pregnant, gave birth in April to a child with severe birth defects. My brother, Skip, had several operations to help him breathe and to repair his damaged mouth and nose, and my mother became a round-the-clock nurse to a child the extent of whose impairment could not be known. Skip survived, with above-average intelligence, but almost blind, with respiratory difficulties and permanently stunted physical growth.
I remember him as a large, inert lump who took all my mother's time and attention. My mother's place in my life was taken by Helen Williams, a black woman exactly my father's age whose mother had worked for Tan and Uncle in Brooklyn. Helen had baby-sat for me since I was born and was with me at the time my brother was delivered. From the time I was three, she was the person who fed, bathed, and played with me and sometimes put me to sleep. She treated me as though I were the personification of grace. Every new achievement of mine, from turning a somersault to singing the alphabet, drew exclamations of astonishment from her.
I came to prefer her company to any except my father's. My father adored me and I basked in his attention. He told me stories of midgets who lived on top of my stomach in regions he called Ackle-backle-stan, Baluki-stan, and In-themiddle-of-stan. He invented a family of monkeys—Zobo, Dufar, and their two children—and improvised adventures for them corresponding to the pages of a picture book about the jungle.
He made up nonsense lyrics to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" one began "Pickles sleeping in the icebox" , repeating the words until I had them memorized. When I was eight, he taught me chess, starting with a four-piece handicap, reducing it then to a queen and finally to a rook, praising and encouraging me when I learned to guess his next moves. He gave me a book of math problems which my uncle Ben had won as a high school prize and beamed when I came to him for help in solving one.
Every few weeks he would designate Sunday as "Fun-day," which meant a breakfast-to-bedtime day of favorite games and piggyback rides. I would desert any friend or children's outing for one of those Sundays with my father. Sometimes she would sing me to sleep in her gentle soprano. More often, it seemed, she was scolding me for my clumsiness I was the only child she ever heard of, she said, who tripped over plain linoleum , for wanting her attention, or for liking children who weren't as "good" as I was.
I loved to play with her jewelry box and to rub my cheek on the fur lining of her winter coat. When she saw me doing that, she would call me a strange child and declare that she didn't understand me. I went to kindergarten and first grade there, learned with some difficulty to swing and ride a two-wheeled bike, and became best friends with Cynthia, a girl in my class who lived down the block. My favorite games were School, in which I pretended to be a teacher, and Make-Believe, an ongoing drama I directed and starred in, featuring my favorite characters from Greek myths, fairy tales, comic strips, and television.
Skip showed steady improvement, learning to walk and talk and proving beyond any doubt that he was not mentally retarded. By the time he was four he was nearly as big as I was and able to hold his own in our physical fights. My parents helped build the first synagogue in Wantagh, where my father served as vice-president and my mother as a Sunday school teacher. After three years of relative contentment my father decided to take a job with a manufacturer of advertising displays in New Jersey.
During the summer before I started second grade, we moved to Englewood, New Jersey, where my parents had rented half of a two-family frame house. I was dimly aware that the move was a source of tension between my parents, but they didn't talk to me about it. I didn't mind it myself. I soon became best friends with the girl next door who was as willing an actress in my dramas as Cynthia had been. Skip began nursery school and seemed not to have many difficulties, although he didn't have friends either. I liked my new school, where I soon acquired a reputation as precocious and was given special advanced reading and arithmetic assignments.
Two years later we moved again. My father's new job was as vice-president of the Linz Glass Company, a factory in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania. The Linz family, which had started the company, had just sold it to a Chicago multimillionaire named Alan Welch who wanted my father to run it for him. This was more executive responsibility than my father had ever had, an enormous salary increase, and prestige. But it was a drastic change in our lives. In the summer of , when we moved into the handsome old house in Point Marion, Pennsylvania, which the company had provided, we were in an isolated section of Appalachia, four hundred miles from everything familiar to my parents: theaters, subways, museums, bustling streets, skyscrapers, The New York Times, and other Jews.
My mother discovered that the elementary school Skip and I would both attend in Point Marion was little more than a one-room schoolhouse whose teacher spoke an Appalachian dialect incomprehensible to a New Yorker's ears. She made up her mind that we would move to Uniontown. It took her six months to find a house she wanted to rent there. Meanwhile, rather than let us go to the Point Marion school, she drove us to Uniontown every day, waited in town to give us lunch, and waited again until the end of the school day, when she drove us back home.
For the first time in my life I nearly flunked a spelling test because I couldn't understand the teacher's pronunciation. One classmate asked me if my father gave me money for using "long words. This never happened to me, although I was occasionally told that I didn't "look Jewish. I was the only child in the fourth grade who ate lunch with her mother and brother in the classroom, the only one who was late at least once a week when my mother had to drive the winding roads behind a coal truck.
I was also the only one who hadn't grown up calling black people "niggers. In the Uniontown school there were twenty or so black children, who kept rigorously to themselves and were the butt of the white children's jokes. I tried to make friends with one, a sixth grader named Dolores who was often alone at recess, but when she invited me to her house, my mother wouldn't let me go, saying she didn't know Dolores's family.
My experiences, both with Dolores and with the white children in my class, made me curious about the school integration battles in the South I heard grown-ups discussing. I fantasized that the next time my family moved, it might be to the Deep South. There I would be one of the heroic white children who welcomed black children to her school.
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My favorite book was Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess, about nine-year-old Sara Crewes who has lost her mother at birth but is the chief joy of her handsome young father's life. As the book opens, Sara is going off to boarding school in London while her father is leaving for Africa to manage his investment in diamond mines.
A year later her father dies of malaria, penniless and raving in the African jungle. Sara is forced to become a drudge for the evil boarding school mistress. She starves in an attic, tutors young students for long hours, is teased mercilessly by her former classmates.
Finally her plight is discovered by her father's business partner, who, it turns out, has been looking for her all over London. The diamond mines were a success after all, and Sara, now richer than before, is rescued from the boarding school into the business partner's home. The Linz Glass Company was, to me, the reality for which the diamond mines served as metaphor, a marvelous place where red-hot furnaces turned sand into glass and rubberclothed men blew the molten stuff into bowls, multifaceted ashtrays, and paper-weights that shattered light into a million rainbows.
It was the exciting highlight of a class trip that made me briefly a school celebrity when I was in fourth grade. The bad part was that I hardly ever saw my father after he started to work there. He left for work before breakfast, came home after I went to bed, and even on weekends was rarely in the house. I knew things were going badly because I heard him quarreling with my mother late at night, when I was supposed to be asleep. Like Sara Crewes, I never blamed my father for deserting me. I kept quiet, practicing my princess behavior. This gave me a case of chronic gastritis and, at the end of a year, landed me in a hospital with a bladder infection.
I skipped fifth grade and started sixth at the age of ten. A few children in the sixth grade went out of their way to befriend me. In the middle of the year I was elected editor of the school newspaper. My confidence soared. Uniontown seemed less lonely when I had someone to walk to school with every day and a teacher who praised my schoolwork and character. And then the diamond mines failed; Alan Welch fired my father for having made poor investments.
From the time I had to part with my cat in Uniontown until the morning, two days later, when we reached Forest Hills I alternately sulked and vented my hostility on Skip, who was still too young to understand what a state we were in. After the spacious Uniontown house, which had backed onto the extensive grounds of a friary, the two-bedroom city apartment felt miserably cramped. For months, we tripped over hundreds of boxes my mother couldn't find room for and didn't want to throw out.
My parents hired a carpenter to build a partition in the room Skip and I were to share. I had the inner, more private half, with both the windows, but still felt as though I were in an attic. Listening to Skip's heavy breathing on the other side of the partition made me feel as though I were suffocating.
Meanwhile, my father, who had a new job but at half the salary he had earned at Linz, was home less than ever and was hard to talk to. Helen came back to work for us, but now that I was eleven, we no longer had the rapport we had shared when I was small. School was a nightmare. In the eyes of the sophisticated New York seventh graders I was a country hick who wore plaid-framed glasses, homemade clothes, and a frizzy Toni that made my hair bunch up on top of my head and around my ears. In a gym class of a hundred girls, I was the only one who still wore an undershirt.
There was a code for what was cool and what was creepy, and I was unable to crack it.
The teachers complimented me on my recitations and gave me A's, but my classmates hooted and mocked my phrases and intonations. After a five-minute speech on dog breeds, I was given the nickname Doggie, which stuck for the rest of the school year. Nor did I have the excuse that their cruelty was related to anti-Semitism. Ninety percent of them were Jewish. Nearly all the bright students in the school were in a special accelerated class which finished the three years of junior high in two. Since I had skipped fifth grade in Pennsylvania, my mother was reluctant to see me placed in this advanced class.
After two months in the new school I was so unhappy that she relented and let me transfer, hoping the change would boost my spirits. It made little difference. All through junior high school I never had a friend. I came home every day fighting back tears and venting my hurt on my mother, not because it was her fault but because she was there. I told her she was stupid and backwards and that when I grew up, I would never speak to her.
I threatened to run away from home and thought that I meant it, while all I wanted was to see her cry. I deliberately kept my room a mess. I accused her of preferring Skip—who was having as hellish a time as I was in his new school and may have needed her help more. I think if she had seen through my rage and simply taken me in her arms, she could have dissipated most of my temper, but she was too proud to risk rejection and was not naturally demonstrative.
Every move she made seemed part of a plot to make me miserable. As I finished seventh grade, my father quit his new job and used the family savings to open his own consulting business. He rented an office on Forty-second Street, bought office machinery, hired an answering service, had stationery and circulars printed. He was home more often than he had been in years, and I was briefly happy again.
I loved going to his office on weekends and playing with the big Rolodex and the IBM typewriters. I helped him type thousands of file cards and stuff envelopes with advertisements. Sometimes on the way home, we stopped at the Forty-second Street Chess Club, where I loved to watch him hunch over a chessboard for a silent game with a stranger. The new business lasted six months. Then, with no customers and no money to pay the rent, the utilities, or IBM, my father closed the office and came home for good.
My father was a good man who had brains and ability, had cheated no one, and had worked sixty- and seventy-hour weeks for nearly ten years. Although what had happened was mostly the result of misfortune and not his fault, it cost him his self-confidence. Instead of job hunting, he stayed at home, unable to face the possibility of another rejection. And the blow to his dignity caused a temporary change in his personality. Always a gentle and compassionate man, he became unpredictably abusive, and would hurt and startle me with his sudden outbursts.
But I also found a kind of sweetness in the violence, since when the storms were over, he would hug and comfort me, and weep over what had become of us. After some months of this his pride led him to announce that he had found a job with a company called ABC. He wrote the phone number on a pad over the telephone. Once again he was gone every morning when I got up and came home after I went to sleep. This pattern lasted until the night before my ninth-grade graduation when he failed to come home at all. I was on my way out the door to a graduation rehearsal when my mother accused me of not noticing his absence.
She may have been right. I had grown accustomed to not seeing and, more, to not asking. As soon as she challenged me, I caught her anxiety. I was distracted through the rehearsal. When I came home, my mother, tight-lipped, told me my father had been found. He was in a hospital in Harlem. We would see him tomorrow, after the graduation ceremony.
Her ashen face told me that we had reached the bottom at last. We drove through Harlem with the windows of the car tightly rolled and the doors locked. It was like visiting another civilization: soul food restaurants, children playing stickball, women in tight, flounced dresses, men lounging on the corners as though they had nowhere else to go.
My grandmother, who had arrived from Washington, murmured that New York had a lot of shvartzehs but that Washington had more. I had heard the word before but didn't know what it meant. I asked my mother if this was where the ABC Company was. When I saw my father in the hospital bed, it was all I could do not to bolt the room.
His face was very white and lined. His eyes were bloodshot. His arm was attached to an intravenous feeding machine. His voice was so weak that I had to put my head on the pillow to hear him. I kissed his cheeks again and again, and he hugged me, but without much strength or enthusiasm. He had always been a muscular, vigorous man. In the hospital bed he seemed diminished and old. He was barely aware that he had missed my graduation. When I told him about the ceremony, he didn't seem to be listening.
When he came home, still tired and listless, my mother accepted an invitation for the four of us to spend a weekend with the Silvers, family friends who had a house on the ocean in Massapequa, Long Island. It was the first trip we had made in many years that I enjoyed. Sam and Yetta Silvers lived in a rambling two-story house bordering a canal. They had a huge yard, two boats, and three kids who instantly accepted me. Paul, the oldest, was fourteen, a year older than I, tall, ruddy, athletic. Tommy was twelve, sweet-natured and bookish.
Fat little Sally was ten, exactly Skip's age. She preferred my company to Skip's or to any of the neighborhood girls. This flattered me, especially after the long months of rejection. At the end of the weekend my mother told me that the Silvers had invited me to stay on until the end of July.
I ended up remaining until the end of August, when I had to return to Forest Hills to start high school. They spent their days swimming or boating in the canal, making projects in the garage, or playing in their friends' yards. They came in the house only to sleep or eat, getting up from meals with a mumbled "Scuse me" ten minutes after sitting down. After two years of the cramped Forest Hills apartment, overwhelmed by loneliness and by my parents' problems, I was in a children's paradise.
I learned to swim, turn cartwheels, and steer a motorboat. Poorly coordinated as I was, I even managed to balance on water skis. I played dolls and house with Sally, who assured me I was the best friend she ever had. I talked about books with Tommy, who never made me self-conscious about being a girl. And I was physically attracted both to Paul and to his best friend, Chuckie. After a long day of play I would go off after dinner with Paul and Chuckie, into the woods behind the Silvers' house.
We sat on an abandoned trunk surrounded by maples and willows, and in the fading summer light I took off my blouse and bra and allowed them to kiss and touch my breasts. During the day they mostly ignored me, but at night they regarded my body with awe. I knew I was going beyond Ann Landers's guidelines and that my father would be apoplectic if he found out, but I could have stayed on that trunk with Paul and Chuckie until the snow came. I was frightened only once. One August night the three of us misjudged the time of sunset and came back to the house after dark.
Sam Silvers was waiting for us on the porch, his face reddened from drink. He was a tough, sinewy man with barking voice and a short temper. I was afraid of a thrashing or, worse, of being sent back to Forest Hills in disgrace. But he only stared coldly and ordered Paul and me upstairs while Chuckie made a dash for his own house. I didn't think of myself as a sexual rebel; I had no intention of outraging anyone by my behavior. I was doing what came most naturally to me, creating a private world, safe from intruders, where I could play with my friends and feel that I was loved.
Sally, who confided in me, and Tommy, who treated me as an equal, were as important to my universe as Paul and Chuckie, who gave me the physical affection I got nowhere else. From the security of that made-up family, I felt capable of taking on the world. The game I was playing was essential to my stability, but it was also more dangerous than I dared admit. I was dreading the return to Forest Hills as though it were a prison. High School Then I returned to forest hills at the end of August, I discovered that my mother had taken power in the family.
While my father was recuperating from what my mother now called, sotto voce, his nervous breakdown, she had gone to work for the World Book Company, selling encyclopedias from door to door, "just to tide us over," she explained. She had also registered for education courses, starting in September, and intended to get a teacher's license within a year. Ill at ease with the changes in her, I resisted her attempts to befriend me.
I didn't want curtains in my room or a new wardrobe, especially not if it meant a day discussing color schemes with my mother.
I didn't care about the family's financial stability. I just wanted my father back—my father, not the remote figure who now haunted my mother's home. One day, she said, she had come home from selling encyclopedias to find my father sitting in the bedroom, a notebook in his lap. Then she persuaded him to join an organization for out-of-work executives. By the end of the summer he was diligently seeking employment again. I could forgive him for giving up the dream of owning a business, but not for his allegiance to my mother, whom I viewed as a usurper. If only he had left her and taken me with him!
I would have helped him without ever inflicting the humiliation on him that my mother did. My mother had always been bright and capable. She was earning her own living by the time she was eighteen and, if she hadn't quit her job to have children, would by now have been established in a career.
When she went back to school, she earned straight A's in graduate math and education courses, at the same time selling encyclopedias, substitute teaching in the public schools, and running the household. She had always read widely, could solve math problems in her head and knew how to rewire lamps and fix leaky faucets in a snap. Skip's impatient, like me, but you've got your father's mind. I came to believe that she hated me. If I made the mistake of confiding in her about a book or a person I liked, she would interrupt to tell me my blouse was stained or my hair was in my eyes.
If I accused her of not listening, she retorted with an uncanny insight that made me more resentful. I never cared about one particular person over others—until I met your father. When I did bring acquaintances home, my mother—I suppose from loneliness—would waylay them in the kitchen and ply them with tea, cookies, and conversation before releasing them to my room. Unable to see her pain, I accused her of trying to steal them from me, a charge she dismissed as absurd. I had no privacy; even my half a bedroom, behind the plywood partition that divided me from Skip, was suffused with her presence.
Between homework assignments, I wrote out my hatred of her on scraps of notebook paper, then tore them carefully to shreds before going to sleep, half fearing, half longing for discovery. Forest Hills High School, where I became a student in September , was considered by parents and educators one of the better schools in the public system.
Its enrollment had tripled in the fifteen years since it was built. Classes were overcrowded, and the halls, between bells, were as jammed as a rush-hour subway. I often squeezed from one end of the two-block-long building to another without seeing a friendly face. Coming from a home in which I was now isolated, the school, regimented and impersonal, heightened my loneliness.
We discussed the Kennedy-Nixon presidential race without once mentioning the civil rights issue—perhaps because the school administration felt threatened by black community demands to bus non-Forest-Hills children to the high school. In English we worked on pronunciation and read Silas Marner as though it were a morality play. The administration's mistrust of students was very nearly paranoid.
We were required to carry huge wooden passes if we left class to go to the bathroom. Fifteen-yearold monitors patrolled the halls, sending to the dean's office anyone caught loitering. Smoking was forbidden within a block of the school building, not because it was unhealthy but because it was considered unseemly behavior for teenagers.
Consequently, the bathrooms were always crowded with smoking students and cutting classes without getting caught was an art nearly everyone attempted. I was assigned to the honors program, in which all of us were white and mostly from middle-class Jewish homes. I was also one of forty honors sophomores assigned to a noncredit experimental course called Preparation for College in which we studied college catalogs and learned how to make good impressions at admissions interviews.
Although I was glad to be away from the junior high school students who had taunted me for a year and a half, I wasn't comfortable in my high school classes either. I felt guilty over my sexual experiments in Massapequa and was sure that no other honors student had ever behaved so disreputably. But I had no chance of making friends with the nonhonors students, who were mostly Greeks, Italians, and blacks. Once or twice I tried to start conversations with them in the bathrooms or on the way home. My efforts were rewarded with blank stares, sometimes with laughter, as though I were speaking a foreign language.
I admired their insolent, independent style, but I couldn't make it my own. The first friend I made in Forest Hills was Adele, an honors sophomore whose plain, earnest face was so like my own she was sometimes mistaken for my sister.
Adele's parents, Polish survivors of the Holocaust, owned a candy and tobacco store on a block between the wealthy WASP section of Forest Hills and a working-class Greek and Italian neighborhood. The family lived in four crowded rooms in the back of the store. Ashamed of their poverty, Adele rarely invited friends home. The first time we met through a mutual acquaintance in the honors program we shared complaints about the competitiveness of our fellow students and the shallowness of our teachers.
Soon we were talking on the telephone every night and lending one another books. Adele's favorite when I met her was The Fountainhead. I devoured its seven hundred pages in a few nights and became devoted to Ayn Rand. The Fountainhead was one of the first adult books I was allowed to read, and its ideas influenced me strongly for a year or two. Ayn Rand hated weak-minded conformists who had no faith in themselves. Adele and I were insecure and not very popular, so we responded powerfully to that, assuring each other We were not so much misfits as independent spirits.
Rand complained about people's shallow tastes in art—their preference for the sentimental and accessible over the transcendent and difficult. Our comprehension was slight, but we were very serious and held long, earnest discussions meant to persuade each other that we had caught on. Rand's view that religion was irrational and an insult to man's intelligence captivated me.
A year after I first read her books, I announced to my parents that I would not participate in our temple's confirmation ceremony. I capitulated—after many tears and implied threats that I might not be allowed to attend college out of town—but not before I had made my point by insisting, for several weeks, that I was going to declare my atheism from the pulpit.
The women were strong and sexually independent. They slept with any men they wished and fell in love with men who were even more ruthless than they. The heroine of The Fountainhead, Dominique Francon, is a wealthy, beautiful journalist who is cold to men until she meets Howard Roark, an architect so uncompromising that he cannot hold a job in any established firm. At the end of the book she helps Roark blow up a housing project after a committee of inferior architects botches the design. Dominique, in an attempt to look like an innocent victim of the explosion rather than a conspirator, slashes her arteries with broken glass and nearly bleeds to death.
She recovers in time to watch Roark win acquittal in a passionate defense of individual rights. Adele and I argued for weeks over the moral implications of the bombing and the acquittal, but we never doubted that if Howard Roark had asked us to blow up a building, we would have counted it an honor. In Atlas Shrugged, which I read soon after The Fountainhead, the inventors and industrialists of the world go on strike by withdrawing to a Shangri-la founded by John Gait, philosopher-king of the laissez-faire right.
Gait's organization is no ordinary labor union. Its members are the men who run the copper mines and steel industries, who write great music and literature, and one woman, Dagny Taggart, an engineer in charge of the country's leading railroad company. Dagny, who combines a "masculine" mind with an elegant feminine appearance, falls in love with Gait but is reluctant to sacrifice her railroad to his strike.
Finally she recognizes that the strike and ensuing collapse of industry and essential services are the only hope for a world renaissance. She joins him, and the two other men who have loved her willingly give her up to John Gait, recognizing him as their better and an ideal match for Dagny. Although I rejected Rand's right-wing economics and political philosophy by the time I was fifteen, certain elements of the novels, which had more to do with psychology than with social ideology,.
The Fountainhead had planted in me the idea that bombing a building could be a morally legitimate form of protest. Atlas Shrugged portrayed the social revolutionary as hero. And Dominique and Dagny, brilliant, powerful, yet sexually passive heroines who submit to the men they love, remained my role models long after I had forgotten where I first heard their names. In June my father ended a year of job hunting by signing a partnership agreement with a college friend, Leonard Schor, a manufacturer of electronic parts.
Thoroughly alienated from both my parents and my brother by this time, I would have preferred to skip the family celebration at a Long Island restaurant, but since both Schor children, who were the same age as Skip and I, were going, I couldn't. I managed to excuse myself from shopping for a new dress, but not from the trip to the beauty parlor which was supposed to make me presentable for the evening.
As soon as I came home from the beautician, I soaked my hairbrush in water and furiously attacked every puff and curl, then teased my hair into the Tuesday Weld look I considered chic. The photograph taken on the restaurant steps is an embarrassing reminder of my adolescence. The other seven are wearing fashionable clothes that fit. Add to Wishlist.
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USD 4. Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Explore Now. Buy As Gift. Overview This book is very intriguing. It talks about the pain of one African Girl growing up in the south were everything is keep quite and unspoken except for her own mistakes. What was done to her no one spoke of. She never felt the love from her mother nor the protection a child should have.
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