Wednesday, November 9, 2011



Early on, when Bud and Moopy were very little, we had tried them at a regular pre-school, by which I mean a school that was chaotic, disorganized, loud, but the only game in town, or so I thought. 

It was in a church, a few blocks from our apartment building, and was almost affordable, but Bud and Moopy hated it; 40 children in a pen, divided by collapsible walls for two-, three-, and four-year-old areas, with a gang of disinterested teachers to go around. Bud wanted to stay with the two-year-olds although he was three, because their teacher was the soft-spoken, forgiving one, and he wanted to be near Moopy, but the directors wouldn’t allow it. They advised me to drop him, kiss him, and run, and I tried, but for almost two months, he cried every day until he threw up. 

He wouldn’t sit down for art, his teacher told me, he ran around during circle time, refused the potty, was hitting other children and getting hit.  Moopy did somewhat better, because she was two and had the kindly teacher, but not much.

I knew I was in trouble when the directors took me out to breakfast and told me, “We think Bud is stuck. We think he needs an evaluation.”

Stuck? I thought. What the fuck? What kind of word is that? 

You people are assholes.

I said, “Thank you. I will certainly look into it.”

I grew up with a schizophrenic Autistic sister. NOBODY in MY HOUSEHOLD is getting evaluated for shit.



What is personal history? What is the point? What is part of the trajectory? What is random? What does it mean to be conscious? What is supposed to resonate with a person? With me? 

Where was I?

I wrote a bunch of short stories in 2002, before Bud was anything but a ticking egg, and I was between marriages, between lives. One was about myself and my x-husband, Jimmy, while we were married. My character had a mentally ill sibling, and a clubfoot. His had other ailments. The couple chose not to have children. I wrote, for my character to say: 

“There’s a darkness of what you don’t know about yourself, that we’d rather stay away from.”

And after that, in my paramedic training, I had lectures in Anatomy and Physiology with a philosophically-minded bio professor who got the class into discussions about whether inaccurate DNA makes people inaccurately human, and I dared him to say that about my sister, (whom I rarely went to visit but played like a high card.) He liked me for it, the professor, and said I was in the wrong business. 

I was aggressively anti-children those years. I used to sit in front of a café on Smith Street in Brooklyn with my friend Kelly, smoking, glaring at three-year-olds that passed by with their organic-only-eating, neatly coupled-up parents, and muttering about how much I hated them. My marriage to Jimmy was based on that.

I would think of my mother then, as I do constantly now, and of my sister, and of myself in my early life with them, my father hovering protectively near, and then I would think of sacrifice, how unwanted it was, how un-noble. 

I yearn for my mother now, who was both street smart and innocent, who wrote in her autobiography, when she returned to college in her 50’s, that she had once dreamed of “ease for my husband, and bows on my girls.” She didn’t aspire; she wasn’t ambitious; she was more straightforward than that. First generation American, she was just trying for a simple, middle class life her own parents could be proud of; a China cabinet, Pocono vacations, and a couple of nice, normal kids. 

I think of her in the 1960’s, with what she actually got; a tiny, fawn-skinned, wild-eyed, screaming pixie, a child unable to speak, unwilling to eat, fragile, terrified, a creature received by others as if never before seen on earth, shunned by all but my 25-year-old mother, herself barely more than a child, with sickly, un-Western parents of her own to care for, and a half-feral husband straining at the yoke of it all. 

I think of my sister, who for all her lessness, her disparities, incapacities, knew.

And I think of myself, at five, six, seven years old, coming to consciousness, surrounded by unhappiness, emotionally arrested. It was at that time that I began to announce to any adult who would listen that I was a feminist, and a writer, and would live my life peacefully alone. Yes. I said that when I was seven.

And I stuck to my guns for years. I smoked, wrote, drank, job- and man-hopped my way through an early adulthood driven by avoidance. After the death of a drug-addicted boyfriend, I greedily married Jimmy, and instantly, he and I both felt like trapped wild animals. We paced around his big brownstone house snarling at each other like Nick Nolte and James Coburn in the movie Affliction, two revenge-hungry alcoholics. I didn’t drink like Jimmy, but I could seethe him eye to eye.

Then, my friend Hannah had a baby, and I freaked out

At thirty-two, I became apoplectic with jealousy and panic, but it was too late for my marriage with Jimmy. I felt as if the ground I stood on was shaking with my need to be pregnant, and he would not help me. Something cellular had kicked me into overdrive. I didn’t even know myself anymore. I wanted a baby much more than I wanted to go on living without one. Jimmy and I divorced. 

My mother died just after Thanksgiving that year, of a massive, but not entirely unexpected, heart attack.

I moved in with my father. I was a terrible roommate; irritable, depressed. I worked for a gritty ambulance company making crap pay and borrowed money from him I’d never pay back. I was like, junk-sick for a good man, strung out to get knocked up. I began hatching plans to become a single mother through plotted encounters. I had one guy-friend who would do it. I mean I was really…

Often, now, I recall feeling at the time like Bud was already inside me, chomping at the bit. But I never, ever allowed myself to entertain the possibility that DNA, that something evident and historical in my family, might resurface through my own body. 

I had loved my mother, and continued to love my father, and be grateful to him, but all the years of my growing up in that family felt severed, by the many upsets of my stumbling, smacked-up adult life. I would like to say that I love my sister, but it’s more complicated than that. Regardless, in my mind, I and these three people were not, really, blood-related.

Isn’t that amazing? And insane?

So when I did meet Bruce, and I did get pregnant, and I was 34 years old, of advanced maternal age, sibling to an Autistic person with psychoses and a one-in-ten-thousand DNA snafu called Turner’s Syndrome, and my midwife, 25 years in the birthing trenches and ardently anti-interventionist, urged me to go for amniocentesis, I refused.

I refused.

“Look,” she said to me, not a little threatening. “Do you need this information, or do you not need it?”

I stared at her. I waited for her to stop talking about it. She did. I made no appointment for any genetic testing. Because what would I do with information?

The baby was mine.

And anyway he was not going to have any fucking thing wrong with him, whatever that means.

There are some moments in time from which there is simply no turning back. That moment is where I was, when I first heard the word, over breakfast with the preschool directors, the word evaluation.

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