Excerpt: 'My Life So Far'

Mother wasn't with us much anymore, though I didn't know why. It was during one of the periods when she was back from wherever it was she went that the butterfly collection was started. Maybe someone had suggested that she get herself a hobby. Peter and I had stopped paying much attention to her being away, or at least I had. It had simply become a fact of our lives: Mother would be there, and then she wouldn't. When she wasn't there, and even when she was, Grandma Seymour would be in charge of us. Grandma was a strong woman, a constant presence in our early lives. But though I loved her, I don't remember ever running joyfully into her arms the way my own grandchildren do with me. I don't remember her ever imparting grandmotherly wisdom or even being fun to be with. She was a more formal, stalwart presence. But she was always there to meet our external needs.

Around the house there'd be an occasional murmured mention of a hospital or of an illness, and right after we'd moved to Greenwich, Mother had been in Johns Hopkins Hospital for a long time, for an operation on a dropped kidney. Grandma took Peter and me to visit her there once, and I remember Mother telling me they'd almost cut her in half. But she'd been "ill" and in hospitals so much that it had lost any real meaning. Hospitals were supposed to make you well so you could come home and stay.

Ever since we had moved to Greenwich I had spent a lot of time in hospitals myself -- me, the healthy one. I'd developed blood poisoning, then chronic ear infections; then I started breaking bones. My arm was broken the first time during a wrestling match with a boy, Teddy Wahl, the son of the man who ran the nearby Round Hill Stables and Riding Club.Teddy threw me against a stall door. It hurt, but Iwalked home and didn't say anything -- between Peter and Mother, we had enough hypochondriacs in the house. I was not going to complain. Instead, I sat in front of the black-and-white TV to watch The Howdy Doody Show, my favorite because it regularly included a short Lone Ranger film.

I sat carefully on my hands, as I always did when Dad was home, because I was scared he would see that I was still biting my fingernails. As we sat down to eat, Dad asked me if I'd washed my hands, and when I told him I hadn't, he exploded in anger, pulled me out of my seat and into the bathroom, turned on the faucet, took the broken arm (which I'd been holding limply by my side), and thrust it under the water. I passed out. He'd no idea that I was hurt and was very apologetic as he rushed me to the hospital, where my arm was X-rayed and put into a cast. The worst part was that all this happened right before school started, my first year at the all-girls Greenwich Academy -- just at the time when everybody would be checking out who was cool (we called it "neat" back then), who was good at field hockey, and whom they wanted to be friends with, I had to show up with my arm in a cast.

At the time, Dad was starring in the Broadway smash hit "Mister Roberts." I now realize that I must have sensed that something was very wrong between my parents. Palpable tension was in the air: Dad's anger and black moods; Mother's increasing absences. Even if I had had the words to express what I "knew," I'd already learned that no one would listen to words that spoke about feelings. So instead, my body was sending out distress signals.

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