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Authors: Laura Z. Hobson

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BOOK: Consenting Adult
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But never once had she contemplated this. Jeff was so normal, so healthy, so stable except for the flaring temper which he alone of all the children seemed to have. He got it from me, she thought instantly, I have to be fair about that. She could hear her own voice as it could be, raw with irritation, and she hated it. Her temper did not get loose often, but when it did it was fiery and shameful.

Jeff had a temper too; last summer their quarrels had at times been unendurable. Had that bursting anger in him anything to do with
this?
If not, what else had she, all unknowing, done to him? What else had she and Ken together done? It must have been something they did; it couldn’t simply have “happened” like a spontaneous evil growth.

The sweep of guilt brought new anguish and she turned from it. She had to find out more about homosexuality; she knew nothing definitive about it. She would go seek out whatever experts there were in the field, not only to be in a better position to help Jeff, but also to help herself. This leap of guilt was so fierce an assault—maybe expert opinion denied that fault lay with the parents. With the mother, that was what she really meant. Hadn’t she always known that an aggressive mother was the cause for a homosexual son? But she was the same mother she had been to Donald and Margie.

Jeff wasn’t the same child as the others—apart from his quick temper, that too was true. He showed no interest whatever in so many things that absorbed Don and Margie; he remained so aloof in family arguments about next month’s election, and he put on an air of disbelief that Margie should be working ten hours a day at Kennedy headquarters, pregnant though she was, and that Don grew livid over television commercials for Nixon. Even in college, Don and Margie both had belonged to groups to ban the bomb, to end Jim Crow, and for all the critics of the Silent Generation, she had always had a private satisfaction that in her family, at least, there was no such nastiness as young people who didn’t care enough to speak up.

But here was Jeff, silent indeed on any sort of political matter. He belonged to no group, he believed in no cause. He was a star in another galaxy, in two other galaxies. One was sports and one his studies.

She saw him suddenly as they had seen him two Saturdays before when they had driven up for the season’s first game, saw the artificial bulk of his shoulders in the football uniform, the long legs racing, and with the memory, hope raced along her nerves that he soon would prove to be as normal and carefree as he looked. He had the lanky build of his father’s family, of all the Lynns, the fair hair, the blue eyes, the narrow head. “The Ectomorph Lynns,” she had once called them, long ago, when she was still faintly conscious of the difference in their background and their religion. Margie and Don were not so unambiguously Lynns; they did not resemble their Sachs cousins closely, but they both had admixtures of her own family’s looks, while Jeff was entirely a Lynn.

She glanced at a picture of him on her dressing table, in his tennis shorts, taken during a match last summer at the shore. There it was again, the special look in his eyes, the total concentration on the ball, on the game itself, oblivious of the people watching, oblivious of himself, all of him intact in the love of the game, the effort, the physical using of his muscles, his skill.

And it was the same with the rest of his daily life, the same zest and intensity about his studies, the same skill and effortlessness, so that he was that seldom-met creature, the athlete-student, like a Greek boy centuries ago.

A Greek boy. A treacherous simile.

Stop this rationalizing, she commanded herself. It is specious and cowardly. He wrote you the truth and you are trying to pretend it is some error, some baseless fear. Perhaps he does have some adolescent attachment to one of his teachers or to one of his teammates, is that so shameful? It happened all the time at boys’ boarding schools, English public schools were full of it, and in the end it meant nothing more than experimentation, part of growing up. One of the revelations in the Kinsey report on male sexuality had dealt exactly with this, the frequency of homosexual experience among men, especially among young men. A passing phenomenon, a surface importance, that’s what the report had indicated, didn’t it? She had never read the book itself, merely reviews and digests of it; now she might get hold of it.

But Jeff was so intense about every aspect of his life. When he was happy it was an intensity of happiness; when he was angry, there was a vitality of anger she had never found before, even with him. Last summer’s quarrels had been more savage than any they had ever had, leaving her astonished, enraged, and finally fed up to the point where she was shouting as he was shouting, or perhaps where he was shouting as she was shouting. Now a physical agitation seized her when a row started, perhaps because his angry voice now was a man’s angry voice, not a child’s but a man’s, rough in anger, a voice that could actually yell street words at her—”Don’t give me any of that shit.”

It was not the phrase she shuddered at but the wildness behind it. With Margie and Don there had also been rows and scenes, but those scenes had always remained within the limits of family squabbles, free of the extremes so often present in upheavals with Jeff. It was as if he were born of different blood, but she had given birth to him, and she had never been the unfaithful wife who might have conceived a child by anybody but Ken. If she had, she might have thought of genes and DNA and have decided, “It’s a streak Jeff inherited” from so-and-so, perhaps accepting his differences of temperament with a detachment and secret insight, and be free now of this astonishment, this inability to believe what he was telling her.

Poor Jeff, she suddenly thought, what he has been going through. How early, at seventeen, to be so burdened, to know this horror and guilt. When he wrote of giving her pain and shock, he was thinking too of his own pain and shock. How bitter to know that your child is in agony.

She glanced at the clock. Less than twenty minutes had passed. She again looked about the room as if in search. Again she saw the three boxes of manuscript and once more she thought, It wouldn’t be fair now. I couldn’t do that, with two or three or four years of work lying there in each of those boxes. Not that she had the final say as to any of them. The firm’s staff of readers had already made their first reports and now it was her turn, another step in the sequence and not much more. Yet if she were strongly opposed to any one of the three, and cogent enough about explaining why she thought Q. and P. should not publish it, the chances were pretty good that it would be returned to its author. Thus had her own status gradually become more clearly stated.

It was gratifying. More than that, if one of the manuscripts were to catch at her strongly enough, it was possible that she might be appointed its official editor. That’s how it had happened with Helena Ludwig and her other authors, and that was even more gratifying.

“Her” authors. How easy it was to fall into the trap of possession. My author, Helena Ludwig; my author, Virginia Grabig; my author, Mary Jasper—she had said each of these, could hear herself saying each of these, and all at once she felt preposterous. It was the way she felt with some of her friends when they said “my child” about a son or daughter long married and already head of his or her own household, their choice of words revealing an unwillingness to let go, to move back, to yield that “myness” of parenthood to the “ourness” of a mature relationship within a family.

She never thought “my child” about Don or about Margie. Even with Jeff she was more apt by now to think “my son” than “my child.” That too was perhaps because he was a head taller than she, departed from childhood in all the visible ways. No, that was too obvious. From the time Don was a baby, she had had her own private struggle to delimit what she thought of as “parentship” and regarded as a principal task of being a parent: to be loving, to be committed but not to try to possess a child, to be happy when things went well but not to feel herself a failure when they did not, as if the child’s success were her success and the child’s failure her failure. She did not take Don’s happy marriage as something she could “take credit for,” as some of her friends seemed to do with their married children, nor did she preen herself on Margie’s happy marriage. It was Don’s doing, and Margie’s, not hers and not Kenneth’s.

Happy, happily married. Who ever knew the reality behind the words? She and Ken were happily married too.

Well, we are, she thought. We still have so much in common. Even with all our problems about making love—she broke the thought sharply. Their own problems were nothing to think of now, were not what she meant by happy or not happy. Yes, one was happier when sex was uninhibited and full the way it was when you were young, but that did change with time, changed for all people, not just for herself and Ken. They still had so much else to share, so much they could talk about, so much that demanded their energy and interest. In his room there were also boxes of manuscripts waiting for his decision, waiting far more directly, for he was not simply one of a dozen editors, but one of the heads of his firm. Years before she had ever known when she would return to the world of publishing, she had enjoyed being married to a publisher, had in her young days known a stab of snob pride in saying, “Oh, Ken’s with Brannick and Lynn,” knowing well that the next question would be “Lynn? You mean Ken’s a partner?” and that her answer would be a too modest nod.

How innocent she had been then, how little she had guessed that the time would come when she would be half ashamed of Brannick and Lynn for their best-sellerism, which she half envied, half despised. And how little she would have guessed that Ken’s boxes of manuscripts, so often holding “made to order” books, would be one of the things they would in time agree not to talk about, for though Ken’s temper never flared as hers did, he could go silent instead, be unreachable when he was upset, dipped into a kind of icy plastic she found more forbidding than a bout of hot temper, quickly over.

This about Jeff—how would he take it? He could be so wise and good, but he also could turn into that distant silent man that no troubled youngster could be expected to cope with or understand. When she and Ken had just met, she had been enchanted by the way he would let her talk, listening to her, a college girl, as though her words spoke for him as well as for her. Coming from her voluble family, she had found his reserve, even his silences, one of his most appealing attributes. Other people called him uncommunicative, but it was true that when he did say something, it would be the one thing everybody would later remember.

But now she prayed that he would not be reserved when she told him about Jeff, that instead he would speak out, let go, say everything that came into his heart to say, rather than hold it in, cling inwardly to it as to some dark companion he would share with nobody. Stealthily, a wish stole through her mind that this afternoon the doctor would unequivocally forbid her to say one word to Ken, would forbid her to show him Jeff’s letter, would command her with a doctor’s final authority. “No matter what I’ve said in the past,” she could imagine him saying, “I never meant anything like this. It is too risky for Ken now to sustain this degree of shock, it is far too soon.”

I’m afraid of Ken, she thought, as the fantasy voice ended. If he’s remote and inaccessible about it, I couldn’t bear it, as well as bearing
it.
“It.” Already she ran away by thinking “it,” underlining it in her own thoughts. She sank into a chair and began Jeff’s letter for the third time. Before she had read more than the first lines, his words blurred and ran together as if a stream washed over them.

Mark Waldo greeted her with a solemnity that showed he trusted her use of the word “emergency.” She was not one to cry crisis over ordinary illness, and now he looked at her with the ready attention that had endeared him to her for all the years she had been his patient.

“Mark, it’s about Ken, as I said, but it’s also about finding a real analyst for Jeff right away—” She suddenly covered her face with her left hand so that he could not see it go ugly with crying, and offered him Jeff’s letter. He read it and remained silent after returning it.

“This must be very hard for you, Tessa,” he said at last.

“Did you have any idea?”

“None.”

“Nobody would believe it. Looking at him, watching him—”

“Nobody.”

“I thought you could always tell, that something always gave it away.”

“That’s the prevailing idea, but it’s untrue. It’s not my field, of course, but that much I know.”

“You’ve watched him grow up, and you’re as shocked as I am.”

He said nothing. He had not been the family pediatrician, but he had seen all three children countless times during the years, and as each had reached the age where they were beyond pediatrics, each had become his patient. Jeff had become a Waldo patient just last year.

“Perhaps Jeff is wrong,” he said at last. “Perhaps it is something he misunderstands and fears and magnifies to fact.”

“That’s what I’ve been thinking all day. But I’m afraid to sit back and do nothing.”

“Of course. Let me find out about the good people up there. Placquette is near New Haven, isn’t it?”

“Ten miles this side. Does it—do psychiatrists and analysts think it’s curable?”

“Some do, others don’t.”

“Do
you
think it is?”

“I don’t know enough to risk an opinion. I’ve heard that treatment at the earliest phase is thought to have more of a chance than treatment later, after some years of actual sexual experience.”

“Don’t,” she whispered. “I can’t bear the idea yet. If I so much as think of any actual—”

“I know, Tessa.” He drew his prescription pad toward him and said, “I want you to take one of these tonight and then another a couple of hours later if you need to. Now about Ken.”

“That’s mostly why I had to come today. He’ll be home in two hours. You did say not to protect him, but
this?”

He remained silent, writing his prescription. Then slowly he said, “You wanted me to order you not to tell Ken, didn’t you?”

BOOK: Consenting Adult
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