Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Critique (please read "Older Post, "  entitled 2 Men, first)

How do we recover from childhood trauma when we are left to our own resources as adults? Can we ever recover and become whole? These are the questions Moser asks in her memoir glibly entitled 2 MEN. The answer that finally comes to her is that one must "begin to understand" the effects of a   monstrous past in order even to hope for some recovery, whether recovery is possible or not.  

The simple, flippant, almost childlike tone of her memoir is deceptive, for there is great hurt and significance behind each word, even  Dr.Seuss' words, so aptly included. She has not yet overcome the gibberish communicated to her  by parents who were caught in their own web of insane confusion. The brief lines contain years of struggle and heartache; the tone not only of detachment but also of simplicity are attempts to disguise great pain.

She tries to fight her past by falling in love with Robert, who, in the end, uses her much as he  has used her good friend; i.e., solely for his own needs. Behind the stoicism lurks a hard, intransigent selfishness and the familiar passion that causes, in the end, only pain.  We can assume that the first kiss occurs only when Robert decides it will. He has no apparent concern that he ruins her hopes for an engagement let alone her graduate plans in Boston. Robert comes back to her as he pleases and then leaves; he gives her little hope for reliability and absolutely no promise of support. The ritual washing of hands after the funeral is the only self-cleansing he can manage.

So Moser repeats her past. She never uses her name because abused children never have a chance to develop an identity. In the second part of the memoir, she recalls places of abuse - but except for the beatings, specifics of abuse are lost to her, as they are to many traumatized children. In her memories she is an onlooker; she is not a past participant in her father's activities. And what of the good memories that are so contradictory to the bad ones? The man who taught her to read also took away her life.

In the end the truth begins to come to her: It was her father and not Robert who had taught her about love. Yes her notions about love are self-defeating and self-immolating: so how can she attain the genuine, enduring love she thinks she desires?   She will roll her hopes uphill, but they will always crash back down and crush her. Does she even know - or have the self-respect - to care?

Can we believe her  when she says she "begin{s} to understand"? If so, is understanding enough? Can anyone ever really put "Humpty Dumpty" back together again? She already has delivered her own verdict. Her hope for recovery is there, but is recovery really possible? This is the monumental question that this simply-written, almost childlike memoir explores.

Ellen Moser

Saturday, November 15, 2014

2 Men (please read "Newer Post," CRITIQUE, after you have read this.)

This is a memoir about Robert and the last time I saw him. It is also my memories of the man called father.

Man #1: Robert

Robert and I were at Columbia at the same time, but I met him at the beach near my home the summer before my junior and his senior year. He was my good friend's date; in order to produce a foursome they had provided me with a dullard. Robert held my friend's hand; I held sandals in my own hand to prevent the dullard from touching me.

By the end of the day Robert and I had fallen for each other. When the sun set over the Verrazano Bridge, I looked him in the eye and said, "Come back and see my bridge again."

Robert called me the next morning. He said simply,"You asked me to come back and see your bridge," and he did -  many times.

I did not start dating Robert until my friend had found a new young man. While she sat staring dreamily at  a shell she and her friend had found on a beach somewhere, I left a note in Robert's mailbox at his dorm inviting him to call me. In my mind, it was now okay.

And he called - many times over the coming years.

Our first kiss almost took place in Riverside Park late one crystalline winter night. I wore a spider web of a scarf on my head and desire in my eyes. Robert would later tell me that he had determined earlier that day not to kiss me on our first date. That was how he was: a stoic filled with emotion.

I was a virgin, but this was the late 60's. So pretty soon we were having sex. Let me not write about the mutual floods of emotion that seem even now to me incredible. Let me not write about the stealth of two otherwise honest people sneaking together around campus to avoid my friend, who kept wondering why Robert did not call anymore. Let me not write about the theaters, the ballets, the movies, the restaurants, his parents.... Nor anymore about the sex. (Just to repeat what Dorothy of THE GOLDEN GIRLS once said:"We named it.")

Then Robert graduated and went on to MIT. I was to follow and go to Tufts the next year. Did I really not notice how reluctant Robert had been to send me the Wheelock, the Leslie, the endless catalogues from colleges and universities in Boston and environs?

I visited him three times in Boston - via car, bus and train. He came home at Thanksgiving. When he had asked my finger size, I had expected a ring. I received instead a pair of sensible leather gloves.

Then came the call before Christmas to say that he was going skiing upstate. No, I could definitely not come along. I cried and begged; he said he did not want just to hang up on me; so I hung up first.

Robert came home at intersession about one year later. He came to see me. The kisses were as passionate as before; the look in his eyes was blank because he was no longer there. He had already met the young woman who would later become his wife.

We tried one more time. Robert walked down the street where I lived; I waited as still as stone on the front porch. My father had just fallen over the keys of his piano and died.

Later I took off my dress, and Robert said I was as beautiful as ever, but should not depend upon him for - anything. Then we went to sleep in separate rooms. He attended my father's funeral and burial. I cried on his shoulder on the way to the cemetery.  He returned to my home, washed his hands in the ritual cleansing water, and soon left. I was never to see him again.

But at that moment I thought: I had come to love through him.

Man #2: My Father

Will I write this? Dare I write this? Should I write this? And my mind continues its journey through my grandson's Dr. Seuss books, and I think: I will write it if I can.

My father (mi padre, mon pere), my dad: Brilliant, frustrated wholesale dress salesman, master chess player, lover of Beethoven, musical genius, poet, songwriter, self-tutored student of astronomy and all things celestial - innocent child molester who could not even fool his little baby girl.

Ha! I remember it all: in Helen's house on Mermaid Avenue, in our basement, in our garage, on a jetty in the sea at the deserted beach in early spring. The white handkerchief, the gleaming gold tooth as his impassioned face stared out into the ocean. My fear that I would fall in.

Like all good girls I told my mother, when I became old enough to talk; yes, I was believed and dragged to the pediatrician, who assured her there surely would be repercussions. Yes, she soon realized she had to protect her husband, her source of support, and branded me a liar. Then she became the one who held me down on my father's  lap so he could beat me and beat me and beat me for lying - and then toss me off  his lap and throw me on the floor. (But Daddy what about the times I would sit on your lap and you would teach me the names of the inky black letters on the front page of the NY Post? - but Daddy, but Daddy, but Daddy...).

I am 67 years old now. I have been with men, men, men. I have searched for - Robert? my father? Does it matter? Humpty Dumpty, as we all  know, could never be put back together again.


Now I have returned to 1969. Robert is standing beside me at my father's open casket. He does not take my hand. I look at his stoic face. I look at my father's face. Finally I begin to cry.

They close the casket, say the fake words, some of them written by me.  We bury my father and go home.

Robert stays for a short time, and then leaves. I close the door behind him. For good.

A few days later I pick up a yellowing picture of my dad at his piano.

And then I begin to understand: I came to love through him.