Authors: Mary L. Trump;
I stopped at the office the next day to clear out my desk and hand over anything that might be useful to my eventual replacement. I wasn't upset. I didn't even mind that Donald had had somebody else fire me. The project had hit a wall. Besides, after all of the time I had spent in his office, I still had no idea what he actually did.
e were sitting at the same table at Mar-a-Lago where I'd had lunch with Donald and Marla a couple of years earlier. The family had started going there for Easter. My grandfather turned to my grandmother, pointed to me, smiled, and asked, “Who is this nice lady?”
He turned to me. “Aren't you a nice lady.”
“Thank you, Grandpa,” I said.
Gam seemed upset. I told her not to worry. I'd already seen people my grandfather had known for decades erased from his memory: his youngest grandchildren, his driver. His new nickname for me stuck, and he called me “nice lady” until his final illness. He said it gently and with apparent kindness; he was very sweet to me after he'd forgotten who I was.
“Come on, Pop.” Rob took a step, but my grandfather didn't move. He looked around at the crowds of people at a gala thrown in my grandparents' honor, and his eyes glazed over with a look of sheer panic, as if he suddenly had no idea who anybody was or what he was doing there. Up until then, I had only seen my grandfather look contemptuous, annoyed, angry, amused, and self-satisfied. The look of fear was new and alarming. The only other time I had seen my grandfather look unsettled
at all was on the one occasion Donald had taken him to play golfâa hobby that Donald spent an inordinate amount of time on but that Fred, who had no use for pastimes, never complained about. I was at the House when they came back from the course, and I almost didn't recognize him. They were both wearing golf clothesâmy grandfather in light blue pants, a white cardigan, and matching white shoes. It was the first time I'd ever seen my grandfather wearing something other than a suit. I'd never seen him look so uncomfortable and self-conscious before.
Soon he'd go from habitually misplacing things and forgetting a word or a conversation here and there to forgetting familiar faces. You could measure your worth in my grandfather's eyes by how long he remembered you. I don't know if he remembered Dad, because I never once heard him mention my father in the years after his death.
Maryanne made sure my cousin David, by then a clinical psychologist, accompanied my grandfather to all of his appointments for checkups and neurological exams in a concerted effort to cement him in my grandfather's memory, but it didn't take long before my grandfather simply referred to David as “the doctor.”
I was standing with Maryanne and my grandfather by the pool at Mar-a-Lago when he pointed to me and said to his daughter, “Isn't she a nice lady?” A year or so had passed since he'd first given me the sobriquet.
“Yes, Dad,” Maryanne said. She smiled wearily.
He looked at her carefully and, almost as an afterthought, asked, “Who are you?”
Her eyes watered as if somebody had slapped her. “Dad,” she said gently, “it's Maryanne.”
“Okay, Maryanne.” He smiled, but the name didn't mean anything to him anymore.
He never forgot Donald.
Rob, who'd left his position as president of Trump's Castle (of the infamous $3.15 million chip bailout) under a cloud, had sat in for my
grandfather at Trump Management during his 1991 hospitalization and never left. It was a good gig for Robert. In addition to the millions of dollars a year he got simply by virtue of the fact that he was one of Fred's living children, he was also paid half a million dollars a year to do a job that required little skill or effort. It was the position for which Freddy and then Donald had been groomedâand had rejected, each in his own way.
Fred still went to the office every day and sat behind his desk until it was time to go home, but Rob was actually, if not nominally, in charge of the well-oiled, self-sustaining machine he often referred to as a “cash cow.”
My grandfather was having a bad day. Most of us were gathered in the library when he came down the stairs, his mustache and eyebrows freshly dyed and his wig askew but impeccably dressed in his three-piece suit.
The hair color and wig were recent innovations. My grandfather had always been vain about his appearance and bemoaned his receding hairline. Now his full head of hair gave him a slightly shaggy appearance. Nobody said much about the wig, but the hair dye caused considerable consternation in the family, especially when we were going out in public. My grandfather often left the cheap drugstore dye on too long, turning his eyebrows and mustache a jarring shade of magenta. When he joined us in the library, obviously proud of what he'd done, Gam said, “Oh, for God's sake, Fred.”
“Jesus Christ, Dad!” Donald yelled at him.
“For fuck's sake,” Rob swore under his breath.
Maryanne, touching his arm, said, “Dad, you can't do that again.”
He was standing by his love seat when I came into the library.
“Hello,” he said
“Hi, Grandpa. How are you?”
He looked at me and reached for his wallet, so thick with bills I was constantly surprised that it fit in his pocket. He carried a wallet-sized
photograph of a half-naked woman in his billfold, and for a second I was worried that he planned to show it to me, as he had when I was twelve.
“Look at this,” he had said, sliding the picture out of its slot. A heavily made-up woman, who couldn't have been more than eighteen and might have been younger, smiled innocently at the camera, her hands holding up her naked breasts. Donald had been looking over my grandfather's shoulder. I hadn't known what to say and had looked at him for some indication of how I should respond, but he'd merely leered at the picture.
“What do you think about that?” My grandfather had chuckled. I never heard him laugh. I don't think he ever did. He usually expressed amusement by saying “Ha!” and then sneering.
Now, instead of a picture, my grandfather pulled out a hundred-dollar bill and asked, “Can I buy your hair?”
That was something he'd ask me every time I saw him when I was growing up. I laughed. “Sorry, Grandpa. I need to hang on to it.”
Elizabeth walked over carrying a small box in one hand. She looped an arm around my grandfather's elbow and leaned against him. He looked ahead blankly, disengaged his arm, and left the room.
Shortly after, Donald came in with his kids and Rob's stepson. With the exception of Eric, they were all teenagers, the boys tall and chubby and wearing suits. Donald went to sit on the chair by the TV, and Ivanka climbed on his lap. The boys started wrestling. Donald watched the action from his chair, kissing Ivanka or pinching her cheek. Every once in a while, he'd stick his foot out and kick whichever boy was being pinned to the floor. When they had been younger, Donald had wrestled with themâa fight that had basically consisted of his picking them up, throwing them on the ground, and kneeling on them until they cried uncle. As soon as they had gotten big enough to fight back in earnest, he had opted out.
When Liz and I were as far out of harm's way as we could get, she held the box out to me and said, “This is yours.”
We didn't exchange gifts outside of Christmas, but I took the box from her, curious, and opened it to find a vintage stainless-steel Timex with a small, plain face and an olive green band.
“Somebody gave it to you for Christmas,” she said. “You were only ten, and I thought you were too young to have something that nice. So I took it.” She left the room to look for her father.
Later Donald and Rob huddled together in the breakfast room, their shoulders close and their heads down. My grandfather stood nearby, leaning forward almost on the tips of his toes, trying to hear what they were saying.
Fred said, “Donald, Donald.” When he didn't respond, my grandfather tugged on Donald's sleeve.
“What, Dad?” he asked without turning around.
“Look at this,” Fred said. He held up a page that had been torn out of a magazine, an ad for a limo similar to the one he already owned.
“What about it?”
“Can I get this?”
Donald took the page and handed it to Rob, who folded it in half and slid it onto the table.
“Sure, Pop,” Rob said. Donald left the room. Whatever had once tied them together, Fred's remaining sons had given up all pretense of caring what their father thought or wanted. Having served his father's purpose, Donald now treated him with contempt, as if his mental decline were somehow his own fault. Fred had treated his oldest son and his alcoholism the same way, so Donald's attitude wasn't surprising. It was jarring, though, to witness the open contempt. As far as I knew at the time, Donald not only had been my grandfather's favorite, he had also seemed to be the only child of his that he liked. I knew my grandfather could be cruel, but I thought the largest measure of that cruelty was reserved for my father, who, to my shame, I thought had probably deserved it. I didn't know how lonely and frightening life in the House had been at the time of my grandmother's illness all those years ago. I didn't know that my grandfather hadn't taken care of any of
his children during the year of Gam's absence or that Donald had been particularly vulnerable to that neglect. And far from supporting and nurturing my father as he ventured out into the world with the sincere intent to be a success, Fred was really only enabling Donald, waiting until he was old enough to be of use.
In 1994, I moved from my Upper East Side apartment to Garden City, a town on Long Island only a fifteen-minute drive from the House. I would take Gam to see her great-grandchildren, my brother's daughter and son, driving her in the red Rolls-Royce my grandfather had bought for her birthday a few years earlier. Behind the large, loose walnut steering wheel, I felt so high up that I could practically see the curvature of the earth. Sometimes Gam and I chatted easily during the forty-five-minute drive, but more often she was moody and taciturn. On days like that, the trip felt interminable. She sometimes smelled strongly of vanilla even when she hadn't been baking. Other times, I would see her out of the corner of my eye surreptitiously slide her hand into her purse and put something into her mouth.
Usually we sat in the library chatting. I was often there when Maryanne made her daily phone call to check in. After answering, Gam covered the receiver and said to me, “It's Maryanne,” then, to her daughter, “Guess who's here? Mary.” She paused, I guess to give Maryanne a chance to say something such as “Tell her I say hi,” but she never did.
Sometimes we went to eat at a local restaurant. One of Gam's favorite places to have lunch was the Sly Fox Inn, a low-key pub directly across the street from the grocery store parking lot where she'd been mugged. We never talked about Dad much, but one day she seemed particularly nostalgic. She reminisced about the trouble he and Billy Drake used to get into, how easily Dad had made her laugh. She went quiet after the waiter came to take our plates. When he asked if we wanted the check Gam didn't answer, so I nodded.
“Mary, he was so sick.”
“I know, Gam,” I said, assuming she meant his drinking.
“I didn't know what to do.”
I thought she was going to cry and said, uselessly, “Gam, it's okay.”
“Those last few weeks”âshe took a deep breathâ“he couldn't get out of bed.”
“The day I came byâ” I started to ask.
The waiter brought the check.
“Didn't he go to the doctor?” I asked. “I mean, if he was that sick.”
“He felt so bad when he heard you'd come to see him.”
I waited for her to say something else, but Gam opened her purse. She always paid for lunch. I drove her home in silence.
In 1987, I had spent my junior year abroad in Germany, a place for which I had no affinity, but I'd thought it might please my grandfather since it was the country of his parents' birth. (It didn't.) I had planned to come home for Christmas, and I called my grandparents to ask if I could stay with them.
I'd stood at the pay phone in the hallway of my dorm with a handful of five-mark coins and called the House. “Hi, Grandpa. It's Mary,” I'd said when he answered.
“Yes,” he had replied.
I explained why I was calling.
“Why can't you stay with your mother?” he had asked.
“I'm allergic to the cats, and I'm afraid I might have an asthma attack.”
“Then tell her to get rid of the cats.”
It was so much easier being the “nice lady” now.
I saw firsthand how difficult living with my grandfather had become for Gam. My grandfather's odd behavior had started with small things, such as hiding her checkbook. When she confronted him, he accused her of trying to bankrupt him. When she tried to reason with him, he became enraged, leaving her feeling shaken and unsafe. He worried constantly about money, terrified that his fortune was disappearing. My grandfather had never been poor a day in his life, but poverty became his sole preoccupation; he was tortured by the prospect of it.
My grandfather's moods eventually evened out, and the problem for
Gam became the repetition. After getting home from the office in the evening, he'd go upstairs to change, often coming back downstairs wearing a fresh dress shirt and tie but no pants, just his boxers, socks, and dress shoes. “So how is everybody? Okay? Okay. Good night, Toots,” he'd say, and head back upstairs, only to descend again a few minutes later.
One evening as Gam and I sat together in the library, my grandfather came in and asked, “Hey, Toots, what's for dinner?”
After she answered, he walked out. A few moments later, he returned. “What's for dinner?” She answered again. He left and returned ten, twelve, fifteen times. With decreasing amounts of patience, she told him “Roast beef and potatoes” every time.
Eventually she lashed out at him. “For God's sake, Fred, stop it! I've already told you.”
“Okay, okay, Toots,” he said with a nervous laugh, hands raised against her as he bounced up on his toes. “Well, that's that,” he said, tucking his thumbs under his suspenders, as though we had just finished a conversation. The gestures were the same as they'd always been, but the glint in his eyes had become dully benign.