Decades after a sudden car crash left Lynne Greenberg severly injured and in immeasurable pain, she is learning that recovery is a long process.
After discovering that neck injuries from the accident had never quite healed, she is forced to deal with a life of chronic pain and all of its repercussions.
You can read an excerpt of Greenberg's mesmerizing memoir, "The Body Broken" below.
I was nineteen. Home from college for the summer. A third date. A reckless boy. I find myself initially unable to recall his name, having blocked it years ago—Walter, perhaps? My mother, emphatic, reminds that his name was Martin. All I remember is his stocky build and that, like a wrestler, his center hung low in his hips.
On our first date, we rode horseback. My horse bolted, and I fell. On our second date, he took me skeet shooting at his father's hunting club. The gun backfired, and I fell again. Shouldn't these falls have presaged another? Grounded, solid, he had a gravitational pull on me.
On our third date, we drove out from the suburbs of St. Louis, my hometown, to a friend's farm in rural Missouri. Huge party. Lots of beer stowed in his trunk, still unopened. He sped along faster and faster, eager for the fun to begin. Racing and bumping along the dirt road, the car hit a small ditch. Martin lost control of the wheel, and the car pitched, rolled, and tumbled off a thirty-foot drop. Those were the days before laws prescribed seat belts; none of us bothered to wear them. I flew out of the open window and fell, yet once more, landing in a cornfield far below. The car was totaled; people assumed that I was dead somewhere inside all of that bent metal. Martin suffered few injuries, a mere broken collarbone, and barreled out of the wreck.
I felt only a vague annoyance during the accident, at first, because hitting the ditch made me bungle my attempt to put on more lipstick. As we began catapulting off the embankment, I still felt no fear, anxiety, or even premonition, just more annoyance. This is so stupid, I thought. Now we're going to be late to the party. And then the sudden whoosh of being lifted high into the air, so brief this flight before the free fall, followed only by blackness.
News of the accident spread through the party. My neighbor Clayton Varley, hearing, raced to get to the car, taking a shortcut through a cornfield. He never found the car; he found me instead, lying among the ripening stalks. Dress ripped off. Unconscious. Covered in filth, rocks, glass, and blood. I was later told that he took his shirt off and covered my exposed body. Such a sensitive, protective gesture. One that sometimes creeps up on me unawares. I still find myself using it as a way of gauging individuals, particularly men. How would they behave in a moment of female vulnerability?
I came to in an ambulance, strapped to a gurney. I couldn't move. I could barely open my eyelids. They were swollen shut, but a man inches from my face demanded attention. He kept questioning me—my name, age, address, where I hurt. Again, I felt annoyance. I wanted to go back to sleep. My neck hurt. My arms hurt. My legs hurt. My face hurt. I answered a few of his questions but then drifted. Darkness again.
I awoke to a torture chamber of cures. A team of doctors was cleansing and stitching up my wounds. Screaming, I tried to writhe away from the several nurses who were holding me down. The doctors, waiting on X-ray results of my neck, would not give me pain medication, even a topical numbing agent, until they had identified my injuries. The doctors took for granted that I should endure my leg being sewn back together—the prick and then shudder of thread as it sliced through my skin—at the same time as they gouged pieces of glass out of my face and set my two shattered arms with no anesthesia, manipulating and yanking the bones into alignment. It was the night I first learned the many faces of pain, his different guises, sensations, and methods, and how clever he is at shape-shifting.
My mother reassured me that everything was going to be all right, but then I heard her sobbing outside in the hallway a few minutes later. The sound terrified me, but my mouth, too swollen and bruised, couldn't form the words to bring her back into the room. Later that night, a doctor told me that my neck had been fractured. Without further explanation, he finally gave me pain relief—morphine—and for the next weeks in the hospital, time and consciousness bled. The days were sordid and vague. Constant pain. Constant nausea. The morphine made me throw up repeatedly, but, because I had to remain immobilized, I needed three nurses to do so. I would frantically press the call button, and nurses would rush into the room. Together, on a count of three, they would lift the sheet in one quick motion. My whole body would roll sideways so that I could reach the basin by my head.
Background noise during the first week of internal injuries, questions about future fertility, the risk of paralysis. Visitors punctuated the hours of unconsciousness. A Hallmark card arrived from Martin. "Get well soon!" it cheerfully announced. Noticeably absent were the words "I'm sorry," and in carefully crafted rhetoric, he denied any accountability for the accident. Martin had been in the ambulance with me as we went to the hospital. Sitting on a cot above me, he had casually swung his feet too close to my body. I was going in and out of consciousness, but I remember clearly that foot of his. I worried that it would hit me in the face. He seemed oblivious to me and my injuries as he talked to the medic. I remember him wanting attention, babbling on about his shoulder. Ignoring Martin, the medic had knelt over me and eventually pulled a curtain across the ambulance to separate us. I never saw Martin again.
I underwent some kind of procedure for my neck fracture, but I'm not exactly clear when that occurred. I awoke to find my head no longer resting on the bed. I lifted one of my arms to try to feel why. My fingers met metal—a brace that encircled my head protruded about four inches from my skull. Further inspection of the contraption revealed that four holes had been bored into my skull and that the brace had been screwed into my head at these four sites. The device, called a halo brace, emphasizing the metal ring around my head, was held in place by a tight-fitting corset that encased my entire torso. I had metamorphosed into Frankenstein's monster.
Released from the hospital once I was stable, I spent the next two months recuperating at my parents' house. I didn't experience high levels of pain, mostly discomfort at having to wear the brace and a slight revulsion at having to clean around the four holes in my skull. My mother cared for me all summer to the point of exhaustion. Slivers of comfort, of sensory pleasure, came by way of food and music. My mother took to driving weekly to a bakery twenty minutes from our house to get my favorite cake—seven thin layers of yellow cake separated by fudge. Rather than regular icing, the entire cake was dipped in gooey chocolate. What had once been an annual birthday indulgence became my daily fare. I ate slice after slice at nearly every meal. I whiled away the days of boredom watching James Bond movies and Zeffirelli's La Traviata. My best friends Peggy Schmidt, Betsy Schechter, June Varley, and Miriam Tennenbaum came over regularly to keep me company in this period of enforced immobility. Listening to Rickie Lee Jones and Elvis Costello, we would chat about all of the typical things that college students on summer break discuss: their waitressing jobs, dates, parties, sunbathing at the public pool, diets, and more dates. I am ashamed to admit that I have lost touch with all of these women except for Betsy; mostly because when the halo brace came off, I barely set foot back in St. Louis again.
At the end of the summer, the doctors told me that I was something of a medical miracle. Apparently, this vertebra, the C2, is so high in the neck that it juts into the skull, nearly touching both the brain stem and the spinal cord. The bone, destabilized, usually slices one or both in half, causing, if not death, then permanent paralysis. It seems that only the barest percentage of people live (5 percent)—let alone walk (5 percent of the 5 percent)—after breaking this bone. Yet my neck had healed; I had full mobility and no other internal injuries of any consequence. I would be just fine.
Most of the adults in my life attributed my good fortune to divine intervention. In my jaded opinion, however, no greater spiritual source accounted for either the accident or my recovery. When various well-meaning friends of my parents sent me copies of Harold Kushner's now classic book When Bad Things Happen to Good People (if I remember correctly, I received five copies in all), rather than read it or glean any moral or religious lesson from my experience, I instead laughed in the face of larger meaning. My friends and I had a ritualistic bonfire in my wastebasket, burning every last one of the books. I was young, fearless.
I went back to college only two weeks late and spent the next three years making up for lost time—a little wilder, a little more eager to party, perhaps. I looked upon Brown University not as an academic institution but as one big playground. I spent the year dancing at weekly parties that my housemates and I threw—Rufus and Chaka Khan, the Talking Heads, and Marvin Gaye blasting into the wee hours.
I also took, in fact, no academic classes at all that year, only dance classes. Once upon a time, I had wanted to be a ballerina. So goes the story of countless little girls, I know, enchanted by the smell of the wood floors, the lyricism of the music, and even the attire—the second-skin leotards, pink tights, and satin toe shoes. I had commitment, anyway, taking dance classes nearly every day of my life since childhood. With my too-flat feet and too-wide hips, however, ballet was not a realistic career, and at nineteen I rarely considered whether I was good enough to dance other forms professionally, assuming that I would finish college first.
That car accident destroyed any chance I might have had of a later professional career as a dancer; my neck has never moved much since. Yet dance saved me after the car crash. A year of intensive dance classes, ballet, jazz, and modern, rather than physical therapy, repaired my body and spirit. I would carefully detach the neck collar which the doctors insisted that I wear for six months and, finally feeling like myself again, would spend hours at the barre pushing my body to regain its old flexibility and strength. One of the true beauties of Brown University's lack of distribution requirements is that a student can actually get away with taking only dance classes. The other beautiful thing about Brown—my appalled parents only discovered how I had spent the year (and their tuition money) well after classes had ended, when my report card arrived home. I did at least get straight A's that year. (I think it's hard not to get an A in a dance class, frankly.)
The car accident had unleashed chaos, but order had been quickly restored. The accident didn't change me—not in any profound way. Impervious to viewing the accident as life-altering, I experienced no startling or epiphanic insights. Nor did I develop any new ethos, worldview, or philosophy in the wake of the ordeal. The only psychological aftershock of the accident was that I became phobic of heights, mostly of falling. I wear the angry scars that run up and down my legs as my own red badge of courage, and I have hidden the permanent holes on either side of my temples with bangs for decades. I had neatly sidestepped death; walking away, I assumed, unscathed, I rarely thought about the accident again. In later years, the event merely served to confirm my status quo—decidedly fortunate, nurtured. And alive.
Chapter 1 A Wilderness of Sweets A wilderness of sweets . . . Wild above rule or art; enormous bliss. —John Milton, from Paradise Lost
I live on Garden Place in Brooklyn Heights, New York. A sleepy idyll, forgotten in the crazy speed and riot of New York City, it rests outside of time and outside of the cacophony. Only one block in length, the street is made up of single-family town houses and brownstones. Someone usually has to die for a house to go on sale here. Tree branches overhang the street, flowering pink puffballs of cherry blossom in spring-time. They create canopies over the children, who are permitted to play ball in the street without supervision. On warm evenings, they gather for capture the flag, skateboarding, and manhunt, screaming "Car!" and racing to get out of the way of the occasional interruption. Everyone on the block dutifully shovels the snow within hours of a blizzard, puts out the trash only on designated garbage days, and responsibly accepts FedEx packages for the neighbors. People's window boxes change seasonally and predictably: mums in fall, evergreens in winter, daffodils in spring, geraniums in summer. If a baby wails late at night, a family goes on vacation, or a child gets into Harvard, the neighbors are the first to know. The street whispers safety, stability, understated affluence. There should be no failures on Garden Place or bankruptcies or terrors or tragedies.
We like to play dressup at nightmare only. Every Halloween, the block becomes the center of such a maelstrom. It takes off its apron and goes all dark and wild—but only for the night. Unlike people in other parts of the neighborhood, we wait to begin decorating our houses late that afternoon, as if to emphasize that misrule and mayhem, evil and chaos, only occur for one night here and will be exorcised by morning.
In a flurry of activity, we make over the street with only a few hours to spare. The ornamentation is not elaborate; most of the decorations were purchased a decade before and still retain a bit of dust from having been hauled out of the basement. Glowin-thedark skeletons hang in effigy out of secondstory windows, clumsily carved pumpkins line the stoops, and cobwebs festoon the gates and trees. The homemade, somewhat tattered props suit our block: they shroud it, offering just the right sprinkling of decay and spook to transform the carefully maintained prettiness of our street.
At five o'clock sharp, street traffic is prohibited, and we officially open our doors. Lugging baskets filled with candy outside, every family on the block settles on the front stairs, adults with cocktails, children with macaroni and cheese. My family—my husband, Eric, and two children, Benjamin, fourteen, and Lilly, eleven—always invites a crew of extended family and friends to join us. My only rule is that everyone who comes over that night should wear a costume. My love for my family rises exponentially every year as I see them struggle to comply with this rule. My usually elegant brotherinlaw Nick permits us to swathe him in purple velvet swashbuckler attire. My motherin-law, Maria, unrecognizably silly, giggles in a clown costume, while my refined sister Jeanne gets funky in a seventies rainbow-colored Afro and platform shoes, and my brotherinlaw David raps in a blue polyester tuxedo and bling. My children's costumes, long discussed, carefully conceived, have evolved in response to their growing maturity: Tinker Bell transformed into a teenage rock star; a dalmatian devolved into Dracula. I tend to like wearing small touches only, usually accessories that somehow hint at my mood that year: a black pointy witch's hat, crown, Mardi Gras mask, fairy wings.
The crowds begin to pour onto our block. People from all over Brooklyn gravitate to Garden Place, and it becomes one big street party, more and more raucous the later it gets. Our block plays the role of sentinel that evening. We are polite, even generous overseers of the madness, but always above the fray. The crowds of trickortreaters press, forming lines at the bottom of our stairs. We sit midway up our stoop, just high enough to make it difficult to reach us. In control, we casually toss candy from above into the up-stretched candy bags. "One piece per trickor-treater only," we remind the younger helpers on our stairs, "or we'll run out!" Minutes later, we holler, "Friends always get extra candy, though," bending the rules for the familiar. The evening will eventually teeter on the brink of sourness, as makebelieve chaos gives way to potential threat. Dark descends and unruly teenagers wearing gas masks or burglar panty hose replace the toddlers dressed as princesses and firemen. A teenager leaps over a fence into the neighbors' yard to kick in a pumpkin and grab fistfuls of candy. Our block is momentarily shaken but reminds itself that this is only a night of pretend. All we have to do is stand up, brush the candy wrappers off of our costumes, and go inside, firmly closing the door to such non-sense. Danger, indeed—not on Garden Place!
When my family first moved onto the block, a neighbor told me how much candy to buy. I thought she was exaggerating—she wasn't. In those three hours, we give away more than three thousand pieces of candy. I won't pretend that I go to Costco or Walmart to buy cheap hard candy in bulk or go online to buy some healthy alternative to candy. My children and I instead go to the grocery store, and they get to pick out whatever kind of candy they want—usually bag upon bag of the most deliciously disgusting candy one can buy: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Milky Ways, and 3 Musketeers bars.
Later in the afternoon, we sit in the middle of our living room, ripping the bags open, the chemical fumes of processed chocolate wafting around us. The kids love to wrap their arms around and then dump the piles of candy into the baskets.
"We always have the best candy, don't you think, Mommy?" Lilly asked me wistfully three years ago. Seven at the time, all pinky-glowing skin and downy dimples, she sat on the floor up to her elbows in Hershey's Kisses.
I agreed with her. We did have the best candy. And, for some reason, that gave me immeasurable pleasure. Not because I was in competition with my neighbors, but because it somehow symbolized all of the particular sweetnesses of this period. And nothing made me feel safer than raising my children in this tiny enclave of Brooklyn. The neighborhood sang a tranquil lullaby that rocked any anxieties to sleep. Perhaps it is human nature not to remember that the simple line "rockabye baby" is followed inexorably by "the cradle will fall." And even though so many of our nursery rhymes and lullabies describe this fall—when the bough breaks, when London Bridge fell down, when Humpty Dumpty took a great fall, when Jack fell down the hill—I had no sense of foreboding that I, too, would come tumbling after. Our lives were simple, simply "enormous bliss." These words were written by John Milton to describe Adam and Eve's life in Eden before the fall from grace. The poem Paradise Lost has acted as a touchstone for me for years. It is Milton's masterpiece, an extended retelling of the story of Genesis—Adam and Eve's lives in the Garden of Eden, their temptation, fall from grace, and eventual punishment. In contrast to the story as narrated in the Bible, Milton lingered in Eden, that "wilderness of sweets," lavishly expanding the description of Adam and Eve's lives before the fall for thousands of lines of poetry, and I finally understand why: it was just too lovely there for him to leave.
And too lovely in my own paradise for me ever to want to leave. I cherished home as much for my children and husband as for myself. Our lovely house, part Edith Wharton age of elegance, part mold and sagging disarray, allows for privacy and a sense of community. We live vertically: a parlor and dining floor for everyone, the second floor for Eric and me, the third floor for the children, and an overgrown garden of ivy and peonies for our dog. If I peek out of my front door, I am surrounded by intimate friends and wellknown acquaintances. I never have to worry about forgetting some seemingly innocuous but critical detail in the children's lives—a chorus rehearsal or parents' night at their school. I can count on my network of girlfriends to remind me. This intricate web of support, even in the years before I truly needed and relied on it, was one of the sweetnesses of my life that I most savored.
My marriage with Eric, buoyed by children and community, offers the central haven. Eric and I have been together for twenty-two years. We first met in college at Brown when I was twenty years old, only a year after the car accident. Together, we shared an ability to sidestep danger that seemed to set the pattern for our lives: hints of trouble transformed into fortuitous events. Fortune trumped fate even at our first meeting, which took place during a hurricane, but one named Gloria, that managed to veer back into the ocean before doing any real damage and gloriously permitted us to meet. I was alone in the apartment that I shared with my friend Audrey, the top floor of a four-story apartment building filled with students. I had looked out of the window periodically during the day as the storm built. Students, taking advantage of the gale, were roller-skating, biking, and gliding on homemade rigs with sails. Storekeepers busily taped up their windows to protect against the potential force of the wind. I didn't think much of the storm; I had a paper due.
That evening, the storm grew wilder. My electricity went out. I hadn't bothered following the advice of local weathermen and had no candles or matches in the apartment readily available. Scrambling in the kitchen, trying to light a half-used candle with the stove, I heard a crash. Two of the windows in my living room had shattered. Taping up the windows had also seemed an unnecessary precaution. Regretting my earlier nonchalance, I raced out of the apartment and began knocking on doors. After trying three floors of apartments without success, I finally found someone who was at home on the first floor. The young Eric, blond, thin, patrician, answered the door. He was holding a croquet mallet in his hand and waved me in. Candles lined the walls, illuminating an elaborate game of croquet and a bottle of champagne chilling in a bucket. There was no furniture in the room except for a plastic lawn table beneath an open sun umbrella and six chairs, remnants of a garage sale that for fifty dollars had allowed him to decorate his first apartment. I stayed that night until the storm was over, playing croquet, drinking champagne, watching card tricks, playing poker, staring into Eric's changeable blue-green eyes. I liked his calm. I liked his cool. I was smitten. He was deciding. It took several weeks of awkward attempts at connection—an unexpected shortage of eggs, lost keys, could I borrow his phone—before he asked me out on our first date. Or was it a date? He wondered if I was hungry and wanted to get an ice cream with him.
We always joked in later years that he would tell me when he actually started liking me only on our wedding day. I would just have to wait until then for the mystery to be revealed. We knew for years that we would get married. My mother, so sure of this event, started planning the wedding a year before we actually got engaged. Thanksgiving 1990, she called me two days before we planned to come home for the holiday and informed me that we couldn't come. When asked why not, she admitted that it would be too embarrassing; everyone in St. Louis thought that we were engaged.
A college romance that could have ended in a broken heart, made worse by the public embarrassment of maternal expectation gone amok, instead ended in a marzipan rose of a wedding: pink rose centerpieces, rosebud boutonnieres, my dress bordered by satin roses. We married in my parents' backyard at sunset; it started to rain, but only after we had sat down to dinner under a tent. The downpour became just another symbol of our good luck. No one felt a drop. Eric's toast after dinner was a simple declarative—he had fallen in love with me at first sight and would love me until the day he died.
We howled with laughter later that night back in our hotel room, as he tried to get me out of the dress (an impossibility, really, with the two hundred tiny buttons down the back), while admitting that he had completely lied in the toast. He had started liking me about a week into my harassing him; he did consider the ice cream a real date.
The innocence of this first love left an indelible impression on our marriage, colored it magic, as if we managed to see everything in our lives, including the birth and raising of our children, through rosetinted glasses. When I found out in my first pregnancy that I was having a boy, I was initially nervous. I was from a family of girls—what would I do with a boy? I began having anxiety dreams. A thick-necked hulk of a son would look at me, take a beer can, smash it on his forehead, and ask, "Yo, Ma! Wanna brewski?" Eric teases me that I made him read every line of the mother-to-be's bible, What to Expect When You're Expecting. We knew every small symptom, discomfort, and side effect of pregnancy intimately. We had complained about them together, each with a hand pressed to my belly, waiting for the next cascade of volcanic eruptions as our son moved or hiccuped. We felt ready. We were prepared. We had, however, not bothered to read that portion of the chapter on labor and delivery devoted to home birthing in case of a problem. As Eric pointed out, "Why bother reading it? What kinds of idiots don't make it to the hospital in time?"
So determined to experience the birth naturally, I stayed home with Eric for twenty-one hours as we took walks, warm showers, and listened to the Grateful Dead. When I was nearing passout, we finally decided that it might be a good idea to get to the hospital. We had miscalculated. We hadn't anticipated pouring rain, my not fitting into the backseat (Eric finally broke the front seat so that I could), traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, no parking, a busy delivery room. By the time a doctor saw me, I was past the point of needing to push; the baby was "in distress." Distress gave way to miracle; Benjamin was born thirteen minutes later. And that was thirteen years ago. Even the number 13 loses its cachet as unlucky in the context of our lives. The young man, Benjamin, captured at this moment, is another alchemy, dross turned into golden boy, mind all father, body all mother. His character comes from Eric: ebullient, enthusiastic, generous. He has what my family refers to as a "pure soul." If I am annoyed with him, he'll lean over to tell me that I'm the best mom in the world and then give me one of his goofiest, kindest grins. He spends most of his time in motion: dancing, surfing, or skateboarding. When he was eight, on an August day, we had sat on the beach on Long Island looking at some boys about his age taking a surfing lesson. Benjamin wanted to try. Minutes later, I watched as an ecstatic Benjamin effortlessly stood up on the board on the first wave and rode it all the way in. "You killed it!" screamed his surf instructors. From that day on, Benjamin was theirs. Sunburst sea lions, they wrestle on the beach on days when the ocean is flat and "party wave," sharing rides, when the ocean swells. They also share lithe forms, agility, and a surprising grace on the water.
In their topsy-turvy world of speed, jumps, flips, and turns, to call something "dope," "sick," or "ill" is to bestow a compliment, to transform the appellation of misery into triumph. The irony of these misnomers did not resonate with me for a long time, probably because my own expectations about life were similarly unmindful of despair. I now watch shaken as Benjamin "cuts" waves, leaps in African dance classes, skis off picnic tables, and hurls himself down flights of stairs on his skateboard. My boy, the flier. And I keep whispering to myself, Please, just let him keep soaring.
In the early years of our marriage, Eric and my own flight seemed impervious to crashing. Even the heartache of a miscarriage after Benjamin's birth got assimilated physically. I barely had time to feel the weight of this bitterness as I got pregnant again three weeks later. Eric was out of town on the day of my scheduled sonogram. Benjamin, three at the time, towheaded, wild, and earnest, came with me to the appointment instead. We were both excited for him to meet his sibling. He sat perched at my feet as we peered at the monitor, both unsure of how to read the grainy images. When the doctor finished the measurements and confirmed that the baby was indeed healthy—and a girl—I got a little teary, only to erupt in laughter as Benjamin kicked me. Apparently, he had wanted a brother.
Lilly, the dulcet angel, was born in less than four hours of a labor untouched by drama or trauma. Her English teacher recently described Lilly as resembling one of the daughters in Little Women. "She looks like she should be coming to class in ringlets and a hoopskirt," he observed. She does have an old-fashioned beauty about her. With her midnight blue eyes, corn-flax blond hair, and fair complexion, she resembles her grandmother Maria who grew up in a little Alpine village in Switzerland. I sometimes think that we should have named her Heidi. Lilly also has the gentility and careful bearing of another era. I have watched so many adults try to connect with her only to find themselves stymied by her reticence. Once, we were introduced to a famous movie star, all extroverted glow and glare. He tried to charm her, telling amusing anecdotes in an increasingly animated fashion. She stared at him, placid, inscrutable, until he eventually gave up.
Yet while soft-spoken and reserved with adults, she is all giggles and chatter with her girlfriends. Her pack of friends has circled her around for years. In kindergarten, her friend Daisy stood at the classroom doorway nearly every morning waiting for Lilly. When Lilly would arrive, clinging to me, anxious, Daisy would grab her and pull her through the door into the classroom and, I always felt, into her life. Nowadays, the girls lock themselves in Lilly's room for hours without needing me or anyone else. Through the door, I hear snippets of conversation, laughing, the computer, music from High School Musical, the girls singing along. For eleven years, raising Benjamin and Lilly provided the central rhythm of my life, one that generally permitted the private and public to coexist in harmony. My domestic, professional, and social worlds flowed together and in and out of each other. Before my children were born, this had not been the case. For a few years, my work had briefly demanded all of me. I had mistakenly wandered into a soulkilling career as a lawyer while in my twenties. I hadn't known what I wanted to do with my life, so my father had urged that law school would provide a "backup plan." I could "graduate last" in my class, if I wanted, "but just graduate." This career progressed in fits and starts without balance, and I fluctuated between intense periods of around-the-clock work as a lawyer and no work at all. These hiccups of on-again, off-again work culminated in my initially returning to work after Benjamin's birth but then lasting only three weeks at the job. I had a visceral reaction to leaving Benjamin; it felt untenable to continue working when at home nestled that soft, delicious bundle of a baby, and so I quit without discussion, planning, or thinking, this time for good.
Two years of full-time mothering ensued. Benjamin and I had an easy routine, our days structured by playgroup, music class, a nap, and the playground. Perfectly content to continue this lifestyle indefinitely, if our money didn't run out, I meandered into a poetry class on a whim—Dickinson, Yeats, and Auden—in the third year of mothering. I found what would prove to be my vocation. This audited class led to further literature classes, and as my passion grew, so, too, did the intensity of my studies. I worked harder than I ever had before, the drive and ambition fueled purely by love of the subject matter, and eventually completed a Ph.D. in English literature.
Always, I considered this degree a private pursuit. I had little expectation of getting a job as a college professor, knowing how hard these jobs are to come by. Most academics do not get jobs at all or get them in places in which they have no interest in living. Given Eric's work and our family life, I would not have the option of moving anywhere in the country to pursue my career. So when a job precisely in my field of interest (seventeenth-century British literature) opened up at Hunter College in New York City, a mere seven subway stops from my house, it seemed a chance for which not even I could hope.
I (miraculously, I always think) got the job, and, from the beginning, it permitted my life to remain balanced: the work challenging, even consuming, but not so allconsuming as to upset my domestic world. Hunter also allowed me substantial liberty to create courses that I wanted to teach and to control my teaching schedule. Teaching what makes me passionate inspired me and, I think, made me a more enthused teacher. Always in the classroom, I was aware of the luxury of getting to talk about what I loved with creative and engaged students. I also relished my scholarly writing—reading the latest criticism in my field and getting that spark of an idea that would evolve into a chapter or an essay. I particularly loved the academic conferences where we would spend the days listening to colleagues present papers and then stay up late over drinks, continuing the day's conversations.
My husband, too, after a recordbreakingly short career as a corporate attorney, had found meaningful work as a journalist. For seventeen years, he has worked at ABC News. Beginning at the entry level as a desk assistant, he has now worked at nearly every conceivable job within the news division. A news junkie, he is never so happy as when a breaking story comes in from some far-flung spot, and he must race to get it on the air. His cool, the quality that most attracted me to him when we met, has also made him particularly good at handling the stresses of his work. During a "crash," he remains unruffled, logical, measured. I would find out only after my own crash how necessary this quality would come to be for our family. And to those who know him intimately, his equability translates into ethical compassion. He is the first to offer aid, to come through for someone in need, or to show support. For me, he has always been the man most likely to cover and protect the body of a girl in danger.
I like to think that together Eric and I embrace the professions of both fact and fiction and that somehow this makes us whole. In the first thirteen years of our marriage, we were a two-headed Atlas holding up a world with a rich, full, and rewarding topography. We were living in the prime of our lives in our own little Eden. I was the luckiest girl in the world.
Excerpted from THE BODY BROKEN: A Memoir by Lynne Greenberg. Copyright © 2008 by Lynne Greenberg. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.