(Warning: What follows is emotionally explicit.)
My mother was the daughter of a man of appetites. I’ve used this line elsewhere, but I repeat it here because it’s accurate. My maternal grandfather was a very unpleasant man. He raped his two oldest daughters, Jen and Joan (twins). My mother he seduced.
When a young girl is seduced by an older man, she is made to feel responsible for her sexual feelings, and also for the sexual liaison she has been seduced into participating in. It’s quite common for young girls who have been seduced in this manner to become sexually aggressive, sometimes to the point of becoming self-destructive. (I was told by a psychologist-friend that it is often these girls who fuck the entire football team in high school.) This defiant sexual aggression is, I think, a way for the girl to reclaim what has been taken from her. In my mother’s case, I think my grandfather took from her her ability to feel that she had been sexually wronged. My mother felt responsible for the illicit sexual relationship she had with her father. She felt that it was her fault. She had too much sexual desire and as a result of that excess of desire, she somehow made her father seduce her.
There were other ugly things for which this man, my grandfather, was responsible. I mentioned the rapes of my two aunts; my grandfather also beat one of the older boys regularly. (There were seven children in all; four girls, three boys. My mother was the third eldest.) Jason was the only child who was singled out for regular beatings and humiliation, though it’s true that all the children received some beatings. However, for whatever reason, my grandfather frequently displayed his loathing and disdain for Jason in public. One time, after Jason and a neighbor boy got into a fight, the neighbor boy’s mother called up my grandfather to complain about Jason. My grandfather grabbed Jason by the ear, dragged him outside and down the sidewalk, and onto the neighbor’s lawn, where he beat Jason "for a really long time," according to my mother. Jason lay collapsed on the ground, sobbing and bloody, and my grandfather said, “That’ll teach you to bully people.”
Jason is not a very stable person now. But then, neither is my mother.
My mother was very good, as a young woman, at attracting men who wanted risk. She attracted men who wanted something they couldn’t fully articulate. My mother was and is unpredictable, passionate, and dangerous. Even now, though she’s in her sixties, men still find her sexy. As a young man my father found her very attractive. They met at a college mixer. My father was not confident socially. He never felt very secure about his place in the world. Ironically, his class-status was higher than that of my mother, though I should note that my mother’s family was educated. (Indeed, my mother’s father was a high school principal, and went on, later in his life, to hold a position on the state Board of Education. He was very intelligent, very good at working the system. He died of obesity, which is fitting: one of his excessive appetites killed him in the end.)
But my father came from an upper-middle-class family. His father was a college professor. His mother came from a well-connected family in New Haven; her father had lost his fortune in the Great Depression. (Her brothers went on to do very well in life, as did she. My grandfather was a professor of economics and invested his slender professorial salary quite strategically; by the time I was born, they were already quite wealthy.)
My father was seduced by my mother. She got pregnant; they married; I was born. My father’s humiliation and feelings of insecurity were only increased by this social faux pas he committed. After I was born, while my father was off at work, my mother had affairs with a number of men. Repairmen, delivery-men, salesmen. After my parents were divorced, however, she married a doctor. (My mother is crazy, but she has always excelled at surviving.)
Ironically, I recently discovered that my father’s mother, my paternal grandmother, had also gotten pregnant out of wedlock. My well-connected grandmother lied to her own daughter, my father’s older sister (as well as to everyone else), about the date of Sarah's birth. For years, no one knew that Sarah was actually born in August, not in November.
When my father and mother divorced, my father remarried yet another woman whose class-status was lower than his own. This woman, however, was not as smart as my mother; I think my father thought that the problem with his first wife had been that she was too intelligent. She couldn’t threaten him or challenge him via her class-status, but she was just as smart as he was, and constantly left him feeling inadequate. Whether or not I am right about this, my father’s second wife was had little formal education. (She is not unintelligent, but she is defensive about her lack of formal education.) What's worthy of note here however? She, too, had affairs behind my father's back.
When I was very young, four or five years old, I remember being at my mother’s parents' house one Easter. My grandfather walked toward me with a strange, intent look on his face. I remember being, all of a sudden, very afraid. But before anything could happen, my mother came running across the room. She thrust herself between me and my grandfather. I remember that she wore a strange, defiant look on her face. My grandfather was angry at first, but after a moment his expression changed, and he just laughed. He laughed at her, and he laughed at me, and he took pleasure in this open mocking laughter. But my mother didn’t waver, and after a moment her father shrugged and walked away.
My mother and I almost never speak. She is really pretty crazy, and has in the past been rather cruel to me. In a way, I think she’s blamed me for living. For growing up, for being attractive, for having boyfriends, for getting married, for getting a PhD, for landing a respectable job. For being sane enough to manage these things.
However, I still remember that moment, when she thrust herself between her leering father and her terrified daughter. I remember that moment vividly.