There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me

There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me

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by Brooke Shields
     
 

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Actress and author of the New York Times bestseller Down Came the Rain, Brooke Shields, explores her relationship with her unforgettable mother, Teri, in her new memoir.

Brooke Shields never had what anyone would consider an ordinary life. She was raised by her Newark-tough single mom, Teri, a woman who loved the world of show business and

Overview

Actress and author of the New York Times bestseller Down Came the Rain, Brooke Shields, explores her relationship with her unforgettable mother, Teri, in her new memoir.

Brooke Shields never had what anyone would consider an ordinary life. She was raised by her Newark-tough single mom, Teri, a woman who loved the world of show business and was often a media sensation all by herself. Brooke's iconic modeling career began by chance when she was only eleven months old, and Teri's skills as both Brooke's mother and manager were formidable. But in private she was troubled and drinking heavily.

As Brooke became an adult the pair made choices and sacrifices that would affect their relationship forever. And when Brooke’s own daughters were born she found that her experience as a mother was shaped in every way by the woman who raised her. But despite the many ups and downs, Brooke was by Teri’s side when she died in 2012, a loving daughter until the end.

Only Brooke knows the truth of the remarkable, difficult, complicated woman who was her mother. And now, in an honest, open memoir about her life growing up, Brooke will reveal stories and feelings that are relatable to anyone who has been a mother or daughter.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
10/13/2014
Shields was prompted by the death of her mother, Teri, in 2012, at age 79, to do some defensive soul-searching about their complicated, interdependent relationship. In this conversational, limpid effort, the actress and former model traces her mother’s life—starting with Teri’s working-class Newark, N.J., upbringing and distant parents—as well as her own. As a beautiful, lively young woman working at odd jobs in New York City, Teri met and briefly married a well-connected scion of Italian aristocrats who was eight years her junior; their only child, Brooke, was born in 1965. From her first modeling job for Ivory soap as a toddler to her heyday as the poster girl for Calvin Klein, Shields, with her distinctive “European look,” let her mother make decisions for her, without much thought to a “career” but with an eye to money and trips they took together. Some of those decisions were highly criticized, such as her starring at age 11 as a prostitute in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby. Shields admits to feeling “abandoned” when her mother drank, and eventually the actress found some independence by attending Princeton. Some degree of self-awareness emerges, though Shields’s prose is lackluster. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
Praise for There Was a Little Girl

“Shields writes with considerable reflection; she's done the hard work of making sense of the contradictions in her mother, and now we get the benefit of her sharing what she's learned.” — Kirkus Reviews

"[A] well-crafted and insightful read from beginning to end...a thoughtful poignant and provoking story about a girl and her mom...a remarkably clear-eyed examination." — Associated Press

"This story of Brooke's career as a model and actress unfolds from the perspective of an adult child of an alcoholic. Her voice in this memoir is unguarded and raw and deals head-on with the damage alcohol causes in intimate relationships. For a celebrity of her stature to write so honestly and intelligently about emotion wounds is a refreshing change. The book will appeal not only to Shields fans, but also to readers who seek out memoirs about surviving dysfunctional families. Brooke Shields is still our sister, just more real and imperfect." — BookPage

"A raw, honest tale of a mother and daughter that will appeal not only to celebrity watchers but mothers and daughters." — Library Journal

Library Journal
11/15/2014
Shields, who documented her postpartum depression in 2006's Down Came the Rain, turns her attention to her mother, Terri. Tough and gregarious, Terri divorced Brooke's father when Brooke was just a baby. The actress grew up feeling inextricably entwined with and responsible for her mother. Terri was offered a baby modeling opportunity for Brooke, and the girl's career subsequently took off, eventually leading to acting roles. It was Brooke's role as a child prostitute in the 1978 Louis Malle film Pretty Baby that garnered Terri a reputation as a single mother who sold her daughter for her own ambition. Brooke wants to set the record straight about that but pulls no punches about her mother's full-blown alcoholism. Terri died young of dementia and this book is in part her daughter's response to her guilt that she never told her mother what she meant to her. Although Terri's alcoholism was an embarrassment and a worry, says Shields, she was her mother and she loved her very much. VERDICT A raw, honest tale of a mother and daughter that will appeal not only to celebrity watchers but mothers and daughters.—Rosellen Brewer, Sno-Isle Libs., Marysville, WA
Kirkus Reviews
2014-10-08
Shields reflects on the protective—and stifling—relationship between her and her mother. Different generations of people know the actress from different phases of her lengthy TV and film career. She began as a model at 11 months old and would go on to star in popular movies such as Endless Love and The Blue Lagoon. She continued in TV with Suddenly Susan and has spent years as a strong advocate for treatment of postpartum depression. In some ways, she is an aberration: Many child stars shine brightly for a short time and then either retreat to a private adulthood or end up in some poorly considered variation of a Miley Cyrus-type lifestyle. Shields' more dignified path through life is in no small part thanks to her mother, Teri, and following her death in 2012, Shields was horrified to find the obituary rife with misrepresentations. This book is her effort to set the story straight. As Shields notes in the introduction, it's not an effort "to idealize her or condemn her," and the narrative walks a line between the two, detailing the efforts her mother made—mostly successful—to walk her own fine line between being her daughter's promoter and being her mother. As the author's social sphere expanded, she and her mother were like two different planets, pulling in other actors and actresses, high-society couples and directors. At times, their intense gravity worked against each other, but Shields continued her ascent. Teri found herself in the grip of a battle with alcohol, and as the book shows, her addiction became a powerful, destructive third force. Shields writes with considerable reflection; she's done the hard work of making sense of the contradictions in her mother, and now we get the benefit of her sharing what she's learned.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780525954842
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/18/2014
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
736,270
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.70(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

I’m told that even decorated soldiers’ last words are often calling for “Mommy.”

That is the first feeling that washed over me.

And on November 5, 2012, six days after I watched my mother die right in front of me, I opened up the New York Times obituaries and the feeling hit again . . . but it came with a wave of anger. I was so hurt my vision blurred. I couldn’t believe what I’d just read, and I asked myself: How could I have been so stupid and so naïve? How could I have let my guard down? How could they have done this to my mommy?

• • •

Days earlier, I’d written my own simple and rather short obituary about my mom and had sent in the required $1,500. The following afternoon I got a call from the Times saying they wanted to print it on the front page of the obituary section. I said they could position it wherever they wanted.

They explained that they thought Mom deserved to have a more prominent placement. This made me feel like maybe after all these years, Mom would finally get some modicum of respect. And deep down we all want to know our moms deserve respect, don’t we? TheTimes added that they didn’t want me to pay the $1,500, but I explained that I was fine paying and thanked them for the offer. Suddenly the person on the other end of the phone stated that the obituary was, in fact, already being moved to a more prominent part of the paper, so a bit more copy would be needed. This was the first red flag.

“I am not giving an interview. Publish my written obit, please.”

“Well, we may just need one or two additional facts that you could clarify.”

“Listen, I submitted my personally written obituary about my mother and I sent in a check. Thank you.”

“OK, we don’t want to upset you. . . . How about we just take your obit and print that but add one or two additional facts about her upbringing and the like?”

“Fine.”

They indeed called and asked one question about her deceased brother and if she had lived in any other city in New Jersey before moving to New York City. It was a two-minute phone call and it seemed fine. I was satisfied.

• • •

A few days later, on the stoop of my apartment, I was shocked and horrified to read a piece I’d known nothing about. It was a scathing, judgmental critique of my mother’s life. I gasped and stared, wide-eyed, at the nasty, venomous piece of so-called journalism.

The first line read, “Teri Shields, who began promoting her daughter, Brooke, as a child model and actress when she was an infant and allowed her to be cast as a child prostitute . . . died on Wednesday.” What an opener!

The obituary’s author highlighted—completely out of context—the most salacious facts and quotes. He painted her as a desperate single mom who sold her daughter into prostitution and nudity for her own profit. He even distorted Mom’s most famous quote, mistaking her wry humor for deep abuse—“Fortunately, Brooke was at an age where she couldn’t talk back.” This quote referred to the fact I’d been eleven months old when I shot my first ad, for Ivory soap, not to human trafficking of a minor into the sex trade.

Who the fuck did this guy think he was to write about a woman he never knew? How could he hurl such vicious allegations when an obit was supposed to be fact based? The piece was shocking and of the lowest common denominator, which was especially terrible coming from somebody who called himself a reputable journalist.

Reading the obit, I felt myself beginning to lose it. I started to take deep breaths, trying not to panic or pass out. I ran into the kitchen and began pacing around the table as I sobbed and rambled: Why are they so cruel? Why can’t they let her be? Why can’t they let her die without being nasty? Why can’t they be kind to her just once? Why was it so easy and acceptable for him to degrade her? Where was the human decency? Someone’s mother just died.

I walked in circles, crying and choking on my tears, and then left the kitchen and walked up the stairs to my bedroom. I bawled my eyes out and ranted for only a few minutes longer. Then I began to sense the rage. It was like a hot liquid traveling up my legs and all the way to my cheeks and actually radiating from my face.

The anger was terrible, but then I took a step back mentally and thought: Who is this guy? What is it about his own life and parental dynamic that caused him to write with such ignorance and venom? Why the drive to assassinate the character of a woman of whom he had no personal recollection, and whose path he had never crossed? What did she symbolize to him?

If this dead seventy-nine-year-old woman could elicit such a vehement response and vicious reaction so many years after her prominence in the public eye had faded—never mind that a man who had never been a mother or a daughter penned it—there was something there that needed to be explored. The relationships between mothers and their daughters are often fraught and fascinatingly complicated. I knew mine was. But what did she trigger in him? Why did he care?

Almost immediately, I knew what I wanted to do. It was time to tell our story—my mother’s and my own. The story of my mother’s trajectory through her life and through mine. The story of how I became who I am because of all she was.

This book is about everything that went into being Teri Shields. It is not a Mommie Dearest tale. But I’m not holding her up on a pedestal, either. There has been so much written about my mom, and most of it has been quite negative. This is by no means an attempt to idealize her or condemn her. It is simply my turn to tell the story as I saw and felt it. It’s about the forty-eight years that I knew—yet never really knew—my mother.

My life—those forty-eight years of it—always existed somehow in relation to hers. She affected everything in my life. She was at the apex of it all. Nearly everything I did was for her, in response to her, because of her, or in spite of her. I was either emulating her or trying to define my independence from her. I was either trying to escape her or crash into her.

I thought about her all the time. She was part of my every day. Even though I worked hard and succeeded at creating a healthy private life and home with my grounded husband and beloved daughters, as long as she was alive, Mom’s needs were never far away.

I remained preoccupied by her until she passed away. And afterward as well, obviously, because I am writing about her every day.

As a child, I literally couldn’t imagine life without her. I used to think that if Mom died, I’d die, too.

Now I’m still here, with two daughters of my own, and this book is about understanding what came before, and what comes next.

Part One

My feelings about my mother and about our relationship are so confused that to write them down with clarity would mean I had them all figured out, which I do not.

—Brooke Shields’s diary

Chapter One

Teri Terrific

Who was my mother? I believe that I knew her better than anybody else did. And I didn’t know her at all. I could wax philosophical and venture to say that my mother never fully knew herself, and that the persona she created became her reality. She saw herself the way she wanted others to see her and built up the necessary barricades between her real character and what she presented. She made it impossible for even her daughter to chisel past the myth.

For years, I thought she was the strongest, most honest and forthright woman ever. Looking back, I see that she was the most truthful white liar I will ever know.

I understand a great deal about my mother and about her complex nature, but there were facts hidden, brushed over, and manipulated. There was information lost in translation and lost to booze. And there was much sadness and pain and deep insecurity. I have always felt that to really know another person, it requires a certain willingness to be vulnerable. Vulnerability equaled weakness in my mother’s eyes.

I have asked myself these questions: How well did I know Mom? How deeply do any of us really know our mothers? And how well do they really know us?

Ultimately, how much of who I am is my mother? Do I have to know her better to know myself?

• • •

Of course, there is a lot I do know. There are stories, the ones she told me and the ones I heard from others. And pictures—so many pictures! They tell a story all their own.

I know that my mother, Theresa Anna Lillian Schmon, was born in Newark, New Jersey, on August 11, 1933. She had an older brother and a younger sister, who was the apple of my mom’s eye. Mom was a perfect example of a middle child. She overcame her low self-esteem by rebelling and being a trailblazer. I smile thinking of her as a sweet but tough little kid whose attitude and humor made her a survivor. I am proud of my mom as a little girl. But for the most part, when I think about what I know of my mom’s childhood, I just feel sad.

Evidently her mother, also named Theresa, was forced to stop going to school at nine years old to become the primary caregiver of her three siblings. My grandmother’s mother had passed away, and she became an instant mother to three kids. Later on, she lost her younger brother to a freak drowning accident in Newark. I can only imagine the guilt and anger that comes from losing a sibling at such a young age and while on your watch. While researching my genealogy at the Newark History Society, I found a microfiche document that reported that in addition to these children, my grandmother’s father had an entirely different family he was supporting on the other side of town. I am not sure if my grandmother ever found out about her father’s double life, but I have a feeling that all these circumstances of her own life had to take a toll. This must be where her hardened personality began to develop. My grandmother was always a cold person in my eyes and would often throw out barbs about Mom. She resented her for something, and I saw it when we visited. Grandma never credited my mother for the things she had given her but instead gave acknowledgment to her other daughter. I guess she resented my mom for leaving her instead of staying and caring for her forever. If I did something annoying when we were visiting, her idea of a perfect insult would be to say, “Ugh, you’re just like your mother!”

I took this as a compliment and thanked her. She’d then scoff at me, saying I was a sarcastic brat. One day Grandma offered to show me her dentures. I sat on her lap and grabbed her front teeth with my thumb and index finger, and she told me to pull. I did and her teeth came out in my hands. I burst into tears and thought I had ripped her head apart by the jaw. She laughed hysterically.

Eventually, when my grandmother grew up, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. She met and married John Schmon. They had three children: Johnny, Louise, and my mother, Teri. My mother’s name was originally spelled the same way as her mother’s, but she was forced to change the spelling because there were too many other Terrys and Theresas in her grammar school class.

• • •

As a child, Mom was left on her own a great deal and learned to be quite independent. She was a very cute little brunette with huge, dark-brown eyes. In pictures her eyes always stood out because of how dark and round her pupils were. She was a sweet, silly, and popular little girl who had an honest sense of humor. In first grade the teacher once asked the class why they thought that their area of Newark was nicknamed the Ironbound section. Mom raised her hand and exclaimed that it was because they were so tough!

Mom’s father drove a bus. Her mom got a job at a doughnut shop and was the one who filled the doughnuts with the cream and the jelly. She evidently ended up getting fired for filling the doughnuts with too much jelly. She had other jobs but was basically a stay-at-home mom. It was the Depression, and it wasn’t uncommon for women to work various jobs in pastry shops and the like or to clean houses. Even my mother worked, cleaning houses in Newark starting at a very young age.

Mom told me that before Easter one year she really wanted a little chick she had seen in the window of a toy store. The chick cost only two cents, but her mom would not give her the money for something so frivolous. Mom told me she cleaned houses after school for two weeks straight to make the two cents. But by the time she got to the store to buy it for herself, it was closer to Easter and the price had been raised to three cents. She never got the chick.

But she was always smart and ingenious. At about age seven, she did make a dollar by sending in an idea to a soap factory. Her idea was to layer in decals in the center of the soap to encourage kids to bathe. They couldn’t see the next fun decal until they washed the layers of soap away. She sent in a handwritten note to the company, and they sent her back a thank-you and a one-dollar bill. She claimed the company went on to make the soap and make a great deal of money from her invention. Mom gave her mother the dollar.

She was imaginative and adventurous, too, and her inventive way of thinking ended up giving me confidence to think outside the box and trust that my thoughts were unique. Of course, she was also OK with causing a little trouble, even then. When she was a very little girl, probably around four or five, she would run away from home and sneak into the movie theatre by getting on her tippy-toes and craning her neck to declare to the ticket lady, “My mommy’s in there.” The lady would wave her on inside and never notice if she did or did not come back out. Once inside the safety of the un-air-conditioned theatre, Mom would settle into a seat in the middle row and get lost in the stories told on the big screen. This was around 1938, and according to my mother, it was in a time when movies played all day long and periodicals played in between the screenings. World news would be sandwiched in between movies like The Adventures of Robin Hood,Holiday, or Bringing Up Baby.

Whenever her mother finally discovered—usually four or five hours later—that she had run away, they knew where to find her. The theatre lights would suddenly blast on and uniformed policemen would burst in with Mom’s mother and come to retrieve the runaway. The minute her mother would grab hold of her tiny arm, Mom would just point up at the screen and say, “Movin’ pictures, movin’ pictures!” Inevitably, Mom would get a whupin’.

All her life Mom simply loved movies. She would escape into the darkness of the theatre, and that’s where she found her home. She told me she usually went alone, and inevitably some guy would try to be inappropriate with her. She claimed it got to the point where she would just scream out, “Put that away!” She said it happened once and three separate men jumped up to leave. Nothing derailed her love of the movin’ pictures. She was enamored of the glamour of movies and the fantasies they created. They were her original escape. It was fitting, I guess, for her to raise a child who would end up an actress.

• • •

Mom never seemed close to her mother, but she worshipped her father. They shared a special bond and a similar sense of humor. They both had a willingness to be silly. And neither cared about looking bad. Since birth he’d had a hole through the cartilage in his nose, and he would put a pencil through it and make a funny face to make Mom laugh. He’d imitate Charlie Chaplin in the movie The Gold Rush by sticking forks in two separate buns so they looked like little shoes and making the little bread feet dance on a tabletop. He’d chime in singing, “Now this is abundance!”

But even though Mom seemed to have revered her dad, I never got the impression that he was warm or overtly affectionate. Years later, upon my mom’s graduation from grammar school, he could muster up the sensitivity to write “Phooey” in her yearbook. I found it later and saw that Mom had asked only her father and one of her teachers to sign her book.

He worked hard to support his family during very difficult times. Even though I got the impression that my grandmother never cared for my mother and in fact even grew to resent her, to me it seemed that Mom did genuinely feel loved by her father.

Sadly, though, Mom’s dad died of lung cancer shortly after the “Phooey” incident. She was fourteen years old and this would be her first real loss of love. Mom’s hero was gone and her mother was left yet again with three children to raise on her own.

• • •

Mom was able to stay in school and met the first love of her life in high school. He was a nice Italian boy named Salvatore Piccarillo and they became high school sweethearts. Mom would tell me stories about how she felt a part of his family and how his grandmother taught her to take one step at a time in life and not rush things or “sweat the small stuff.” She also taught my mother the importance of perseverance and progress. This little old Italian grandmother would place her fingers on the kitchen table, touching her pinky to her thumb. She would separate her pinky from her thumb and then slide her thumb to meet it. The back of her hand would arch up every time her thumb met her pinky, and as she continued, over the length of the table, it looked very much like a huge caterpillar slowly making its way to a place in the shade. She’d made it all the way to the end of the table by taking little steps.

Mom and her beau, Sal, spent all their time together, and they became the standout couple at their high school. I loved the idea that he was a football player, and I imagined them as prom king and queen. These seemed to be some of the better years of Mom’s life in Newark. She was said to light up every room she entered. She was special in every way.

After she graduated, Mom got a job working at Krueger Brewing Company, on an assembly line as a capper. She modeled a bit and was also often called out of work for photo opportunities to show her beautiful gams or greet various men in uniform. They would pluck her from the grind of the factory job and she’d have an interesting experience and hours off. Just like Marilyn Monroe in the famous photo from Yank magazine, it was always my mom who they wanted to show off the product or be the mascot of a factory. She looked like she was imitating the famous Betty Grable pinup photo in the bathing suit. She wore only fire engine–red lipstick and always showed off her long, sexy legs. She was stunningly beautiful, and her laugh was infectious. She excelled at everything she tried, and she read people astutely. She knew she was somehow different from her peers and wasn’t the type to want to settle down.

Soon my mother started setting her sights past Newark and across the Hudson River to the bright lights and more cosmopolitan Manhattan. She wanted more. She wanted a big, fabulous life, and I guess she felt Newark couldn’t provide it. She showed no regrets in leaving anyone behind. I often wonder what her life would have been like if she’d stayed. It seems impossible that she would have been content.

Mom started to take the bus into New York City every day for work and eventually got a job at the famous Gaslight Café. Her salary was minimal, and she made the majority of her money in tips. She was a coat-check girl who met the regular customers with just a smile and a nod, as she was always horrible with names. Once, while introducing a boyfriend to her mother, she forgot her own mom’s name. She mumbled something and then just kept repeating her boyfriend’s first name, feeling relieved that she could at least access somebody’sname in this horrible moment.

Well, this inability to recall names plagued her forever, but particularly at the Gaslight, where remembering the clientele’s names ensured a larger tip. To counterbalance her deficiency, Mom would take the coat, cock her head with a wink, and go to the coat-check closet to retrieve a number check in its place. In the back, Mom kept a small notepad log of characteristics of the customers or tidbits about their lives—things they had mentioned or she had overheard. For instance: This man had a kid going off to college, had a sick family member, or had spent a holiday in a certain place. She also made a note of tie color or hair color or physical characteristics. She’d write: “red hair with crooked nose: Bob” or “slick side part and black hair, smells of Old Spice: Jack.” For the ones with no name, she would simply bring the claim ticket to the man and in a flirty tone, hands on hips, say, “Now you, how come you’re not wearing my favorite yellow tie? Shame on you! Next time I want to see it. Enjoy your evening.”

The men all felt special and, with stoked egos, reached farther into their pockets for a tip.

Mom crumpled her cash tips and shoved them in her pockets. At the end of the night she’d take the bus back to Newark, and her mom would be waiting with the ironing board up and the iron hot and ready. Mom would dump out the balled-up money and give them to her mom, who stayed up ironing the bills until they were all flat and in a stack. I’m not sure my mother ever got to keep any of this cash for herself. I suspect it all went to her mother for the care of the family. Mom never seemed to resent this and instead began to clock the prospects of a bigger world, one that didn’t involve a daily bus commute.

She began to grow away from Sal. They always remained friends (until the day she died), but she decided to go off on her own and move to New York City. She set out to get an apartment and was able to secure one with decent rent on the east side in the Fifties. She then began working in the Garment District in various stockrooms and, sometimes, as a model. Mom continued to send her mother money when she could. I have found thank-you notes from my grandmother and my great-aunt Lil thanking Mom for the rent money.

My mother wanted a more upscale career but had no experience or education in sales or management. But she didn’t see that as an obstacle. She often said to me growing up, “Brookie, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Don’t take no for an answer and never let ’em see you sweat. Figure out what you want and find a way.”

She applied and got a job at the makeup counter of the posh uptown department store Lord and Taylor. It would be here that she would meet her longtime friend and my eventual godmother, Lila Wisdom. Lila was from Tucson, Arizona, and was younger than Mom by a few years. They became the best of friends, but Mom always saw herself as the captain of the ship. I only knew my mom as the captain of the ship, so this made sense to me. Lila was from a small town and had graduated from college. Mom acted like her bossy big sister, and their dynamic worked.

Because Mom also had zero training in the world of makeup beyond applying her ever-present fire engine–red lipstick and matching nails, she had to be creative and seemingly confident. Her job was to make up the customers and subsequently sell them products. Mom was right-handed and unable to use her left steadily or contort properly to use the brushes in her right hand to apply eye shadow and the like on both eyes. After creating a few Picasso-esque faces, she came up with a solution. She would do the left side of a woman’s face with her right hand and then turn the woman to face the mirror, hand her the brush, and, like a wise teacher, say, “Now let’s see if you can do what I just did to the other side of your face.”

Women loved the attention and instruction and were empowered by learning a skill from the expert. They bought copious amounts of products, and everybody was happy. Management thought Mom was a genius, and she was soon promoted. Lila was Mom’s boss in the beginning but soon Mom was practically running the place. It was a gift she had—how she could turn her weaknesses into seeming strengths. People looked up to her and thought she could do anything, even though she was technically not trained. She was a person who would never admit to not knowing something.

Mom was now meeting a more uptown crowd and soon had many new friends. She was exposed to the fabulous fifties in New York City and all it had to offer. Mom befriended many gay men who were hairdressers or in fashion, and she beguiled many members of the New York social set. Her usually brown-red hair was blond at this point. She was a five-foot-nine bombshell with a narrow waist; long, gorgeous legs; and a sexy hourglass figure. She seemed to celebrate her physique and had no issues wearing a bikini or minidress. She had a friend named Joanne who was a fellow blond. Joanne had a mean parrot that Mom taught to curse. Jo and Mom often wore one another’s bathing suits and always took fun pictures on various boats and with various men suitors. The same leopard one-piece has shown up in many photos of Mom as well as Jo.

Mom loved to have her photo taken and always had a glimmer in her eye and a glass in her hand. In photos of her with other people, your eyes are always drawn directly to my stunningly beautiful mom. The men were either handsome or rich, and you could tell they wanted to shower her with the good life—the life she so coveted.

One particular gay couple became Mom’s closest friends. They had a place on Fire Island and often repeated the story of how one day Mom was walking one of their poodles on a leash on a boardwalk. The dog wrapped the leash around Mom’s legs and she got totally tangled up and fell head over heels on the wood planks. Her dress flew up over her head and she was wearing not a stitch of underwear.

Mom never parlayed her many talents into a profession but kept starting jobs, excelling in them by sheer street smarts and innovation, and moving on. She seemed to be searching for some kind of recognition or social status and an escape from her roots.

• • •

It wouldn’t be long before Mom met a man to whom she became engaged. I never heard much about him and was shocked and saddened when I found out why they never actually got to take a walk down the aisle together. Mom told me the story of his death every time she took me to have a cheeseburger at P. J. Clarke’s original Fifty-Fifth Street and Third Avenue location.

Turns out Mom and her fiancé, who I later learned was named Morton Gruber, were on a double date with a girlfriend of Mom’s and her boyfriend. They all were in the car together on the way to have drinks and dinner at P. J. Clarke’s. They were having trouble finding a parking spot and didn’t want the ladies to have to walk far. Mom’s fiancé was behind the wheel and suggested he drop the three passengers off at Clarke’s to get a table. He would find a spot for the car and meet them inside. Mom and the other couple went in and waited the normal ten minutes for a table and sat to order a cocktail. Some more time passed, and the group began to discuss how bad parking had gotten lately. Even more time passed and they began to get a bit curious and even slightly concerned. Did her fiancé suddenly get cold feet? This joke ended up being a terrifying and morbid premonition. Moments later, sirens were heard and red lights flashed through the paned windows. Everybody rushed outside and was horrified by what they saw.

This was at a time in New York City when Third Avenue was a two-way street. Evidently, Morton had parked the car on the opposite side of Third Avenue from the restaurant and was crossing the street when he was hit by a car. His body was thrown thirty feet. He was dead on impact, and by the time the ambulance came his watch and wallet had been stolen. The whole story was shocking to me. I couldn’t believe that people would steal off a dead or dying bloody man. And if he had lived, I would have never existed.

According to my mother, the next day Third Avenue was converted to a one-way street heading uptown. It turned out to be a bit later than the next day, but the day after sounded more dramatic and appealing to her. This was just another one of my mom’s slightly lying truths.

I can only imagine the sense of loss my mother must have experienced. I believe that because she lost her dad as a kid and then her fiancé, a deep fear of abandonment began planting its roots in her heart. Mom was a tough cookie in many ways, and she did what she could to move forward. She was never one to talk about her true feelings but suffered inside and alone.

Her life continued and she found other suitors but no proposals she wanted to accept. She wanted to date, have fun, be entertained, and, I am guessing, drink. She was the life of every party and I don’t believe her drinking had done more at this point than help her maintain her fun-girl status. At one point Mom did meet another man with whom she was rumored to have been very serious. But it wasn’t until years later that I would hear the truth about that relationship.

• • •

While she had plenty of tragedy in her life, she also had a great deal of fun. Mom loved Broadway and anyone associated with the theatre. Some years later she ended up dating a married (but separated) man named Murray Helwitz, who was treasurer of the Shubert Theatre. They dated for a while, and Mom fell right into the world of premieres and late-night cocktails, dinners, and dancing at various dinner clubs. Social hobnobbing like that made my mother come alive. She befriended all the local bartenders, coat-check girls, and restaurant managers. This seemed to be the beginning of a lifelong pattern where Mom gravitated toward those she called the underdogs.

While seeking her fabulous and glamorous future, she always seemed to hover on the fringe. It appeared she meant to inhabit two paradoxical worlds. It was an odd paradox because she wanted to be accepted into a more elevated social status, but she held tightly to a darker and more troubled socioeconomic echelon. She was seeking some kind of recognition and a level of improvement in her life but fought it at the same time. It seemed that she was longing for, craving, an escape from her roots. Yet she could never quite give them up. She’d revert to a tougher type of talk if she felt intimidated. I always said she wore being from Newark like a badge, flashing it when necessary or threatened. Whenever she felt a crack in her armor or felt a moment of social ineptitude, she’d counterbalance with a brash declaration of her Newark upbringing. She often outwardly credited Newark as the reason she couldn’t be beat. I always loved visiting there with her because it felt uncomplicated. But I also loved leaving because I would get bored, just as she did.

The bartenders in particular seemed to look out for her. Once, while Murray and Mom were in a fight, a bartender spotted Murray with another woman, sitting at what had been “their” table. The bartender reached under the counter for the phone and called my mom. He quietly informed her that her beau was currently at the joint with another gal. Mom thanked him, took a quick shower, and put on the new mink coat Murray had purchased for her as a gift along with a pair of high heels. Decked out in just a fur and heels, Mom cabbed it to the restaurant, walked to the back of the place, stood in front of the table for two, and looked right at Murray but angled herself slightly more toward the other woman, who turned out to be his wife. Seems like they weren’t so separated after all! She asked him if he liked her new fur coat. As she asked, she proceeded to open it up and do a full twirl before wrapping her naked self back up and continuing out the restaurant. On the street she may or may not have cried, but she had made a point. Mom liked to make such scenes, and her various dramatic antics would become legendary.

The fur-coat story aside, clothes paid an important role in my mom’s life, and she chose them carefully. Early on, she recognized the power of certain labels. But she also realized she was unable to afford them. She knew how to dress for various social environments and would not let her lack of finances infringe on her wardrobe. In the late fifties and early sixties Emilio Pucci had become wildly popular. Mom loved the bright colors of Pucci and thought it ingenious how he wrote his name throughout the patterns. But she was unable to afford the famous print mini shift dresses all the uptown ladies were wearing. So Mom once again had to be creative.

And that she was. Mom bought some fabric in a print that was practically indiscernible from the now famous Pucci patterns and fashioned her own shift dress. She sewed it herself and then in pen she wrote her own name, “Teri,” in cursive on all the same areas one would find the esteemed signature “Emilio.” She recalled many socialites coming up to her at a cocktail party and commenting on the specialness of her dress. “I just love your Pucci, Teri!” Mom said she made a point of saying thank you and walking away so her secret stayed safe. She would joke that she was fine as long as she wasn’t caught in the rain, because then if she had been unlucky enough, her dress would begin looking like a fashion by Rorschach test, with ink blots developing where her name had been previously so neatly placed.

Mom coveted the clothes she saw the rich women wear, and eventually learned to hunt them down in various Upper East Side thrift shops. She knew those were the places that the Park Avenue women were likely to deposit their old Gucci, Courrèges, or other designer labels. She combed through the racks and stacks and over time, and with her keen eye, was able to procure and savor a wardrobe that any proper Upper East Side WASP would deem appropriate.

It was thanks to this wardrobe and her recently, intently, avariciously learned rules of etiquette that Mom began dating more and more well-bred men and being invited into communities previously reserved for high society, for the educated, wealthy, and elite. Mom felt at ease and if she was at all insecure about her level of education, she made up for it with her humor, her style, and her astute ability to read a room. Mom’s wry wit and her keen human observations made her a welcome dinner date or companion to anyone lucky enough to have her at their table. When you added alcohol to these characteristics, she was hard to resist. Her drinking at this point in her life, although probably necessary for her confidence, was still not a negative. Mom dated senators and theatre owners, bankers and trust-fund kids. She was wined and dined by them all. Mom began being recognized around town as the beautiful and vivacious “Teri Terrific.”

• • •

Mom looks happy in the photos I have from this time. I believe that during this period of her life, she might have actually been. There was no sadness in her eyes yet. This may have been the happiest I had ever seen her. She was on the ascent and having fun. She looked the best she had ever looked and was celebrated for all she wanted to be. I held on to the fantasy that one day I’d be able to help Mom return to that feeling in her life.

She seemed gorgeous, carefree, and very alive. She was living the life of a single woman in New York City in the early sixties. But she was getting a bit older according to the current social mores, and I believe she began wanting a bit more security and a more substantial relationship.

Well, such a relationship was around the corner, and although it may not have been what she had expected, it changed the entire course of her life.

Chapter Two

Shields and Co.

If asked, Mom always boasted that late ’64 and ’65 were a very good and very busy time. Over the course of a year my mother met my father, got pregnant, married my dad, had me, and got divorced.

As the story goes, Mom was nursing a broken heart at a local watering hole called Jimmy Weston’s with an equally sad buddy who had just been dumped by his lady friend. His name was Jack Price and he evidently knew my father from around. Together Mom and Jack ventured out to commiserate and drown their sorrows. Evidently my twenty-four-year-old dad, still wet behind the ears and newly graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, walked into this particular bar on the Upper East Side by himself. He stood six foot seven with thick black hair slickly side-parted and combed over like a little boy’s. His strong jaw and Roman nose gave his face a regal appearance—to me, his face always looked a bit like the Statue of Liberty’s or like one of the Greek gods. According to my mother, Dad was wearing shined Belgian loafers, a crisp shirt, and a navy blazer. He was beautiful.

Mom claims she took one look at him and thought, I want that! Somehow introductions were made as they often are in these bars filled with regular customers. Friends of friends introduced everybody all around and Mom quickly devised a plan. She proceeded to focus on getting her drinking buddy hammered so as to unload him. Once Jack began to stammer, Mom made her move. She asked my father to help put her friend in a cab. She told the cab driver his address and then stood on the street with my dad, open to suggestions.

“Can you believe he just left me!” Dad offered to take her home.

Here she was, the five-nine blond beauty with legs like Cyd Charisse’s, the attire of a well-bred New Yorker, and a riveting wit. These were her most beautiful years, and when you add in some inhibition-erasing cocktails, she became captivating. How could he resist? This was all I got of this part of the story, but evidently she went back with him to his apartment on East Fiftieth Street and there it all began. My father missed his flight to Los Angeles the next day and had to make up a story to tell the girlfriend he had intended to visit. Mom claims they didn’t leave the apartment for three days. I did not need to hear that particular detail, but I got the impression things went well. Mom and Dad began dating (and finding out about one another).

My dad came from a very, very different background from that of my Newark-born mom. His mother was Infanta (Donna) Marina Torlonia, an Italian-born aristocrat and daughter of the 4th Prince of Civitella-Cesi, Marino Torlonia, and Elsie Moore, his American wife. Marino had been the first private banker to the pope and was the primary administrator of Vatican finances. Mussolini even claimed one of his properties for his summer residence, paying him only one dollar.

Dad’s Italian mother, Marina, married New York City–born tennis player Francis Xavier Alexander Shields. “Pop-Pop” or “Big Frank,” as people referred to him, was president of the Davis Cup and a finalist at both Wimbledon and the US Open. (This was his second marriage.) Pop-Pop was also an actor under contract in the old studio system. It was said that his contract had been used as collateral in a poker game and because of a loss he was forced to switch studios. Mom and I would see some of his movies later, particularly Come and Get It, which was directed by Howard Hawks and starred Pop-Pop and Frances Farmer.

My grandparents divorced after having my father, also named Frank, and his sister Marina. His mother then married Ed Slater, another American, and divorced him after having a son and daughter. Pop-Pop had two more children with his third wife, Goody Mortimer. It was always interesting to me that in almost every case, there was an aristocrat marrying outside the social boundaries, and to an (American) commoner. My royal grandmother married a tennis player–actor from New York City, my dad married a woman from Newark, and I first married a tennis player from Vegas. Dad would comment on this when I was about to marry Andre. (Clearly, none of the couplings ended well.)

A few years later it was said that my grandmother was in love with a married man. While on her way from the wedding of her nephew in Italy to the reception, she was killed in a horrible car crash. It was rumored that she purposely did not ride in the same car with her secret love so as not to create a scandal. The sad irony is that this man’s son, Roffredo Gaitani Lovatelli, would die the same way. More grim, however, was that Dad’s mom was decapitated and her only son, who was just eighteen years old, was forced to identify the body. In Italy, the firstborn son is considered the next of kin, and because she was divorced at the time, he had to fly over from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a freshman, to Italy to identify the body.

It must have been a very sad time in my father’s life. I don’t think he was ever the same after his mom died. Even though he had been at boarding schools and often not with his mom, she was a prominent figure in his life. She lived the life of a royal and jetted all over Europe. Mom once claimed she saw postcards from Dad’s mother from places like Gstaad, where she wrote she was sorry she could not be with him for Christmas but was skiing and would see him soon.

Like Dad’s mother, my mom was tall and statuesque. His mother would be considered more of a “handsome” woman rather than the beauty my mother was, but they each had a strong presence. Marina was strong and obviously in control. Maybe my dad saw something of his mother in my mom? I’m sure he was drawn to her power and seeming confidence as well as her beauty. He did not seem to have any qualms about my mother’s age. She was eight years older than he was and this was not common in the sixties. I guess he couldn’t resist the gorgeous spitfire who made him laugh. However, Mom’s upbringing and background would later be a prominent obstacle.

But at the time, even though she wasn’t a college graduate or an upper-class society debutante, I’m sure Dad found Mom’s charisma and humor refreshing. She was known for her energetic personality and game attitude. It appeared that she could converse with people from all walks of life and could blend into a variety of different social settings seamlessly. But he wouldn’t have known at first that she was also quite volatile and frequently prone to drama in her relationships. He was no doubt going to be confronted with his own version of the fur-coat incident if he stayed around long enough.

• • •

Soon Mom discovered she was pregnant. When she told my dad, he must have felt a sense of panic—and rightfully so. He wasn’t ready to be a father. He was just starting his life in business and was forced to travel a lot. He had less money than one would think, and he was still a baby himself.

Dad really did not know how to handle this. He must have told his dad, who took it upon himself to try to persuade my mother to terminate the pregnancy. I was told my grandfather called my mother to meet with him to discuss the situation. Mom met Pop-Pop at his apartment and he sat her down to talk. He requested that mom terminate the pregnancy, explaining that having a child out of wedlock would risk my father getting kicked off the Social Register.

Mom explained that she hadn’t meant to corner my father into marrying her and would not hold him accountable for the child. Personally, I believe my mom really did want to be married to my dad but would never have purposely gotten pregnant to do so. She wanted a baby. Period. She craved unconditional love. Pop-Pop (rather hypocritically) alluded to the fact that because Mom and his son Frank came from such different social backgrounds and social status, it seemed an inappropriate coupling. Basically, it just wouldn’t look good for my dad to father a child with somebody from Newark. He discreetly slid her an envelope and asked her to take care of the “situation.”

According to my mother, she nodded in agreement, explained that she fully understood the state of affairs, took the envelope, and departed. She had no intention of getting an abortion but saw no reason not to take the cash. Instead of going to a doctor, she proceeded immediately to a favorite antique store. There she used the money in the envelope to buy a cherrywood oval coffee table whose four sides folded up with brass brackets to form a sort of connected tray. She was not surprised or angry but defiant as always and knew she wanted the baby and that was that. It’s funny—that table would become a favorite standing tool for me as I grew up. I remember teething on it and loving to repeatedly fold the sides up and down and up and down. The table saved my life and helped me to stand.

I didn’t learn the truth until recently, but Mom, after buying her new coffee table, suddenly decided to play hard to get. She stopped talking to my father entirely. She said she didn’t want anything from my dad but just wanted the baby. She refused to see or even speak to him. Mom was trying to get Dad to realize that he could not live without her. My father, distraught by the pregnancy, and afraid for his future, he went to Mass (for the first and last time) and received communion the day he found out about the pregnancy. He was heartsick. He was evidently so in love with my mother that he sent her flowers galore and even sent my godmother, Lila, a cactus garden because she was from Arizona. As much in love with my mom as he was, my father was still not ready to get married or be a dad. He knew Mom would not terminate anything except their relationship, but he was extremely conflicted. Mom cut him off for a few months and hoped he would miss her enough to propose. She made it very clear to everyone that the baby was here to stay, and both my father and grandfather knew it.

When my mother originally told me this story, she had altered it entirely and decided to tell me that my father had left the country during this time. She claimed that when he returned and saw that she had not had an abortion, he proposed. She said that she just calmly waited for his return and enjoyed the life growing inside of her.

My mother’s version of the story has my dad going away for a few months and eventually not being able to stay separated from her. Like a comic-book detective, she loved declaring, “Your dad couldn’t stay away from me, and I knew he’d eventually come sniffin’ around again.”

Mom continued on with her altered story, adding that when Dad did return to rekindle, he was shocked to see her big belly and immediately demanded she marry him. Mom loved the dramatic addition of saying that Dad thought he’d return and she would be thin again and without child, but when he saw that she was hugely pregnant, wanted to be a family.

In her version of the story, she opened the door and he turned white as a sheet. “Jesus Christ, Teri. . . . I thought . . .” Not ever being one to be told what to do, Mom reveled in the idea that she could be so in control and shocking.

But the truth was Mom avoided him until he said he wanted to marry her. I guess she broke him down. He did love and miss her, even though he wasn’t really ready for any of this. In the end, Mom happened to be desperately in love with my father. Once he claimed he wanted to get married, she ended his solitary confinement.

• • •

Dad bought a small diamond solitaire engagement ring from Tiffany (that would eventually be thrown out the seventh-floor window during a fight between my parents, but that’s another story). And one day in April, Mom, dressed in a gray wool gabardine maternity dress, went with my father down to city hall. Dad had forgotten his ID at home and had to cab back to retrieve it. For years Mom made up a story that my father was so young—and looked so young compared to her—that the city-hall official was forced to ask for his ID, fearing he was underage.

Sadly, it was not until I wrote this part of the story that I realized this was another little white lie. He had forgotten to bring ID, but it had nothing to do with how young he looked. Everybody is required to have a form of ID when applying for a marriage license. Ah, over the years how implicitly I have believed even the most outrageous mini-lies that my mother has told me. I simply took these fun facts as actual fact when Mom was just envisioning the movie that she wanted to create. You tell stories over and over enough times, and in a way, they become the new reality.

When Mom spoke of this time in later years, it seemed as if she had no worries whatsoever. She was feeling great and was taking so many vitamins that they filled a shoe box. She recalled standing on a corner waiting for the light to turn green one day and her hair—which was usually thin and sparse—had become so healthy and thick that she could, for the first time in her life, feel it swaying in the wind. She enjoyed being pregnant and said she hardly had any morning sickness at all.

• • •

My parents moved to an apartment on East Fiftieth Street. I have only two pictures of my mom pregnant. In one Dad is lying on the couch and Mom is standing by a window holding a glass. This was probably the only photo of Mom holding a glass that did not have alcohol in it. Mom was extremely healthy while she was pregnant and I believe drank very little if at all. In the photo she is backlit and wearing a big yellow muumuu-like dress. She is smiling.

This time for my parents seems to have been a rather uneventful one. Mom prepped for the baby and Dad was working in New York City. In the other photo, they are at a restaurant where my dad is looking lovingly at my expectant mom, who is proudly displaying her diamond. They looked like such a beautiful and contented couple.

• • •

On May 31, 1965, my mother and father, along with my godmother, Lila, and a date, were on their way out of the city to watch the Indy 500 on a big-screen TV. The group stopped off at a diner to grab a bite to eat before the start of the race. Mom stood up to go to the ladies’ room and suddenly her water broke. It was two months before my due date, and a wave of panic surged through my mother’s veins. The only calm one in the place was the waitress who purportedly got immediately down on the floor and began mopping up the mess with her table rag. Mom would later remark at how nonchalant the woman was and how unfazed she was by what had just happened. By the time my dad got Mom to the New York Hospital–Cornell Medical Center maternity ward, she was in labor. Everybody was on high alert because of how premature I was. Mom said they gave her some medication, and from that moment on, she had no recollection of what took place. She awoke to my father leaning over her saying, “We have a perfectly formed baby girl.”

Mom remembered thinking that Dad was a lucky bastard who always got exactly what he wanted—he had hoped for a girl and Mom had prayed for a boy. I never got to understand why my mother wanted a son over a daughter. I could speculate as to the psychology of losing her father, or having a less-than-stellar relationship with her mother, but for some reason Mom wanted a boy. She had picked out the name John and was sure I was going to be a boy. However, it was days before Mom got to see her perfectly formed baby girl because I had been whisked off to the nursery and placed in an incubator to be monitored. Days passed and still Mom had not laid eyes on me. She began getting suspicious as to why her baby was being kept away from her. She started experiencing late-night paranoia that it was all a lie and that there was actually no baby. She feared the baby had died and people were not telling her the truth. I would not learn until much later why Mom had such a fear of me dying. The doctors reassured her she had a healthy five-pound, three-ounce daughter who was safely tucked in her incubator, and they encouraged Mom to rest.

Mom desperately tried to sleep through the next lonely night but claimed an annoyingly squeaky door kept her awake. She summoned a nurse to request that the door be oiled so she could rest. The attending nurse looked right at my mother, with slight annoyance in her voice, and explained that the “squeaky door” was in fact Mom’s newborn baby in the nursery next door, and nothing they could do would stop it.

Mom waited in silence after the nurse departed and, with mounting desperation, hobbled off her hospital bed and snuck out of her room. She was not convinced that any of these stories about her infant were true, and with increasing hysteria, she was determined to find out the truth. She snuck into the nursery and began frantically looking for her daughter’s name on the cribs. Her fear and confusion became fueled by the fact that the manufacturing company of all incubators and cribs at that time was called Shields and Company. She went from thinking she had no baby to seeing every single crib with her baby’s name on it. It must have been surreal.

Mom looked to the far end of the nursery and saw two cribs at the back a bit apart from the others. One crib was faced out and the other was faced to the wall. It was an unusually busy time for birthing babies and space was tight. In those days the children being placed up for adoption were put in cribs and then turned away from the glass so the birth mothers couldn’t see the babies. It was thought to make the transition less fraught for the mother. It just so happened that I was in one of the two cribs against this back wall. Standing alone and looking at two cribs—one facing out and the other facing the wall, not knowing which baby was hers and fearing that somebody had put her baby up for adoption—my mother went insane. She began screaming and rushed to read the names on the two cribs.

A nurse burst in to calm my mom and asked her what she needed.

“I want to see my baby!” she kept screaming. “I want to see my baby!”

“Calm down, miss!”

“I will not calm down until I see my baby! You have all been lying to me about squeaky doors and perfect babies and I don’t believe any of it!”

“OK, OK! Please relax. Here is your baby girl.”

The nurse reached into the crib not facing the wall and, staring only at my mother, lifted me up. My mother gasped because I was totally covered in meconium. I guess I had not been checked on in a while and had managed to cover myself in the blackish green poop that comes out of newborns. This was, in fact, a sign that I was healthy, but the nurse almost dropped me the moment she saw that she was holding a slippery little, flailing dark-green monster.

“This is the squeaking door, Mrs. Shields. I’ll clean her up and you can hold her.” From that moment on, Mom never wanted to let me out of her sight again.

• • •

They released us from the hospital once I gained a bit of weight. Breast-feeding didn’t seem to be popular in 1965, and I guess my mother never even considered it. I was put on Enfamil and sent home.

Evidently, Mom said that my eyes had remained closed since birth. She brought me home and waited but began to get worried because my eyes stayed shut. Well, Mom brought me back to the doctor, who said, “Oh, you want her eyes open?”

And with Mom’s nod he took his big middle finger and thumb and flicked as hard as he could on the bottom of my feet. My eyes popped right open and I let out a wail and started to cry.

“There you go.”

How rude! I had been born two months premature, so maybe I was just not ready to actually see the big world yet. You try getting out of a cozy bed two months before it’s time to get up!

My father wanted to name me after his mother but Mom preferred the name Brooke. She had seen a beautiful photo of a woman in a field, and the photographer was named Christian Brooks. She thought Brooke with an e instead of an s would be a pretty name for a girl. When the time came for me to be baptized, the priest said that because there was no saint named Brooke, I could not be christened Brooke. Mom says she immediately responded by saying: “Well, put an a at the end of Christ. Is that Catholic enough for ya?” I assume the name Christa also had something to do with the photographer, but her reported response to the priest made for a better tale.

So I was born Brooke Christa Shields and baptized Christa Brooke Shields. After the christening my mom and dad went to P. J. Clarke’s and placed me on the bar and toasted me. My husband and I have done the very same thing with both our daughters. Celebrating with a beer to the baby on the bar has become a bit of a tradition. I have never been called Christa but always liked it as a middle name.

My mother was terrified of SIDS. A politician’s child had recently died of crib death, and Mom could not get the thought out of her mind. She slept with me literally strapped to her chest and repeatedly held up a mirror to my mouth and nose to make sure I was breathing. The steam from my breath became her source of calm. I was a terrible eater and ate only half an ounce every half hour. Mom said she would premake countless bottles filled with half-ounce bottles of formula in a cooler next to her bed and feed me accordingly. This went on for some time, and after about six months, I was transferred to my wooden crib. I soon started pulling myself up in my crib and used the rails as a teething surface.

Mom and I became obviously physically bonded and my dad remained seemingly less knowledgeable and comfortable with his baby. One day Mom passed by the bathroom while my dad was in the shower. I was in need of my bath and Mom suggested to my dad he shower with me and get me cleaned up at the same time. He took me and a bit later Mom passed by the bathroom again only to see my dad standing in the shower holding my little naked body but now wearing his blue boxers. Another time Mom went to church and left me alone with my father. We were using cloth diapers in those days, and when Mom returned I was lying completely naked in bed, and a huge pile of diapers lay on the floor. When asked what had happened, Dad explained he knew not how to clean the mess and that he had used the diapers like tissues. Needless to say, that month’s diaper supply had been depleted. Clearly my father was in over his head with regard to being a dad.

Dad found out soon enough, though, that the mother of his child could be quite a troublemaker. During one argument between my mom and dad it somehow happened that Mom’s bra had gotten torn. For the first time ever, Mom had bought a sexy red-lace bra, which she was wearing at the time of the fight. In addition to the torn bra, a chair got broken. It was rare for my parents to fight in any sort of physical way, so this must have been a pretty big argument or Mom was the one to do all the damage. A broken chair and a ripped brassiere were hardly out of the realm of possibility for her to destroy. In any case, on this particular Saturday it all happened and my father stormed out of the apartment. Where he was going, she didn’t know, which must have made her even angrier.

My mother was not satisfied. She wanted to have the final word. So she decided to tie the torn red-lace remnants of her bra onto the spindles of the destroyed chair and hand-deliver them to the Racquet and Tennis Club of Manhattan. Now, the Racquet and Tennis Club was one of the oldest all-male clubs in New York City. It is an incredibly old-school, traditional institution, complete with leather-lined libraries for cigar smoking and backgammon and huge oil paintings of elaborate foxhunt scenes or dead geese lined up under the watchful eye of a skilled pointer. Women were not allowed to be members and never set foot past the entrance.

Well, my mother marched right up to the club, walked through the doors, with the broken wooden chair strategically draped with red-lace undergarments boldly labeled “Mr. Frank Shields from Mrs. Frank Shields,” and deposited it all right in the middle of the lobby.

I’m sure the staff had no idea of how to react. What was this? I guess they decided it was an art installation of some kind for one of their members. It was the sixties. Packages, evidently, were to be claimed during the workweek only, so, as my mother told the story, this symbol of public humiliation sat in the middle of the lobby for the world to see over the entire weekend. Dad’s mortification would be witnessed by many an esteemed colleague. His shame had thus been initiated. It remained true that while Mom wanted to be accepted by high society, she equally loved challenging its social mores and sexist rules. My dad’s version of the fur-coat story had arrived in full force; this should have sent up the proper red flags.

Looking back, I imagine that this incident was just one of many outrageous antics. It was not, however, enough to break them up—yet. I speculate that there was a power to her that he somehow could not resist. I believe that it was not dissimilar to the type of power his own mother wielded. No doubt my mother was unlike anyone else in his life.

• • •

He had relief, though, because he often traveled for work. Dad left once more for Europe and began writing letters to Mom from abroad.

What transpired over the next few months is documented by letters sent to my mother in very small, neat handwriting, usually on hotel stationery. In the letters from Dad, he expresses his confusion and sadness about the fact that his father had not been to visit Mom and the baby. His family was not the kind to have many family get-togethers. In his writing, Dad seems hurt by the fact that his father was not reaching out to me and Mom more. My father also worried that Mom was not getting any help. He said many times that he was concerned that she wasn’t getting out enough and that she should really ask for some help so as to spend time on herself.

He also promised to give my mom more money when he could get it, and a real wedding in a church one day. At times he wrote of wiring money and wishing he could be sending more but Italian banks and the like were less than helpful. I am struck by the tenderness that Dad had for “little Brookie” and how sad he seemed to be away. He seemed quite sincere about wanting things to work out.

• • •

In one of his more vulnerable correspondences, he comments on the joy he felt receiving a Valentine’s Day card from my mom and me. He said it made his day and he was sorry to be missing being with his “girls” on what had always been my mom’s favorite holiday. It is heartbreaking to hear his vulnerable tone in the correspondences only to discover that he was about to experience a devastating blow.

Imagine my own shock at reading Dad’s next letter, postmarked February 16, 1966, which read:

Mumsy, after receiving such a wonderful Valentine’s cable, to receive your cable of this morning was a real shock and suddenly I am unable to think clearly. I have a feeling of loss, a sense of nothingness, no aspirations, no idea of what to do, and as a whole a very sick feeling inside. Up until this morning I didn’t consider the impact of the meaning of divorced, which I have brought on myself, my wife, and baby. I am trying to reason that the decree is merely a legal document and not an emotional state which cannot be reversed or resolved. I wanted to start clean but I didn’t see the necessity legally of anything more than a separation. . . . I want to be happy with the two of you as a family and I am not going to change my thinking. I think of you as my wife this time away from New York, and I hope to God that I can redeem myself in your eyes so as to bring us back together. . . . I am trying to put out of my mind the trip to Mexico. I just don’t know. . . .

He was clearly confused and did not know how to continue. He did love my mom and they did have a child together, so maybe he believed a separation would help. But he seemed to be fooling himself. My mom was not going to wait for what she was feeling would be the inevitable. She feared they would not last, and although convinced my father wanted to try to do the right thing, she thought he would not be happy in the long run.

I have no letters from Mom to my dad during this time, but I found some diaries in which Mom wrote about how ashamed my father was of her: “I am a burden to him financially and especially socially,” one entry read. “He’s ashamed to be with me in public for fear I may say something that might embarrass him.” Another one read, “I am too opinionated and don’t act right in public. I give a cheap appearance. ‘Cheesy’ was the word he used.”

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From the Publisher
Praise for There Was a Little Girl

“Shields writes with considerable reflection; she's done the hard work of making sense of the contradictions in her mother, and now we get the benefit of her sharing what she's learned.” — Kirkus Reviews

Meet the Author

BROOKE SHIELDS is an award-winning actress and New York Times bestselling author. She lives in New York City with her husband, writer and producer Chris Henchy, and their two daughters.

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There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me 3.7 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 35 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written story of a daughter trying to build a happy, healthy and productive life while staying in the string grip of an alcoholic mother. Brooke describes the many challenges taht existed bothe personaly and professionally and the ways in which her mother's behavior both helped and hinder her. Through it all Brooke maintains a life of remarkable balance and dignity. She even manages to gain admission and graduate from Princeton. Fame and the advantages of great beauty never used in a manner taht could have been destructive to her or ant other person. Brooke eventually did break away from her mother in the kindest way she could. She was at her mother's side through a long debilitating illness at the end of Terri's life. Indeed Brooke handled her own and her mother's life in the very best ways anybody possibly could. It is great to see the woman and mother she is now. Brooke, thank you for sharing this story.  .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a beautiful story.  It resonated with me on so many levels. It was a helpful read.  Thank you for sharing and being you. Signed: Single Codependent Mother, Oprhaned Child, Addict. 
AngelaKK More than 1 year ago
Deeply touching story. Brooke Shields takes us on a heartbreaking journey as she opens up about her relationship with her alcoholic mother. I loved everything about this book: the raw honesty, the sincerity, the humor, the details. I felt like I was right there with her feeling what she was feeling, the ups, the downs, the joy, the sorrow, the frustration. This is a beautiful portrait of how an Innocent Being thinks, feels and acts and experiences the agonizing battle between hope and hopelessness... Thank you for baring your soul and sharing this with us.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm always interested in others relationships with their mothers as I struggle with mine. Brookes story is one like many others. Trials, tribulations, love loss etc. I did notice there were many times when I felt like she'd repeat herself in the same chapter. But nonetheless a good read. I also liked that I felt I could relate to her in terms of her depression and codependency issues. This gave me great insight into my own codependency issues and my mothers. Well done Miss Shields
SadieDF More than 1 year ago
Really an eye opener to how a parents addiction can affect a child. It's great that Brooke didnt pick up her mothers addiction. Great book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very telling, worthwhile to read book. Mother-Daughter relationships while growing up really have a great deal to do with how we function as adults. Brooke Shields delivers an honest portrait of her relationship with her mother and how it affected her life to this day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How very sad that Brooke Shields lived in this environment.  Thank you for sharing your story.
MichelleBB More than 1 year ago
I read her first book also. I thought both were very good. If your a fan or enjoy celebrity biographies I reccomend. 
KWHKY More than 1 year ago
This book is very honest and frank. I highly recommend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Too much dysfunction and denial
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a beautiful story. Written from the heart. Great job Brookie
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nookbookreader22 More than 1 year ago
Of course I am intrigued with Brooke Shields since she is around my age and I grew up with her. I knew her mother was her manager and they had a hard relationship. I didn't know that her father has always been in her life. Very surprising. Plus she has other siblings through her father that are very close to her. Her husband also went to high school with my brother-in-law (so I wanted more on the husband). I realized we have many similarities as I kept reading. My friend was reading this book a little ahead of me and told me it was wordy and Brooke kept repeating herself. I see where she got that from (probably b/c I was on full alert). But I didn't think she repeated herself more than was needed. However, I feel like she skipped a lot of stuff (time references) and the book wasn't always chronological. However, that did not impede the story. The story is about Brooke and her mom's relationship, so where I wanted to know more about things in Brooke's life, it wasn't to be in this book. I realized more might be in her other book about her post partum depression, which I will probably read next. I recommend this book, especially to adult children of Alcoholics, but to everyone. I think this was a very good book and enjoyed every bit of hit. Really enjoyed the pictures at the end. My only complaint was that this was in Nook form and there were several times that I could not turn pages and the book just got stuck. I know this is not my Nook's problem, because it has happened with 2 other books and I've read at least 50 books on this Nook.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For anyone struggling with an alcoholic parent. Insightful, honest.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While I was interested in her life, poor little Brooke couldn't stop telling the reader OVER AND OVER how controlling her mother was. OK, I got it in the first couple of chapters. But it never stopped. Ugh. I didn't even finish the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
super
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