I am alone so much that I started writing about my life… asking myself questions and answering myself.
I am sitting on the edge, on the verge, on the precipice of falling into an old lady’s lap. Mine.
My thoughts are solemn: Did my life have meaning? Does It? Was I a failure? Was I successful? Was I kind? Was I cruel? Do I get a passing grade? Could you say I was a good mother? I will say with more certainty that I was a good wife. Did my art say anything to anybody? It seems my jewelry designs made people happy. Was I ever happy? Did I ever learn to be content? Will I?
Is it even necessary or wise to grade your own life?
Can’t I accept and conclude and continue.
Now a huge pile of years is collecting behind me and there are a few scant years ahead… what really mattered. Don’t say love… who you loved and who loved you… one of the great uncertainties of my life. Was I too wounded to really love… was I loved? Am I loved? I self-observe that I have been inadequate in the human interchange game… …who cared about me and so on… all open for conjecture and gloomy mulling over.
Was it a decent life or awful… did the moments of joy out weigh the moments of sadness, despair, anger… even terror.(?)
And the most interesting question of all… did it really matter what actually happen to me… I might have had the same personality and emotional cloud no matter what the script, no matter what the circumstances had been.
I was a wanted child. Yet most of my childhood I was neglected. Ironic…
I had interesting parents (my girl friends especially were charmed by my father when he took us to lunch in my early adulthood)… each that is both my mother and my father were very charismatic. They separated when I was three… so they are very discrete… distinct individuals not one parental unit.
I have no memories of myself having my father in our home… or do I. Dreams, a nightmare… the truth or fantasy or wishful thinking.
Both my mother and father were extremely intelligent, intellectual, au current and jiving with the most Avant-garde ideas. Both of them were painfully ahead of their time… their concerns and quirks would be familiar to any modern person.
My mother the dancer had two husbands (including a Viennese Baron) before marrying my father. She was an active labor organizer, became an expert in Pilates and Yoga, all by the1950’s, a seeker (think early scientology among other doctrines) and understood the power of diet and organic food. On and on, hip and cool and sexy and … I have splendid photographs of my mother in full Spanish Dancer regalia impossibly slender her back arched, her arms lifted… gorgeous
My father, a deeply educated Jew born in Munich, Germany to a wealthy family in 1902, was so active against early Nazism in 1920’s (we are talking street fights and more) that he had to leave Germany in 1925. He came to America in his early twenties when he was the world expert on 15-century Latin manuscripts. Soon he was the private librarian of the richest man in New York City, playing poker with the Rockefellers. Erudite and sophisticated, sternly handsome and wildly intelligent, but so crippled by his many emotional wounds that he created failure when he could have had success.
Both mother and father, Beatrice and Heinz, seem way more fascinating than me. Don’t they? Perhaps more worthy of writing about than trying to communicate to anyone the projectory of my much more subdued plainer life. Yes, their histories are noteworthy and make a great read but my life is my own story… if I am surveying the years I have spent alive… then I must consider my own journey.
None of their intelligence, erudition, liberal thinking, ahead of their cultureness, sexual magnetism, political activism, vivaciousness, language acuteness, extensive reading of literature and philosophy would make them good parents. In fact, they were terrible and careless parents.
I was a wanted child. Yet most of my childhood I was neglected. Ironic…
So you do you think that we exist in some form before our birth as human children?
Are we wandering souls waiting to be called into physical beings?
I believe that my mother called me, lured me, pleaded with me and made me many promises so I would join her on earth and be her long awaited daughter. So persuaded, I was conceived, I grew in her womb well tended to, I went through a terrible birth, yet I was whole and beautiful. I was all she asked for and yet once I was in her arms too soon it was obvious that she had lied to me and I was stuck in a life that was hard. Often have I regretted my presence on this Earth. Sometimes I have tried to leave.
Yet, here I am an old artist financially sufficient, alone in a beautiful adobe house in New Mexico, with a bossy ancient cat, a large pond complete with begging greedy koi, and many many wild birds that gather drawn by my plants, the water and a well filled feeder. Isn’t this enough? Really why isn’t this enough?
Can I decide to be happy?
Choices: when Beatrice was done with her marriage to Albert the Baron, she decided she wanted a Jewish husband and see wanted to procreate. My father, Heinz, the bookish German refuge, was her next husband.
Beatrice, although descendent from Jews, grew up in an extremely secular household… I say that with great seriousness. My grandfather was born in Moscow, Russia as Constantine Nicolai Bellachokoski. He was legally renamed “ Make It Mills” when he entered America. This took place in a verbal exchange with the immigration authorities at Ellis Island. Don’t even ask.
Make I. Mills (a six foot blond blue eyed outdoors man, so much for your Jewboy cliché) was a veteran of the Spanish American war, a proud American, and a famous Chicago policeman. Detective Mills meant to and did pass for Gentile. He would not allow the shadow of Jewishness to taint his children. This meant Christmas Trees, Easter eggs, his famous pork roasts, obviously no temple going, and only English spoken in the home.
He named his sons George Dewey (the U.S. naval commander who defeated the Spanish Fleet) Mills and Theodore Roosevelt Mills.
My mother’s decision to make her third marriage with a Jewish man was like many of her inclinations and enthusiasms… a thought process swayed by current reading, odd influences and her feelings of that moment. Do you hold much credence with astrology?
My mother was a Gemini and ran her life by mental slants held onto against any logic or counter information which could be suddenly and without any notice be radically changed, then rigidly adhered to and made into doctrine until…
Living in Vienna with Albert, she brushed against anti Semitism subdued but still there. As an informed political liberal, she was aghast at the rise of fascism and the Nazi war against the Jews. She had never actually practiced any form of Judaism, but she knew all her ancestors were Jews. She very deliberately claimed this part of herself, by marrying my father and demanding they have a child together.
Chosen. My father was enchanted by my mother.
Heinz seemingly loved Beatrice, and my mother what did she feel? Did she feel? Often a question I asked myself later. To me (the captured audience of one) Heinz would say (many times for many decades) in his male I am here to be pleased way, ”unlike any other woman I ever knew, Beatrice never bored me.” As if…
How did they perceive each other? Did he understand her deepest inferiorities, her severe emotional voids, her longings for growth and truth?
During most of my childhood, she despised him, and then when I was a married adult she seemed to regard him with affection, and then astonishing me when he died she cried and mourned.
I know that he did not show up when she need him most. I, too, experienced his blindness to the crucial moment when another human being required him to stop his own selfness and focus, focus and be there and arrive as a caring person. He gravely failed my mother, his mother (a tragedy) and me his only child.
Chosen. Heinz agreed to be my father. He agreed because, she so wanted me.
Their first try at conceiving a child went amiss… a tubal pregnancy. One evening “out on the town” the urbane couple are dancing together… can we imagine it… for me almost impossible. And (my father’s story) suddenly my mother’s is bleeding heavily drenching the floor with her blood (ruining his new expensive shoes)… she faints… an ambulance, serious problems and an operation resulting in less female hardware to work with.
Beatrice heals and I am implanted in the correct place. My mother enjoys a healthy pregnancy. Heinz insists she needs extra protein and he (there is post-war scarcity) buys her pricey black market steaks. I guess she eats her steaks with good appetite. She continues to smoke… it is 1945/1946. What can we expect?
All goes well until it doesn’t.
Pregnant Beatrice suffers from neither morning sickness, nor excessive weight gain nor swollen ankles nor stretch marks. I will inherit this benevolence perhaps both my mother and I are like my mad grandmother who had six children… there will never be a discussion about this topic.
Chicago, Illinois. Early spring. Light on her highly arched feet, wearing a loose dress and a shawl (I am imagining this) Beatrice and Heinz enter Michael Reese Hospital on the morning of March 24th 1946.
Both Beatrice and Heinz are confident and expect my imminent arrival. I can assume that they would feel this way… why not?
This is the script of the day, the way things were done in that era: the parents are kept quite separate; she will be expected to do her maternal duty efficiently and relatively quietly producing a child preferable male.
And he will not witness his child’s birth. He does not participate at all. He will be sent to the reception area where he will wait. He sits in the waiting room. She suffers on the maternity floor. Information is not exchanged between the parents and/or the medical staff. He resides (reading the paper/smoking?) waiting for the News. This will be told to him in this manner… a nurse (or if he is important by the doctor himself) “Mr._______. You are the proud father of _______ or a _______. Mother and child are healthy.”
All goes well until it doesn’t.
Heinz is waiting and Beatrice is laboring. But something is wrong, but nobody is talking.
Heinz spends the first day waiting and goes home for dinner and comes back the next day. Heinz spends the next day waiting goes home for dinner and to rest. Heinz spends the next day waiting goes home for dinner and comes back the next day after breakfast. Beatrice labors and labors. Alone.
No one tells them that I am traverse stuck sideways inside her and she should have a Caesarian. She somehow (her story) stays calm and brave, never to “show the white flag” certain that I will be born alive and well.
On the morning of the fourth day, March 27th 1946, Dr. Rubovitz reaches inside Beatrice turns me head down and I am born. Whew. The beginning of my life and the beginning of the end of their marriage.
The three of us begin our brief sojourn together as a family.
Heinz gets to name me: Claire Lisbeth… after his favorite Aunts. Claire Lisbeth Maienthau. He is now enchanted by me. When I am grown he tells me: “ For the very first time in my life… I learned… you taught me what love was.”
My mother has to recover from my birth. I have to recover from being born.
Beatrice had decided to breast feed me… this is not what modern well off mothers did in the 40”s… she has made one of her “eccentric” choices. Beatrice will breast feed her baby. Her three weeks stay in the hospital involved pumping her breasts and bottle-feeding. However, once she was home… she fed me naturally often while taking a cigarette break… she told me… she said it was soothing.
Life at home: Heinz is profitably employed, Beatrice is tending me, the maid is cleaning the house; gifts for this unexpected late in life child flood the house. I am growing and seem quite easily bathed and diapered and soothed.
Things are going smoothly for all concerned until they do not.
When I am six months, Beatrice (she is becoming restless) makes the decision to stop breast-feeding. Slam that door. Sudden and final. I am upset by the abrupt change. I become despondent and stubborn.
My mother told me: I wouldn’t allow her to give me a bottle; only my father or the maid could. I remember the revolting smell of the milk in the bottle. I remember throwing bottles out of my crib. You don’t have to believe me.
As a toddler I refuse to drink milk. As a growing child, I find it repulsive and it disgusts me. My parents must have been concerned, I remember being given daily calcium supplements which did result in strong teeth and bones… some gain there.
More to the bones of it, I still live with my anger… my rank anger. I can blame this inner fury on my mother, my father or my stepfather or my 6th grade teacher or I can say this is just part of who I am.
I can become furious and inconsolable… a fierce dark state of intense frustration if I am excluded or if I am rejected or if I do not get what I want… An anger that is also an uncomforted grief. An anger that grips me and pushes on me… a hideous disturbance… as a grown women even in my seventies with certain stimulus I can weep with rage and wallow in pathetic self-pity. Not so pretty ahhh. This is my story. I am Claire Lisbeth… all that my mother asked for and more.