Saturday, May 26, 2007


The front of my sister’s card to me is a picture in shades of what look to me angry defiant red. I have opened the card twice and each time my eyes avoid the picture. I know it is a picture of a woman dancing – hair flying, limbs in every direction. It’s supposed to be about freedom, I know. But in my mind is stamped only anger.

Anasuya wrote to say how horrified she is by the writing she foundof mine on the internet, how I am bad for having violated her most sacred privacy, that reading my work made her feel as if she were back in our quote unquote “toxic” family. She is sickened and infuriated by my words. And for what? she says. You’ve done all this, she says, for what? Accusing me with those two words of writing for absolutely no reason. She sees no reason for any of it. These words, according to her, should never have been written.

We’ve been at war since were little children and for the first time I feel like it’s out in the open. There’s no resolving it. I will not write back. I don’t want to see her. I am happy for her to go her way and I’ll go mine.

But her words are brutal and they linger in the air like pollen, or grey dandelion fluff. The only thing to do is to keep writing.

Anasuya, this sister, is here this weekend, visiting my mother, but she will not come to see me. Fine. tomorrow my mother comes to my house with her brother, my uncle Dick and Betty his wife. They are visiting from British Columbia, a trip billed as their last to the East. I guess they’re fixing to croak. I don’t know, but it’s in the air. As it is with most of my relatives, everyone has their eye on the big departure. I do too, I suppose, in a way, sometimes.

I kind of like that Anasuya isn’t coming. A spade being called a spade. I imagein myself being quite strong tomorrow, not the nice girl all the time, just a bit of bite to me. Yes, I’m a writer. Yes, I post my writing on the internet, Uncle Dick. That’s just what I do, and I like it, and nobody taught it to me, I created it myself and people who don’t like it do not interest me very much.

I do not want Anasuya’s barbs to stick in my skin like a tick that you don’t notice until days later when the damage has been done. That’s what I’m scare of – I am scared of the guilt that I feel. It just comes up unbidden out of nowhere and I have to make sure I notice it. I don’t know how to battle guilt.

I hate her card. I hate what she writes. And I have endured so much rejection from her for year and years.

I think of her and Diane. Diane was another woman in the ashram. An unattractive, troubled woman, but a very smart one. You couldn’t beat her for facts. I often had to work with Diane in the art department. When I first arrived, I actually had to supervise her – she was a part-time proofreader of the magazine and I coordinated all proofing. Diane battled me, undercut me and at the same time managed to pass herself off as my friend.

My sister Anasuya was also in the art department then. I had just moved into the ashram and was thinking that this huge move on my part would close the gap between us – how could she doubt me – I thought she doubted me, I thought she thought I was a wimp, a superficial person – but how could she doubt my earnestness and trustworthiness now that I was giving up everything to live in the ashram too? But nothing changed between me and Anasuya. She remained aloof. She and Diane were good friends. They went into the woods together, studying herbs and feminine tribal customs, witchcraft, plant craft, full-moon goddess stuff. Diane followed Anasuya around like a puppy dog and treated me usually with condescension. And together they shut me out. I pawed at that door for along time.

Anasuya mentions the toxic family atmosphere that I am dragging her back to as if I was at least partly responsible for it.

She talks about her woundings and healings. Much of her talk is clichéd, taken from self-help books and circles. I really must find a way to be free of all this. I am speaking in my writing more clearly and completely and truthfully than anyone in her world has ever spoken – certainly more than I have ever even come close to doing before – I was never ever able to say anything of importance within the family, while my sisters and mother chatted away. Now my words finally find their way out and Anasuya says they’re bad. She’s wrong.


I was sitting in the small room off the kitchen. It had a linoleum floor. It had a single bed pressed up against the wall underneath a small window. There had been a small built-in closet in the room. We had taken the door off the closet and built a shelf in there for the IBM Selectric typewriter – our prize possession. I could sit there and type, the shelf becoming a desk.

During the day we covered the single bed with a maroon cloth and pretended it was a couch. The room became a tiny waiting room, presided over by the big electric typewriter. When clients arrived, I greeted them at the front door in my navy blue suit I had stolen out of Arianna’s Upper East Side apartment, the suit that here in Athens, Greece looked haute couture, and the brown leather pumps and white stockings, my hair pinned up, make-up and earrings. I didn’t feel pretty like this, but Natvar assured me that at twenty-nine nothing else was acceptable.

Today I was in the little room that didn’t have a name – the office, the waiting room, my bedroom. It was tiny, more like a large closet, but I could close the door. It was Sunday. Natvar had just hit me in the face as we sat for breakfast, all of us, all five of us, still in bathrobes, breakfast on the blue-and-white china, all of us seated around the white marble table.

As people rose to dress, I retreated. I didn’t know what to do. I could hear Mark doing the dishes on the other side of the wall, Mark in shorts, tee-shirt and flip-flops, his wide feet pointed out, his strong calves and high arches all marking him as a dancer – his blue eyes that could be soft and dreamy, Mark who looked most natural with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth – a cigarette that he never allowed himself anymore – a boy who was made for long languid afternoons with other men. I could imagine him standing at the sink, looking out the window, his eyes far away.

Natvar finally came in. He was dressed now in his pressed pants and cotton shirt, everything about him fresh and crisp. “Here,” he said. “Here’s 2,000 drachma. Go see a movie or something. The rest of us are going to my mother’s.”

I nodded, did not say anything much. I heard them leave. They were going without me. Almost every Sunday we went out into the country to visit Natvar’s old mother in her two-room cottage. It was the first time I hadn’t gone with them. The first time any of us had been shut out of a group event.

There had been plenty of fights. It was hard to get through a meal without one. There had been violence and the threat of violence before. But there had never been money handed over for someone to use all on their own for themselves. We’d never gotten rid of someone before.

The afternoon stretched in front of me. I was alone. I went outside onto the quiet shaded street and began to walk. I had no destination. Walking gave me something to do and the gardens I passed were pretty. I walked until I came to a small park, a stretch of grass, and I lay down on my back in the sun. I fell asleep. The sleep felt perfect. I wanted it to last forever.

I woke, knowing it was late afternoon. I still had some time left before I had to go back. I didn’t want to think about going back, maybe the hours would keep stretching for me. I walked down to the main wide boulevard with shops and crowds. I ate something small, not wanting to spend much and I bought a ticket and saw the movie. I hadn’t been to a movie in years. I hadn’t been to a movie by myself for even longer.

When I came out it was dark. I had nowhere to go but back. I walked slowly. Maybe I could make the walk back last forever and never get there.


I am on the phone with Direct-TV when I see through the window the little blue moving patch that is Brian the mailman coming down the driveway. He’s early. Usually it takes him awhile to get here on Mondays. Pretty soon Tamar explodes with barks at the front door, but I keep patiently talking to Rochelle who wants to know why I am cancelling our account, and I hear Fred explaining to Tamar that it’s just the mailman and then I hear Fred saying, “Oh no,” a couple of times, loudly so I’ll hear but in a sort of joking tone – not a real Oh No, but I am tuning him out so I can hear what Rochelle is saying and trying to get off quickly without being horribly rude.

I go look at the mail. It’s right on top, a flat square envelope from my sister Anasuya. It’s her turn to chime in about my writing. Esther wrote a couple of weeks ago so shocked she said and hurt that she wasn’t going to read it anymore, and now I guess Anasuya’s going to let me have it.

She’s coming to see my mother this week for a few days. Anasuya lives in Berkeley. My mother lives in Sullivan County, about an hour south of here. So when my sister comes to visit my mother, there’s usually one visit with me scheduled in.

I spoke to my mother yesterday, inviting her to come up on Friday. The reason for all this visiting is that my mother’s younger brother will be in town from British Columbia. So I invited them up and my mother said lightly that Anasuya wouldn’t be able to make it and I too pretended it was just a normal scheduling mishap.

I am happy not to talk to my mother about all the conflict with my sisters. It wouldn’t do any good. I like that she seems willing to take me on my own terms, to have her own connection with me regardless of what my sisters are complaining about.

I go to where Fred is and hold up the card. “Okay,” I say. “Let’s read it.” And before I open it I say, “I’m not guilty, right?” And Fred says solemnly – he’s not joking now -- “You are not guilty.”

It’s a card, a picture of a woman dancing wildly. It turns me off. There’s something abrasive about it, something “I Am Woman” about it. I flip open the card, note how both sides are covered in quite small, tidy black-pen handwriting.

“It’s a beautiful sunny day here,” my sister begins. She is sitting in her garden. Then she gets started – how reading my writing makes her feel back in the vile toxic atmosphere of our family, how my writing violates her privacy, how it wounds her all over again, how she is proud of the life she has created with people who appreciate her and she doesn’t need me. “And you’ve done all this,” she says, “for what?” She doesn’t want to see me any more than she can avoid and that despite all this she wishes me well.

It’s a stupid, nasty letter. And yet it feels like all the black murky water I have been skating over with her for decades – that I began to notice in my late teens, ever since she swallowed the pills and all the years afterwards when it felt like the most she could do was tolerate me while I searched and searched for what I was doing wrong, assuming her scorn must be deserved – all this dirty water was finally flowing out of the pipe and it was a relief to see it in broad daylight.

You’d think the whole blog was about her. There are over 60 pieces of writing on that blog and I can’t even remember what the few references to her are. And plus the second blog that is describing my twelve years in the ashram, many of which I shared with her there – not a word about this ashram book that I know has to fascinate her.

It reminds me of 1993. I was becoming a celebrity in the ashram, a public figure. Every morning I was standing up in front of hundreds of people after the long morning chant before breakfast and giving a short talk on the chant, then conversing back and forth with the guru who sat a few yards away on her chair – I was in the spotlight, being spirited around to secret meetings with the top brass – Anasuya sat down next to me one afternoon outside after lunch. She had asked to meet with me. “Everyone thinks you’re great,” she said, “but you’re not.” She stood up then, furious, and left, and I sat there feeling like she must be right, to some degree anyway, and that I had better be very careful, more careful than I was already being, or otherwise I might overlook my own faults.

Today though I don’t sit here thinking she is right. I think she has a very small mind, not to be able to see beyond the handful of times her name comes up, not to have any idea at all why I am writing or see any value in it at all.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


I was dealt a mother from British Columbia, a tall woman – slim, small-breasted (“flat-topped,” she called it), long legs. A woman who never thought of herself as beautiful, a woman whose head was full of voices that told her her feet were too big (“You’d be tall if you didn’t have so much turned up at the bottom,”), her nose and her hands, also too big. A woman who felt ungainly and unpopular in a crowd.

I was dealt a father from Hungary, a damaged man, damaged by I’m not sure what – Word War II, but things earlier and more subtle than that.

I was dealt two sisters, both younger than me. They live an hour apart from each other with their husbands in California. They do things like Christmas, Thanksgiving and birthdays together. Funny, how things shake down. The alliances between us have shifted back and forth over the years. Currenlty, and I think now forever, I am the one separated out and they are linked together. I wouldn’t have predicted it, but now it makes a lot of sense.

Writing and making my writing public by posting it all on the web has drawn the line in the sand.

One sister is a bodyworker and nutritionist who lives in Berkeley and does very progressive sustrainable agricultural things with the small piece of land she bought with her husband. They will retire there, I imagaine. They are people who think about retirement and have been planning and living their lives with retirement being an important consideration.

The other sister is a financial consultant to the very wealthy. She likes giving advice. She thinks of herself as a very fair, straightforward, approachable and – most of all – practical person. She believes in conservative financial practices. She was still in high school when my father went belly up and the house was sold from out from under her and she was told, oops, no money for college, sorry. She balances all her accounts religiously and gets very angry if her husband uses the debit card and forgets to write it down.

I used to get mad about things like that. Terrified, actually.

I was dealt being born first when my parents were living in their first apartment in Yonkers. Before that they’d lived in what they called “the trailer.” I’ve seen pictures of it. Nowadays you’d call it a camper.

When I was born we lived in the downstairs of a white house with red trim. I thought of it as a red house. It was built on a hill sloping down from the street. We walked down some steps from the sidewalk, and entered through a side door into the middle room of the apartment. There was a brown formica-topped table here with thin black metal legs. My father sat here in the morning, drinking his coffee. He let me put the sugar in. He let me stir it.

He disappeared during the day. He went somewhere, out through another door in the living room, a door that led to the outside which I could not see but which contained a railroad down below and a river. And at the end of the day he came back from there, carrying a rigid square briefcase that opened with a snap of its two brass clasps.

My room was the smallest. My crib was there, in the corner, by a window that looked out onto the steps that came down from the street. It was a shadowy room. My father’s filing cabinet was in there and a table at which I remember sitting once when I had just received a plastic electric organ. It was my birthday or Christmas. There are pictures of me sitting on my father’s lap in front of this little keyboard and it is hard for me to know what is actual memory and what is from the photos – but unlike most baby pictures when I have no recollection, when I look at this series of four or five black-and-white photos of my father and me – me on his lap – playing the organ together, they look familiar, like I was just there. We are both in pajamas and bathrobes, but I think it was morning, a rare thing – in my family you dressed before breakfast, a habit I have broken.

My parents slept in a fold-out couch in the living room. The curtains on the windows in that room were long and white and filmy, covering what lay beyond, giving me the feeling that everything out there on the other side of the windows was misty and difficult to see or understand.

I knew that we were Hungarian. My mother wasn’t. But my father was and somehow I was too. I didn’t think anyone else in the world was. I thought of it as a private condition, and Hungary as a country no one else had heard of. This Hungarianess filtered through my father’s conversation. It pulsed quietly from the rounded, off-white vase painted with flowers that my grandmother sent. We lived in this house until I was three. And then we moved and the first sister was born.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


I am sitting in the nice green leather chair with high back and foot rest that I once found so comfortable. Martin the shrink sits across, about six feet from me on a matching chair. I have traveled into the city – two hours on the bus – and paid him $75 for 45 minutes of his attention and I don’t know what to say and the minutes are ticking and soon he will be standing up, my time will be up and I will be back on the bus for another two hours. When I first started coming here – a month or so ago – I talked up a storm. Now I feel stuck. Why am I even coming? I forget. This is crazy.

Martin asks about the so-called selflessness that yoga, generally speaking, advocates. I think he is wondering how I square that with starting therapy. I say something about how that part of ashram life came pretty easy to me. “I grew up pretty stoic,” I say. “Pretty spartan. Not a materialistic life.” I am thinking of my mother. I don’t think of my father with those words. I think of my mother, and Martin asks for more and so I focus on my mother for awhile – though it feels like I’m walking down a fruitless path.

I say how she grew up on a farm with six brothers and sisters on the frontier in British Columbia during the Depression, one-room schoolhouse, carrying her shoes to school so they’d last longer. “My mother,” I say, “has never told me a story about anyone ever cherishing her, or even liking her much.”

“Like what?” asks Martin. It’s painful having to give him a whole tapestry thread by thread, a tapestry that has been woven since I was born.
“Like the way her brothers and sisters always ran away from her, and how someone killed all her rabbits one day.“ This I know is a very vile story that I think still haunts my mother, the day she discovered the hutches all open, the rabbits dead. It was that kind of life. People were cruel to each other. At Christmastime her brothers and sisters wrapped up whatever they already had to give to each other – a pretty stone, an old doll they didn’t want anymore -- and then they’d fight and take things back. My mother always tells these little tales with a laugh as if they were amusing. School was finished at 8th grade. If you wanted more you got it by correspondence course. My mother was the only person in her family, besides the oldest child, a boy, who put herself through high school by correspondence. They called her a snob.

Then I talk of my mother’s rages. How my father tiptoed around her. How I did too. We tried very hard not to set her off. I’ve thought of and talked of and written about this before, but when I say it today it feels new.

Then I stop. I pause, unable to keep going. My mind is freezing up. I manage to voice the thought that is coming up. I say, “I’m afraid you will dismiss me. You’ll wonder why I’m here.” It is so hard to talk here, to believe that whatever I say is acceptable. It feels like I am being asked to slide downhill holding onto nothing. This is much harder than I expected.

Martin says it’s funny I should say that just at that moment because he was just thinking how my childhood sounds very difficult to him.

I cannot bear to examine it. I have spent my whole life bending it all so I could bear it, finding a way to look at it that made it merely quaint.

I know I want to look at it in a new way. “It’s hard for me to sympathize with myself,” I say to Martin.

Part of me is starting to advise that I quit now, give up on the possibility of fruitful therapy with Martin. But it’s a small voice and I don’t take it too seriously, but something in me is very uncomfortable.

“Does it feel like betrayal?” asks Martin.

I feel like I’ve moved past betrayal long ago. Why is he asking me such a banal question? Maybe he’s a bad shrink.

My throat though is tight and there have been tears hovering most of this session. I am holding them back. I don’t know why they are there and I don’t mention them to Martin. Not on purpose, I just don’t get that far.

Martin says something about how when I first came to him I was talking about wanting to be very independent of my family, but that probably I have actually a very important interest in understanding the family more. I don’t like it at all that he characterizes me as someone who thought she could be Miss Independence. I’ve always liked Martin until now, but I’m not sure today how much we are connecting and I have a hard time understanding him. But it seems it’s all about revisiting and re-examining that family, those years. I would like to do that. But our time is up and I am back out on the street.

I think of jumping quickly onto a subway, fleeing the city, catching the earlier bus and just getting the hell out of here as fast as I can. I am tempted, but I question it. I recognize a certain feeling inherent in the desire to get the hell out. There’s something self-destructive about it. I’m in the city. It’s a warm light summer evening. I could enjoy it, but instead I want to rip it away, dive away into my sadness.

No, I think, I’ll stay as planned another hour or two. I’ll go to a bookstore. If I see something I like I’ll buy it. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve really wanted to buy a book, but right now it feels necessary, like salve on a wound.

I scan the group of new memoirs where last week and the week before I saw nothing of interest. My eye today falls immediately on a new book. I pick it up, open it. A woman who finds herself in abusive relationships. A sister who is killed by her lover. The writer hunts through her past to find the roots of all this. I scan the writing. It looks good. The book feels alive in my hands, like something, an ally, that has come to help me. I haven’t been thinking about abuse today, but suddenly I feel right at home. I buy the book.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


I came back from going to Switzerland with my father. I was eleven. It had been very exciting to fly from London to Geneva by myself. An air stewardess was assigned to watch over and deliver me to my father. I remember my luggage was lost, but that was a grown-up problem, not something I had to worry about. It was background music.

In the forefront was the big skyscraper rising up by itself on the side of the mountain. My father had been talking to me a lot about this place for a year or so, describing it with delight, how much fun he had there not skiing but ski-bobbing, some kind of skiing where you sat the whole time. He explained to me also with delight the term “après ski,” describing his time at the bar in the ski lodge as a real highlight of civilization and refinement. Now he was actually showing me the place. “Crans” it was called. Crans was the name of the village. Super Crans was the name of the skyscraper.

It was fancy the way my father liked things. I slept by myself in someone else’s apartment. My father slept in his own smaller apartment, the one he had just bought or was planning to buy.

In the evening we went downstairs to the fancy restaurant you had to dress up to go to and he introduced me to Helga. She had short blonde hair, blue eyes and a tanned face. The three of us had dinner together. My father ran his finger down Helga’s nose and said her nose was like a ski jump. I’d heard that line in a movie somewhere. It was strange to hear it coming out of my dad’s mouth, this secondhand line.

They were saying something about black people and Helga said to me, “You would never a black man, would you?” I said I would marry whoever I wanted and they laughed. My father sat at the head of the table, Helga on his righthand side. That meant that she was more important than I was.

My father took me to a fancy hairdresser in the village and asked the ladies there to give me a haircut. My mother never took me to places like this. My mother never left me in places like this and came back to pick me up. When my father came back the hairdresser ladies were brushing my hair into two high pony tails. Over the rubber bands that held the pony tails they clamped special bands of black velvet. They showed these to my father and he bought several sets for me to take back to boarding school. He also bought me a storybook with pictures in French about a doll and a small English/French dictionary.

Other things in the forefront during that visit are returning to Geneva and staying in Helga’s big fancy house. Her husband Freddie who also seems to be my father’s friend though not as much is there too. They are rich. Again, I stay in a room by myself. My father points out that when we are at the dining room table – a heavy table in a heavy formal room – that Helga can call the servant by pressing a button under the carpet with her foot.

Next to my plate is a small gift, wrapped. I ignore it, pretend I don’t see it. Nobody else mentions it so I don’t either until my father says something like, “Now, what is that I see by your plate?” So I open it. I don’t know what it is. My father likes it very much. It is made of red leather and has the American eagle stamped on it in gold. They explain that it is a cover for my passport. Helga smiles. The gift is from her.

When I come home with my father, when we are in the taxi together, driving from the London airport out to the house where I live with my mother and my two sisters – I live there when I am not in school and my dad lives there when he is not other places – I feel pretty confidant now I know how to be a grown-up. I talk to him, pretending I am a grown-up. I make him laugh and he talks back as if I were a grown-up too. It’s easy. I am surprised by how easy it is. Until I call him “Mickey.” That’s what Helga called him. I’ve never called my dad anything except Dad or Daddy. I have never called him a name and this feels very scary. Like now I am going to get into big trouble. My father doesn’t seem to notice thought. He keeps laughing and egging me on, but I quieten down. I didn’t like that feeling.

And then I go back to boarding school, the convent way out in the country. I’m in the middle of my third year here. I feel very at home here. I know this little world. My friends are the smartest, most dazzling girls in the class. We do wild things together – putting on plays, daring each other to run to the candy shop at the end of the mile-long driveway or climb up the forbidden tower in the dark. I don’t want to be friends with anyone else.

It’s my first morning back. I wake up in pain. My belly is hurting and it won’t stop. And then I see it, the blood in my underpants. Oh my god, all the pink pamphlets and giggly whispers were true. It’s happening to me. It hasn’t happened to any of my friends yet so I have to go to Jane Garber, another girl in our class, who has always seemed older than the rest of us. Jane gives me all the packages I need. She says she won’t tell anyone that I’ve started, but I know she will tell her best friend Sheila.

I don’t tell anyone, but two days later, as we are hiding amidst dustballs under beds, Madeleine hisses at me, “I have a bone to pick with you.” She looks mean. She says she knows I’ve started and that I am mean because I told Jane and Sheila I would move into a dorm with them. They asked me to and I don’t know how to get out of it. Madeleine says I’m mean because I’ll be leaving Ann behind. Ann is my official best friend. I never thought going to a dorm would make any difference to Ann. She sleeps across the aisle from me in a long row of curtained off cubicles. I’m not turning my back on Ann. I’m just moving when I don’t even want to. But Nicola sides with Madeleine and won’t speak to me. The days of playing Addams Family are over.


I think about writing back to my sister Esther who wrote last week complaining about my blog, saying that she would not read it anymore. I hadn’t known she was reading it, but I wasn’t surprised. Responding to her letter seems like the right thing to do and I compose sentences in my head, constructed to keep the channels open without giving an inch. But I haven’t done it yet.

I was talking to Martin the shrink about Murray Bowen who created the Family Systems theory, something my last sort-of-shrink was very into in an unorthodox kind of way so my knowledge of it is spotty. “Well, remember,” said Martin, “that Bowen never suggested cutting off from the family completely. That actually makes the patterns more entrenched.” When he said that I thought: oh, well, I have to respond to her then.

I haven’t done it. Maybe Bowen is wrong, I think. Just because he said so doesn’t mean I have to do it. Though it would be easy to buy a card or some nice stationery and compose something and send it off – that is a familiar path to me: doing what I ought to do and doing it quite well, and making it appear – even to myself -- as something I want to do.

It’s scary, not to do it. I don’t want a freeze-out of contact with Esther though the kind of limited interaction we’ve had the last few years doesn’t add up to much. Our lives don’t really intersect whether we see each other once a year and stay on safe topics, or not.

My other sister, Anasuya, who I often picture as an Amazon, breathing fire, has put the freeze on – we made it through Christmas just fine, but if one sister was reading the blog in February you can bet the other was too, and I haven’t heard a peep out of her. I know she’s pissed. Anasuya is often pissed.

My knee-jerk immediate response to their damnation is to think they are right.

It was quite a surprise to me the other day when a new thought floated in out of nowhere – how come neither of them says anything about how great it is to see me happy, to see me writing which they know with every cell in their bodies I have spent my whole life wanting. Esther says in her letter how she wishes me “peace,” but, hey, how come it makes her furious that I’m walking in that direction?

I keep thinking back to when I came back from Europe in 1988. I’d been gone for four years. I’d been with Natvar, a sadistic brutal man who had me utterly enslaved. I managed to get away and returned to New York. During those years I hadn’t been in touch with my parents or sisters. Natvar had no use for other people’s families – or anyone -- unless they were useful or wealthy. My sisters – who had been my friends before the whole Natvar era, said they were cautious now. It might take them awhile, they said, before they could trust me again. Without questioning this at all, as if they were the only two people in the world whose friendship I needed, I set out to win them back.

I wish I had gone looking for people who wanted to know what had happened to me in Europe, tender people who could embrace me. I wouldn’t have found them. I didn’t know then that people could be that way with me or anyone.

Probably half the reason I leapt so completely into the ashram world almost as soon as I got back from Europe was to prove to my sisters that I was trustworthy. The ashram then was their territory. I thought it would erase all boundaries between us. I needed to be let in somewhere, having burned every bridge I had.

The boundary between me and Esther melted quickly back then. But not the one between me and Anasuya. She never let me back in. And I can trace it even further back to when she was 15 and I was 18 and she swallowed that bottle of pills. That got to me, on some deep non-verbal level. After that I always felt I owed her something I’d never be able to pay back.

Friday, May 04, 2007


Catherine and I stand close together in her narrow studio. She is barefoot, dressed in comfortable soft cotton, her rounded arms bare, her cheeks also rounded and plump. She shows me a new exercise she wants me to try and as I begin her attention shifts to how I am holding the bow, the tightness of my wrist, the rigidity of my pinky finger. Immediately, she wants me to try moving my arm up – “I think of it like I’m in an elevator,” she says, “and the doors are closing and I have to squeeze into –“ She demonstrates. I try it. And then she takes a quarter and places it on the back of her hand and plays without the quarter falling. And then she puts the quarter on the back of my hand, cupping her hand underneath to catch it if it falls, which it does immediately, but I try again, slowly and I become aware of each increment of change in the position of my hand – it’s as if she has slowed the movie down so I can see it frame by frame – it’s miraculous.

For forty-five minutes it’s like this, Catherine suggesting tiny adjustments in movement and position of my hands, fingers, arm. I feel like blotting paper, soaking it up.

At one point she says, “I don’t know whether to add something else, or just leave it.”

“No, tell me,” I say and add, “I’m very patient with this.” It’s true. I am patient with this. Me, who isn’t patient with anything.

Catherine says, “You’ve learned to play in a particular way that works more or less for you and I hesitate how much of that to change. You know, it’s like a tapestry – you look at it and it looks okay but there’s some things in the middle that kind of isn’t right and you have to find your way in and just pull out one or two threads without ruining the whole thing.”

I don’t mind at all that we are not getting to my pieces today. I want to learn how to hold and move correctly with the violin. I love the complexity. “You’re a natural,” Catherine said today, and it sounded like she meant it, though I don’t know exactly what she meant and didn’t ask, not wanting to unravel the tapestry of that sentence that looked so beautiful to me. It’s not that I’m very good yet at creating beautiful or even bearable sound. But I love just holding the instrument. I love to see my fingers curled over the strings. I love the rasp of the bow against the strings. And I love Catherine’s endless observations and suggestions and creations of little exercises designed to teach my right arm how to bow across the E-string or my second and third fingers to stay together as they move across the strings.

She asked me to play a simple exercise – this was right at the beginning of our lesson and is what led into the avalanche of unplanned suggestions that came to an end too quickly for both of us with the arrival of the next student with whom, I like to think, Catherine does not have nearly as much fun, but she asked me to play something simple, a warm-up, adding what she called “traction,” digging into the strings more with the bow rather than just sliding across them and then she asked me something about how I felt about the E-string, which is the highest string on the violin and I found myself saying how I hold back from that string – it’s too high, I never feel as comfortable on that string as on the others. I’ve always felt like E was a universe unto itself and that it’s harder to make something sound good up there. All this was true, but I’d never consciously thought about it before. And I just enjoyed that she’d noticed and drawn this out of me.

I come into the city twice a week these days. On Wednesdays to meet with Martin my new shrink and on Thursdays for the workshop of course, but also for my violin lesson with Catherine. both short intense appointments during which I feel very alive – both expensive in terms of time, effort and money, but both so stimulating and exciting.

I remember the year or two in the late nineties when I would come into Manhattan from the ashram every Wednesday. I’d be in New York by 9am and I had until 7 that evening before I had to get back on the ashram shuttle to return to the Catskills. Those Wednesdays had the very same feeling to them – something precious and rich, every moment of which seemed to count.

When I am talking to Martin the shrink I don’t waste a moment on small talk. He is very strict with his 45-minute appointment and I am hyper-aware when I am with him that this is my time, it is all for me, and I am paying for it and I don’t hold back. I voice the thoughts that come though it’s not always so easy – like yesterday when my mind kept hitting up against high black walls it couldn’t find a way through.

Always when I leave Martin or Catherine part of me is already turning around to return and continue.

When I left Martin yesterday I felt chopped up inside. I walked to the phone booth at the end of the block and left Fred a little voice mail that I hoped didn’t sound too awful and then I walked downtown to the little café I recently discovered, run by an ashram devotee. Gurumayi’s and Baba’s and Bade Baba’s pictures all hang there, discretely, and familiar chanting tapes play. My voice might even be one of the voices in the crowds of chanters recorded. I go there because I like the food and it’s close.

I sat at the counter – so full of feeling I could not define. I better write, I thought. And I did. Just a few sentences and there the word is I’ve been hunting for. Shame. That’s what it is. That’s what Esther’s letter complaining about my blog elicits.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


I was hungry when I was 18 and 19. I had just moved to New York City for the first time, had chosen a college there only because it would give me a place to live in Manhattan. I chose the school also because a friend of one of my friends wrote letters about how much fun she was having there.

I moved in in the middle of the school year, in January with thick heavy snow and dark grey skies. I slipped into Manhattan and into this school with nobody noticing, no fanfare, just an unpacking of boxes, the placing of books onto shelves. And then I was there, absorbed into the silence.

Two weeks before my 15-year-old sister swallowed a bottle of pills upstairs in her bedroom while we were all at home. It happened in the middle of our little marooned family, in our house into which so few ventured. She survived and we were all left just kind of awkwardly looking at each other with no language for this new territory. We basically ignored it. I mean, my parents got her a shrink. The hospital probably suggested it. I don’t think my parents would have thought of that on their own. But as far as what we talked about in the kitchen or at Sunday lunch, nothing changed.

I was glad to get away, or so I thought. Away from the family house I thought I’d soar.

Instead I fought to pretend that the life I actually had in New York City was the one I had imagined.

When my boyfriend called after 11 at night when the rates went down, when he called on the black dial phone that I had had installed in my small room at the end of the corridor, the room I’d been sitting in all evening with the door closed, trying to fill the hours, when he called I pretended whatever I could – that there were people in my life like there were people in his. He liked his life. He liked where he lived, he liked his friends, he liked his record collection, the food he cooked, his ex-girlfriends, his TV shows, his family. He even liked his own writing.

He got up after noon, got high and didn’t eat until night when he’d cook a big rich meal and spend most of the night eating and snacking before falling asleep before dawn. I liked the uniqueness of his habits, so much more interesting than getting up in the morning and having breakfast.

I still got up in the morning, but I stopped eating breakfast. And if I tried hard I could skip lunch too. I did not want to eat. Eating seemed a horribly banal weakness. I didn’t need to do it.

There was a tiny Apple supermarket downstairs from the skyscraper in which my small cement block room was suspended. I liked having my own neighborhood supermarket. there was something adult about it. It was one of the things my boyfriend had introduced me to – going supermarket shopping without parents.

So this would be my supermarket. Its 4 or 5 short narrow cramped and dusty aisles. But I must not spend money. What a waste. I set an amount. $5. That should be enough for the week. I bought a box of Grape Nuts. Jeffrey had them in his messy New Haven studio. We ate them sometimes late at night. I’d never had snacks late at night before. I’d never had cereal any time except at breakfast and not even then. I should be able to get by on a bowl of Grape Nuts a day. I always broke down, ran to the Chop Full O’Nuts for a doughnut.

I read up on calories. You were supposed to consume about 2,000 a day. I tried hard not to go over 1,000. I weighed myself. 127. 120. 115. 110. The charts all said I should weigh much more, but I scoffed. They were wrong. How huge I would be if I followed their direction.

On Wednesday nights I had something to do. On Wednesday nights I dressed up as if I had a date. I felt pretty in my long red corduroy skirt that flared over the tops of my leather books, pretty in the white blouse embroidered with bright flowers. For once I had a reason to get on the subway and I moved with purpose, enjoying how I’d learned to navigate the underground warren to Grand Central, then up the escalator and across the street.

My father would be waiting in his club, upstairs at the bar. He’d be sitting in an armchair in a suit that had originally been such good quality that its age now didn’t matter. His head would be back against the high back of his chair, eyes half closed, a scotch and soda in his hand.

His eyes light up when he sees me. I know I make a good picture and savor the moment of success. There is a buoyancy to our first few sentences that I work to sustain as we move to a table weighed down with heavy linen, silverware and glasses.

My father asks a question or two – what are you studying, what are you reading – in his Hungarian accent with its innate respect for words like “study,” “professors,” “interests.” None of these words apply to me. I am not “studying.” I don't have "interests." I am panicking because my boyfriend wants to fuck other girls. I have a paper due tomorrow that I will scribble in the morning. I spend too much time alone and silent in an empty room, fighting off a monster who leers at me, threatening, “You are nothing. You are not an artist. You are not a writer.”

After two or three chipper sentences I fall flat and lose my voice somewhere in the folds of the heavy linen. My father picks up the slack, shaking open the huge menu with satisfaction and telling me how he has organized his office, charting the prices of commodities on special charts with magnets and magic markers. Every Wednesday night I eat with abandon. Roast beef. Potatoes. Rolls and butter. And something huge for dessert. I can have anything I want.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


About a week ago I wrote an email to each of my two sisters, letting them know about my new guru blog. I had never told them about the other blog where I post many of my weekly writings, though I had sensed they had found their way there. But I was splashing the news of the guru blog in every direction I could think of, pretending I’d just been published by Random House or something. This was not a piece of writing I wanted to hide. On the contrary. Since both my sisters are part of the Siddha Yoga community I figured word would reach them about this fabulous new book, the first of its kind etc. So I figured it might be better if they heard about it from me.

While emails pour in in response to the guru story there’s not a peep from my two sisters.

Until today when a long white business envelope arrives with Agnes’s handwriting. A letter. An actual letter. Aint seen one of those suckers in a long time.

Agnes’s first sentence is about how she came across my first blog in February and read it until the end of March when I posted a piece that revolved around the pinched card she had sent me. Now, she says, she will no longer read a word.

She refers only to the one or two or three pieces that she felt insulted by. She doesn’t like that I could write “my family doesn’t support me.” She really didn’t like the suggestion that I was all lined up as a convenient spinster, placed next door to my aging mother, ready to take care of her for the rest of her life. “We bought that house because you asked us to so you’d have a place to live when you left the ashram.” Her voice is shrill.

I don’t like her letter. I find it dull, its phrases all out of self-help books and the like. I am not convinced that Agnes has really touched any deep part of herself through writing this. I find it pretty easy to dismiss.

It is just so almost unheard of amongst the five of us – my two parents, my two sisters and me – for anything very real to get said. It’s very hard to say anything real in our little mini-culture. Even I didn’t say anything. But I wrote a lot.

Last week I drove down and had supper with my mother. It was a long light warm summer night in early April. I knew it would be an easy visit, a happy one. I took my violin and played badly, but at least I played something. And I gave her a birthday present I knew she’d love. And I brought her a bag of things on loan for her trip to Hungary – a laminated map of Budapest, a phrase book.

I asked her what she remembered about when I left boarding school. It’s a period of time I’ve been exploring lately, it seems it was a real turning point for me and I hoped my mother might help me remember. “Well, we came and picked you up and went to that hotel for lunch,” my mother answer pragmatically. That wasn’t quite the kind of answer I was after.

“Do you remember at all what I was like then?” I try again. We are sitting at her small table by the window that overlooks her patch of lawn and then the quiet road. “Because after that life got much harder for me,” I say.

“Oh,” says my mother. Now she looks worried. “I should have paid more attention. I didn’t know…” I see my mother veering down a road I don’t want her to go down. I don’t want her to start berating herself. That’s not what I came for either.

“Do you remember when I went to Switzerland with Dad?” I ask her. I went to Switzerland with my father when I was eleven. I have some disturbing memories from those few days and as I’ve thought about it it looks like from that trip on, over the next six months, my life went down like a row of dominoes.

“No,” my mother says, looking at me blankly. This surprises me. “Remember?” I say, “I lost my luggage?” This was the least of it, but it’s an easy detail I feel safe mentioning.

“Oh, yeah,” my mother says. “Did you stay with Helga?”

Helga is part of the difficult part of my Switzerland story, my father’s pretty rich Swiss girlfriend who even my mother apparently likes to continue to pretend was/is just a family friend. I am uncomfortable when Helga’s name comes up -- so blandly too – calling me to go along with the pretense. “Yeah,” I say vaguely. This drink is too strong for me. I back off.

I tell Martin my shrink about this event, this conversation with my mother. Martin sits in his chair, tall and thin, like a long skinny rectangle in a button-down shirt and pants. He questions why I didn’t just let my mother respond as she wanted to respond, let her have her moment of wishing she’d done it differently. “You say that your mother has a hard time getting to feeling,” he says, “and then when she does you steered her away.”

And then Martin asks something about if I’d ever told my mother about feeling bad before. No, I say. Never? he asks. No, I say. “In all those years of depression you never once said anything to her?” He is gently incredulous. “No,” I say. “That was the first time.”