Shortly before the scouting trip to Vermont I ran into raw-boned Sarah near Washington Square. I hadn’t seen her for awhile. She had been at all the meetings, and then she was not there at all. She had been loud in the meetings and had lashed out on many subjects – all the people she hated, starting with her hateful family. Then on top of everything, she would say, was that men wanted all the women. What about people like herself who liked women?
The worst thing was her abusing family. And she got especially loud when it came time to visit them in North Carolina. She did go down there and it was as bad as she had suspected. Her fury had not seemed unusual in the context of these meetings. But now she was now ready to recant, she said. Her focus had shifted away from blame, she told me. She wanted to stop getting so worked up.
The last time I had seen her she came into a meeting at the Corlears school fuming, a familiar state in this program made up of people who had been badly abused as children, some of them just remembering it now decades later, people who were familiar with betrayal, gathering in these meeting places where matricide and patricide and fratricide were not exactly favored but were not unthinkable. But that last time I saw her in a meeting it was not her awful family that raised her anger but rather it was the French – now that she had decided to renounce her disloyalty to family.
“What do you think about the French?” she asked as the room was filling up. “Isn’t it awful?” she asked, as if she were certain of agreement. And she seemed surprised that no one thought what the French had done was awful. Reagan’s people had just launched an attack on Libya, from out of the blue it seemed, the reasons for it were so slim. And a batch of civilians had been killed, including the infant son of the president, Gadalfi. To Sarah that was not what was awful, and she wasn’t mad at the Libyans either. Her anger was at the French because they would not let Reagan’s bombers fly over France on their way from Britain to North Africa.
So there were dropouts like Sarah from the program. And what was happening in the world often seemed strangely connected to what was going on in these meetings. Reagan’s daughter Patti had just written a book describing how her pretentious mother Nancy would beat her and her father would look on as if he approved. And then there were a series of articles about Reagan’s son Michael, who had made the news awhile back claiming he had been sexually molested by his father, and then recently had announced he had remembered it wrong, it was really a boarding school phys. ed. teacher who had done it – and there was a great deal of speculation in print that he changed his story when they offered, to make him a rich right-wing radio talk show host if he would recant.
Two old Princetonians were in charge of foreign affairs for Reagan in this year 1986 and seemed to be on television constantly. Casper Weinberger, the defense secretary, who would be shown on TV whenever Reagan bombed something and jump up and down describing the slaughter as it were a good sexual thing. And then respectable little George Schultz, the defense secretary, would come on and he was so dull that the press thought he must be deep. Schultz whose one eccentricity was that he had an ankle tattoo of a Princeton tiger.
Just before the scouting trip to Vermont I rode my bicycle down to the Battery to meet Abigail and Susan who were there for a peace rally. The occasion was that off in the not so far distance, off near Staten Island, what looked like an armada of battle gray warships had arrived. The reason was the upcoming Fourth of July return of the Statue of Liberty, which had been out of sight while being cleaned up. The ships were there ready for a lavish public display of patriotic fervor and military might, complete with fireworks and the worst sort of square entertainment, including a surrealistic performance by three dozen Elvis impersonators – all of this being billed in the press as, strangely, a tribute to Ronald Reagan, who was going to attend the ceremony and smile and salute. We were at the Battery for a much smaller meeting led by Jesse Jackson, who along with his anti-war, anti-Reagan talk, had us all nearly in tears as he led us in chanting his signature “I am somebody” line – nearly in tears as we took up his suggestion to hold hands in a big circle at the gathering’s end – which was much like the endings at these pro matricide, patricide, fratricide meetings I went to.
I was glad to see that near Jackson were two steely-eyed bodyguards with ear pieces scanning the crowd.