Saturday, December 16, 2006


I think of lying on my back in my crib in the dark, in the middle of the night. It felt like the middle of the night because it felt like the whole world was asleep and I was the only person awake. I am in my crib with its pale wooden bars. My crib is in the smallest room of the apartment, a place where my father has his desk and his tall grey metal filing cabinet. I am awake. I can see the room around me, dark with shadow. There is a small man suspended up above me, somewhere near the ceiling. His face is stern and unsmiling. He is staring hard at me. I know that I must look back at him and I must not move. If I move I will die. I can hardly breathe.

So what. Maybe it's nothing.

But that feeling of being pinned down, of having no choice. I associate that feeling with my father.

I used to be so angry with him. I remember the day it started. My father and I are walking in the vast park near our house. We went there every weekend, he and I. My mother and my two younger sister stayed home. Nobody questioned this arrangement. Everybody knew my parents didn't want to go for a walk together, and my sisters were too young. I had been going for these long weekend walks with my father since I was three, but now that I was twelve they seemed too young for walks. I was the better choice. My father and I were like a matched set. No one thought to separate us.

We drove the few mintues to the entrance to the park and began to walk along the narrow paved road that wove through the woods and then out into open fields. We never saw other people there.

We walked side by side, my father talking and swinging his walking stick. He liked to carry a walking stick as an accessory. He didn't need one. My father was talking and talking, and then he asked me some sort of question and I didn't feel like answering it. For the first time, it felt like some huge effort to bother to answer. I shrugged. "Now, come on," my father said impatiently. He didn't like rudeness. I could see I was making him angry. I felt he was right to be angry. I just didn't feel like answering him anymore. I couldn't even think of a nice way to fake it.

From then on, for decades, it was like that most of the time, a vast surging anger that left me mute. I never could put my fury into words, which made me think there was something very wrong with me. He seemed able to put everything into words. I didn't even know what it was that came over me when I was with my father as we drove into the city on Saturday nights when we would both dress up and go to the opera, stepping into the crowded lobby, climbing the staircases -- everything in sheathed in red velvet with chandaliers sparkling in bright light and always crowds of people and the buzz of conversation, everyone dressed up, and I feel confident being there with my father, confident that he can navigagte a place like this in a way that my mother just can't. But afterwards, back in the car, I can't talk to him, cannot tell him anything, can only stare out my window and wonder what is wrong with me as he continues to talk like he always has.

And I flash on the old man he is now in his Budapest apartment. I don't think any of these things are on his mind. He washes his mind with a few glasses of wine each day, a scotch and soda when he can. He is getting lost in some nice fog of old age. I imagine. I don't know.

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