Sunday, August 26, 2012

Foolish Dancer

Late November, New York City, 1967.

An 18 year old dance student, let's call her Susan, woke up in a rebellious mood. She'd been craving a day to herself in the city, but never had the time. Every weekday she was at Juilliard from 9 to 9, and when she had a rare rehearsal-free weekend, her parents expected her to take the bus out to New Jersey to visit them. So Susan got up her nerve and called the dance department secretary and told her big lie-that she was sick and wouldn't be able to make her classes that day. She'd never have thought of doing this on a day when she was expected to rehearse, but on this particular Wednesday she wasn't needed by any of the choreographers who had cast her in their pieces. Susan's roommate had already left for her day of music classes and piano practice, so there were no witnesses to her tiny revolt.

The day was cold and sunny, and Susan had it all to herself. She didn't have much, in fact hardly any, cash, however. But the Metropolitan Museum was free and she could walk across Central Park from W.91st St. It would be a long walk, but Susan was young and strong and feeling adventurous.

This was a day of firsts for Susan: she'd played hooky, walked the width of the chilly park alone, and enjoyed hours of roaming the Metropolitan with only herself to please. She felt sophisticated, artistic, and, because she'd chosen her favorite outfit that morning,  stylish.

The thunderstorm started a little after three. Susan was wandering around the Rodin sculptures, in love with them, but getting tired and a little worried about how she'd get back to her apartment before dark and with the storm. (She didn't know bus routes very well yet, and certainly couldn't afford a taxi.) A man in dark gray suit made a comment to her about the Rodin bronze of Balzac. The tall dark stranger was good-looking, older-at least in his thirties-and wanted to talk to her about art! Susan, flattered by his interest in her, did not have a moment of wariness about this guy. When, after a very pleasant conversation, he, let's call him Dick, mentioned that he lived across from the museum, had a car, and that he could give her a lift home if she'd like, Susan only thought, "he's lives in one of NY's best neighborhoods, he loves art, seems very nice, okay-fine-it'll be fine!"

Susan and Dick hurried across 5th Ave. to his car, a black Corvette (!) but he said his keys were in his apartment and would she come up for a drink while he got them. She wasn't quite sure she liked this, but it was windy and pouring, and it would be fine. Fine! But it wasn't.

Dick took her coat, poured her a glass of wine, and attacked. Within minutes of entering the apartment, Susan was on her back on the couch, fighting off a bastard who was trying to fuck her. But he gave up, because Susan, a dance major at Juilliard, had strong enough legs to push him off of her enough times to convince him he wasn't going to get off that way. So he masturbated. She wasn't a virgin, had gone all the way on her 18th birthday and then once with the young artist she'd started dating, but she didn't know about masturbation, had yet to even look at an erect penis properly, and was wholly, completely horrified by Dick, his cock and what he was doing to it and saying to her, being alone with him, and most of all, by what she thought of as her own stupidity. He insisted she watch him but she cried and refused until he started yelling and cursing. Dick finally finished, tidied himself up, gave Susan her coat, and actually drove her home! She didn't want to get in his car, but was too fragile to argue. And, little as she knew at the time about predatory men, she sensed he was spent and she'd be safe.

She saw Dick again a few months later in the Museum of Modern Art. She had to pass him on the staircase, and he glanced at her without a flicker of recognition. Susan left without seeing the Picasso sculpture exhibit. She did see it before it closed, but she went with her older brother.

She hated Dick, and what he'd done, but she kept it all a secret, because she thought she'd been so stupid, you see. So very foolish. She blamed herself. She went up to his apartment, didn't she? The whole sorry story remained her shameful secret  until well into her twenties when she told a friend, let's call her Linda, after a few glasses of wine. As she told the story, Susan finally unraveled her confused thoughts about that wet November afternoon, and she finally assigned all the blame for Dick's abuse to him. I've known about Susan and that guy, that dick, for ages, but it seems to me that right now is a good time to tell the story to you, because Susan and I are angry again-legitimately angry.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Robert in college

Nonnie and Robert are Leos

My brother Robert has always been five years older than me. Almost exactly-we both have August birthdays. His is today. Our sibling order is Robert, Drago, me and then Ric, who died in 2008. Ric died several times, I think. Certainly more often than most of us do. Alcoholism does that. Three out of four of us kids turned out to be alcoholic, but Robert and I were able to get out of the mire years ago. Ric sank with the weight of it all. I miss him. Drago is a social drinker. He has a glass of wine with dinner, not a bottle. He doesn't even want the bottle. I have become a sparkling water afionado. Robert is picky (in a good way) about his coffee.

So, when I was a little kid, Robert (we called him Bobby then) was big, smart, and having adventures way beyond my ken. He started high school when I started 4th grade. 4th grade! I didn't even have permission to ride my bike out of the neighborhood and he was a teenager in full throttle. Drago's only 18 months older than me and he teased me day in and day out as I remember it, but Robert didn't give me a bad time. He was sweet to me. Robert gave Drago hell, though. Growing up.

When I was 13, Drago was 14, and Ric was just a little kid in 2nd grade (but already playing his heart out on the drums) Robert came home from college with The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and a Joan Baez album, thereby shifting his younger siblings' leanings decidedly to the left of wherever the hell they had been. His visits home from RIT and the University of Arizona (fine arts major) were hallmarks of our high school years. I listened to dinner conversations when Robert was home with intensity. It was, after all, the sixties and there was a lot going on.  They talked (I was pretty much still in my Silent Sam phase, although I loosened up a little if I got a glass or two of wine) about everything and I gobbled every morsel about the world, seen through Robert's eyes, that he brought to the table.

Dad was much more liberal than most of the dads we knew, although even he had a "Get a haircut!" period, and he and Robert could discuss most things without yelling at each other until they started on art. Dad painted, usually oceans or mountains, and he had no use for most modern art, no, I'll say all modern art; the good stuff stopped after Impressionism. They'd get into it and Mom would get tense, and we'd hear, "Not at the dinner table. NOT AT THE DINNER TABLE." Didn't do any good, though. The argument would escalate, reach a peak, then one or the other of them would cease fire-without any surrender on either side whatsoever.

Then, Drago and I were in college and Robert was an adult. Then we were adults and eventually my little brother was in the ranks of "out of the house." We've stayed close and kept on talking (I talk now, too, a lot and without wine) as we've limped, zoomed, changed, and grown all this way up. My big brothers are my rocks, you know. Happy Birthday, Robert!