The Four of Us: The Story of a Familyby Swados
The moving story of the author's talented family, which is haunted by the tragedy of the first child's schizophrenia. Four essays, one for each family member's story, combine to create a complex and resonant picture of the four sides of a family rectangle.
The moving story of the author's talented family, which is haunted by the tragedy of the first child's schizophrenia. Four essays, one for each family member's story, combine to create a complex and resonant picture of the four sides of a family rectangle.
- Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1st ed
- Product dimensions:
- 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)
- Age Range:
- 7 - 10 Years
Read an Excerpt
The Four of Us
When I was four my brother decided to teach me manners. He claimed to know Emily Post personally and he wanted to pass down to me the "L. J. Swados Interpretation" of her dos and don'ts. Lincoln was eleven and I believed he was a scholar. The lesson was strict and he didn't laugh. If I gasped or slurped, Lincoln glared at me through his thick fifties-style glasses.
"The question is, do you want to be a lady or a pig," he said to me. "A lady or a pig? Pigs can't find husbands with summer cottages on Lake Erie where brothers can come visit and go waterskiing." I tried to buckle down. Lincoln was eight years older than I. I tried to keep up to his standards. First I learned to sip my tomato soup soundlessly. This was hard, since Lincoln didn't want me to move the spoon. When I was nearly done he told me to drink the remaining soup from the opposite side of the bowl. This required that I lean over the bowl, tip it away from me, and lap at the soup with my tongue. My brother watched this carefully. Soup dribbled onto the tablecloth or down my chin. The ends of my long red hair dipped into the bowl. "You're really vying to become a spinster, you know that?" he said sadly. "No real man wants a woman who is incapable of drinking her soup upside down from a real china bowl. Mommy and Daddy will be so embarrassed. You'll have to marry an insurance salesman like Uncle Irving." He dabbed tenderly at the red splotches on my chin and collar. I tried not to cry. My crying infuriated him.
"The last lesson," Lincoln said to me, "is how to act gracefully if your napkin catches fire on the candelabrum and there's no butler with a fire extinguisher nearby." He lit all the candles on the Hanukkah menorah he'd brought out for our "formal dinner" and then set his paper napkin on fire. He watched the flames until they reached the tips of his long, grubby fingers.
"Lincoln," I cried. I was scared.
At the last moment he shoved the burnt napkin in the crystal water glass. Sparks and smoke hissed up into the kitchen.
"Tra-la," my brother sang victoriously. "The idea is not to set your host's tablecloth or rug on fire. Now you try."
I sat quietly, staring at the fuzzy particles of the burnt napkin floating in the darkened glass.
"No," I said. "Mommy'll get mad. I'm scared."
"We're not talking about Mommy here," Lincoln said. "We're talking about Emily Post. I'm trying to teach you to become a lady."
Even at four I knew that burning a napkin on a menorah had nothing to do with finding a rich husband.
"No," I whined.
"Stop whining!" my brother growled at me. "Whining, you little brat, can put you in the penitentiary of whiners. No one ever leaves there, they just whine themselves to death."
He stood up, knocking over his chair as he did so, stalked to his room, and slammed the door. Soon I heard strains of Frank Sinatra coming from his record player. Lincoln sang along as he often did when he was comforting himself. He was out of tunebut he'd memorized the phrasing perfectly. Our live-in maid, Marie, returned from shopping and swiftly cleaned up the mess and me before my parents returned for dinner. I was ashamed at having let my brother down. Winning his forgiveness was a long and complicated task. I seemed destined to be the focus of his love, expectations, and experiments. I was also the one who constantly betrayed the very core of his hope. This responsibility was beyond my understanding, but I did nothingwithout thinking of his approval or severe disappointment. I was sure he could see me even in his dreams.
When I was five, he created treasure hunts for me which took me all over the house. The clues were often metaphorical and poetic and took me a long time to decipher. If a clue was hidden in the freezer the clue before it said, "Penguins dance here with their friends but humans have to watch their hands." Lincoln quickly grew impatient if I couldn't decipher his notes. He'd give me hints.
"Where are your Popsicles, Lizzie?" Think, for godsakes!
Then we both dashed to the freezer and I'd find the next clue rolled around an ice cube.
I got used to the fact that my brother's treasure hunts took me to the rooms in our new house that scared me and that he'd often leave me in a dark corner of the boiler room or the messy attic to find my way. If I whined or shouted his name, the treasure hunt was immediately called off. I'd once again become the object of my brother's scorn and silence for an undetermined period of punishment. If I trudged through to the end, the final prize was usually presented to me in the swampy lot behind our house, where no developments had yet been built. Lincoln dubbed it "Lincoln and Liz Forest," and in that magic place we were never allowed to fight or "think cruel thoughts." What a victory for me to find my brother waiting in the forest with my treasure. He handed me a surprise ball. A surprise ball was a ball made from long pieces of crepe paper layered and wound over each other. As I unwound each strip of crepe paper little prizes fell out. Rhinestone rings, miniature dolls. Miniature dishes and silverware. The center held the biggest prize of all ("just like an artichoke," Lincoln said). It was usually a necklace or bracelet which sparkled and appeared to be very valuable, though it inevitably turned my neck or wrist green.
"You are a princess," Lincoln often said to me. "You are my Princess Elizabeth sister."
Lincoln's "Aunt Matilda" was one of his favorite games, but it did not always go well for me. I remember the winter of her first visit. The Buffalo snow was gray and sloshy. It went through my boots. I stood outside our house ringing and ringing the bell. The car wasn't in the driveway. Finally Lincoln let me in. "You have a visitor," he whispered. His glasses were crooked on his pointed nose. "But you're not properly dressed." He stripped me out of my snowsuit and boots. Then he nervously dressed me in a party dress he'd found in my closet.
"Mommy's gonna kill you," I remember telling him.
"Mothers don't kill their children in Buffalo," my brother said, "only in Greece."
He tried to comb my hair and nearly pulled half of it out. I screamed as he tugged at the knots.
"Stop it!" he warned me. "Aunt Matilda will think you're nothing but a crybaby. She hates the tears of little girls. She says they kill plants and attract flies."
I stopped crying. My socks were still wet. The gray snow from my snowsuit and boots melted onto the rug. I was scared. Lincoln was in a very happy mood. My nose was stopped up and I felt feverish, but he was too excited to notice.
He pulled my grandmother's hand-crocheted afghan off the couch and a monstrous, humorous creature was revealed. She wore one of my mother's housedresses. Her body was made of pillows. She had coffee cups for breasts and cardboard mailing tubes for legs. She wore my mother's bowling shoes and carried her patent-leather dress-up bag on her white elbow-length-gloved hands. Her arms were golf clubs and her neck was a mop handle. Her head was the mop itself; Lincoln had combed it back and held it in place with my barrettes and rubber bands. Aunt Matilda's eyes were covered by my mother's rhinestone sunglasses. Lincoln had made her nose from an old bronzed baby shoe, and Aunt Matilda's mouth was a red pepper. She lay on the couch looking half dead.
"Say hello," Lincoln ordered me, "and curtsy."
"Hello, Aunt Matilda," I said. I curtsied. Lincoln's voice changed to a falsetto.
"Hello, you darling little sweet thing you," said Aunt Matilda. "I can't believe how you've grown grown grown. What a lovely woman you've become. Are you married yet?"
"I'm only five," I explained.
"Well, I would have taken you for eight on any day," said Aunt Matilda.
This pleased me immensely.
"I traveled all the way from Oregon just to see you," said Aunt Matilda. "Now tell me all about school."
I was growing impatient. My feet were freezing and I had to go to the bathroom badly.
"I'm in kindergarten," I said.
Lincoln's voice broke in. "Stand still," he commanded me, "or you'll give your aunt heart failure."
I tried to obey.
"What do children do in kindergarten?" cooed Aunt Matilda. "I'm so very old I can't remember."
I shrugged. "We learned to tie our shoes."
"That's lovely, dear," said Aunt Matilda. "Why don't you show me how to tie a bow and I'll give you one of the fabulous presents I brought all the way from Oregon."
I looked at Aunt Matilda's hideous face, and tears welled in my eyes. I was the second slowest in my class and I didn't want to admit it to her. I couldn't get both ends of the bow even, and often I was kept after school until I did. Aunt Matilda looked scornful.
"You'll give her a stroke," Lincoln hissed. "And then she'll lose the use of the whole right side of her body. Anyway, she has presents for you."
I couldn't control my bladder. Pee streamed down my legs onto the rug.
"What are you doing?" Lincoln cried. I started to bawl. He dashed into the bathroom and brought out a roll of paper towels and Johnson & Johnson talcum powder.
"Just stand still," he pleaded with me. Sloppily he rubbed me up and down with the paper towel and covered my underpants and legs with talcum powder.
"Go to your room," he whispered. "I'll explain to Aunt Matilda."
I was terrified that Lincoln would punish me for ruining his game, but he seemed genuinely upset for me.
"She's a little young," I heard him tell his large puppet. "But she'll be a killer when she grows up."
"She ought to marry you, Lincoln dear," I heard Aunt Matilda say. I knew she was right. Deep in my heart there was no one I wanted to marry besides my brother.
A few minutes later I heard Marie, our German maid, trudge down the steps from her attic room. She must have cleaned up the whole mess and Aunt Matilda, too. Later on, she came into my room and washed me and changed my clothes. She never said a word except to tell Lincoln I was okay.
My brother formed incredibly close relationships with both our German maidsthe one we had until I was six and the one who took her place and stayed until I was a teenager. He claimed to have taught them both English, American history, and how to mambo. He told me he had genuine political sympathy for them since he was certain my mother had brought them here just to get revenge on the Nazis. He was in love with both of them, and neither Marie nor Annie ever suffered the nasty verbal abuse he doled out to the rest of the household. He told them his problems. He listened to them when they scolded him. He played them jazz and blues records. He called their families in Germany on holidays, and when they were homesick he proposed to both of them. Later, when Lincoln drifted from psychiatric hospital to rehabilitation center, I fantasized that he'd recover much more quickly if he was attended by German maids rather than by a psychiatrist or social worker. I've never understood what it was about those two women that calmed my brother or what it was that gave them such endless tolerance for him. There's a key there somewhere. I keep looking for it, to find out how I could have loved him like a German maid.
Lincoln lived in filth from a young age. He started smoking early and cigarette butts made crusty mountains in his ashtrays and trails along his floor and sheets. As early as eighth grade he began writing prolifically, and his papers were stuffed in sock drawers and shoved under dressers. The India ink from his drawings spilled into multicolored stains. He'd begun what would be a lifelong passion for collecting symbolic objects. Broken toys, half-cracked clocks, strings, and keys were hidden in corners of his closet, the floor of which overflowed with dirty clothes. I know all this because I snuck into his room whenever he was out. I thought he was a genius and I wanted to read every word. I believed it might be catching; that I'd gain wisdom, maturity, or religious enlightenment by glancing at an unfinished cartoon or mouthing the words of one of his poems. Years later, when I sneaked through the smashed windows of his Lower East Side storefront to recover any papers or objects that might be too private to fall into the hands of the press or scavengers, I was struck with horror at how Lincoln's world looked like the stinking hovel of a degenerate madman. The objects seemed random, rusty. Cat food and litter covered everything. The papers were yellowed scraps. They had become incoherent notes scribbled on torn paper. I felt as if a bomb had dropped and I was walking among the remains. I thought about how schizophrenia was a degenerative disease and how he had fought the chaotic choruses, movies, and sound tracks in his brain to hold on to the moments of clarity that were allotted him. From an early age, he'd spend whole days in bed, exhausted from his battles. He was often pasty-faced, thin, with bloody gums and lingering colds. He had many small infections, from hangnails to conjunctivitis. His eyesight grew worse and worse. His game rules and hallucinations must have taken a serious toll on his body. I've been told by several doctors and psychologists that the life expectancy of a severely schizophrenic person is shorter than that of a so-called normal man. I never listened. And I never expected my brother to die young. No one told me he was diagnosed as schizophrenic until I was in my twenties.
Every time my brother made a mess, one of his German maids cleaned it up. Still, his filthy room was an issue around our house. So was the fact that he refused to wash his neck or clean his ears. His stench sometimes brought my mother to tears. My mother's tears caused my father to explode in fury. Then Lincoln refused to talk to me. Or he'd visit me in the middle of the night, waking me out of a deep sleep, and demand to know why I'd turned our parents against him. Especially when he loved me so much. No matter how much I swore my allegiance, he didn't believe me. He pinched me under the sheets and crawled over me with his hands around my neck. These night visits developed into a repeated ritual. It was a strange dimension to our relationshipone I didn't remember until I was old enough and strong enough to bear the consequences.
"You were born a brat," he'd whisper, "and that's what you are. You have brattiness in your veins where other little girls have sweet things like cotton candy. You're just lucky I believe in Gandhi, because there really shouldn't be any brats allowed in this house. There should be brat houses like orphanages. And that's where you should go."
I wouldn't dare to whimper. After he left, I lay frozen, wide-awake, listening to Lincoln listening to Frank Sinatra until the dawn brought safety with the sound of the maid preparing breakfast.
The principal of Lincoln's private school called in my parents and told them that he, the dean, and the school psychologist were recommending that Lincoln attend a special institutional school where he would receive strong discipline and therapy. I don't know the reasoning for this recommendation. A dismal anxious mood settled in the household. Lincoln kept entirely to his room. My mother went to bed. Meals were delivered by the maid as if we had room service. My father's voice boomed down our hallways as he talked to specialists on the phone. I heard the principal's name repeated over and over, and I thought it was a stupid namemy father sounded as if he was calling farm animals. Recently, I've discovered what some of the accusationsagainst Lincoln were: he had a terrible problem with authority. He fought with and struck some of his teachers. He drew obscenities on the walls. He recited nonsensical poems, interrupting other students and causing chaos in the classroom. He often came to class dressed in costume and wouldn't talk in his normal voice. He handed in Xeroxes of famous short stories instead of assignments. He sodomized several boys in the locker room. He ran naked through chapel. He sold marijuana at lunch. He stole indiscriminately.
I have no idea if any of these stories were true or merely frightened exaggerations of Lincoln's eccentric dramas. The prep school he attended was a stuffy, expensive institution for wealthy boys which emphasized sports and getting into Ivy League colleges. In the fifties many of the students and faculty were anti-Semitic and certainly not liberal enough to have any compassion for a troubled, creative student who was probably riddled with learning disabilities. No matter how much I ask myself, I can't remember how blatantly ill my brother was in his early adolescence. I'll never know the truth. If I ask my family they say he was "difficult but extremely charming. Talented, brilliant, but a little wacky." No one could face what they didn't dare to see. Pedigree was very important for my family and the idea of a flawed child was unacceptable.
My father removed Lincoln from the claustrophobic private school and put him into Riverside High School, the giant public high school with students of all backgrounds from our entire zoning district. Lincoln seemed to flourish. He told us he was in charge of making announcements over the public address system, and sometimes he did comedy routines or read the daily extracurricular schedule in rhyme. He gave me cheerleaders' pom-poms and said he'd been "commissioned" to write cheers for the football team. He joined the drama club. At home he was kind to me, but much less obsessed with directing my birthday parties or leading me on trips to the zoo. When the family took a vacation to New York, he rhapsodized over our visit to my uncle, a well-known set designer, and his glamorous wife,a cosmetics executive. He said he would be a rich artist, too, with an apartment in Greenwich Village and hundreds of famous smart friends who were poets, painters, and musicians. He said I could live there with him and be his maid. When we traveled to Florida, he dressed up every night for dinner. I remember his shiny crewcut, blue seersucker jacket, and white bucks. He taught me how to do the merengue and I remember gliding smoothly under his arm. He must have been sixteen and I was eight. I remember the night he won the mambo contest at the Fontainebleau. I think we all drank from the prize bottle of champagne and Lincoln got drunk. He insisted on sharing his prize with the master of ceremonies and the maitre d'. My father became extremely uncomfortable about the two hotel employees sitting at our table and complimenting our family. Lincoln, however, was high as a kite and wanted to thank the strangers for "giving the youth of America a chance."
He was serious about his writing and I could hear him typing late into the night. He gave people stories as gifts. I received two on different birthdays. The first was about a pair of dapple-gray horses who grazed on the same field but were separated by such a high fence they couldn't see each other. The first dapple gray was contented. He ate until he became as round as a barrel. He grew so fat and lazy that not even the flies bothered him. But he was curious about the noises he heard on the other side of the fence. He tried to drag himself over, but was always distracted by a butterfly or a juicy patch of green just right for nibbling. The second horse longed for companionship and play. She worried over her loneliness day and night and neither slept nor ate. She grew so thin her ribs stuck through her patchy dapple-gray hide. She wheezed from her weakness. She, too, was curious about the sounds she heard from the other side of the fence, but didn't dare approach. She was afraid there'd be no one there and her hope would be lost to deeper emptiness and rejection. The story ends with both horses dying. The fat horse grows unable to frolic and move his limbs. He dies of fatness. The thin horse starves to death. Neither knowsthe other is there, but each thinks he or she catches a glimpse of the other right before death.
I was so impressed to receive such a grown-up story from my brother that I didn't dare admit to him that I didn't understand it. As usual, he made me vow to keep its contents a complete secret. This wasn't hard to do, for if anyone had asked me I would have had to answer, "It's about dapple-gray horses." For years dapple-gray horses became the only kind I wanted to ride.
The second and last story my brother gave me was about a little girl born with a ring of daisies around her finger. As long as she wore the ring of daisies she had everything a child could want. She was beautiful. She was loved. She was first in her class. Her parents bought her huge stuffed animals. Her birthday cakes were delicious. Even as she grew older the daisy ring worked its magic. She went to every prom. She took long walks at night under crystal-clear skies. The stars blinked for her. She attended the best college and received the highest grades. Her life was magical.
Then the girl with the daisy ring met a wonderful man and fell in love. He fell in love with her. Both sets of parents were delighted. The girl and her love got married. On her wedding night, with her husband peacefully asleep beside her, the girl with the daisy ring, now a young woman, reached her hands beneath the sheets, closed her eyes, and slipped the ring off her finger. The moment in which she removed the ring was the last sentence of the story. I loved my story, but I longed to ask my brother why the girl had to give up the ring. Why couldn't she keep it on her finger?
Lincoln was sensitive about his writing and especially about the gifts he sent to me and my cousins. I was afraid he'd interpret my confusion as ingratitude or criticism. I didn't want him to think I was stupid. My cousins in New York, to whom he'd sent other stories, told my parents they thought Lincoln was very talented. However, their admiration didn't fortify my parents against Lincoln's rapid mood changes and disappearances.Once, he got on a train to go to a Jewish young people's conference in Cleveland and never showed up. He called a couple of days later from an unidentified place and refused to talk to anyone but me. When I got on the phone he said, "Happy birthday, sweetie," but it wasn't my birthday. I started to cry. He said angrily that he'd fallen asleep on the train and ended up at the wrong stop. Since then he'd been too busy to call. My father had to get on a plane and bring Lincoln home, since he was too disoriented to find his way back. Oftentimes my brother would call from the outskirts of Buffalo or a Hot Shoppe along the thruway, and in a buoyant tone he'd ask for the maid. She'd take my mother's car and find Lincoln wherever he'd got stranded; the two of them would form a caravan, with him following her home.
Lincoln was often the hit of family parties. He made my cousins laugh and often stood in the middle of the living-room floor doing stand-up comedy routines and singing songs from musical theater. My mother and I found him very entertaining. My father did not. My father held grudges against my brother for his unmanly eccentricities and his rebellion against generous curfews. My father hated how the stink of Lincoln's room distressed my mother. He was disgusted by his son's grades. My father's mounting disapproval added to Lincoln's anxiety in our house. Lincoln tried to ignore my father's sneer when he recited a monologue at our Passover gathering. Lincoln knew my father cringed when he sang at local theater parties. My father, believing himself to be a genuine connoisseur of music and art, despaired that his son was clumsy and talentless. But their worst encounter occurred when my father took Lincoln's beloved springer spaniel for a walk and the dog bounded off the leash and was hit by a car. Lincoln was convinced my father had murdered the doglet him loose on purpose. My father's overwhelming sorrow and guilt got translated into rage at his son for what he termed an irrational overreaction. Lincoln mumbled under his breath at dinnertime, slammed doors, and played Frank Sinatra at deafening volume. He refused to let my mothercomfort him and told me to stay far away since I continued to "accept rides with that man" each morning to school. After a while Lincoln fell in love with a German shepherd mutt whom he named Caesar and relative peace returned to the household. For many years I believed he enjoyed the chaos he inspired. Now that I know more about his illness, I realize his manipulations were out of his control. I wish that my parents had accepted that he was sick. Perhaps then they would have played their supporting roles differently. To his credit, I must say that Lincoln never said a negative word about either of our parents to me. He didn't often try to force me to take sides. But I was a constant silent witness and I despised the violence in our home, didn't understand why good days always blew up into catastrophes, with my father slamming into his car and driving away, my mother weeping in her room, and my brother humming behind his closed door.
Lincoln drew cartoons like no one else his age. A drawing from him at any time in his life had to be considered a real treasure. He much admired James Thurber and Saul Steinberg and adopted a similar use of the deceptively wobbly black line. He bought India-ink bottles by the dozen and pens which had different depths of line. His characters were wobbly and clownlike. Their lonely world was full of ragged hope. He sent cartoons to family and friends and slipped them under my door day and night. He published his characters in the Riverside newspaper, of which he was an editor. He didn't seem to suffer over his drawing the way he did his writing. Lincoln wanted to become a great literary figure, and when his writing didn't work the way he wanted it to, he became violent, smashing things around his room, or he'd sob on his bed or storm out of the house, jump into my mother's red Chevrolet convertible, and tear out of the driveway, often not returning until dawn.
His ambition to be a star became a desperate obsession. He believed that as well as being a genius in prose, he was apotentially great song-and-dance man. Though our cousins, aunts, and uncles celebrated his performances at family gatherings, I remember several of my parents' parties where the local theater professionals were invited. When Lincoln got hold of a microphone they sneered and laughed at him rather openly. He always carried on with his medleys despite the mockery. I don't know if he was oblivious to their disdain or if he simply knew in his heart he was better than they. My father was livid at those occasions, feeling his usual embarrassment at his son's reedy, untuneful voice and awkward theatrics, but having equal intolerance for the "brainless second-class actors." I myself decided that most theater people were snakes and tried to stare them down with my coldest, most vicious glare. Lincoln was ecstatic after these performancescertain that the local celebrities in the room would provide him with the proper connections in New York. This surprised me. I never knew what would bring my brother a sense of joy and satisfaction and what would set him into a self-hating furor. Later on, I learned that his reaction to events usually depended on the interpretations that emanated from inside his imagination, and not the good or bad experience of a real event at all.
His last year of high school he discovered kissing. He'd always kissed me, but now he chose to kiss girls his own age and he bragged about it to me unendingly. He made no effort to improve his personal grooming but set out to become an immortal romantic. He talked on the phone for hours. He ordered perfumes from Paris, feminine soaps from London, fresh-picked edelweiss from Switzerland. There were wars with my father about the money he spent, but Lincoln didn't care about practicalities. He cracked up the car on moonlight rides and slept very little as he wrote long epistles to each new object of his affection. I can remember meeting only one girlfriend, and she struck me as the brainy, "uncool" type of girl. Nothing special. Lincoln was in love with being in love. Once, when he didn'tget a date he wanted, he put his hand through a glass window. His fingers required stitches. He dressed for proms in gaudy unmatching prints and styles. He seemed determined to be a beatnik, an artist-lunatic, and there was deliberate humor to his theatrics. I think he was known at Riverside as a creative genius, because his classmates left him alone. He had a clique who admired him. His freshman year he'd been beaten up several times (my mother said some boys called him a kike and attacked him), but by senior year he was editor of the newspaper, in charge of the loudspeaker system, and the leading actor in the variety shows. My last memory of my brother in his role as my mentor in day-to-day life is seeing him in a shocking bright red sequined devil's costume. Lincoln was holding his pitchfork and laughing, hiding from our German shepherd, which didn't recognize his master and was hungry to attack. Lincoln was on his way to the Senior Variety Show. He had the lead. He'd prepared a medley of Tom Lehrer songs, which included "Masochism Tango," "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park," and "We'll All Go Together When We Go." I knew all the songs because I'd helped him rehearse. But he didn't want me at the show. I remember the disappointment I felt as I watched him strut through our back yard toward the Chevy, the icy springtime sun picking up the sequins and causing my brother to sparkle against the tar driveway and garage like the stars in a planetarium.
He never made it through his freshman year at Syracuse. In the beginning he was happy. He wrote stories and poems, acted in plays, and published cartoons in the college newspaper. He got along well with his musician-writer roommate and together they sought the same kind of beatnik identity. But Lincoln had trouble registering for classes. And once he'd finally registered, the classwork overwhelmed him. He simply didn't study. I remember a tense visit my parents and I made that autumn. My father was concerned about letters he'd been receiving from the Dean of Students. My mother was horrified at the condition of Lincoln'sroom. (There was a half pizza literally stuck to the ceiling.) Lincoln looked pasty and thin. I, however, was thrilled to see the brother I missed so much, and he treated me like his royal guest. The leaves crunched under our shoes and he gave me his brown-and-orange freshman beanie and bought me a soda from the general store. If his manner was subdued, I didn't notice it. He confided to me that he was writing a novel and had time for nothing else. He said a novel took a long time and that some days he didn't even know what it was about. He told me I was the most beautiful little girl he'd ever seen and he'd make sure he'd find an appropriate man to marry me. We drew pictures for each other and sat on his bed while he hugged me. I didn't want to leave, but my parents' mood was dark and quiet and I knew we had to get out before there was a blow-up.
Lincoln promised to write, but he never did. Several months later my father received an almost book-length letter from my brother describing himself as in a helplessly disoriented state. (These facts were given to me almost twenty years after the event.) My brother wrote that he was unable to go to classes, unable to leave his room, and that the voices in his head were directing him to do too many different things. My father showed the letter to several psychiatrists, who recommended that Lincoln be hospitalized immediately. My father picked Lincoln up from college and committed him to a private institution. Lincoln was either hospitalized or an outpatient off and on for five years. The diagnosis was schizophrenia with severe paranoid tendencies. He claimed he was given medication and shock treatments against his will. His hospitalization was so expensive that my father began a long and tense struggle to balance his finances. His temper grew worse from his anxiety, and his fear and bitterness exhausted him and threatened the mood of our household.
What I knew at the time was that my brother went to college and never returned. He didn't come home for Thanksgiving. He didn't bring me Hanukkah presents, and he didn't attend my grammar-school graduation. I found myself feeling very logyand down most of the time. My friendships weren't satisfying and family parties seemed boring. My only recourse was an old rusty guitar I'd borrowed from my cousin. I strummed and picked it hours a day. I learned all of Peter, Paul & Mary, Phil Ochs, Tom Rush, Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk, Joni Mitchell, and others. I imagined Lincoln arriving one night with his beatnik poet friends at the fictional coffeehouse where I was the headliner. He was stunned and proud. His friends, in black jackets and sunglasses, nodded their heads in approval. In real life, I began to write songs. I wrote only slow songs, ballads full of longing and confusion. Every one of them was for my brother. My parents told me he'd decided to take time off and live in New York, but I couldn't imagine why so many months would go by and there'd be nothing but strange, disconnected phone calls late at night when I was too groggy to identify the characters at the other end of the phone, who always used voices and swore me to secrecy.
My family didn't intend to create a damaging situation by misleading me. It was just that there was no precedent. They didn't know what to do. They told no one but their closest relatives. Mental illness at that time still constituted the shame of shames. Lincoln's illness seemed to reflect on them. They didn't know what they had done to make him so strange. My father couldn't accept that his sickness was not an act of will on the part of a severely delinquent boy. My mother blamed her life-style during World War II while my father was overseas and she was alone with the baby. Schizophrenia is an extremely guilt-provoking disease. It often strikes promising, gentle, bright young people, and the rapid changes into incoherency and vicious rejection are almost impossible to understand. The acceptance that it is a disease is the only positive first step, and my parents, disgusted, terrified, and prejudiced about the mental illness, couldn't even get that far.
My parents couldn't tell me the truth about my brother because they decided to hide behind the age-old cliché that they were "protecting the younger child." What they did, of course,was to take the most beloved person in my life and make him disappear without a trace. I lived most of my life with the terror that I might permanently lose any loved one who left me for a trip or even an overnight excursion. I never again trusted anyone's word. I examined expressions, actionsI searched for proof. Lincoln wasn't talked about in front of me. His letters were hidden. I was watched carefully for any signs of "it" myself. My natural prepubescent moodiness terrified them. "What's wrong? What's wrong?" I must have heard "Give me a smile" every day for those bad five years. If I sulked it was because I knew the truth was something very different from what I'd been told. The sounds behind parents' closed doors can tell a child a lot. Too many nights I heard my mother's raw weeping and my father's soaring fury. The strain in their marriage was tangible. I know now each resorted to blaming the other for Lincoln's psychotic break. It was a vicious mutual contest that never got settled. So little was known about schizophrenia (and so little is known today) that Lincoln became a monster to them. He was the kind of madman they saw on television or in the movies, an eccentric, bright child who grows up to be a backlit hairy freak with luminous, murderous eyes, pointed teeth, and overgrown fingernails, who shakes the bars of his cage in the state mental hospital. My parents were afraid of their son, with his vicious tongue, unpredictable moods, and seemingly bottomless well of hatred.
Other relatives visited Lincoln during those years, but I have no record of their perceptions. The truth was to be kept from me; that was the rule. To this day, no one talks about his initial schizophrenic break. Perhaps because the rest of his history contains such gruesome details, his first hospitalization is trivial in comparison. I, however, have lived my life by an odd melancholy calendar marked by the years my brother was out of my life and those when he returned to love or harass me.
Although I was doing well in the seventh and eighth grades, and I'd begun to play folk music at bar mitzvah parties with apair of twin guitarists, my parents were called in to the principal. Sometimes I'd just lay my head down on my desk in the middle of class. I handed in extracurricular poems to my English teacher and they were all about death. I was beginning to get dragged around by a group of fast girls who smoked in the bathrooms and necked with boys who wheeled around parking lots before they were old enough to get their permits.
One day, with no explanation or warning, my mother and I went to New York. She visited an old college chum and I took a cab to a yellowish building located on East Eighty-first Street. Lincoln was waiting for me in the lobby. His head was shaved. His glasses were cracked and held on by elastic. He seemed thinner and more delicate. He wore madras Bermuda shorts, a white T-shirt, and no shoes. His face was covered with acne and his lips were dry and cracking. He bit away at them. He whooped when he saw me, and we kissed and hugged right in the glass-enclosed lobby. He hurried me away from the main area, but introduced me to every adolescent, janitor, doctor, and security guard along the way. Everyone was warm to me and seemed to like Lincoln very much. His steps were more tired than I'd remembered. He was now twenty or twenty-one. He pushed me along with short excited little spurts until I reached his room. He shared the small place with two or three other boys. The mess was familiar, but not as bad as usual. His roommates told me they'd heard a lot about me. They seemed sleepy or stoned. Lincoln had borrowed a guitar from somewhere and ordered me to play. I serenaded him with Bob Dylan songs, "Blowin' in the Wind," "Don't Think Twice It's Alright," and "The Times They Are A-Changin'." Lincoln sang quietly along and applauded me and cheered as if we were in a stadium.
Then I was ushered into a doctor's office and left alone with a short man in a white coat. He leaned over his desk and told me, as had the others, that he'd heard a lot about me. I was flattered by all this attention and not a little confused. The doctor told me how much everyone in the clinic liked Lincoln. He said Lincoln was a talented writer and entertainer. I resented being told what I already knew. I remember long silences. Thedoctor asked me if I had any questions. I was twelve or thirteen and in that stage of adolescence where one reveals very little. If I could talk to that doctor now I might ask him what was wrong with my brother. Why his mind worked the way it did. What he had done to put him in a hospital. Would he be released soon. Where would he go. But I said nothing. My memories are full of unspoken questions. The doctor escorted me to the door where Lincoln waited. Lincoln stepped into the office for a moment while I fidgeted in the hallway. I wanted the visit over with. So did my brother. He came out of the office and rushed me toward the lobby. "That man is a friend," he said in a conspiratorial voice. "An important friend, and you're not to tell Mother or Dad about him." I promised Lincoln I'd say nothing. "It was a special privilege for you to meet him," Lincoln went on. "Don't blow it." When I promised enough times to satisfy him, his mood brightened. "This was a thoroughly satisfying visit," he proclaimed. "And we'll consider it again." I kissed him and he patted me on the back. Already his mood was distant and distracted. My mother waited outside the revolving doors. She waved at her son and he blew her a kiss.
That night my mother and my father's brother took me to Times Square. They were in high spirits. We window-shopped and watched the other tourists rushing along Broadway. My mother said I could have anything I wanted in any of the brightly lit, blinking windows. I chose a ukulele that hung high up in the display. It was a cheap instrument with uneven frets and a badly balanced bridge. I never played it.
My friends remember Lincoln's visits home very well. They say he was brilliant and charming and gentle. He treated me in a courtly manner and flirted with all of them. I proclaimed I wanted to marry no one but my brother, and he invoked the cliché "Incest is best." They say he never stayed around long but told them all he was going to open a nightclub act in New York City as well as finish his first novel. I remember very littleof Lincoln with my friends. They were attracted to him and impressed by his beatnik style. But I don't remember it. I remember more vividly the fights Lincoln and my father had during his visits home. They went on nightly. My mother and I fled to our rooms. Lincoln and my father battled continually over the same issues. Was he going back to college? How was he going to support himself? What were his ambitions as a writer? What contacts was he making? Where would he live? I don't think my father was willing to accept the extent of Lincoln's illness. I believe he was unable to comprehend my brother's manic world of fantasy. He insisted upon seeing his son as a deliberately rebellious and hateful young man. He considered him irresponsible and lazy. He pushed my brother to make verbal commitments he was incapable of keeping. He saw his moods and violence as the result of hanging around with the "wrong crowd." He fervently hoped Lincoln would change and become his son.
Since the information on Lincoln's illness was so contradictory and convoluted with psychiatric terms that could only inflame the terror of a parent, the easiest way to understand his schizophrenia was to believe it didn't exist. My parents, worn out from advice, deeply concerned about their reputation in the community, preferred to suffer from the notion that there was something wrong with their son but that he could fix it himself with the best medical help, discipline, and determination. My father had become distrustful of the psychiatric scene, and my mother had withdrawn so deeply into herself she was becoming a separate concern. Lincoln must have felt very angry and guilty and confused. He accused my father of "crimes that had no names." He believed my parents had no real understanding of "the artistic time zone." I never defended my father to my brother but dared only to agree with my brother totally. I told my father he ought to lower his voice, but didn't dare suggest that he go easier on my brother. I didn't have to act for my mother. She had nothing to say to me. I thought she'd become tired of children. My true beliefs centered around my esteemfor my brother's gifts. He was a difficult genius who would prove himself to his opponents. I tried to be on his side all along. I didn't know what would happen to me if I betrayed him.
Since Lincoln rarely came home, the next three years were filled with phone calls. I didn't know where he was calling from, but often we'd be cut off by a pay-phone operator. Sometimes I'd hear the voice of another young man in the background screaming that Lincoln had been on the phone all night. When he called me, he did all the talking. I was so afraid of saying the wrong thing that I told him very little about my beloved boyfriend or songwriting or the typical adolescent war I was having with our parents.
Sometimes he called using made-up voices and never admitted that it was he. I can remember talking to a Marine sergeant from Texas, a rock-and-roll star from England, and a dying female ex-math teacher from the Midwest. (She wanted to confess about all the terrible things she'd done to her students.) I played my brother's straight man, but I wished at times that the strange conversations were over long before he hung up. I was fifteen or sixteen at the time, and didn't want to admit it, but I preferred talking to my boyfriend about movies, jazz, and his Mustang convertible to listening to my brother's disjointed poetry. I felt very guilty and wondered if it was a sign that I was beginning to love him less. Sometimes I left the phone off the hook when I went to sleep so I wouldn't be wakened at 2 or 3 a.m.
The summer I was sixteen and Lincoln was twenty-four, I was a CIT at Camp Deer Run in Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania. My jobs entailed being assistant to the drama counselor, musician for vespers and campfires, as well as editor of the camp newspaper aptly titled The Buck and Doe. I was on my way to becoming my own fantasy of a political-artistic personality. Iwrote original pseudoNative American music for the campfires in made-up shaman tongues and I published a full issue of The Buck and Doe in which I taught the younger campers to write Japanese 7 beats5 beats7 beats haiku with themes devoted to Deer Run. It was an exciting, happy summer for me. My worst problems were figuring out how I could get to the town bowling alley in time to call my boyfriend.
One afternoon I was unexpectedly summoned from lunch and found my cousin and her husband waiting for me in the parking lot. We took a long walk. They told me, with great discomfort, that my brother had been hit by a truck. His right arm and leg had been amputated and he'd been in a coma for ten days. My parents were with my brother in New York, and no, I couldn't visit him, because they weren't sure he was going to live. My cousins said my parents thought it would be better if I stayed at camp. I tried to be nice to my cousins because I knew their job was not easy, but I kept wondering what kind of truck would run over my brother in New York City. A Mack truck? A cement mixer? A pickup truck? A van? I asked my cousins. They didn't know any of the details. I cried a bit, actually for their benefit (I was numb). They took me to the infirmary, and the nurse, with a solemn face, gave me a large green transparent pill. As I look back on it now, I think it was my first Quaalude, but I'm not sure. I remember going to sleep on my bunk realizing of course that my brother hadn't been hit by a truck at all. Lincoln was capable of many things, but he wouldn't walk in front of a truck. He was too agile and a truck was too obvious. I fell asleep wondering what had really happened and when or if I'd ever find out. I wasn't able to think about Lincoln's mambo-dancing days or that his drawing hand had been cut off. I felt such thoughts were too sentimental.
I became "radicalized" my senior year of high school. I marched with CORE in front of City Hall and initiated a tutorial program for black kids in my all-white preppy high school. I also actedthe part of dainty June in the Jewish Center's production of Gypsy. My boyfriend and I talked about getting married. I drank frequently, but not enough to get myself in trouble. My girl friends and I had contests as to who could best smuggle our grass or hash over the Canadian border. I got into Bennington in early admissions and kept my grades high enough to make the merit roll. I played with my new band (a pianist and singer) at the local coffeehouse and kept up a warm correspondence with a senior editor at Seventeen who never published my stories. My job was to be happy, healthy, and strong. I was not to show any signs of depression or weakness. I learned to act the part of the show-off and kept the introspective parts of my personality to myself.
My parents spent much of that year tending to Lincoln's needs, and when they returned from New York, the rift between them grew deep. They didn't have the energy for my fluctuations in mood and were terrorized whenever I cried or ran out of the house with a slam of the door. My mother was drinking and my father stayed at his office, only to return in a foul temper. They tried too hard with me, showering me with expensive gifts and watching my comings and goings with intense worry barely veiled as casual interest.
From what I understood, Lincoln was not doing well. Although he'd charmed all the nurses by waking from his coma and launching into a medley of Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, he wasn't facing the reality of the arduous work which lay ahead. He'd been transferred to the Rusk Rehabilitation Center, which was one of the best clinics in the country. (My father wanted only the finest medical assistance for his son, which translated into the most expensive. His debts were debilitating.) Lincoln could not or would not learn to walk on the prosthesis which was made for his leg and refused to have a crucial operation on his shoulder so he could be fitted for a metal hand. Understanding his disease as I do now, I can see why all the medical talk and strange rooms and poking and shoving of the exercises must have been too much stimulus forhim and made him increasingly paranoid. He became so nasty, outrageous, and uncooperative that he was thrown out of Rusk. He began working with a private physical therapist who he said was a "cutie."
I received several phone calls during that period from a variety of characters. One was from a Vietnam soldier who hailed from Kentucky and talked about what it was like to get caught by a land mine. He said he hoped he could still "get it up" for his girlfriend back home. I talked to a New York transvestite (who sounded a lot like Aunt Matilda) who wanted to emigrate to France and become a star in the Pigalle district. I spoke to a guy named Rob who said he was one of my brother's friends and had been instructed by him to warn me never to reveal the content of my phone calls to our parents. Lincoln never called as himself and I never dared him to reveal himself. I didn't want him to stop calling, and I was too intimidated by the strange voices and manic monologues to confront him. One day I got the courage to ask my father what had really happened to my brother. After a long pause and an examination of me with his large eyes, he seemed to decide that I could take the impact of what he was about to say.
"It seems that Lincoln tried to kill himself. He jumped in front of a subway train."
When my father started to cry I found it to be the most infuriating thing I'd ever seen in my life. Suicide was romantic. One of my friends had taken a bottle of aspirin and had to have her stomach pumped. All my clique, at one time or another, had scratched little symbols on their wrists with a scissors or a dull razor. The violence of Lincoln's act made no terrible impression on me. I thought it was athletic and cool. In fact, I couldn't wait to tell a best friend about it. I didn't realize that this marked the time when I really began to lose those aspects of my brother that I loved. I didn't know we really had very little time left together as friends. There are many of his friends who would argue with me, but I believe that Lincoln's "accident" was the beginning of a long, heroic period of dying. I began to mournwithout knowing what mourning was. And my family beganin slow motionto break apart and shatter. We never talked about the crippled young man in New York. We were never taught about the voices in his head that threw him on the tracks or why those voices existed. (Years later, a friend told me that Lincoln had confessed to him that the "devil" had instructed him to jump in front of the train.) We didn't discuss how each of us blamed the other and ourselves. My mother went into a severe depression. My father ran all over the country claiming he had business and my mother accused him of having affairs. I drank, did drugs, drove fast, and took up residence at my best friend's house several times. Once when my mother was very ill, a social worker came to my room and tried to get me to talk. I knew my job was to prove to her how healthy and happy I was. I spoke very little. The family chaos was a secret I'd learned to keep very well. I made myself hate the social worker as I concentrated on her ugly pink suit, with its cheap rayon blouse, and her out-of-style beehive hairdo. No one who dressed like that could know anything about my family. I behaved stupidly, but had been taught no better. I think my father believed Lincoln's illness and suicide attempt destroyed our family's last chance to be a successful upper-class unit and a normal, loving home. Like him, I did everything I could to maintain an appearance of intellectual and cultural superiority.
When I was allowed to visit Lincoln several months later, he wanted me to believe he lived alone. The Upper East Side apartment where I met him didn't fool me. The tiny one-bedroom had none of his clutter or smell. Another name was on the buzzer and mailbox. I guessed he was back at the clinic, but I played along. He also wanted me to be very aware that he had stumps. He greeted me in boxer shorts. I was so terrified of doing the wrong thing and so numbed by what I saw that I couldn't possibly register any disgust. I just said, "They're not so bad. They're kind of sexy." My brother, who had scars from head to toe, hugged me with relief. He showed me the cartoons he'd been drawing with his left hand, and although his lineswere a bit shaky, the characters were wonderful. Lincoln seemed clearheaded and cheerful. I spent my whole visit praising him. He hopped around the tiny apartment singing verses from songs he was writing. He planned a club act with an elderly female pianist. He wanted to perform at the Café Wha. He said the whole act was based on the leading character in Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad. The character had a terrible stutter.
Lincoln could hardly walk on his prosthesis, but he insisted on taking me out for Chinese food. I remember that when we crossed Third Avenue all the cars and taxicabs had to stop. We took so long to cross a full cycle of the traffic light went by. I asked myself, Do I stay with him or run ahead? What would insult him? What does he want? I looked at the beads of sweat on his forehead, and I realized his full concentration was focused on surviving the moment. The honking and screaming was terrible, and by the time we reached the restaurant neither of us was very hungry. Lincoln was exhausted. I saw that he was heavily medicated. He asked me to hail a cab and take him to the clinic. In the cab I put my hand over his and just let it lie there. He made small clicking sounds in his mouth. When we reached the clinic he pecked me on the cheek and told me not to come in. I sat in the cab watching his arduous movement toward the revolving door. I had the cab drive me around Central Park several times so the visit would seem longer to my parents, who were waiting for me at the Westbury Hotel.
I spoiled my tenuous golden-girl position in the family by getting pregnant my freshman year in college. I let the pregnancy go too long because abortions were illegal and I knew my parents would be devastated. Finally, when I reached four months, I called Lincoln. I hadn't seen him for almost a year, but he was calm and comforting. He called me right back and told me he couldn't find an abortionist who'd work on someone as far along as I was. He would have my uncle break the news to my parents.I thanked him and we said goodbye. I took the train to Buffalo to forestall the confrontation. My mother didn't speak to me or leave her bed. My father didn't leave my side. I realized later that they were afraid I was having a psychotic break similar to Lincoln'sthat if a child is going to become mentally ill, he or she often does so the first year away from home. I vowed to myself that I'd prove to them that I wasn't Lincoln and that I was mentally sound. This was when I began the fantasy that I was living for the two of us, making up for the two of us, vindicating my parents as parents and Lincoln and myself as creative, difficult, but worthwhile children.
I rushed back to school as soon as I got out of the hospital (too soon; I developed a nasty infection). I wrote long term papers and excelled in all my classes. One of my friends was killed in an auto accident, but I didn't tell my parents of the depth of my sorrow for fear of appearing unstable. I wrote them long, detailed, happy letters about my literature and music composition classes. I took a great deal of acid and mescaline and drank wine every night before bed. I slept with many men. I wrote Lincoln, but he never answered me. I didn't call him because I was afraid of what punishing words he might say about the abortion. (When we were young, every kind act or favor was followed by a punishment.) For some reason I believed that he, like my mother, would be appalled that I didn't keep my virginity until marriage. I knew nothing about his sex life or his opinions on sex. I imagine I suspected that his encounter with the train had destroyed him. Perhaps he thought I was flaunting my sexuality. I vowed to keep myself out of trouble. If I didn't, I might become a second Lincoln, and that was even less forgivable than having been the original.
The next time I saw my brother was approximately two years later, when both of us ended up living on the Lower East Side. I was sleeping on the third floor of the La MaMa theater and Lincoln had found a storefront down the block at 99 East FourthStreet between Second and First Avenues. He was working at the La MaMa box office. Lincoln was determined to become a writer, having just spent a term at the Columbia University writing school, and I had left Bennington to try my hand at composing music for internationally oriented experimental theater. Lincoln and I barely spoke. I know he found the work of myself and my colleagues unbearably precious and completely irrelevant to the beat philosophy he still admired. I began to wince at the strange little songs he sang in the box office and the sometimes nasty manner in which he treated the foreign directors and actors. He didn't wash and I was embarrassed by his body odor. Though he loved my waist-length hair, he didn't approve of my long skirts, camisole tops, and the bracelets up and down my arms. I know it must have been hard for him to watch me bounding freely from theater to theater on the verge of discovering a creative niche for myself. I truly loved sounds and was, at nineteen, full of myself because I had a paid job where I could explore many situations where I was free to make music. The owner of the theater, Ellen Stewart, called me into her office and waved some manuscripts in my face. "What am I to do with these?" she asked sympathetically "They're your brother's plays. All they are is balls balls balls, honey. Touchin them, suckin them, bouncin them. I don't want to hurt Lincoln's feelin's, but does he think he discovered being gay?"
"Maybe it's new to him," I said in shock. "Maybe it'll pass. He's a good writer."
"All I see is balls balls balls." Ellen sighed. "What do I do with him?"
I remained humble in Lincoln's presence. He and I both believed that in the realm of "artistic truth" he was the real talent in the family and I was a dilettante playing around. I never played my music for him or reported to him about the workshops I led. We were into something much deeper than sibling rivalry and I didn't want to bring it out in the open. After all, he'd paidwith real suffering for his place as an artist and I'd lucked out at an incredibly young age. He hadn't seen any results for all his hours of (what I believed to be) writing and rewriting, and every day I heard my music grow and resonate and become a workable precious language for me. Lincoln must have been very scornful and jealous, but at this stage of our relationship he controlled himself with a kind of severe dignity. I remember bounding through the tiny La MaMa lobby with a Korean teacher named Mr. Chang. Mr. Chang tried to speak to Lincoln, but Lincoln wouldn't buzz either of us into the theater. Finally, after a long and tense silence, Lincoln leaned out of the box office and pointed his stump at Mr. Chang. "If you're going to be a guest in this country, my good sir," he said, "I suggest you learn the language." There was a pause and he still didn't buzz us in. "And you, my good madam, might learn to say good afternoon to your brother." I strutted over to the box office to give him a kiss, but he turned his head away. The look in his eyes was so hateful I froze. Lincoln shrugged, gave me a weak smile, and then buzzed us in. It was hard for me to enjoy my so-called artistic victories after that, and I dreaded coming downstairs on the days Lincoln was working. Luckily the situation was mitigated by the fact that I spent the next three years in Europe. I didn't write or call my brother once. Nor did he try to contact me. Before I left I gave him my classical Martin guitar (he'd been asking about where to buy a secondhand guitar or ukulele), and he kissed me several times and said, "How nice." I knew, however, that the magical boundaries which kept us safe from each other had been violated. I even sensed how bad the trouble would be between the two of us. It was one of the reasons I stayed away so long.
When I was twenty-three and Lincoln thirty-one, I traveled to the north of Brazil, to Salvador in Bahia. I longed to see "real" voodoo ceremonies and memorize the rhymes of the macumba ceremonial drums. I wanted to find the source of the capoeira dancing because I admired its athletic energy and bold, "possessed" concentration. I took many pre-dawn excursionsacross the beaches to hear secret chanting or catch the glow of a hidden campfire. The truth is, I found little of what I was looking for and I was depressed and listless. I hadn't stayed in one place for more than three months in three years, and I lived with the quiet guilt that I was neglecting my composing and had left my parents during a dark and painful time in my mother's life. Her most beloved sister had died of cancer and my mother couldn't recover from the loss.
After a particularly fruitless walk in the night, I returned to the apartment where I was staying to find the police waiting for me. I immediately thought, It's Lincoln, but the police told me some confused story about a fire and my mother. They really didn't know. Phone communication wasn't sophisticated at the time. They drove me several miles to a police station, and after several hours of nervously trying to get through, I reached Buffalo. My brother got on the phone and in his gentlest voice he said, "Lizzie. It's about mother. It seems she's dead." "How? How?" I asked. "It seems she took some bottles of sleeping pills," Lincoln replied. "And now you must talk to your father." My father got on the phone. His sobbing voice was a strange contrast to my brother's controlled, businesslike tones. We arranged for my departure and my father agreed to save all major decisions and ceremonies until I got home.
On the flight from São Paulo to New York, I couldn't imagine how my mother would voluntarily give up her life. Then I remembered Lincoln's leap in front of the subway. He probably understood her impulses far better than I did. They were bonded in some way and I was on the outside. How insane of me to feel jealousy toward this twisted kind of mother-child love. But I did. My envy took over my grief. I decided that my brother had helped kill my mother with his contagious disregard for the lives of others. I couldn't stomach the image of my mother and brother in a kind of dance together with their eyes only on each other.
I'd kept waiting for them to stop and choose new partners. They'd become each other's confidants and best friends. I, withmy full life and story of world travel, was considered a foolish traitor. I arrived in Buffalo extremely wary of Lincoln, and scared of him, too. How would this death cause him to act?
I kept my feelings entirely to myself. Lincoln proved to be as wary of me as I was of him. Many tiny crises had erupted between Lincoln and my father, and Lincoln watched me angrily and suspiciously to see where I stood.
My fear of Lincoln's reactions soon overcame my unexpected hatred of him. I only wanted to get through the funeral without incident. When the rabbi asked if either of us wanted to speak at the service, I let my brother answer first. If he said yes, then I'd say yes. He told the rabbi that he'd read a poem and I offered to set one of my mother's poems to music. Lincoln wanted to let our last German maid (now retired with children of her own) choose what outfit my mother should be buried in. I acquiesced. I remember a low, agitated conversation Lincoln and my father were having in my brother's old room. I tried to sneak past, but Lincoln motioned me in. My father sat on the bed and my brother stood over him as if accepting his prayers.
"The things people do to each other," my father sobbed. "The things people do."
Late that night, when all the visitors had left and my father's snoring could be heard coming from the far end of the hall, I heard the tap tap tap of my brother's cane on my door. I tensed in my bed. I didn't know what to do. I was afraid he wanted to get into bed with me as he had so many nights when I was a child. We were too old for that. I didn't want to hold him in my arms or fight him off.
"Lizzie," I heard. "Lizzie, we need to comfort each other. We need to explore our grief."
I told myself to keep silent. Yet I missed my brother terribly. I wanted his jokes and his songs. I longed for his stories and the soft breathy feel of his voice. I wished he could explain to me why our lives had changed so radically and in such a short time. But I kept my mouth shut. I listened tearfully as he walked on his heavy leg next door to his bedroom. He plopped ontohis bed. Then he yelled at the top of his lungs, "I know you're there, you fucking bitch ..."
I stayed awake the rest of the night. My father's snoring stopped. My brother began to hum, but none of us moved.
After the funeral my brother summoned me to my mother's den. I'd been talking to family and helping serve food, so it took a while to get there. When I arrived he was seated in my mother's chair next to her desk. I sat beneath him on an ottoman. Covered with sweat and eyes averted, Lincoln spoke through his teeth.
"There are so many ways in which you have behaved despicably," he said, "that we are long past going into them. But this last little deal was a veritable crime."
Was he talking about the night before? The song I sang at the service? (He'd refused at the last moment to read his poem.) Did he see me cringe when he threw his rose on our mother's coffin and shouted, "Have a good trip!"? Was I being too friendly to members of the family he disliked?
"So you have nothing to say for yourself?" Lincoln said.
"I don't know what I did to offend you," I said. I was trembling. "But I love you. I'm sorry."
"Enough of that," said Lincoln. "Enough enough of that. I don't want to see you anymore. Get out of here."
Since I still had no conscious notion of his schizophrenia, I couldn't realize that I'd become the object of a delusion. I left him obediently, certain I'd committed some kind of sacrilege against our mother that only he'd been wise enough to see. I remained convinced that he knew my conflicted inner thoughts. I felt sick. I couldn't fake cordiality for the guests. I ran to my room.
Afterward I found out that Lincoln had made a violent scene and loudly exclaimed that he couldn't be in the same house with his sister. He demanded to be driven to the airport, where he waited for the next flight to New York. This was the worst moment of my life. I felt as if I'd been caught in a hideous ruse that I'd been getting away with for years. Now he saw the monster as she really was. I prayed for his forgiveness. My fatherwas so used to these outbursts from his son that he seemed relieved to have him out of the house. He didn't even ask me what happened. He sat and, as my brother had said earlier, occupied himself by "swatting off widows and divorcées." But I knew something deep and inalterable had occurred in my brother's mind. I had finally been proclaimed the enemy. He talked to me only three times in the next fifteen years, though our kinship was far from over.
My mother's suicide was as shameful and mystifying to the family as was Lincoln's illness. Ten days after my mother was buried I headed back to Brazil. Before I left I stopped over in New York and went to an art-supply store. I bought a package of colored pencils, a tray of multicolored Magic Markers, ten or fifteen bottles of India ink, pens, and several drawing pads. I walked with this offering, my heart racing, toward the storefront where my brother lived. I knocked on the door a long time until he finally answered. His face was filthy and his hair uncombed. There seemed to be no lights behind him. His gaze was dull and cold. I held out the presents. He took them from me.
"Thank you very much," he said in a clipped and distant tone, "but it's too late. It won't do any good."
"Just tell me what I did," I begged.
He slammed the door in my face.
In São Paulo I awaited permission to begin production on the opera The Trojan Women. I'd composed some of the music and the director had cast most of the roles. Brazil's government was behaving strangely. The director had bravely refused to cast the proprietor of our theater as Hecuba, and because of her government connections we were allowed neither to mount The Trojan Women nor to leave the country. Rumor had it that our opera was an insidious attempt to paint the Brazilian military as fascists who killed women and children.
We stayed in limbo for three weeks. Once in a while I went out with some friendly musicians or actors to watch the sambaschools get their acts ready for the next year's carnival. Mostly, however, I stayed cloistered in my hotel room writing letters to just about everyone I knew apologizing for any thoughtless act or nasty remark I might have let loose in the last five years. Mostly, I wrote letters to Lincoln. No letter was good enough. Each seemed like a rehearsal for another letter. I tried to tell him about how much he'd given me; the love of music, theater, drawing. I wrote that he had been my most important influence and I loved him and I'd never willingly make him angry.
Finally, I sent one of them off. I waited nervously. A reply came almost immediately. It was typed very neatly.
1. You are not to try to contact me in any way.
a. no more visits
b. no letters
c. no phone calls
d. no intermediaries
2. You are not to mention my name or our situation to any of your friends or associates.
3. I have much creative work to do and you are not to interfere or try to help me in any way.
4. You are never again to ask me "What's wrong?"
5. You are not to whine or complain of this situation to our father. Hopefully you are grown up enough to handle yourself maturely.
6. If you see me in the street you will not greet me. The same is true of the box office.
Any violations of these requests will make me seriously angry. Do as I tell you and don't risk any further reactions.
Remember: you are no longer a part of my life and you have no right to think you are.
The letter upset me so badly that I stopped changing my clothes and washing. The director for whom I worked asked to see it, and when he read its contents he laughed and said Lincoln sounded like a bad little boy. Ellen Stewart began to call me because she was concerned about Lincoln's behavior in the boxoffice. I couldn't tell her about his separation from me. She said that he'd been taking his clothes off and playing the guitar naked. She said she couldn't have a naked man with stumps selling tickets.
As I look back on this time I see something hideously comic about it. Obviously Lincoln and I were in deep mourning for our mother, but we were both very far off the mark. Lincoln was fired from the box office when he locked himself in and turned off the lights. My father traveled to Brazil to get me out of my hotel room and to relieve his own guilt and shock. He took me to the zoo and we nearly got charged by a rhinoceros he kept shooting at with his camera. Lincoln checked himself into Mount Sinai Hospital for ninety days. I was finally let out of the country. I hoped a healing process had begun.
I was never really told how sick my brother was, so I continued to believe that his actions were rational and his word was law. His irrational thinking remained a mystery to me, but I felt it had to be founded on some deep truth and I rehearsed all the ways I might communicate with him that would break the dark spell between us.
As soon as we returned from Brazil, I became the composer for three works, Medea, Elektra, and The Trojan Women. I was preoccupied with work, but I watched for Lincoln everywhere. I longed for him and was terrified of him. I was working on Fourth Street between Second and Third Avenues. When I went out for lunch I didn't let my eyes stray across Second Avenue to where he lived. I moved way uptown to 103rd Street to, in a sense, give him rule over the Lower East Side. The commute was exhausting, but I felt safe and well behaved in my uptown apartment. Obviously my efforts weren't good enough. One day Lincoln barged into the rehearsal space and in front of the twenty-odd actors he called out, "This shouldn't go on."
"You can't interrupt like this, Lincoln," said the director.
"Where is my sister?" Lincoln insisted.
I offered to meet him in the prop room outside the rehearsal space. When I entered, he slammed the door and stood in front of it. He was sweating and shaking.
"Don't come near me," he warned. "I'm feeling too much. I don't want to hurt you."
It never occurred to me to be frightened for my safety.
"I asked you for certain things," Lincoln said. "And you continue to behave like a brat."
I said nothing.
"You are not to go near my friends. And you are not to call on our cousins, who are closer to me than to you."
"I haven't done anything," I replied.
"Your whining is insidious," said my brother. "It doesn't fool me at all. Tell everyone who knows us mutually they are not to mention your name in my vicinity."
"All right," I said. I was now uneasy. I wanted to get out of the small closed space and back into rehearsal.
"No presents. No letters of entreaty," Lincoln said.
"All right," I said. "I really have to get back."
"You'll go back when this discussion is over," Lincoln said quietly. He lifted his chin and held his cane in front of him at the door. He was quiet for a moment.
"You may give me a kiss."
I stepped forward and put my lips to his cheek. "Enough," he said.
He let me out the door.
A short time later we had to be evacuated from the building. The basement of the theater was on fire. I've always believed it was Lincoln venting his rage at my ability to return to a real theatrical job despite his misery and threats. I've always believed he set the fire, but neither I nor those who suspected it too revealed his name.
That was his most dangerous period. Whenever anyone saw him on the street he had bruises and black eyes from fights. He tried to interrupt several more of my projects but never sought to speak to me directly. Over time he seemed to transform his physical energy into letter writing and a public-relations campaign. I dreaded my successes as much as my failures. I wentinto therapy to alleviate my terror, and for the first time, a doctor explained to me what little was known of the schizophrenic personality. For the first time it was suggested to me that Lincoln's actions were really crazed and not necessarily reactions to any real crimes against him that I'd committed. The doctor explained that somewhere, deep in his psyche, he didn't want to behave like a lunatic any more than I did. The best course of action was to forcibly stop his nasty behavior so he could turn his energies elsewhere.
"Tell him to stop," she said. "Tell him to quit behaving like a lunatic. That's where you begin."
The directive was impossible to follow. I was always in a weakened state. To be cut off and condemned by one I loved so dearly left me permanently amazed. I kept searching the past for evidence of my transgressions. I waited for others to turn on me, too. Surely I had some chemical which caused me to betray the ones I loved the most. My mother had cut me off with an act of inarguable finality. My brother was attempting the same. Blinded and driven by the power that his past held over me, I became as paranoid as he was. I was sure he'd become a world-famous writer and publish a treatise against me. What would it say? That I'd been a slave to him as a child? That I sang at our mother's funeral? That I'd stolen his success? That I convinced our father to send him money in dribs and drabs so he was always humiliated, in the position of asking for more, on the edge of poverty? That I was a cheap artist and he was the one with the genuine talent in the family?
A courtroom began to form as an image in my head. I was always on the stand. The charges weren't clear, but they were serious. Lincoln's lawyer hammered away at me, and the jury and audience took notes, shook their heads in disgust like a choreographed Broadway chorus. My father was my only character witness and he seemed to be a worse criminal than I. The people of the Lower East Side spoke in his defense and they held banners with slogans against me. The slogans said, "She's no sister. She doesn't care about anyone." I became afraid tolook my own cast members in the eye. I found myself defending my actions out loud on the street and in my apartment at night.
I found enormous comfort in working on a show called Runaways, where I saw that many of the young cast members were chased by demons similar to mine. I lost my own confusions in theirs and began to heal my wounds by watching them find self-esteem and courage through songs, monologues, and dances. In the long afternoon talks we had as part of the workshops, I realized that a family's pain could be confused for one's own, and that often a child is secretly assigned a role in a family to distract the older members of that family from the true reality of their collective disturbance. Kids found ways to destroy themselves to get attention, or to come between mother and father so they'd stop fighting each other. Kids found reasons to be glum or sick so a parent could be distracted from his or her despair. Kids ran away or committed crimes so they could be the rotten ones in the family and take the heat off the abusive neglectful parents. Kids were loyal and loving to the most awful characters simply because it was dictated by love. These were simple discoveries, but they enlightened me far more than ten years of therapy. We converted those painful paradoxical truths into show tunes and comic and tragic presentations. I realized that I wasn't going to allow myself to fail just to ease the wrath of my powerful jealous brother. If I failed, it would be because my work was not good.
Lincoln was enraged by Runaways. He called up the editor of The New York Times and demanded to be allowed to write an article. He said the show was about him and by him. He called the editor four or five times a day. He tried to get on radio shows and sent scripts to producers all over New York. He wanted to prove he had written the show. He said his life was much more deserving of the confessional style of the drama, whereas his little sister had been through absolutely nothing. She was a middle-class brat who lived off the pain of others. Even the music came from records he'd played on his hi-fi overthe years and wasn't original. He could write truly original songs. He'd taught me everything I knew about the salsa, the ballad, Motown, and country-Western. Lincoln's manner became abrasive and abusive. He became as angry at each person he talked to as he was at me. He began to criticize tones of voice, each paper's style of prose, their coverage of the handicapped, and the overly powerful role of the media in America as a potential danger to freedom. From what I understand, he got so off track he often got into personal fights with the writers and editors he talked to and found the immediate issues more important than my plagiarism.
My lawyer and I began to get several calls a day from beleaguered and confused newspaper and radio executives. I became increasingly nervous and upset, but my lawyer found the whole thing rather amusing. It was clear Lincoln had power and style even though he was half out of his mind. As Runaways became more popular and was nominated for awards, however, Lincoln's attacks escalated. His phone calls, letters, and telegrams began to irritate the most benign editors. Finally my lawyer came up with a tactic which I hated and which haunted me for months. He asked my father to intervene. When my father heard about Lincoln's behavior he said it was the "last straw." He wrote Lincoln and told him he would have nothing whatever to do with him again if he didn't stop harassing me. He would cut off all funds and communication. My father's threats only increased my guilt. Lincoln's attacks stopped immediately and he aimed his venom full force at my father. He said he would expose my father for blackmail and censorship. Lincoln didn't understand why my father was protecting the "whiny brat" instead of "spanking her." The children in Runaways were overtired and overexposed and had begun dropping ice cubes and wet paper towels on the audience from a dressingroom window. Two had been picked up for driving their bright new yellow Oldsmobile without a license, with a loan certificate with Joseph Papp's name forged on it and a gun in the front seat. I felt surrounded by my brother. I took off for the islandof Crete, hoping to meet an understanding shepherd and make a new home.
Just a year later I began to be treated with the same poison by the press as I had been by my enterprising brother. Two of my showsDispatches and Lullabye and Goodnighthad been dissected and panned. After a rather long reign as a wunderkind (four years) I'd been dethroned. I received a letter from my brother at my lawyer's office. It said:
You are now showing real courage. You've become a tough lady.
I too am finding myself through my music.
The past is not relevant.
Although I resented the fact that my public humiliation brought out the tenderness in my brother, I was glad to have any chance to communicate with him. We began to write to each other in a correspondence that lasted until a few months before his death.
Ellen Stewart allowed Lincoln to use the La MaMa box office to receive his mail. I left him presents every November 4 for his birthday. His favorite, I think, was a bouquet of silver balloons which I was told he wore on the street for several days. He'd chosen a new nameLincoln Sailand worked various corners of the Lower East Side playing the harmonica, singing, and accepting whatever money was handed his way. He sent me little broken toys, cards with the names of palm readers or doctors, and once, for reasons I'll never understand (they didn't seem to be hostile), a dead baby bird. I know he was very popular in the neighborhood and had a special relationship with the Hispanic population and their church. He played in the CooperSquare Festival and then did drama workshops with groups of children. He let me know he spent his summers with friends in New Paltz. (I had a house in Woodstock and had invited him, but he refused.) He also went to Miami and supposedly had an exhilarating time street-singing in the warm climate. He informed me by letter when members of our family died whom he thought I might not know. When I indicated to him once that I was a little lonely and low, he wrote back immediately and answered with great tenderness about the price of growing up. I know from his writings he was subject to deep depressions, unable to rouse himself from his bed until eight or nine o'clock at night until he could grab a bite to eat at his favorite East Side restaurant and then begin his musical show.
Ellen Stewart, who tried to look after him when she could, sometimes told him to wash. She commented to me on his filth and smell, and a cousin of mine tried to build him a contraption with which a man with one arm could file and clean his nails. Once the invention was completed, Lincoln said, "I've been thinking about the cleanliness issue, and it's really not a possible situation."
In other ways, however, he was very conscious of his appearance. He owned costumes for his performing that he treasured dearly. They consisted of wildly colored capes, different-style hats, tinsel, a bright orange parka, vests, brightly patterned shirts, pastel-colored bell-bottoms, and matching denim outfits. The substance of his physical life was important to him. Everything he wore and carried meant something to him. I remember that one November, when I tried to give him a brand-new denim shoulder bag, I received a curt note which said: "I don't need it. Take it back."
When I neglected to pick up the bag immediately, Lincoln called my lawyer's secretary and told her to tell me to come and get "that bag right away." I was distracted at the time, sluggish myself, and not sensitive to the urgency of his tone. Soon notes began to appear all over La MaMain the lobby, at rehearsal spaces: "Pick up that bag or else."
I did as he asked. I hadn't realized I'd intruded on an essential part of his inner life. His bags and clothes must have meant something especially magical. It was hard to figure out gifts which would not be intrusive or offensive. He did accept a heavy sweater one Hanukkah when I was worried about him and the cold.
As I passed thirty and Lincoln approached forty I became strong enough to confront my memories and I found I couldn't forgive him for his physical abuse of me during our childhood or his irrational jealousies of my early career. But I understood the reasons for his rhythm and mood changes better. And I respected his extraordinary spirit for survival. There's no doubt that I never stopped loving him. I began to learn that one can really hate and love at the same time, and in certain families, that's a necessary combination of emotions. It seemed to me that Lincoln had mellowed into a style of life which suited his image of himself very well. He'd achieved the kind of notoriety in the neighborhood that he'd longed for so badly in the universe and the neighborhood seemed to be enough. He'd got used to announcements and reviews of my work in the press and concentrated on his identity as a street singer. I don't know if he imagined himself as a cartoonist or a writer, but the volumes of typed pages and drawings I found among his belongings lead me to believe he still did. My father stopped his unrealistic harangues that Lincoln be trained, find a vocation, and fit into the "world." I don't know if my father finally began to accept the limitations caused by Lincoln's illness or if he just gave up and decided to concentrate on living his own life. But, aside from the mandatory bickering about money between father and son, our family entered into a period of relative peace.
New York City streets are dangerous. The Lower East Side is infested with heroin users and crack dealers. Even with gentrification, much of the population of Alphabet City (as the blocks around avenues A, B, and C are called) remains poor. Our youngpeople have become more ruthlessly violent, and the violence starts younger and younger. When you have a loved one whose "living" is made from the streets and he inhabits the streets, you think a great deal about his wellbeing. But I know nothing about this. I can only imagine that among the relatively healthy there are codes and territories as well as protectors and deals. I learned through counseling that the street should be the least of my worries about Lincoln. The main enemy of the untreated schizophrenic is time. The schizophrenic deteriorates. His or her life expectancy is less than that of a person with the normal array of neurotic problems. As it was explained to me, the schizophrenic must use up an inordinate amount of energy dealing with his or her delusions, the paranoia that comes with the illness, and the chaotic life-style that results from being only marginally able to take care of oneself. It is the art of schizophrenia to sabotage any positive gestures of help. Lincoln showed many of these characteristics. Often he spent most of his allowance before it came time to pay the rent. If someone offered to help publish him or give him a job which used his brilliant imagination, he'd pick a violent argument with the person and alienate him or her. He'd ask for names of people in the music business from me, and just as I'd be compiling a list, I'd receive a diatribe blaming me for old wounds, ordering me to forget his last request. When Linc was younger he accompanied his self-sabotage with outrageous behavior. He attended the wedding of my father and his new wife at her home in Rochester and then, mid-ceremony, jumped into her swimming pool, making sure all the new family members saw his stumps. He launched into a lengthy, incoherent monologue about Jesus at a large, extremely observant seder. Those who romanticize madness might regard this kind of behavior as the rebellious, symbolic acting out of unappreciated visionaries. This is too idealistic a take on the subject. Time and time again the schizophrenic has proved to be a perfect machine of self-destruction. The body and the mind wear down from fighting voices, maneuvering the streets, living in filth, and being thrownso violently back and forth within a contradictory way of life.
Although there is still no clear conclusion as to what caused my brother's death, his autopsy showed that, at the age of forty-six, he had blockage in his bowels and intestines, a tumor on his lung, emphysema, and arteriosclerosis, which was very advanced for his age. Despite all this, he still managed to get out of his foam-rubber bed each day, drag himself to the street (sometimes he traveled by skateboard), and play the harmonica for his neighborhood audience. I've come to be very proud of my brother's courage and tenacity. I find myself angry at the medical profession for their lack of solutions for his state of being. Research has come up with very little but new, advanced forms of tranquillizers which have serious side effects and dull what little fire is left in the patient.
I remember how four years ago I was walking home from the Public Theater and I recognized my brother's slow, patient gait headed toward me. It was pouring and I had an umbrella, but he'd covered himself by stuffing his hat with newspapers. Instinct told me I didn't have to cross the street and avoid him. I walked straight ahead. He was lively, awake, and happy.
"Give us a kiss," he said.
We hugged. His filthy parka was soaked.
"Isn't this rain terrific?" he said. "It cleans everything."
I knew we'd both move on quickly. I offered him my umbrella.
"No, no," he laughed. "I've got my visor" (he pointed to the newspapers). "I've got my tap shoes." His long hair dripped water and his broken glasses were steamed.
We said goodbye and he launched into an out-of-tune version of "Singin' in the Rain."
At one point he broke his hip. He'd just returned from Miami. He was testing the Miami street life as an alternative location for his act. The Northern winter had started to get to him. It was spring in New Yorkprime time for the street singer. Atfirst he didn't know what had happened to him. Family and friends, as usual, had different versions. One cousin said he'd fallen off a chair while changing a light bulb. Someone else indicated he'd got into trouble in Miami and had been pushed in front of a car. Someone else said he'd stepped in front of that car. At first no one could get Lincoln to leave his bed. I talked to him on the phone.
"I hurt," he said. "I really hurt. I think I hurt my shoulder."
He sounded tearful and scared, like a small boy.
"Do you want me to come and visit you?" I asked.
"Don't even tryI won't let you in" was his reply.
Finally, through the efforts of some cousins and a social worker, he was taken to Mt. Sinai, where the hip fracture was detected. Surgery was required and he had to stay in the hospital for three weeks. He was exceedingly disturbed because he was missing his time on the street. The nurses washed him. He was confined to a wheelchair for at least two months. Lincoln returned from the hospital and occupied his storefront with a large Hispanic male helper. He'd accept no other supervision and didn't go outside for a long time. I went to Israel to conduct and had a miserable experience. For the first time in my life, I couldn't concentrate. I became obsessed with my brother's health. I was tearful and anxious. The strain of knowing he had been living on the edge began to wear down my defenses. I couldn't seem to give up trying to protect him. I am not extraordinarily psychic nor had I stayed close to my brother's ups and downs, but I remembered his voice on the phone and I had a sense of what it would be like for him to be a prisoner in his house, unable to function in the middle of summer or to do the work on the street he loved so much. I knew he was on the verge of a rapid decline.
Shortly before he left for Miami, Lincoln was informed that his building was going co-op and that he'd have to move out of his storefront. I don't know if this information occasioned his injury or if his fall was merely coincidental. The Lower East Side was changing and had been for several years. Since I, too, had lived there when the neighborhood was dominated by poorbut lively families and multiracial food stores and tiny shops, I could chart an amazing change. People call it gentrification, but it wasn't just the new co-ops all around that startled me. It was the change in population. Now tourists came on weekends to browse in the new boutiques and eat in the low-key wood-paneled restaurants. The numbers of punks and pushers on St. Mark's Place were matched by the presence of middle-class baby boomers strolling toward clean bookstores and galleries. Prices rose astronomically, and "freaks" were like statues for uptown visitors to gape at rather than the keepers of the turf. Audiences changed for the Off Off-Broadway shows, encouraged by media coverage and the slick fliers that were sent out (replacing mimeographed sheets). It's no wonder that every landlord in the area wanted to cash in on the new popularity of the Lower East Side. Second Avenue and its surroundings were prime real estate. My brother was an innocent victim in a cycle of change. His beloved neighborhood was turning on him.
He was walking again, but he'd done little to deal with his landlord's notice. He began to call my lawyer, Jerry Lurie, panic-stricken. Jerry and I decided that if Lincoln retained him, it would be a bad situation. The triangle might be too close to the one made up of my father, Lincoln, and me, and Lincoln might get paranoid. Jerry gave the problem to another lawyer in his firm, Janet Neshis, who handled my brother with respect and gentleness. She kept my father in on the negotiations, and he paid the legal bills. Finally, after several months, with Lincoln firing and rehiring Janet several times, she negotiated a deal in which Lincoln would get $25,000 from the landlord for his storefront. Lincoln seemed pleased. He told everyone that he was going to use the money to go to Miami, where he could street-sing all year round. He had friends there, he said. Did anyone ask him where he would live? I don't know.
The months passed and the date for Lincoln to move out came closer. Ellen Stewart uncharacteristically brought to my attention how thin and filthy my brother looked lately. She said,however, he always wore a wool suit on Sundays and was attending a Hispanic Catholic church around the corner from his storefront. Sometimes Lincoln walked on the streets, but more often he performed in his motorized wheelchair. My father told me that if Lincoln didn't walk he'd never regain the strength to walk on his prosthesis and he risked doing serious damage to his spine.
Lincoln was perhaps the greatest influence over my childhood and has continued to live inside my head my whole life. Emotionally, I never lost the deep connection implanted by our daily childhood lessons and games. I sensed that he'd never endure leaving his home of fifteen years. It was like a beaver's dam stocked full of his memorabilia. The walls were constructed from the trash which constituted his sacred objects. He knew everyone in the vicinity. He knew how many steps it took to get to his restaurants and stores. He lived within a safe distance of each location which he considered to be ripe for a receptive audience. If he moved one block away, it would all change and the rituals of his life would be shattered.
It would have taken very patient, very knowledgeable people to help him make the transition, and even then, he might have sabotaged it. I've asked myself many hundreds of times why I didn't find an apartment for my brother, and I have no real answer. I didn't underestimate the gravity of the situation. I knew he'd never settle in Florida, but I thought he might allow himself to call on the kindness of his friends and neighbors who saw him more regularly and were not on conditional terms with him. (It turned out that everyone was on conditional terms with Lincoln.) By the time I began searching the East Side for first-floor apartments he'd be able to afford, I think the crisis was past undoing. Also, I had no idea how expensive rents had become. Even with my help there was almost no affordable space for Lincoln to move into which would be near his beloved territory. My cousin had secured him a place at Fountain House, a halfway house with a rehabilitation program, but Lincoln refused to visit the place at first, and when he finally agreed totake a trip to be interviewed, he didn't show up at the planned meeting place. A friend found him a room uptown at the Y, but Lincoln said he had no money. The date for his eviction was closing in on him and Lincoln had managed, with the help of the City of New York, to successfully create a scenario wherein he had absolutely no place to go.
Most middle-class people ask themselves haunting questions about the homeless, the so-called Bowery Bums and crazy people who populate the streets of New York. We all get panhandled. Once in a while we may be witness to a raspy nonsensical speech about politics or God. We often walk past ragged creatures who sleep on gratings and whose urine trails into the street. The numbers of these people are growing. The middle-class person asks, "How did these people get here? Who are they? Where are their families? How did they fall so low?" We all harbor fears about the difference between the mad street people and ourselves. How far are we from losing all our money and our grace and ending up ranting on a corner holding up a piece of cardboard over a cup? Some people romanticize the plight of the homeless as if each life were the content of a folk song. Others politicize their answer and point to Reagan's eight years and how he broke the back of the poor in our country. Others understand enough to see that some people are on the streets because of Koch's cutbacks and resulting lack of hospitalization, care, and housing for the mentally ill. But generalizations are worthless. Each person who approaches a passerby on the street has his or her own story. He or she was brought low by a specific, personal demonbe it economic, social, or otherwise. When you think this way the conditions in the street become unbearable. You are in touch with the humanity of each individual and can't block his or her suffering out by blaming a "global condition."
Several months before my brother's housing crisis reached its peak, I was walking down Broadway on my way to a Korean deli. I saw two derelicts seated in the middle of the sidewalk. They were dressed in layers of rags and having a heated argumentabout Jesus Christ. One of them had paraphernalia spread around him in a semicircle, as if to sell his wares. But none of his rags or rusty pieces of metal or torn papers was a recognizable item. He wore a jaunty cap pulled to one side and there was tinsel in his filthy hair. His face was smeared black. A few steps farther along, I realized the "derelict" was my brother. I leaned down next to him, softly said his name, and waited. He stared at me for several moments and didn't recognize me at first. When he finally saw that it was me, he let out a cry like a man who'd had a stroke and couldn't express his joyous thoughts. We embraced for a long, long time. His smell meant nothing to me.
"We're just sitting here today," Lincoln said. "Oh, what a perfect day."
"I'm so glad to see you," I said.
"Yes," my brother replied. "You look beautiful. We get a big audience from Tower, but of course you know that, you know all that, and besides, my music requires a different audience."
I didn't want him to go off in an angry direction.
"I like your hat," I said.
He grinned. The rotten brown condition of his teeth made me wince.
"You like it? It was a gift from my friend Ann."
"I love it," I said.
"We'll be doing a lot of playing today," said my brother. "The band decided to try a new location. It's very important."
"I'd like to hear it," I said.
"It won't be for a while," he said.
I hugged him again and he rocked me back and forth.
"Now this is good and enough," he said.
I let go of him, turned around, and went home. I lay down on my bed and slept for fourteen hours.
Ellen Stewart called and told me about the shed the landlords had built in front of the building where Lincoln lived. Hewas two weeks late in vacating his storefront according to the agreement and they wanted to begin construction.
"He's barricaded in there," she told me. "I've gone down and knocked on the wood, but I can't get in."
I ran down to his block and saw what had been described to me. A large wooden shed had been erected which blocked off all the storefronts. The shed had no windows. The one door was at the opposite end from Lincoln's apartment. I tried it several times; it was locked. I tried to figure out where Lincoln's door would be in relation to the wood in front of it and I banged my fists on the wood over and over again.
"Lincoln," I said. "This is your sister. Let me take you out of there."
Silence. I didn't know if he couldn't hear me or wouldn't hear me. It was eerie.
I went back later in the morning and had no success. The week before, I'd had several conversations with Janet Neshis, Lincoln's lawyer, who'd called me because she was concerned that he wasn't moving out according to the contract. I told her I thought Lincoln was paralyzed with fear and that I'd be prepared to go into his apartment with the police and a psychiatrist to get him out. I said I'd commit him if necessary until he could function again. I didn't care if he sued me. I didn't want him going catatonic.
I tried entering the shed for a few more days. Some people thought Lincoln had moved out. No one had seen him. Everyone was concerned. Finally, on February 23 I called Janet and told her I was on my way to the police station. Just as I was leaving, she called me back.
"Lincoln is dead," she told me. "The landlord let himself in with a key and found him. He just called."
I dashed down to 99 East Fourth Street and saw the police car and the coroner's car. Several policemen were standing in the doorway. They didn't believe I was his sister. In a fury, I took out an American Express card to prove my name.
His small storefront was cluttered and he lay on the floor. The coroner wouldn't let me go near him.
"Why?" I asked. "Why can't I be near him?"
Someone escorted me out. It seemed ironic that I was never going to be allowed to spend time with my brother. In life or in death. His rules still held.
My father was completely drained. He wanted nothing to do with Lincoln's death, so I was in charge of all the practicalities. I arranged for his cremation (after the autopsy) at a Second Avenue mortuary. I went to the coroner's office and identified the body. He'd been dead several days, so they showed me a snapshot. His face was a terrifying purple-red, as if he'd been brutally beaten or burned. The bite of his mouth had rearranged itself. He looked ferocious and devilish. I kept saying over and over, "He looks like a werewolf."
He'd become the monster of my childhood, the attacker who entered my room at night in masks and disguises.
I worked hard to please him with the memorial ceremony. We held it at La MaMa. There was a harmonica player and a Hispanic Catholic priest. Ellen Stewart spoke. A rabbi flew in from Buffalo to accompany my father. He said Kaddish. Several of my friends sang and played shakuhachisthe Japanese flutes. I wasn't prepared for the flood of people who filled the small theater. I didn't realize Lincoln had so many friends and such a community of admirers. When I spoke I tried to say the comforting clichés that such an occasion requires. But obviously I slipped. My best friend put her arms around me and laughed. "I can't believe you called him a motherfucker in front of the rabbi," she said.
There were protests two hundred people strong involving Lincoln's death in relation to the construction of that shed. There was a front-page article in The Village Voice and a radio program on National Public Radio. A grand jury indicted the landlord and corporation for harassment of a tenant. The NewYork Times ran a small article about the lawsuit. Although the outcome was disappointing Lincoln Sail achieved the notoriety he longed for. I don't know, however, if he became known for reasons he would have liked. He probably would have been furious that all those people were prying into his life, and wouldn't have tolerated political leaders being in charge of his case. I've often found it amusing that his death caused as much trouble as his life did. He died exactly the way he lived, stubbornly, in a crazy fashion, full of secrets and contradictions. I don't laugh, however, if I think of him scared and alone in the darkness. I don't want to think of him as ill or too immobile to reach out for help. I hear the voice of a little boy coming out of a forty-six-year-old. The voice says, "I hurt," and he won't let me near him to do anything about it.
I've said goodbye to Lincoln Sail many times and haven't yet successfully lost him. This is partly because he was so powerful and partly because the unhappiness between us could never be resolved. He was my amazing big brother and my most vitriolic enemy. Over time he'll become a figure of my past whose influence on me created the seeds of my musical and theatrical life. He'll have been the cause of a great unhappiness I no longer feel.
In the meantime, however, his voice still whispers in my head. The image of his angry face looms in front of me like the ominous floating head of the Wizard of Oz. "Manners are everything," he says. "You violate me and you'll never go to a dinner party as long as you live." I stay awake at night wondering whether I should try to publish his lively collection of cartoons. I can't figure out if he'd be happy or if I'd break some code of honor I know nothing about. The darkness of my room becomes too busy. I decide to have one small lamp burning near my closet, where Lincoln could be hiding ready to spring.
Copyright © 1991 by Elizabeth Swados
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