American Pastoral Part 3

Swede Levov lives a double life.And now he is dying and what sustained him in a double life can sustain him no longer, and that horror mercifully half sub- 81 .

merged, two-thirds submerged, even at times nine-tenths submerged, comes back distilled despite the heroic creation of that second marriage and the fathering of the wonderful boys; in the final months of the cancer, it's back worse than ever; she's back worse than ever, the first child who was the cancellation of everything, and one night in bed when he cannot sleep, when every effort fails to control his runaway thoughts, he is so depleted by his anguish he thinks, "There's this guy who was in my brother's cla.s.s, and he's a writer, and maybe if I told him. . . ." But what would happen if he told the writer? He doesn't even know. "I'll write him a letter. I know he writes about fathers, about sons, so I'll write him about my father--can he turn that down? Maybe he'll respond to that." The hook to which I am to be the eye. But I come because he is the Swede.

No other hook is necessary. He is the hook.Yes, the story was back worse than ever, and he thought, "If I can give it to a pro ...," but when he got me there he couldn't deliver. Once he got my attention he didn't want it. He thought better of it. And he was right. It was none of my business. What good would it have done him? None at all. You go to someone and you think, "I'll tell him this." But why? The impulse is that the telling is going to relieve you. And that's why you feel awful later--you've relieved yourself, and if it truly is tragic and awful, it's not better, it's worse--the exhibitionism inherent to a confession has only made the misery worse. The Swede realized this. He was nothing like the chump I was imagining, and he had figured this out simply enough. He realized that there was nothing to be had through me.

He certainly didn't want to cry in front of me the way he had with his brother.

I wasn't his brother. I wasn't anyone--that's what he saw when he saw me. So he just blabbered deliberately on about the boys and went home and, the story untold, he died. And I missed it. He turned to me, of all people, and he was conscious of everything and I missed everything.And now Chris, Steve, Kent, and their mother would be at the Rimrock house, perhaps along with the Swede's old mother, with Mrs. Levov. The mother must be ninety. Sitting shiva at ninety for 82.

her beloved Seymour. And the daughter, Meredith, Merry... obviously hadn't attended the funeral, not with that outsized uncle around who hated her guts, that vindictive uncle who might even take it upon himself to turn her in. But with Jerry now gone, she dares to leave her hideout to join in the mourning, makes her way to Old Rimrock, perhaps in disguise, and there, alongside her half-brothers and her stepmother and Grandma Levov, weeps her heart out over her father's death. . . . But no, she was dead too. If the Swede had been telling Jerry the truth, the daughter in hiding had died--perhaps in hiding she had been murdered or had even taken her own life. Anything might have occurred--and "anything" wasn't supposed to occur, not to him.The brutality of the destruction of this indestructible man. Whatever Happened to Swede Levov. Surely not what befell the Kid from Tomkinsville. Even as boys we must have known that it couldn't have been as easy for him as it looked, that a part of it was a mystique, but who could have imagined that his life would come apart in this horrible way? A sliver off the comet of the American chaos had come loose and spun all the way out to Old Rimrock and him. His great looks, his larger-than-lifeness, his glory, our sense of his having been exempted from all self-doubt by his heroic role-- that all these manly properties had precipitated a political murder made me think of the compelling story not of John R. Tunis's sacrificial Tomkinsville Kid but of Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, only a decade the Swede's senior and another privileged son of fortune, another man of glamour exuding American meaning, a.s.sa.s.sinated while still in his mid- forties just five years before the Swede's daughter violently protested theKennedy-Johnson war and blew up her father's life. I thought, But of course. He is our Kennedy.Meanwhile Joy was telling me things about her life that I'd never known as a single-minded kid searching the neighborhood for a grape to burst--Joy was tossing into this agitated pot of memory called "the reunion" yet more stuff no one knew at the time, that no one had to know back when all our storytelling about ourselves was 83 .

still eloquently naive. Joy was telling me about how her father had died of a heart attack when she was nine and the family was living in Brooklyn; about how she and her mother and Harold, her older brother, had moved from Brooklyn to the Newark haven of Grossman's Dress Shop; about how, in the attic s.p.a.ce above the shop, she and her mother slept in the double bed in their one big room while Harold slept in the kitchen, on a sofa he made up each night and unmade each morning so they could eat breakfast there before going to school. She asked if I remembered Harold, now a retired pharmacist in Scotch Plains, and told me how just the week before she'd gone out to the cemetery in Brooklyn to visit her father's grave--as frequently as once a month she went out there, all the way to Brooklyn, she said, surprised herself by how much this graveyard now mattered to her. "What do you do at the cemetery?" "I unabashedly talk to him," Joy said.

"When I was ten it wasn't nearly as bad as it is now. I thought then it was odd that people had two parents. Our threesome seemed right." "Well, all this," I told her, as we stood there just swaying together to the one-man band closing the day down singing, "Dream ... when you're feelin' blue, . . . dream . . .

that's the thing to do"--"all this I did not know," I told her, "on the harvest moon hayride in October 1948.""I didn't want you to know. I didn't want anybody to know. I didn't want anybody to find out Harold slept in the kitchen. That's why I wouldn't let you undo my bra. I didn't want you to be my boyfriend and come to pick me up and see where my brother had to sleep. It had nothing to do with you, sweetheart.""Well, I feel better for being told that. I wish you'd told me sooner.""I wish I had," she said, and first we were laughing and then, unexpectedly, Joy began to cry and, perhaps because of that d.a.m.n song, "Dream," which we used to dance to with the lights turned down in somebody or other's bas.e.m.e.nt back when the Pied Pipers still had Jo Stafford and used to sing it the way it's supposed to be sung--in locked harmony, to that catatonic forties beat, with the ethereal tinkle of the xylophone hollowly sounding behind them-- 84.

or perhaps because Alan Meisner had become a Republican and second baseman Bert Bergman had become a corpse and Ira Pos-ner, instead of shining shoes at the newsstand outside the Ess.e.x County courthouse, had escaped his Dostoyevskian family and become a psychiatrist, because Julius Pincus had disabling tremors from the drug that prevented the rejection from his body of the fourteen-year- old girl's kidney keeping him alive and because Mendy Gurlik was still a h.o.r.n.y seventeen-year-old kid and because Joy's brother, Harold, had slept for ten years in a kitchen and because Schrimmer had married a woman nearly half his age who had a body that didn't make him want to slit his throat but to whom he now had to explain every single thing about the past, or perhaps because I seemed alone in having wound up with no children, grandchildren, or, in Minskoff's words, "anything like that," or perhaps because after all these years of separation this reuniting of perfect strangers had all gone on a little toolong, a load of unruly emotion began sliding around in me, too, and there I was thinking again of the Swede, of the notorious significance that an outlaw daughter had thrust on him and his family during the Vietnam War. A man whose discontents were barely known to himself, awakening in middle age to the horror of self-reflection. All that normalcy interrupted by murder. All the small problems any family expects to encounter exaggerated by something so impossible ever to reconcile. The disruption of the antic.i.p.ated American future that was simply to have unrolled out of the solid American past, out of each generation's getting smarter--smarter for knowing the inadequacies and limitations of the generations before--out of each new generation's breaking away from the parochialism a little further, out of the desire to go the limit in America with your rights, forming yourself as an ideal person who gets rid of the traditional Jewish habits and att.i.tudes, who frees himself of the pre-America insecurities and the old, constraining obsessions so as to live unapologetically as an equal among equals.And then the loss of the daughter, the fourth American generation, a daughter on the run who was to have been the perfected 85 .

image of himself as he had been the perfected image of his father, and his father the perfected image of his father's father ... the angry, rebarbative spitting-out daughter with no interest whatever in being the next successful Levov, flushing him out of hiding as if he were a fugitive--initiating the Swede into the displacement of another America entirely, the daughter and the decade blasting to smithereens his particular form of Utopian thinking, the plague America infiltrating the Swede's castle and there infecting everyone. The daughter who transports him out of the longed-for American pastoral and into everything that is its ant.i.thesis and its enemy, into the fury, the violence, and the desperation of the counterpastoral-- into the indigenous American berserk.The old intergenerational give-and-take of the country-that-used-to-be, when everyone knew his role and took the rules dead seriously, the acculturating back-and-forth that all of us here grew up with, the ritual postimmigrant struggle for success turning pathological in, of all places, the gentleman farmer's castle of our superordinary Swede. A guy stacked like a deck of cards for things to unfold entirely differently. In no way prepared for what is going to hit him. How could he, with all his carefully calibrated goodness, have known that the stakes of living obediently were so high? Obedience is embraced to lower the stakes. A beautiful wife. A beautiful house. Runs his business like a charm. Handles his handful of an old man well enough. He was really living it out, his version of paradise. This is how successful people live. They're good citizens. They feel lucky. They feel grateful. G.o.d is smiling down on them.

There are problems, they adjust. And then everything changes and it becomes impossible. Nothing is smiling down on anybody. And who can adjust then? Here is someone not set up for life's working out poorly, let alone for the impossible.

But who is set up for the impossible that is going to happen? Who is set up for tragedy and the incomprehensibility of suffering? n.o.body. The tragedy of the man not set up for tragedy--that is every man's tragedy.

86.

He kept peering in from outside at his own life. The struggle of his life was to bury this thing. But how could he?Never in his life had occasion to ask himself, "Why are things the way they are?" Why should he bother, when the way they were was always perfect? Why arethings the way they are? The question to which there is no answer, and up till then he was so blessed he didn't even know the question existed.After all the effervescent strain of resuscitating our cla.s.s's mid-century innocence--together a hundred aging people recklessly turning back the clock to a time when time's pa.s.sing was a matter of indifference--with the afternoon's exhilarations finally coming to an end, I began to contemplate the very thing that must have baffled the Swede till the moment he died: how had he become history's plaything? History, American history, the stuff you read about in books and study in school, had made its way out to tranquil, untrafficked Old Rimrock, New Jersey, to countryside where it had not put in an appearance that was notable since Washington's army twice wintered in the highlands adjacent to Morristown. History, which had made no drastic impingement on the daily life of the local populace since the Revolutionary War, wended its way back out to these cloistered hills and, improbably, with all its predictable unforeseenness, broke helter-skelter into the orderly household of the Seymour Levovs and left the place in a shambles. People think of history in the long term, but history, in fact, is a very sudden thing.In earnest, right then and there, while swaying with Joy to that out-of-date music, I began to try to work out for myself what exactly had shaped a destiny unlike any imagined for the famous Weequahic three-letterman back when this music and its sentimental exhortation was right to the point, when the Swede, his neighborhood, his city, and his country were in their exuberant heyday, at the peak of confidence, inflated with every illusion born of hope. With Joy Helpern once again close in my arms and quietly sobbing to hear the old pop tune enjoining all of us sixty-odd-year-olds, 87.

"Dream . . . and they might come true," I lifted the Swede up onto the stage.

That evening at Vincent's, for a thousand different excellent reasons, he could not bring himself to ask me to do this. For all I know he had no intention of asking me to do this. To get me to write his story may not have been why he was there at all. Maybe it was only why I was there.Basketball was never like this.He'd invoked in me, when I was a boy--as he did in hundreds of other boys--the strongest fantasy I had of being someone else. But to wish oneself into another's glory, as boy or as man, is an impossibility, untenable on psychological grounds if you are not a writer, and on aesthetic grounds if you are. To embrace your hero in his destruction, however--to let your hero's life occur within you when everything is trying to diminish him, to imagine yourself into his bad luck, to implicate yourself not in his mindless ascendancy, when he is the fixed point of your adulation, but in the bewilderment of his tragic fall--well, that's worth thinking about.So then ... I am out there on the floor with Joy, and I am thinking of the Swede and of what happened to his country in a mere twenty-five years, between the triumphant days at wartime Weequahic High and the explosion of his daughter's bomb in 1968, of that mysterious, troubling, extraordinary historical transition. I am thinking of the sixties and of the disorder occasioned by the Vietnam War, of how certain families lost their kids and certain families didn't and how the Seymour Levovs were one of those that did--families full of tolerance and kindly, well-intentioned liberal goodwill, and theirs were the kids who went on a rampage, or went to jail, or disappeared underground, or fled to Sweden or Canada. I am thinking of the Swede's great fall and of how he must have imagined that it was founded on some failure of his own responsibility. There is where it must begin. It doesn't matter if he was the cause of anything. He makes himself responsible anyway. He has been doing that all his life, making himselfunnaturally responsible, keeping under control not just himself but whatever else threatens to be uncontrollable, giving his all to keep his world together.

Yes, the cause of the disaster has for him to be a transgression. How else would the Swede explain it to himself? It has to be a transgression, a single transgression, even if it is only he who identifies it as a transgression. The disaster that befalls him begins in a failure of his responsibility, as he imagines it.But what could that have been?Dispelling the aura of the dinner at Vincent's, when I'd rushed to conclude the most thoughtless conclusion--that simple was that simple--I lifted onto my stage the boy we were all going to follow into America, our point man into the next immersion, at home here the way the Wasps were at home here, an American not by sheer striving, not by being a Jew who invents a famous vaccine or a Jew on the Supreme Court, not by being the most brilliant or the most eminent or the best.

Instead--by virtue of his isomorphism to the Wasp world--he does it the ordinary way, the natural way, the regular American-guy way. To the honeysweet strains of "Dream," I pulled away from myself, pulled away from the reunion, and I dreamed ... I dreamed a realistic chronicle. I began gazing into his life--not his life as a G.o.d or a demiG.o.d in whose triumphs one could exult as a boy but his life as another a.s.sailable man--and inexplicably, which is to say lo and behold, I found him in Deal, New Jersey, at the seaside cottage, the summer his daughter was eleven, back when she couldn't stay out of his lap or stop calling him by cute pet names, couldn't "resist," as she put it, examining with the tip of her finger the close way his ears were fitted to his skull. Wrapped in a towel, she would run through the house and out to the clothesline to fetch a dry bathing suit, shouting as she went, "n.o.body look!" and several evenings she had barged into the bathroom where he was bathing and, when she saw him, cried out, "Oh, pardonnez-moi--j'ai pense que--" "Scram," he told her, "get-outahere-moi." Driving alone with him back from the beach one day that summer, dopily sun-drunk, lolling against his bare shoulder, she had turned up her face and, half innocently, half audaciously, precociously playing the grown-up girl, said, "Daddy, kiss me the way you k-k-kiss umumumother." Sun-drunk himself, vo- 89 .

luptuously fatigued from rolling all morning with her in the heavy surf, he had looked down to see that one of the shoulder straps of her swimsuit had dropped over her arm, and there was her nipple, the hard red bee bite that was her nipple. "N-n-no," he said--and stunned them both. "And fix your suit," he added feebly. Soundlessly she obeyed. "I'm sorry, cookie--" "Oh, I deserve it," she said, trying with all her might to hold back her tears and be his chirp-ingly charming pal again. "It's the same at school. It's the same with my friends. I get started with something and I can't stop. I just get c-c-carried awuh-awuh- awuh-awuh--"It was a while since he'd seen her turn white like that or seen her face contorted like that. She fought for the word longer than, on that particular day, he could possibly bear. "Awuh-awuh--" And yet he knew better than anyone what not to do when, as Merry put it, she "started phumphing to beat the band."

He was the parent she could always rely on not to jump all over her every time she opened her mouth. "Cool it," he would tell Dawn, "relax, lay off her," but Dawn could not help herself. Merry began to stutter badly and Dawn's hands were clasped at her waist and her eyes fixed on the child's lips, eyes that said, "I know you can do it!" while saying, "I know that you can't!" Merry's stuttering just killed her mother, and that killed Merry. "I'm not the problem--Mother is!"And so was the teacher the problem when she tried to spare Merry by not calling on her. So was everybody the problem when they started feeling sorry for her.

And when she was fluent suddenly and free of stuttering, the problem was the compliments. She resented terribly being praised for fluency, and as soon as she was praised she lost it completely--sometimes, Merry would say, to the point that she was afraid "I'm going to short out my whole system." Amazing how this child could summon up the strength to joke about it--his precious lighthearted jokester! If only it were within Dawn's power to become a little lighthearted about it herself. But it was the Swede alone who could always manage to be close to perfect with her, though even he had all he could do not to cry out in exasperation, "If you dare the G.o.ds and are fluent, what terrible thing do you 90 .

think will happen?" The exasperation never surfaced: he did not wring his hands like her mother, when she was in trouble he did not watch her lips or mouth her words with her like her mother, he did not turn her, every time she spoke, into the most important person not merely in the room but in the entire world--he did everything he could not to make her stigma into Merry's way of being Einstein.

Instead his eyes a.s.sured her that he would do all he could to help but that when she was with him she must stutter freely if she needed to. And yet he had said to her, "N-n-no." He had done what Dawn would rather die than do--he had made fun of her."Awuh-awuh-awuh--""Oh, cookie," he said, and at just the moment when he had understood that the summer's mutual, seemingly harmless playacting--the two of them nibbling at an intimacy too enjoyable to swear off and yet not in any way to be taken seriously, to be much concerned with, to be given an excessive significance, something utterly uncarnal that would fade away once the vacation was over and she was in school all day and he had returned to work, nothing that they couldn't easily find their way back from--just when he had come to understand that the summer romance required some readjusting all around, he lost his vaunted sense of proportion, drew her to him with one arm, and kissed her stammering mouth with the pa.s.sion that she had been asking him for all month long while knowing only obscurely what she was asking for.Was he supposed to feel that way? It happened before he could think. She was only eleven. Momentarily it was frightening. This was not anything he had ever worried about for a second, this was a taboo that you didn't even think of as a taboo, something you are prohibited from doing that felt absolutely natural not to do, you just proceeded effortlessly--and then, however momentary, this. Never in his entire life, not as a son, a husband, a father, even as an employer, had he given way to anything so alien to the emotional rules by which he was governed, and later he wondered if this strange parental misstep was not the lapse from responsibility for 91 .

which he paid for the rest of his life. The kiss bore no resemblance to anything serious, was not an imitation of anything, had never been repeated, had itself lasted five seconds... ten at most... but after the disaster, when he went obsessively searching for the origins of their suffering, it was that anomalous moment--when she was eleven and he was thirty-six and the two of them, all stirred up by the strong sea and the hot sun, were heading happily home alone from the beach--that he remembered.But then he also wondered if after that day he had perhaps withdrawn from her too radically, become physically distant more than was necessary. He had only meant to let her know she needn't be concerned that he would lose his equilibrium again, needn't worry about her own natural-enough infatuation, and the result may well have been that having exaggerated the implications of that kiss, having overestimated what const.i.tuted provocation, he went on to alter a perfectly harmless spontaneous bond, only to exacerbate a stuttering child's burden of self-doubt. And all he had ever meant was to help her, to help her heal!What then was the wound? What could have wounded Merry? The indelible imperfection itself or those who had fostered in her the imperfection? But by doing what? What had they done other than to love her and look after her and encourage her, give her the support and guidance and independence that seemed reasonable to them--and still the undisclosed Merry had become tainted! Twisted!

Crazed! By what? Thousands upon thousands of young people stuttered--they didn't all grow up to set off bombs! What went wrong with Merry? What did he do to her that was so wrong? The kiss? That kiss? So beastly? How could a kiss make someone into a criminal? The aftermath of the kiss? The withdrawal? Was that the beastliness? But it wasn't as though he'd never held her or touched her or kissed her again--he loved her. She knew that.Once the inexplicable had begun, the torment of self-examination never ended.

However lame the answers, he never ran out of the questions, he who before had nothing of consequence really to ask himself. After the bomb, he could never again take life as it 92.

came or trust that his life wasn't something very different from what he perceived. He found himself recalling his own happy childhood, the success that had been his boyhood, as though that were the cause of their blight. All the triumphs, when he probed them, seemed superficial; even more astonishing, his very virtues came to seem vices. There was no longer any innocence in what he remembered of his past. He saw that everything you say says either more than you wanted it to say or less than you wanted it to say; and everything you do does either more than you wanted it to do or less than you wanted it to do. What you said and did made a difference, all right, but not the difference you intended.The Swede as he had always known himself--well-meaning, well-behaved, well- ordered Seymour Levov--evaporated, leaving only self-examination in his place. He couldn't disentangle himself from the idea that he was responsible any more than he could resort to the devilishly tempting idea that everything was accidental.

He had been admitted into a mystery more bewildering even than Merry's stuttering: there was no fluency anywhere. It was all stuttering. In bed at night, he pictured the whole of his life as a stuttering mouth and a grimacing face--the whole of his life without cause or sense and completely bungled. He no longer had any conception of order. There was no order. None. He envisioned his life as a stutterer's thought, wildly out of his control.Merry's other great love that year, aside from her father, was Audrey Hepburn.

Before Audrey Hepburn there had been astronomy and before astronomy, the 4-H Club, and along the way, a bit distressingly to her father, there was even a Catholic phase. Her grandmother Dwyer took her to pray at St. Genevieve's whenever Merry was visiting down in Elizabeth. Little by little, Catholic trinkets made their way into her room--and as long as he could think of them as trinkets, as long as she wasn't going overboard, everything was okay. First there was the palm frond bent into the shape of the cross that Grandma had given her after Palm Sunday. That was all right. Any kid might want that up on the wall. Then came the candle, in thick gla.s.s, about a foot tall, the Eternal Candle; 93 '.

on its label was a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a prayer that began, "O Sacred Heart of Jesus who said, 'Ask and you shall receive.'" That wasn't so great, but as she didn't seem to be lighting and burning it, as it just seemed to sit there on her dresser for decoration, there was no sense making a fuss.

Then, to hang over the bed, came the picture of Jesus, in profile, praying, which really wasn't all right, though still he said nothing to her, nothing to Dawn, nothing to Grandma Dwyer, told himself, "It's harmless, it's a picture, to her a pretty picture of a nice man. What difference does it make?"What did it was the statue, the plaster statue of the Blessed Mother, a smaller version of the big ones on the breakfront in Grandma Dwyer's dining room and on the dressing table in Grandma Dwyer's bedroom. The statue was what led him to sit her down and ask if she would be willing to take the pictures and the palm frond off the wall and put them away in her closet, along with the statue and the Eternal Candle, when Grandma and Grandpa Levov came to visit. Quietly he explained that though her room was her room and she had the right to hang anything there she wanted, Grandma and Grandpa Levov were Jews, and so, of course, was he, and, rightly or wrongly, Jews don't, etc., etc. And because she was a sweet girl who wanted to please people, and to please her daddy most of all, she was careful to be sure that nothing Grandma Dwyer had given her was anywhere to be seen when next the Swede's parents visited Old Rimrock. And then one day everything Catholic came down off the wall and off her dresser for good.

She was a perfectionist who did things pa.s.sionately, lived intensely in the new interest, and then the pa.s.sion was suddenly spent and everything, including the pa.s.sion, got thrown into a box and she moved on.Now it was Audrey Hepburn. Every newspaper and magazine she could get hold of she combed for the film star's photograph or name. Even movie timetables-- "Breakfast at Tiffany's, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10"--were clipped from the newspaper after dinner and pasted in her Audrey Hepburn sc.r.a.pbook. For months she went in and out of pretending to be gaminish instead of herself, daintily walking to 94.

her room like a wood sprite, smiling with meaningfully coy eyes into every reflecting surface, laughing what they call an "infectious" laugh whenever her father said a word. She bought the soundtrack from Breakfast at Tiffany's and played it in her bedroom for hours. He could hear her in there singing "Moon River" in the charming way that Audrey Hepburn did, and absolutely fluently--and so, however ostentatious and singularly self-conscious was the shameless playacting, n.o.body in the house ever indicated that it was tiresome, let alone ludicrous, an improbable dream of purification that had taken possession of her.

If Audrey Hepburn could help her shut down just a little of the stuttering, then let her go on ludicrously pretending, a girl blessed with golden hair and a logical mind and a high IQ and an adultlike sense of humor even about herself, blessed with long, slender limbs and a wealthy family and her own brand of dogged persistence--with everything except fluency. Security, health, love, every advantage imaginable--missing only was the ability to order a hamburger without humiliating herself.How hard she tried! Two afternoons she went to ballet cla.s.s after school and two afternoons Dawn drove her to Morristown to see a speech therapist. On Sat.u.r.day she got up early, made her own breakfast, and then bicycled the five hilly miles into Old Rimrock village to the tiny office of the local circuit-riding psychiatrist, who had a slant that made the Swede furious when he began to see Merry's struggle getting worse rather than better. The psychiatrist got Merrythinking that the stutter was a choice she made, a way of being special that she had chosen and then locked into when she realized how well it worked. The psychiatrist asked her, "How do you think your father would feel about you if you didn't stutter? How do you think your mother would feel?" He asked her, "Is there anything good that stuttering brings you?" The Swede did not understand how it was going to help the child to make her feel responsible for something she simply could not do, and so he went to see the man. And by the time he left he wanted to kill him.It seemed that the etiology of Merry's problem had largely to do 95.

with her having such good-looking and successful parents. As best the Swede could follow what he was hearing, her parental good fortune was just too much for Merry, and so, to withdraw from the compet.i.tion with her mother, to get her mother to hover over and focus on her and eventually climb the walls--and, in addition, to win the father away from the beautiful mother--she chose to stigmatize herself with a severe stutter, thereby manipulating everyone from a point of seeming weakness. "But Merry is made miserable by her stutter," the Swede reminded him. "That's why we brought her to see you." "The benefits may far outweigh the penalties." For the moment, the Swede couldn't understand what the doctor was explaining and replied, "But, no, no--watching her stutter is killing my wife." "Maybe, for Merry, that's one of the benefits. She is an extremely bright and manipulative child. If she weren't, you wouldn't be so angry with me because I'm telling you that stuttering can be an extremely manipulative, an extremely useful, if not even a vindictive type of behavior."

He hates me, thought the Swede. It's all because of the way I look. Hates me because of the way Dawn looks. He's obsessed with our looks. That's why he hates us--we're not short and ugly like him! "It's difficult," the psychiatrist said, "for a daughter to grow up the daughter of somebody who had so much attention for what sometimes seems to the daughter to be such a silly thing. It's tough, on top of the natural compet.i.tion between mother and daughter, to have people asking a little girl, 'Do you want to grow up to be Miss New Jersey just like your mommy?"' "But n.o.body asks her that. Who asks her that? We never have. We never talk about it, it never comes up. Why would it? My wife isn't Miss New Jersey--my wife is her mother." "But people ask her that, Mr. Levov." "Well, for G.o.d's sake, people ask children all sorts of things that don't mean anything-- that is not the problem here." "But you do see how a child who has reason to feel she doesn't quite measure up to Mother, that she couldn't come close, might choose to adopt--" "She hasn't adopted anything. Look, I think that perhaps you put an unfair burden on my daughter by making her see this as a 'choice.' She has no choice. It's perfect 96.

h.e.l.l for her when she stutters." "That isn't always what she tells me. Last Sat.u.r.day, I asked her point-blank, 'Merry, why do you stutter?' and she told me, 'It's just easier to stutter."' "But you know what she meant by that. It's obvious what she meant by that. She means she doesn't have to go through all that she has to go through when she tries not to stutter." "I happen to think she was telling me something more than that. I think that Merry may even feel that if she doesn't stutter, then, oh boy, people are really going to find the real problem with her, particularly in a highly pressured perfectionist family where they tend to place an unrealistically high value on her every utterance.

'If I don't stutter, then my mother is really going to read me the riot act, then she's going to find out my real secrets.'" "Who said we're a highly pressured perfectionist family? Jesus. We're an ordinary family. Are you quoting Merry? That's what she told you, about her mother? That she was going to readher the riot act?' "Not in so many words." "Because it's not true" the Swede said. "That's not the cause. Sometimes I just think it's because her brain is so quick, it's so much quicker than her tongue--" Oh, the pitying way he is looking at me and my pathetic explanation. Superior b.a.s.t.a.r.d. Cold, heartless b.a.s.t.a.r.d.

Stupid b.a.s.t.a.r.d. That's the worst of it--the stupidity. And all of it is because he looks the way he looks and I look the way I look and Dawn looks the way she looks and . . . "We frequently see fathers who can't accept, who refuse to believe--" Oh, these people are completely useless! They only make things worse!

Whose idea was this f.u.c.king psychiatrist! "I'm not not accepting anything, d.a.m.n it. I brought her here," the Swede said, "in the first place. I do everything any professional has told me to do to help support her efforts to stop. I just want to know from you what good it is doing my daughter, with her grimacing and her tics and her leg twitches and her banging on the table and turning white in the face, with all of that difficulty, to be told that, on top of everything else, she's doing all this to manipulate her mother and father." "Well, who is in charge when she is banging on the table and turning white? Who is in control there?" "She certainly isn't!" said the Swede angrily. "You find me taking a very 97 .

uncharitable view toward her," replied the doctor. "Well ... in a way, as her father, yes. It never seems to occur to you that there might be some physiological basis for this." "No, I didn't say that. Mr. Levov, I can give you organic theories if you want them. But that isn't the way I have found I can be most effective."Her stuttering diary. When she sat at the kitchen table after dinner writing the day's entry in her stuttering diary, that's when he most wanted to murder the psychiatrist who had finally to inform him--one of the fathers "who can't accept, who refuse to believe"--that she would stop stuttering only when stuttering was no longer necessary for her, when she wanted to "relate" to the world in a different way--in short, when she found a more valuable replacement for the manipulativeness. The stuttering diary was a red three-ring notebook in which, at the suggestion of her speech therapist, Merry kept a record of when she stuttered. Could she have been any more the dedicated enemy of her stuttering than when she sat there scrupulously recalling and recording how the stuttering fluctuated throughout the day, in what context it was least likely to occur, when it was most likely to occur and with whom? And could anything have been more heartbreaking for him than reading that notebook on the Friday evening she rushed off to the movies with her friends and happened to leave it open on the table? "When do I stutter? When somebody asks me something that requires an unexpected, unrehea.r.s.ed response, that's when I'm likely to stutter. When people are looking at me. People who know I stutter, particularly when they're looking at me. Though sometimes it's worse with people who don't know me...." On she went, page after page in her strikingly neat handwriting--and all she seemed to be saying was that she stuttered in all situations. She had written, "Even when I'm doing fine, I can't stop thinking, 'How soon is it going to be before he knows I'm a stutterer? How soon is it going to be before I start stuttering and screw this up?'" Yet, despite every disappointment, she sat where her parents could see her and worked on her stuttering diary every night, weekends included.

She worked with her therapist on the different "strate- 98.

gies" to be used with strangers, store clerks, people with whom she had relatively safe conversations; they worked on strategies to be used with the people who were closer to her--teachers, girlfriends, boys, finally her grandparents, her father, her mother. She recorded the strategies in the diary.She listed in the diary what topics she could expect to talk about with different people, wrote down the points she would try to make, antic.i.p.ating when she was most likely to stutter and getting herself thoroughly prepared. How could she bear the hardship of all that self-consciousness? The planning required of her to make the spontaneous unspontaneous, the persistence with which she refused to shrink from these tedious tasks--was that what the arrogant son of a b.i.t.c.h had meant by "a vindictive exercise"? It was unflagging commitment the likes of which the Swede had never known, not even in himself that fall they turned him into a football player and, reluctant as he was to go banging heads in a sport whose violence he never really liked, he did it, excelled at it, "for the good of the school."But none of what she diligently worked at did Merry an ounce of good. In the quiet, safe coc.o.o.n of her speech therapist's office, taken out of her world, she was said to be terrifically at home with herself, to speak flawlessly, make jokes, imitate people, sing. But outside again, she saw it coming, started to go around it, would do anything, anything, to avoid the next word beginning with a b-- and soon she was sputtering all over the place, and what a field day that psychiatrist had the next Sat.u.r.day with the letter b and "what it unconsciously signified to her." Or what m or c or g "unconsciously signified." And yet nothing of what he surmised meant a G.o.dd.a.m.n thing. None of his great ideas disposed of a single one of her difficulties. Nothing anybody said meant anything or, in the end, made any sense. The psychiatrist didn't help, the speech therapist's strategies didn't help, the stuttering diary didn't help, he didn't help, Dawn didn't help, not even the light, crisp enunciation of Audrey Hepburn made the slightest dent. She was simply in the hands of something she could not get out of.And then it was too late: like some innocent in a fairy story who 99 .

has been tricked into drinking the noxious potion, the gra.s.shopper child who used to scramble delightedly up and down the furniture and across every available lap in her black leotard all at once shot up, broke out, grew stout-- she thickened across the back and the neck, stopped brushing her teeth and combing her hair; she ate almost nothing she was served at home but at school and out alone ate virtually all the time, cheeseburgers with French fries, pizza, BLTs, fried onion rings, vanilla milk shakes, root beer floats, ice cream with fudge sauce, and cake of any kind, so that almost overnight she became large, a large, loping, slovenly sixteen-year-old, nearly six feet tall, nicknamed by her schoolmates Ho Chi Levov.And the impediment became the machete with which to mow all the b.a.s.t.a.r.d liars down. "You f-f-f.u.c.king madman! You heartless mi-mi-mi-miserable m-monster!" she snarled at Lyndon Johnson whenever his face appeared on the seven o'clock news.

Into the televised face of Humphrey, the vice president, she cried, "You p.r.i.c.k, sh-sh-shut your lying m-m-mouth, you c-c-coward, you f-f-f-f-filthy f.u.c.king collaborator!" When her father, as a member of the ad hoc group calling itself New Jersey Businessmen Against the War, went down to Washington with the steering committee to visit their senator, Merry refused his invitation to come along. "But," said the Swede, who had never belonged to a political group before and would not have joined this one and volunteered for the steering committee and paid a thousand dollars toward their protest ad in the Newark News had he not hoped his conspicuous involvement might deflect a little of her anger away from him, "this is your chance to say what's on your mind to Senator Case. You can confront him directly. Isn't that what you want?" "Merry," said her pet.i.te mother to the large glowering girl, "you might be able to influence Senator Case--" "C-c-c-c-c-c-c-case!" erupted Merry and, to the astonishment of her parents, proceeded to spit on the tiled kitchen floor.She was on the phone now all the time, the child who formerly had to run through her telephone "strategy" just to be sure that 100.

when she picked up the phone she could get out the word "h.e.l.lo" in under thirty seconds. She had conquered the anguishing stutter all right, but not as her parents and her therapist had hoped. No, Merry concluded that what was deforming her life wasn't the stuttering but the futile effort to overturn it. The crazy effort. The ridiculous significance she had given to that stutter to meet the Rimrock expectations of the very parents and teachers and friends who had caused her to so overestimate something as secondary as the way she talked. Not what she said but how she said it was all that bothered them. And all she really had to do to be free of it was to not give a s.h.i.t about how it made them so miserable when she had to p.r.o.nounce the letter b. Yes, she cut herself away from caring about the abyss that opened up under everybody's feet when she started stuttering; her stuttering was no longer going to be the center of her existence--and she'd make d.a.m.n sure that it wasn't going to be the center of theirs. Vehemently she renounced the appearance and the allegiances of the good little girl who had tried so hard to be adorable and lovable like all the other good little Rimrock girls--renounced her meaningless manners, her petty social concerns, her family's "bourgeois" values. She had wasted enough time on the cause of herself. "I'm not going to spend my whole life wrestling day and night with a f.u.c.king stutter when kids are b-b-b-being b-b-b-b-b-bu-bu-bu roasted alive by Lyndon B-b-b-baines b-b-b-bu-bu-burn-'em-up Johnson!"All her energy came right to the surface now, unimpeded, the force of resistance that had previously been employed otherwise; and by no longer bothering with the ancient obstruction, she experienced not only her full freedom for the first time in her life but the exhilarating power of total self-certainty. A brand-new Merry had begun, one who'd found, in opposing the "v-v-v-vile" war, a difficulty to fight that was worthy, at last, of her truly stupendous strength. North Vietnam she called the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, a country she spoke of with such patriotic feeling that, according to Dawn, one would have thought she'd been born not at the Newark Beth Israel but at the Beth Israel in Hanoi.

'"The101.

Democratic Republic of Vietnam'--if I hear that from her one more time, Seymour, I swear, I'll go out of my mind!" He tried to convince her that perhaps it wasn't as bad as it sounded. "Merry has a credo, Dawn, Merry has a political position. There may not be much subtlety in it, she may not yet be its best spokesman, but there is some thought behind it, there's certainly a lot of emotion behind it, there's a lot of compa.s.sion behind it. . . ."But there was now no conversation she had with her daughter that did not drive Dawn, if not out of her mind, out of the house and into the barn. The Swede would overhear Merry fighting with her every time the two of them were alone together for two minutes. "Some people," Dawn says, "would be perfectly happy to have parents who are contented middle-cla.s.s people." "I'm sorry I'm not brainwashed enough to be one of them," Merry replies. "You're a sixteen-year-old girl," Dawn says, "and I can tell you what to do and I will tell you what to do." "Just because I'm sixteen doesn't make me a g-g-girl! I do what I w-w- want!" "You're not antiwar," Dawn says, "you're anti everything." "And what are you, Mom? You're pro c-c-c-cow!"Night after night now Dawn went to bed in tears. "What is she? What is this?"

she asked the Swede. "If someone simply defies your authority, what can you do?Seymour, I'm totally puzzled. How did this happen?" "It happens," he told her.

"She's a kid with a strong will. With an idea. With a cause." "Where did this come from? It's inexplicable. Am I a bad mother? Is that it?" "You are a good mother. You are a wonderful mother. That is not it." "I don't know why she's turned against me like this. I don't have any sense of what I did to her or even what she perceives I did to her. I don't know what's happened. Who is she? Where did she come from? I cannot control her. I cannot recognize her. I thought she was smart. She's not smart at all. She's become stupid, Seymour; she gets more and more stupid each time we talk." "No, it's just a very crude kind of aggression. It's not very well worked out. But she is still smart. She's very smart. This is what teenagers are like. There are these very turbulent sorts of changes. It has nothing to do with you or me.102.

They just amorphously object to everything." "It's all from the stuttering, isn't it?" "We're doing everything we can for her stutter. We always have."

"She's angry because she stutters. She doesn't make friends," Dawn said, "because she stutters." "She's always had friends. She has many friends.

Besides, she was on top of her stuttering. Stuttering is not the explanation."

"Yes, it is. You never get on top of your stutter," Dawn said, "you're in constant fear." "That's not an explanation, Dawnie, for what is going on."

"She's sixteen--is that the explanation?" asked Dawn. "Well, if it is," he said, "and maybe an awful lot of it is, we'll do the best we can until she stops being sixteen." "And? When she's not sixteen anymore, she'll be seventeen." "At seventeen she won't be the same. At eighteen she won't be the same. Things change. She'll discover new interests. She'll have college--academic pursuits. We can work this out. The important thing is to keep talking with her." "I can't. I can't talk to her. Now she's even jealous of the cows. It's too maddening."

"Then I'll keep talking to her. The important thing is not to abandon her and not to capitulate to her, and to keep talking even if you have to say the same thing over and over and over. It doesn't matter if it all seems hopeless. You can't expect what you say to have an immediate impact." "It's what she says back that has the impact!" "It doesn't matter what she says back. We have to keep saying to her what we have to say to her, even if saying it seems interminable.

We must draw the line. If we don't draw the line, then surely she's not going to obey. If we do draw the line, there's at least a fifty percent chance that she will." "And if she still doesn't?" "All we can do, Dawn, is to continue to be reasonable and continue to be firm and not lose hope or patience, and the day will come when she will outgrow all this objecting to everything." "She doesn't want to outgrow it." "Now. Today. But there is tomorrow. There's a bond between us all and it's tremendous. As long as we don't let her go, as long as we keep talking, tomorrow will come. Of course she's maddening. She's unrecognizable to me, too. But if you don't allow her to exhaust your patience and if you keep talking to her and you don't give up on her, she will eventually become herself again." 103 .

And so, hopeless as it seemed, he talked, he listened, he was reasonable; endless as the struggle seemed, he remained patient, and whenever he saw her going too far he drew the line. No matter how much it might openly enrage her to answer him, no matter how sarcastic and caustic and elusive and dishonest her answers might be, he continued to question her about her political activities, about her after-school whereabouts, about her new friends; with a gentle persistence that infuriated her, he asked about her Sat.u.r.day trips into New York. She could shout all she wanted at home--she was still just a kid from Old Rimrock, and the thought of whom she might meet in New York alarmed him.Conversation #1 about New York. "What do you do when you go to New York? Who do you see in New York?" "What do I do? I go see New York. That's what I do." "What do you do, Merry?" "I do what everyone else does. I window-shop. What else would a girl do?" "You're involved with political people in New York." "I don't know what you're talking about. Everything is political. Brushing your teeth is political." "You're involved with people who are against the war in Vietnam.

Isn't that who you go to see? Yes or no?" "They're people, yes. They're people with ideas, and some of them don't b-b-b-believe in the war. Most of them don't b-b-b-believe in the war." "Well, I don't happen to believe in the war myself."

"So what's your problem?" "Who are these people? How old are they? What do they do for a living? Are they students?" "Why do you want to know?" "Because I'd like to know what you're doing. You're alone in New York on Sat.u.r.days. Not everyone's parents would allow a sixteen-year-old girl to go that far." "I go in ... I, you know, there are people and dogs and streets ..." "You come home with all this Communist material. You come home with all these books and pamphlets and magazines." "I'm trying to learn. You taught me to learn, didn't you? Not just to study, but to learn. C-c-c-communist . . ." "It is Communist. It says on the page that it's Communist." "C-c-c-communists have ideas that aren't always about C-commu-nism." "For instance." "About poverty. About war. About injustice.

They have all kinds of ideas. Just b-b-because you're Jewish doesn't104.

mean you just have ideas about Judaism. Well, the same holds for C-c-communism."Conversation #12 about New York. "Where do you eat your meals in New York?" "Not at Vincent's, thank G.o.d." "Where then?" "Where everybody else eats their meals.

Restaurants. Cafeterias. People's apartments." "Who are the people who live in these apartments?" "Friends of mine." "Where did you meet them?" "I met some here, I met some in the city--" "Here? Where?" "At the high school. Sh-sh-sh- sherry, for instance." "I never met Sherry." "Sh-sh-sh-sherry is the one, do you remember, who played the violin in all the cla.s.s plays? And she goes into New York b-because she takes music lessons." "Is she involved with politics too?"

"Daddy, everything is political. How can she not be involved if she has a b-b-b- brain?" "Merry, I don't want you to get into trouble. You're angry about the war. A lot of people are angry about the war. But there are some people who are angry about the war who don't have any limits. Do you know what the limits are?"

"Limits. That's all you think about. Not going to the extreme. Well, sometimes you have to f.u.c.king go to the extreme. What do you think war is? War is an extreme. It isn't life out here in little Rimrock. Nothing is too extreme out here." "You don't like it out here anymore. Would you want to live in New York?

Would you like that?" "Of c-c-c-course." "Suppose when you graduate from high school you were to go to college in New York. Would you like that?" "I don't know if I'm going to go to college. Look at the administration of those colleges. Look what they do to their students who are against the war. How can I want to be going to college? Higher education. It's what I call lower education.

Maybe I'll go to college, maybe I won't. I wouldn't start p-planning now."Conversation #18 about New York, after she fails to return home on a Sat.u.r.day night. "You're never to do that again. You're never to stay over with people who we don't know. Who are these people?" "Never say never." "Who are the people you stayed with?" "They're friends of Sh-sherry's. From the music school." "I don't believe you." "Why? You can't b-b-b-believe that I might have friends? That 105 .

people might like me--you don't b-b-b-believe that? That people might put me up for the night--you don't b-b-b-believe that? What do you b-b-b-b-b-b-b-believe in?" "You're sixteen years old. You're to come home. You cannot stay over in NewYork City." "Stop reminding me of how old I am. We all have an age." "When you went off yesterday we expected you back at six o'clock. At seven o'clock at night you phoned to say you're staying over. We said you weren't. You insisted.

You said you had a place to stay. So I let you do it." "You let me. Sure." "But you can't do it again. If you do it again, you will never be allowed to go into New York by yourself." "Says who?" "Your father." "We'll see." "I'll make a deal with you." "What's the deal, Father?" "If you ever go into New York again and you find it's getting late and you have to stay somewhere, you stay with the Umanoffs." "The Umanoffs?" "They like you, you like them, they've known you all your life. They have a very nice apartment." "Well, the people I stayed with have a very nice apartment too." "Who are they?" "I told you, they're Sh- sherry's friends." "Who are they?" "Bill and Melissa." "And who are Bill and Melissa?" "They're p-p-p-people. Like everyone else." "What do they do for a living? How old are they?" "Melissa's twenty-two. And Bill is nineteen." "Are they students?" "They were students. Now they organize people for the betterment of the Vietnamese." "Where do they live?" "What are you going to do, come and get me?" "I'd like to know where they live. There are all sorts of neighborhoods in New York. Some are good, some aren't." "They live in a perfectly fine neighborhood and a perfectly fine b-b-b-b-building." "Where?" "They live up in Morningside Heights." "Are they Columbia students?" "They were." "How many people stay in this apartment?" "I don't see why I have to answer all these questions." "Because you're my daughter and you are sixteen years old." "So for the rest of my life, because I'm your daughter--" "No, when you are eighteen and graduate high school, you can do whatever you want." "So the difference we're talking about here is two years." "That's right." "And what's the b-big thing that's going to happen in two years?" "You will be an independent person who can support herself." "I106.

can support myself now if I w-w-w-w-wanted to." "I don't want you to stay with Bill and Melissa." "W-w-w-why?" "It's my responsibility to look after you. I want you to stay with the Umanoffs. If you can agree to do that, then you can go to New York and stay over. Otherwise you won't be permitted to go there at all.

The choice is yours." "I'm in there to stay with the people I want to stay with." "Then you're not going to New York." "We'll see." "There is no 'we'll see.' You're not going and that's the end of it." "I'd like to see you stop me."

"Think about it. If you can't agree to stay with the Umanoffs, then you can't go to New York." "What about the war--" "My responsibility is to you and not to the war." "Oh, I know your responsibility is not to the war--that's why I have to go to New York. B-b-b-because people there do feel responsible. They feel responsible when America b-blows up Vietnamese villages. They feel responsible when America is b-blowing little b-babies to b-b-b-b-bits. B-but you don't, and neither does Mother. You don't care enough to let it upset a single day of yours. You don't care enough to make you spend another night somewhere. You don't stay up at night worrying about it. You don't really care, Daddy, one way or the other."Conversations #24, 25, and 26 about New York. "I can't have these conversations, Daddy. I won't! I refuse to! Who talks to their parents like this!" "If you are underage and you go away for the day and don't come home at night, then you d.a.m.n well talk to your parents like this." "B-b-but you drive me c-c-c-crazy, this kind of sensible parent, trying to be understanding! I don't want to be understood--I want to be f-f-f-free!" "Would you like it better if I were a senseless parent trying not to understand you?" "I would! I think I would! Why don't you f.u.c.king t-t-try it for a change and let me f.u.c.king see!"Conversation #29 about New York. "No, you can't disrupt our family life until you are of age. Then do whatever you want. So long as you're under eighteen--"

"All you can think about, all you can talk about, all you c-c-care about is thewell-being of this f-f.u.c.king 1-1-little f-f-family!" "Isn't that all you think about? Isn't that what 107 .

you are angry about?" "N-n-no! N-n-never!" "Yes, Merry. You are angry about the families in Vietnam. You are angry about their being destroyed. Those are families too. Those are families just like ours that would like to have the right to have lives like our family has. Isn't that what you yourself want for them? What Bill and Melissa want for them? That they might be able to have secure and peaceful lives like ours?" "To have to live out here in the privileged middle of nowhere? No, I don't think that's what B-b-bill and Melissa want for them. It's not what I want for them." "Don't you? Then think again. I think that to have this privileged middle-of-no-where kind of life would make them quite content, frankly." "They just want to go to b-bed at night, in their own country, leading their own lives, and without thinking they're going to get b-b-blown to b-b-b-b-b-bits in their sleep. B-b-blown to b-b-b-b-bits all for the sake of the privileged people of New Jersey leading their p-p-peaceful, s-s- secure, acquisitive, meaningless 1-1-1-little bloodsucking lives!"Conversation #30 about New York, after Merry returns from staying overnight with the Umanoffs. "Oh, they're oh-so-liberal, B-b-b-b-Barry and Marcia. With their little comfortable b-b-bour-geois life." "They are professors, they are serious academics who are against the war. Did they have any people there?" "Oh, some English professor against the war, some sociology professor against the war. At least he involves his family against the war. They all march tugu-tugu-tugu- together. That's what I call a family. Not these f.u.c.king c-c-c-cows." "So it went all right there." "No. I want to go with my friends. I don't want to go to the Umanoffs at eight o'clock. Whatever is happening is happening after eight o'clock! If I wanted to be with your friends after eight o'clock at night, I could stay here in Rimrock. I want to be with my friends after eight o'clock!"

"Nonetheless it worked out. We compromised. You didn't get to be with your friends after eight o'clock but you got to spend the day with your friends, which is a lot better than nothing at all. I feel much better about what you have agreed to do. You should too. Are you going to go in next Sat.u.r.day?" "I don't plan these things y-years108.

in advance." "If you're going in next Sat.u.r.day, then you're to phone the Umanoffs beforehand and let them know you're coming."Conversation #34 about New York, after Merry fails to show up at the Umanoffs for the night. "Okay, that's it. You made an agreement and you broke it. You're not leaving this house on a Sat.u.r.day again." "I'm under house arrest."

"Indefinitely." "What is it that you're so afraid of? What is it that you think I'm going to do? I'm hanging out with f-friends. We discuss the war and other important things. I don't know why you want to know so much. You don't ask me a z-z-z-z-zillion f.u.c.king questions every time I go down to Hamlin's s-s-store.

What are you so afraid of? You're just a b-b-b-b-bundle of fear. You just can't keep hiding out here in the woods. Don't go spewing your fear all over me and making me as fearful as you and Mom are. All you can deal with is c-cows. C-cows and trees. Well, there's something besides c-c-c-c-cows and trees. There are people. People with real pain. Why don't you say it? Are you afraid I'm going to get laid? Is that what you're afraid of? I'm not that moronic to get knocked up.

What have I ever done in my life that's irresponsible?" "You broke the agreement. That's the end of it." "This is not a corporation. This isn't b-b-b- b-b-b-b-business, Daddy. House arrest. Every day in this house is like beingunder house arrest." "I don't like you very much when you act like this."

"Daddy, shut up. I don't like you either. I never d-d-did."Conversation #44 about New York. The next Sat.u.r.day. "I'm notdriving you to the train. You're not leaving the house." "What areyou going to do? B-barricade me in? How you going to stop me?You going to tie me to my high chair? Is that how you treat yourdaughter? I can't b-b-believe my own father would threaten meI with physical force." "I'm not threatening you with physical force.">' "Then how are you going to keep me in the house? I'm not just one, of Mom's dumb c-c-c-c-cows! I'm not going to live here forever and ever and ever. Mr. C-cool, Calm, and Collected. What is it that' you're so afraid of? What is it you're so afraid of people for? Haven'tyou ever heard that New York is one of the world's great culturalcenters? People come from the whole world to experience New 109 .

York. You always wanted me to experience everything else. Why can't I experience New York? Better than this d-dump here. What are you so angry about? That I might have a real idea of my own? Something that you didn't come up with first?

Something that isn't one of your well-thought-out plans for the family and how things should go? All I'm doing is taking a f.u.c.king train into the city.

Millions of men and women do it every day to go to work. Fall in with the wrong people. G.o.d forbid I should ever get another point of view. You married an Irish Catholic. What did your family think about your falling in with the wrong people? She married a J-j-j-j-jew. What did her family think about her falling in with the wrong people? How much worse can I do? Maybe hang out with a guy with an Afro--is that what you're afraid of? I don't think so, Daddy. Why don't you worry about something that matters, like the war, instead of whether or not your overprivileged little girl takes a train into the b-big city b-by herself?"Conversation #53 about New York. "You still won't tell me what kind of horrible f.u.c.king fate is going to b-b-befall me if I take a f.u.c.king train to the city.

They have apartments and roofs in New York too. They have locks and doors too. A lock isn't something that is unique to Old Rimrock, New Jersey. Ever think of that, Seymour-Levov-it-rhymes-with-the-love? You think everything that is f- foreign to you is b-bad. Did you ever think that there are some things that are f-foreign to you that are good? And that as your daughter I would have some instinct to go with the right people at the right time? You're always so sure I'm going to f.u.c.k up in some way. If you had any confidence in me, you'd think that I might hang out with the right people. You don't give me any credit."

"Merry, you know what I'm talking about. You're involving yourself with political radicals." "Radicals. B-b-because they don't agree with y-y-y-you they're radical." "These are people who have ver

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