For eighteen years Fran Benedetto kept her secret, hid her bruises. She stayed with Bobby because she wanted her son to have a father, and because, in spite of everything, she loved him. Then one night, when she saw the look on her ten-year-old son’s face, Fran finally made a choice—and ran for both their lives. Now she is starting over in a city far from home, far from Bobby. In this place she uses a name that isn’t hers, watches over her son, and tries to forget. For the woman who now calls herself Beth, every day is a chance to heal, to put together the pieces of her shattered self. And every day she waits for Bobby to catch up to her. Bobby always said he would never let her go, and despite the ingenuity of her escape, Fran Benedetto is certain of one thing: It is only a matter of time.
ANNA QUINDLEN is the author of two other bestselling novels, Object Lessons and One True Thing. Her New York Times column, "Public & Private," won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, and a selection of these columns was published as Thinking Out Loud. She is also the author of a collection of her "Life in the 30's" columns, Living Out Loud, and two children's books, The Tree That Came to Stay and Happily Ever After. She lives in New York City.
The first time my husband hit me I was nineteen years old.
One sentence and I'm lost. One sentence and I can hear his voice in my head, that butterscotch-syrup voice that made goose bumps rise on my arms when I was young, that turned all of my skin warm and alive with a sibilant S, the drawling vowels, its shocking fricatives. It always sounded like a whisper, the way he talked, the intimacy of it, the way the words seemed to go into your guts, your head, your heart. "Geez, Bob," one of the guys would say, "you should have been a radio announcer. You should have done those voice-over things for commercials." It was like a genie, wafting purple and smoky from the lamp, Bobby's voice, or perfume when you took the glass stopper out of the bottle.
I remember going to court once when Bobby was a witness in a case. It was eleven, maybe twelve years ago, before Robert was born, before my collarbone was broken, and my nose, which hasn't healed quite right because I set it myself, looking in the bathroom mirror in the middle of the night, petals of adhesive tape fringing the frame. Bobby wanted me to come to court when he was testifying because it was a famous case at the time, although one famous case succeeds another in New York City the way one pinky-gold sunset over the sludge of the Hudson River fades and blooms, brand-new each night. A fifteen-year-old boy from Brooklyn was accused of raping a Dominican nun at knifepoint and then asking her to pray for him. His attorney said it was a lie, that the kid had had no idea that the woman in the aqua double-knit pants and the striped blouse was a nun, that the sex was consensual, though the nun was sixty-two and paste-waxing a floor in a shelter at the time. They took paste wax from the knees of the kid's pants, brought in the paste-wax manufacturer to do a chemical comparison.
The lawyer was an old guy with a storefront in a bad neighborhood, I remember, and the kid's mother had scraped together the money to hire him because Legal Aid had sent a black court-appointed and she was convinced that her son needed a white lawyer to win his case. Half-blind, hungover, dandruff on the shoulders of his gray suit like a dusting of snow, the kid's attorney was stupid enough to call the kid as a witness and to ask why he had confessed to a crime he hadn't committed.
"There was this cop in the room," the boy said, real low, his broad forehead tipped toward the microphone, his fingers playing idly with his bottom lip, so that his words were a little muffled. "He don't ask none of the questions. He just kept hassling me, man. Like he just keeps saying, "Tell us what you did, Tyrone. Tell us what you did." It was like he hypnotized me, man. He just kept saying it over and over. I couldn't get away from him."
The jury believed that Tyrone Biggs had done the rape, and so did everybody else in New York who read the tabloids, watched the news. So did the judge, who gave him the maximum, eight to fifteen years, and called him "a boil on the body of humanity." But I knew that while Tyrone was lying about the rape he was telling the truth about that police officer, because I lived with that voice every day, had been hypnotized by it myself. I knew what it could do, how it could sound. It went down into your soul, like a confessor, like a seducer, saying, "Tell me. Tell me." Frannie, Frannie, Fran, he'd croon, whisper, sing.
Sometimes Bobby even made me believe that I was guilty of something, that I was sleeping with every doctor at the hospital, that I made him slip and bang his bad knee. That I made him beat me up, that it was me who made the fist, angled the foot, brought down a hand hard. Hard. The first time he hit me I was nineteen. I can hear his voice now, so persuasive, so low and yet somehow so strong, making me understand once again that I'm all wrong. Frannie, Frannie, Fran, he says. That's how he begins. Frannie, Frannie, Fran.
The first time I wasn't your husband yet. You were already twenty, because it was the weekend after we went to City Island for your birthday. And I didn't hit you. You know I didn't hit you. You see, Fran, this is what you do. You twist things. You always twist things. I can hear him in my head. And I know he's right. He didn't hit me, that first time. He just held onto my upper arm so tight that the mark of his fingertips was like a tattoo, a black sun with four small moons revolving around it.
It was summer, and I couldn't wear a sundress for a week, or take off my clothes when my sister, Grace, was in the room we shared, the one that looked out over the air shaft to the Tarnowski's apartment on the other side. He had done it because I danced with Dee Stemple's brother and then laughed when he challenged me on it. He held me there, he said, so that I couldn't get away, because if I got away it would be the end of him, he loved me that much. The next night he pushed back the sleeve of my blouse and kissed each mark, and his tears wet the spots as though to wash the black white again, as white as the rest of my white, white skin, as though his tears would do what absolution did for venial sins, wash them clean. "Oh, Jesus," he whispered, "I am so goddamned sorry." And I cried, too. When I cried in those days it was always for his pain, not for mine.
As rich and persuasive as Bobby Benedetto's voice, that was how full and palpable was his sorrow and regret. And how huge was his rage. It was like a twister cloud; it rose suddenly from nothing into a moving thing that blew the roof off, black and strong. I smell beer, I smell bourbon, I smell sweat, I smell my own fear, ranker and stronger than all three. I smell it now in the vast waiting room of Thirtieth Street Station in Philadelphia.
There are long wooden benches and my son, Robert, and I have huddled together into the corner of one of them. Across from us slumps a man in the moth-eaten motley of the homeless, who smells of beer and vomit like so many I've seen in the waiting room at the hospital, cooking up symptoms from bad feet to blindness to get a bed for the night, an institutional breakfast on a tray. The benches in Thirtieth Street Station are solid, plain, utilitarian, like the pews in St. Stanislaus. The Church of the Holy Pollack, Bobby called St. Stannie's, but he still wanted us to be married there, where he'd been baptized, where his father had been eulogized as a cop's cop. I had never lived in one place long enough to have a real home parish, and I'd agreed. Together we'd placed a rose from my bouquet at the side altar, in front of the statue of St. Joseph, in memory of Bobby's father. It was the only memory of his father that Bobby ever shared with me.
The great vaulted ceiling of the train station arched four stories over us, Robert and I and our one small carryall bag, inside only toothbrushes, a change of clothes, some video-game cartridges and a book, a romance novel, stupid, shallow, but I had enough of real life every day to last me forever. Gilded, majestic, the station was what I'd believed the courtroom would be like, that day I went to court, when my husband took the stand.
State your name.
Robert Anthony Benedetto.
And your occupation?
I'm a police officer for the City of New York.
The courtroom in the state supreme court had been nothing at all like Thirtieth Street Station. It was low-ceilinged, dingy, paneled in dark wood that sucked up all the light from low windows that looked out on Police Plaza. It seemed more like a rec room than a courtroom. The train station in Philadelphia looked the way I'd always imagined a courtroom would look, or maybe the way one would look in a dream, if you were dreaming you were the judge, or the accused. Robert was staring up at the ceiling, so high above that those of us scattered around the floor so far below were diminished, almost negated by it. At one end of the huge vaulted room was a black statue of an angel holding a dead or dying man. I thought it was a war memorial, and under normal circumstances I would have walked across to read the inscription on the block beneath the angel's naked toes. But whatever the opposite of normal circumstances was, this was it. I shivered in the air-conditioning, dressed for July in a room whose temperature was lowered to April, my mind cold as January.
The statue was taller than our little house down the block from the bay in Brooklyn, taller than my in-law's house or the last building where I'd lived with my parents, the one in Bensonhurst, where, in the crowded little bedroom, I'd dressed in my wedding gown, snagging the hem of my train on a popped nail in the scuffed floorboards. The sheer heroic thrust of the station made me feel tiny, almost invisible, almost safe, except that my eyes wandered constantly from the double glass doors to the street at one end to the double glass doors to the street at the other. Waiting, watching, waiting for Bobby to come through the doors, his hands clenched in his pants pockets, his face the dusky color that flooded it whenever he was angry about anything, which was lots of the time. I'd been waiting for Bobby to come through doors most of my life, waiting and watching to gauge his mood and so my own.
A finger of sweat traced my spine and slid into the cleft where my underpants began. The cotton at my crotch was wet, summer sweat and fear. I'd been afraid so many times that I thought I knew exactly what it felt like, but this was something different altogether, like the difference between water and ice. Ice in my belly, in my chest, beneath my breasts, between my eyes, as though I'd gulped down a lemonade too quickly in the heat. "Brain freeze," Robert and his friends called it when it happened to them, and they'd reel around the kitchen, holding their heads.
"Wait on the bench by the coffee kiosk," the man had said. He had driven us from New York to Philadelphia in total silence, like a well-trained chauffeur. As we got out of the old Plymouth Volare in front of the train station, he had leaned across the front seat, looking up at me through the open passenger door. He had smelled like English Leather, which Bobby had worn when we were both young, before we were married. Bobby had worn it that time when I was nineteen, the first time. Or twenty. I guess it was right, Bobby's voice in my head; I guess I'd just turned twenty, that first time. Maybe he was testing me then, to see how much I could take. Maybe he did that every time, until finally he had decided that I would take anything. Anything at all.
"What?" Robert had said, looking up at me as the man in the Volare drove away to wherever he came from, whoever he was. "What did he say? Where are we going now? Where are we going?"
And there was the coffee kiosk, and here was the bench, and here we were, my ten-year-old son and I, waiting forwhat? Waiting to escape, to get gone, to disappear so that Bobby could never find us. I think Robert knew everything when he saw me that morning, cutting my hair in the medicine-cabinet mirror, whispering on the phone, taking off the bandages and throwing them in the trash, putting all the recent photographs in an envelope and addressing it to my sister, Grace, so that Bobby wouldn't have good pictures to show people when he started to search for us. "Where are we going?" Robert had asked. "On a trip," I'd replied. If Robert had been an ordinary ten-year-old he would have cajoled and whined, asked and asked and asked until I snapped at him to keep quiet. But he'd never been ordinary. For as long as either of us could remember, he'd been a boy with a secret, and he'd kept it well. He had to have heard the sound of the slaps, the thump of the punches, the birdcall of my sobs as I taped myself up, swabbed myself off, put my pieces back together again. He'd seen my bruises after the fact; he'd heard the sharp intakes of breath when he hugged too hard in places I was hurt. But he looked away, the way he knew we both wanted him to, my husband for his reasons, me for mine.
It was just that last time, when he came in from school and I turned at the kitchen counter, his apple slices on a plate, his milk in a glass, my face swollen, misshapen, the colors of a spectacular sunset just before nightfall, my smile a clownish wiggle of a thing because of my split lip, that he couldn't manage to look away, disappear upstairs, pretend he didn't see. "Mom, oh, Mom," he'd said, his eyes enormous. "Don't worry," I'd replied before he could say more. "I'll take care of everything."
"Mom," he'd said again. And then maybe he remembered, remembered the secret, remembered all those mornings after the horrible sounds and screams, how his father would sit at the table drinking coffee from his PBA mug, how I'd come in from running and go up to shower, how everyone acted as though everything was just as it should be. So the wild light in his eyes flared, flickered, died, and he added, "Was it an accident?" Because that's what I'd said, year after year. An accident. I had an accident. The accident was that I met Bobby Benedetto in a bar, and I fell crazy in love with him. And after that I fell further and further every year. Not so you'd notice, if you knew me, although no one really did. On the outside I looked fine: the job, the house, the kid, the husband, the smile. Nobody got to see the hitting, which was really the humiliation, which turned into the hatred. Not just hating Bobby, but hating myself, too, the cringing self that was afraid to pick up the remote control from the coffee table in case it was just that thing that set him off. I remember a story in the Daily News a couple of years ago about a guy who kept a woman chained in the basement of the building where he was a custodian. Whenever he felt like it, he went down the concrete steps and did what he wanted to her. Part of me had been in a cellar, too, waiting for the sound of footfalls on the stairs. And I wasn't even chained. I stayed because I thought things would get better, or at least not worse. I stayed because I wanted my son to have a father and I wanted a home. For a long time I stayed because I loved Bobby Benedetto, because no one had ever gotten to me the way he did. I think he knew that. He made me his accomplice in what he did, and I made Robert mine. Until that last time, when I knew I had to go, when I knew that if I told my son I'd broken my nose, blacked my eyes, split my lip, by walking into the dining-room door in the dark, that I would have gone past some point of no return. The secret was killing the kid in him and the woman in me, what was left of her. I had to save him, and myself.
"Where are we going, Mom?" he whined in the station, but he did it like any kid would, on any long trip, and it almost made me laugh and smile and cry, too, to hear him sound so ordinary instead of so dead and closed up. Besides, he knew. He knew we were running away from his father, as far and as fast as we could. I wanted to say, Robert, baby, hon, I'm taking you out of the cellar. I'm taking you to where there won't be secrets anymore. But that wasn't exactly true. They'd just be different secrets now.
There are people who will do almost anything in America, who will paint your house, paint your toenails, choose your clothes, mind your kids. In Manhattan, at the best private schools, you can even hire a nitpicker if your kid gets head lice. And there are people who will help you get away from your husband, who will find you a new house, a new job, a new life, even a new name. They are mysterious about it because they say it's what they need to do to keep you safe; when she goes on television, their leader, a woman named Patty Bancroft, likes to say, "We do not even have a name for ourselves." Maybe that's why I'd felt I had to whisper when I talked to her on the phone, even though Bobby was long gone from the house: to keep their secret, my secret. There are people, Patty Bancroft had said, who will help you; it is better if you know no more than that. I looked down at Robert, hunched over on the bench, bent almost double over a little electronic game he carried with him everywhere. Ninjas in glowing green lunged forward and kicked men in black masks; the black masks fell back, fell over like felled trees. The ninjas bowed. The number at one corner of the screen grew larger. Robert was breathing as though he had been running. I ran my hand over his dark hair, cut like a long tonsure over his narrow, pointed skull. My touch was an annoyance; he leaned slightly to one side and rocked forward to meet the ninjas, take them on, knock them down. He was good at these games, at losing himself in the tinny electronic sounds and glowing pictures. My sister, Grace, said all the kids were, these days. But I wondered. I looked across the station at a small girl in overalls who was toddling from stranger to stranger, smiling and waving while her mother followed six paces behind. Even when he was small Robert had never, ever been like that. Grace said kids were born with personalities, and Robert's was as dignified and adult as his name. But I wondered. When Robert was three he sometimes sat and stared and rocked slightly back and forth, and I worried that he was autistic. He wasn't, of course; the doctor said so.
"Jesus, talk about making a mountain out of a whatever," Bobby had said, reaching to lift the child and never even noticing the way in which the small bony shoulders flinched, like the wings of a bird preparing to fly, to flee.
"We're going on a trip," I'd told Robert that morning.
"Where?" he'd said.
"It's kind of a surprise."
"Is Daddy coming?"
Not if we're lucky, a voice in my head had said, but out loud I'd replied, "He has to work."
Robert's face had gone dead, that way it does sometimes, particularly the morning after a bad night, a night when Bobby and I have gotten loud. "Is that why you're wearing glasses?" he said. "Sort of, yeah." "They look funny."
In the station he looked up from his video game and stared at me as though he was trying to figure out who I was, with the strange hair, the glasses, the long floaty dress. The ninjas were all dead. He had won.
His eyes were bright. "Tell me where we're going," he said again.
"I will," I said, as though I knew. "In a little while."
"Can I get gum?"
Around the perimeter of the station were small shops and kiosks: cheap jewelry, fast food, newspapers, books: the moneychangers in the temple. The voice of the train announcer was vaguely English; there was a stately air to the enterprise, unlike the shabby overlit corridors of the airports. No planes, Patty Bancroft told me when we first talked on the phone two weeks before. Plane trips are too easy to trace. The women she helped never flew away; they were not birds but crawling creatures, supplicants, beaten down. Trains, buses, cars. And secrecy.
When I'd first met Patty Bancroft, when she'd come to the hospital where I worked, she'd said that she had hundreds of volunteers all over the country. She said her people knew one another only as voices over the telephone and had in common only that for reasons of their own they had wanted to help women escape the men who hurt them, to give those women new lives in new places, to help them lose themselves, start over in the great expansive anonymous sameness of America.
"What about men who are beaten by their wives?" one of the young doctors at the hospital had asked that day. "Don't make me laugh," Patty Bancroft had said wearily, dismissively. She'd given me her card that day, in case I ever treated a woman in the emergency room who needed more than sutures and ice packs, needed to escape, to disappear, to save her life by getting gone for good. "Nurses are one of my greatest sources of referral," she'd said, clasping my hand, looking seriously into my eyes. It was the most chaste business card I'd ever seen, her name and a telephone number. No title, no address, just a handful of lonely black characters. I put the card in my locker at the hospital. I must have picked it up a hundred times until, six months later, I called the number. She remembered me right away.
"Tell me about this patient," Patty Bancroft had said. "It's me," I said, and my voice had faltered, fell into a hiss, a whisper of shame. "It's me." "Where are we going?" I had asked her when we spoke on the phone two days before the man in the Volare had picked us up at a subway stop in upper Manhattan, two weeks after Bobby had beaten me for the last time.
My voice was strange and stiff; my nose and jaw had begun to heal, so that if I didn't move my mouth too much the pain was no more than a soft throb at the center of my face.
"You'll know when you get there," Patty Bancroft said. "I'm not going away without knowing where I'm going," I said.
"Then you'll have to stay where you are," she'd replied. "This is the way it works." My hand had crept to my nose, pressed on the bridge as though testing my resolve. I felt the pain in my molars, the back of my head, the length of my spine. I felt the blood still seeping from between my legs, like a memory of something I'd already made myself forget. "The bleeding will stop in a week or so," they'd said at the clinic. Pack plenty of clean underpants, I thought to myself. That's what it comes down to, finally, no matter how terrifying your life has become. A toothbrush. Batteries. Clean underpants. The small things keep you from thinking about the big ones. Concealer stick. Tylenol. My face had faded to a faint yellow-green in the time it had taken me to plan my getaway. Bobby had been working a lot of nights. We'd scarcely seen one another.
"What will happen if you leave and then your husband finds you?" Patty Bancroft had said.
"He'll kill me," I answered.
"He won't find you if you do what we say." And she'd hung up the phone.
The station public-address system bleated and blared. "Mom, can I have a Coke?" Robert said, in that idle way in which children make requests, as though it's expected of them. The video game and his hands lay in his lap, and he'd tilted his head back to look up at the ceiling.
"Not now," I said.
A line of people in business suits had formed at the head of one of the stairways leading to the tracks. Two of them talked on cellular phones. A woman with a handsome leather suitcase on a wheeled stand left the line and walked toward the coffee kiosk. Her heels made a percussive noise on the stone floor. "Café au lait, please," the woman said to the girl behind the counter. She looked at her watch, then turned and smiled at me, looked down at the floor, looked up again. "You dropped your tickets," she said. She handed me an envelope she stooped to pick up from the floor.
"Oh, no, I"
"You dropped your tickets," she said again, smiling, her voice firm, and I could feel the corner of the envelope, a sharp point against my wet palm.
"Metroliner!" called a uniformed man at the head of the stairs, and the woman picked up her coffee and wheeled her suitcase to the stairway without looking back. I sat down heavily on the bench and opened the envelope.
"God!" groaned Robert, hunched back over his game.
"Nothing," he said.
Inside the envelope were two tickets to Baltimore on the 4:00 pm Metroliner. I looked at the big digital clock and the wall timetable. 3:12, and the next Metroliner was on time. There were other things in the envelope, too: bus tickets, a driver's license, Social Security cards. For a moment I was blind with confusion, and then I found the names: Crenshaw, Elizabeth. Crenshaw, Robert.
I had not liked it when Patty Bancroft gave me orders on the phone, but now I felt a powerful sense of gratitude. She had let me have my way in at least one thing: Robert had gotten to keep his own first name. And I was to be Elizabeth. Liz. Beth. Libby. Elizabeth Crenshaw. Seeing myself reflected in the glass of the coffee kiosk, I could almost believe it. There she was, Elizabeth Crenshaw. She had short blond hair, a pixie crop that I'd created with kitchen scissors and hair dye in the bathroom just before sun-up, just after I heard the door shut behind Bobby as he left for work. She wore a pair of gold-rimmed glasses bought from a rack at the pharmacy, clear glass with the kind of cheap sheen to the lenses that turned the eyes behind them into twin slicks of impenetrable glare. Elizabeth Crenshaw was thin, all long bones and taut muscles, because Fran Benedetto had been running for more than a decade and because terror had made it hard for her, these last few years, to eat without feeling the food rise back up into her gorge at a word, a sound, a look. "Skin and bones," Bobby said sometimes when I was naked, reaching for me.
It had taken me a while, that morning, to decide what to wear, but I was accustomed to being concerned with my own clothes, even though I didn't care about them much, not like Bobby's mother, who was forever seeking discount silk and cashmere, trousers cut perfectly to her tiny frame, jackets and skirts with good linings and labels. Much of the time I wore my nurse's uniform, the white washing out my thin freckled skin and making a garish orange of my hair. But let me change into anything snug, or short, or low, and I would see Bobby's eyes go narrow and bright.
Although it was always hard to tell exactly what would offend until the moment when he put his head to one side and looked me up and down until my pale skin flushed. "Jesus Christ," he'd say in that voice. "You wearing that?" And I would feel like a whore, me, plain Frannie Benedetto, who had been up half the night with her little boy who had a stomach bug, who had been on her feet all day carrying syringes and gauze pads and clipboards and pills, calming down the drunks and hysterics, stopping to talk to the children, placating the doctors. Fran Benedetto, who had never been with a man other than her husband. But let her wear a blouse whose fabric suggested the faintest hint of slip strap, and all of a sudden she was a slut. Slip strap over bra strap, of course, for if I wore a skirt and didn't wear a full slip, the way Bobby's mother always had, there was no telling what Bobby might do.
It was funny, after a while: I could tell you what Bobby liked and didn't like, what might set him off and how much. But I couldn't have told you as much about myself. I was mostly reaction to Bobby's actions, at least by the end. My clothes, my makeup: they were more or less his choice. I bought them, of course, but bought them with one eye always on Bobby's face. And his hands.
But Beth Crenshaw I would create myself, without reference to Bobby. I started to create her even before I found out her name in the waiting room at Thirtieth Street Station. Beth Crenshaw wore a loose, long flowered dress I'd found in the back of my closet from two summers before, the sort of dress that Bobby always said made women look like grandmothers. Bobby's own grandmother, his father's mother, always wore black, even to picnics and street fairs. "C'mere, Fran," she'd yell across her daughter-in-law's white-on-white living room, where she sat like a big blot of ink on the couch. She'd fold herself around me and cover me in black, make me feel small and safe. "Aw, God bless you, you're too thin," she'd say. "She's too thin, Bob. You need to make her eat." She'd died just before Robert was born, Bobby's Nana. I missed her. Maybe it would have happened anyhow, but I think Bobby got harder after that.
"The reason you hooked up with me," I said to Bobby once, when we were young, "is because my red hair and white skin look good next to your black hair and your tan."
"That was part of it," he said. That was a good day, that day. We played miniature golf at a course owned by a retired narcotics guy in Westchester, had dinner at that Italian place in Pelham, made out in the car at a rest stop on the Saw Mill River Parkway. Both of us living with our parents, he in the Police Academy, me in nursing school: we had no place else to go. The first time we had sex it was in a cabana at that skanky beach club his mother liked; a friend of his from high school who vacuumed the pool let us stay after closing. It didn't hurt, I didn't bleed. I loved it. I loved how helpless it made him, big bad tanned muscled Bobby Benedetto, his mouth open, the whites of his eyes showing.
It made me want to sit on his lap the rest of my life. He talked about getting a tattoo on his shoulder, a rose and the word Frances. I said I'd get Yosemite Sam on my upper thigh. "The hell you will," he said. It turned out I didn't need it; Bobby tattooed me himself, with his hands.
"Red hair is too conspicuous," Patty Bancroft had said on the phone. It had been the only conspicuous thing about me, all these years. Smart, but not too. Enterprising, but not too. Friendly, but not too. The kind of girl who becomes a nurse, not a doctor. The kind of nurse who becomes assistant head, but not head nurse. The kind of wifewell, no one knew about that.
"There's still some good years left on her," Bobby would say when his friends came over, and they'd laugh. It was the way they all talked about their wives, and I wondered, looking at their flushed and friendly faces, if they were thinking of bones that had not yet been broken, areas that had not yet blossomed with bruises. And they looked at me and saw a happy wife and mother like so many others, a working woman like so many others. Fran Flynnyou know, the skinny redhead who works in the ER at South Bay. Frannie Benedetto, the cop's wife on Beach Twelfth Street, the one with the little boy with the bowlegs. Gone down the drain that morning.
Transformed, perhaps forever, by Loving Care No. 27, California Blonde. Hidden behind the glasses. Disguised by the flapping folds of the long dress. California blonde Elizabeth Crenshaw, with nothing but thin milky skin and faint constellations of freckles on chest and cheeks to connect her to Frances Ann Flynn Benedetto. A bruise on my right cheek, faded to yellow, and a bump on the bridge of my nose. And Robert, of course, the only thing I'd had worth taking with me from that tidy house, where Bobby liked to walk on the carpeting barefoot and I cleaned up the blood with club soda and Clorox before the stain set. Beth. I liked Beth. I was leaving, I was starting over again, I was saving my life, I was sick of the fear and the fists. And I was keeping my son safe, too, not because his father had ever hit himhe never ever hadbut because the secret inside our house, the secret about what happened at night, when Daddy was drunk and disgusted with himself and everything around him, was eating the life out of Robert. When he was little he would touch a bruise softly, say, "You boo-boo, Mama?" When he got a little older he sometimes said, narrowing his big black eyes, "Mommy, how did you hurt yourself?"
But now he only looked, as though he knew to be quiet, as though he thought this was the way life was. My little boy, who had always had something of the little old man about him, was becoming a dead man, too, with a dead man's eyes. There are ways and ways of dying, and some of them leave you walking around. I'd learned that from watching my father, and my husband, too. I wasn't going to let it happen to my son. Frances couldn't. Beth wouldn't. That's who I was now. Frances Ann Flynn Benedetto was always watching and waiting, scared of her husband, scared he would turn on her, hit her, finally knock her out for good. Scared to leave her son with no mother to raise him, only a father whose idea of love was bringing you soup after he'd broken your collarbone. Frannie Flynn was gone. I'd killed her myself. I was Beth Crenshaw now.
Beneath the rippling skirt I could feel my legs trembling as an announcer with a sonorous voice called out the trains. But I could feel my legs, too, feel them free. No slip. I'd left that goddamn slip behind.
Frannie Flynnthat's how I'd thought of myself again, even though my last name was legally Benedetto. The name on my checks, on my license, on the embossed plastic name tag I wore on the breast of my nurse's uniform. Frances F. Benedetto. But in my mind I'd gone back to being Frannie Flynn. Maybe Bobby knew that. Maybe he could read my mind. Maybe that was part of the problem, that he could read my mind and I never had a clue what was going on in his.
Frannie, Frannie, Fran. I heard his voice saying my name, like the ringing in my ears when he brought his open hand hard against the side of my head in a dark corner of the club foyer, that time I argued with him in front of his friends about whether we were staying for another round of beers at a retirement party. Fran. I can hear his voice in the sound of the train moving south down the tracks. I'm coming, Frannie.
You can't get away. You're mine, Fran. Both of you.
On Tuesday, February 24th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Anna Quindlen to discuss BLACK AND BLUE.
Moderator: Welcome to the barnesandnoble.com Live Events Auditorium! Journalist turned novelist Anna Quindlen is joining us live tonight to discuss her new novel, BLACK AND BLUE. Don't forget to read our interview with Ms. Quindlen and a review of BLACK AND BLUE in our BN Phenomenal Women feature in the Community. Hello, Ms. Quindlen, and welcome!
Anna Quindlen: Thank you all for coming.
Ericka from Los Angeles: What inspires you?
Anna Quindlen: Well, first and foremost the necessity to pay my children's tuition bills.... Just kidding. I rarely get inspired until I've been at the computer for at least 15 or 20 minutes in the morning. I suppose it's a little like running -- I need to warm up before it begins to feel good at all. Then, if I feel like I'm hitting it in terms of how the details and the sentences are coming together, I'm set up nicely for at least an hour or two.
James Marshall from North Haven, CT: In your BN interview, you mention that you "think what happens is that kids learn that their voice is not good enough, and for one reason or another I never learned that, which was really a lucky thing..." What steps have you and your husband taken with your children to encourage confidence in their voices? What advice would you offer to parents with young daughters or sons who want to do the same for their children? Thank you.
Anna Quindlen: Well, to begin with, I don't think there's been a discussion in our family since our children learned to talk that hasn't included them. I mean, we maintain a certain hierarchical relationship, but the older they get, the more likely we are to listen respectfully as they disagree with us. I can think of a good recent example: our 14 year old did an art project for school, a drawing of his idea of fairies, and the fairies were naked and had breasts. I told him that, given his ability and artistic sophistication, I felt comfortable with him handing in the drawing that way, but that he should be prepared to defend his rendering from an artistic point of view. He came home from school yesterday and told us that his teacher had asked him to erase the nipples on each of the fairies, and I must say that both my husband and I were quite annoyed by that. However, because we wouldn't intercede at this point in Quin's school career because we know Quin's voice is strong enough to pick his own fights and voice it when he wants. As for their writing -- and all three are good writers -- the key is always positive reinforcement. You could find something to criticize in nearly every child's work, but at a threshold level, that sort of criticism will daunt and cow them. You can also find something to praise in nearly every child's work, and I know from experience that praise can turn a student into a writer over time. That's what we've tried to do with our three.
Tina Mathison from Maryville, Missouri: Ms. Quindlen, as a teacher of writing, I would like to know what you found most difficult, if anything, when making the transition from writing news to writing fiction (particularly a novel). Also, did you work up to the longer genre by writing short fiction?
Anna Quindlen: The transition wasn't as difficult as people seem to imagine, mainly because I've been a fiction writer all of my life. In fact, at a bookstore signing in Denver last week, a classmate of mine from high school brought a copy of the class prophecy that says that my ambition is to write the great American novel. I studied fiction writing at Barnard College with the literary critic Elizabeth Hardwick, and my senior thesis was a collection of short stories, one of which I sold to Seventeen magazine the first time I submitted it. I really only went into the newspaper business to support my fiction habit, but then discovered, first of all, that I loved reporting for its own sake and, second, that journalism would be invaluable experience for writing novels. The discipline of writing to space on demand, the necessity of taking down real dialogue in your notebook, the need to keep an eye out for the telling detail -- it's all there, everything you need to make a character and situation to make it feel real.
Gret from Nebraska: I loved your book. It certainly made me take a hard look at my own marriage. How many battered women have you heard from on the realism the book has?
Anna Quindlen: I haven't heard from any, which I think is a testimonial to the kind of shame and blame that still attaches to this issue. It's very noticeable, particularly since during the early weeks after publication of my last novel, ONE TRUE THING, I heard from dozens of people who were dealing with terminal illness, which was one theme in that book.
Mike Douglas from Hickory, NC: I am a huge fan of yours. I fell in love with your column and your optimism and common sense. I am emailing you in hopes of getting you to send me an address of where I can send a copy of your last column from the Times, "What I've Learned from the Everyday Angels," so you can autograph it. I currently hang it up at my house and at my elementary school where I am a librarian, in North Carolina. I'm 27 years old and I love your books. I haven't read your most current one, but I bought it through the Tattered Book store in Denver, where you had a signing last Friday. Thanks for your time, and I wish you were still writing your column along with these excellent novels. Thanks! Please send your address to my email address at email@example.com where I'm at tonight firstname.lastname@example.org
Anna Quindlen: Thanks very much. I love that column too. When I left the Times, one of the gifts my colleagues gave me was a plaque embossed with the first story I ever did for the paper, a piece about Valentine's Day in 1977, and the last piece I did, which was, of course, "Everyday Angels." So I get to see it most mornings when I go into my office.
Susan A from Wayside, NJ: Dear Anna, I have long been a fan of yours. I think I've read everything you've written. In fact, when you left the Times, I wrote a letter which they published (and which you were kind enough to respond to personally), expressing my sadness at your leaving. I've enjoyed your novels, but BLACK AND BLUE seemed like a departure for you in the sense that I could not connect it with your life. How did you research this novel?
Anna Quindlen: I didn't research it at all. I think the connection to my life is that Fran is someone I can imagine being friends with, imagine meeting, imagine loving. I like her very, very much, and I think she grows not out of any specific research but out of an understanding of human nature that's probably a product both of 25 years in the newspaper business and 45 years on earth. But I think you can see a connection to my past work. A reporter suggested to me the other day that I'm always writing about learning to live with loss, and I think there's a lot of truth to that. And I think it's what BLACK AND BLUE is like as well.
Joyce from Chicago: Why did you leave us wondering what happened to Fran's son -- what happened to him as he grew up?
Anna Quindlen: Joyce, I'm really sorry about this, but I only ever know as much about my characters as is in the book. I've heard various hypotheses about Robert's future, most of them determinedly optimistic, and I say, when the last page is done, it's no longer my decision. It's yours.
Gene from Westfield, NJ: Did you have a hand in casting the film of "One True Thing"?
Anna Quindlen: Oh, yeah, Gene! They just let me cast it! Seriously, the producer who bought ONE TRUE THING kept me in the loop during the entire development process and called me with each casting possibility. In fact, I remember well when he called to say that the studio (Universal) was considering Renee Zellweger for the part of Ellen. I had only seen Renee in "Jerry Maguire," and I was concerned that she was too soft and sweet to play Ellen and that her extraordinary luminescent beauty would be too distracting in the role. But our two sons insisted that I watch a movie called "Empire Records," which she made several years ago, because they were sure it would convince me that she could play tough, as indeed it did. I think it was shortly after discussions with Renee began -- no, make that shortly before -- that the producer called me and said, "What would you think about Meryl Streep?" I burst out laughing and replied, "Is there more than one answer to that question?" As for William Hurt, I believe it was Meryl who first mentioned him, and the director, Carl Franklin, and the rest of us immediately knew he was the perfect character to play Ellen's father, as he turned out to be. I think audiences will discover that all three of the lead performances in this film are extraordinary.
Phaidra White from New York, NY: Do you know of any underground relocation services like the one described in your book?
Anna Quindlen: No, I don't. I completely invented that. Given the utter secrecy with which the one I invented operates, it wouldn't surprise me to discover that there is such a service but that few of us know about it. But so far as I know, that's completely my own invention.
Kara Bredaker from Brooklyn, NY: Do you ever experience a moment or a phase when you really don't know what to write? I hope so! I need some reassurance, as I'm a struggling writer myself.
Anna Quindlen: I have days where I feel as though writing is the last thing I want to do. But I think the main struggle is to just sit down and do it, even on those days. You know, there's an old slogan about why people like running "Because it feels so good when you stop." And lots of times that's the way I feel about writing. I hate writing. I love having written. I can't have one without the other. And even on those bad days, you might write ten or 12 pages that just need to be defined and then deleted, but if you get one good paragraph -- well, that's the whole deal.
Dan from Kansas: Where did you get your undergraduate training?
Anna Quindlen: I went to Barnard, which is the women's college of Columbia University. I majored in English literature with a concentration in creative writing. I not only learned to write there, I learned to think there, and I learned to believe in myself. I'm a big proponent of single-sex education for women.
Gene Gilligan from Westfield, NJ: Interesting point you made a bit ago about the reporter suggesting you were always writing about loss. On reflection, was that something you started out exploring and kept coming back to, perhaps to resolve some personal loss?
Anna Quindlen: I would certainly say that the central fact of my existence up until the time that my children were born was the fact that my mother died of ovarian cancer when I was 19. I have an essay in the February issue of Good Housekeeping in which I look back on the 25th anniversary of her death and conclude that the early loss of a mother for a girl simply marks her in indelible ways. Not all of them are negative; actually many of them are what we would consider advantages -- a certain kind of strength, ambition, drive, born of the feeling that you are really the grown-up in your own life. It came as no surprise to me, for example, that Madonna lost her mother at an early age; she is a sort of classic example of a motherless daughter. So I think that event has not only shaped me but will shape everything I ever write about. The progression I see is this For many years I felt somewhat vulnerable because I believed that the worst thing that could happen to a person had already happened to me. Then I had children and discovered that losing a parent is really only the second worst thing that can happen. Losing a child is something I can barely wrap my mind around in terms of catastrophic loss, but some of my thoughts about it led me to BLACK AND BLUE.
Moderator: Ms. Quindlen, thanks for indulging our curiosities. Best of luck with the rest of your tour, and goodnight!
Anna Quindlen: Thank you to the readers. For two years I sat in front of a computer screen wondering if you were out there, and it is a great relief to know I was not really alone. If not you, not me.
Black and Blue 3.8 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
This one starts where most end. This is the study of the aftermath of Fran leaving Bobby, an abusive relationship... of her not as a victim, but as someone struggling to rebuild her life. The fact that she stayed in the marriage as long as she did is completely believable, and is evidence of the fact that smart women sometimes make wrong choices. Her struggles are realistic and both joyous and frustrating, as she discovers herself in her new-found freedom. Here's the story of why women stay in these horrible relationships, so often because of the cost of escaping. The story goes back and forth between the present and the past, to show the reader the gradual, inch by inch way the abuse begins and escalates and how her self-confidence and self-esteem are destroyed until the woman fears for her life. This is both heartbreak and triumph, and emotional without being depressing. This is more interesting than you might think. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Another book I'd like to recommend, kind of on the same wave length about a woman's spectacular triumph over abuse. This one will have you crying one minute and laughing and sighing the next....EXPLOSION IN PARIS....WONDERFUL emotional experience!
More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this book last night and went to bed with a huge pit in my stomach. The first section of the book gives you the history of why she needs to get away and how she does it and then it goes into how she manages her new life with her son, but the ending is absolutely horrible. Yes, in some minds it could be called a reality check, but for myself and other parents, it's the unthinkable. I couldn't get this book back to the library fast enough this morning. And I couldn't hug my son enough times before leaving for work. I would not recommend this book.
More than 1 year ago
Quindlen proves aftermath of abuse is to be dealt with. Meaningful read. A lot to think about!
More than 1 year ago
Before I wrote my review, I went wanted to see what others had to say and I was very disappointed in those that gave this book poor ratings. Fran gives us insight into the fear of the unknown, strength to persevere and courage to do what you have to do to survive again some really difficult odd. This book really opened my eyes to not just because of the content but because of the reality. We often times want the happy ending to all stories but that's not reality either is it? We walk around day after day and refuse to acknowledge that there are evil people doing brutal things to other. Because it does not affect our 'world' it seems like a bunch of fiction. However, this is not just fiction or words on a page...this is someone reality. I would recommend this novel to women and men, whether they are in a relationship such as this one or not. Someone else's 'testimony' can save lives. I would not want something like this to happen to my siblings or relative or friends or even aquaintances and in order to help stop this type of brutality is to educate one another. Take the blinders off!
More than 1 year ago
I read this book before Oprah included it in her book club. I could not put it down. The one thing I did not like is the father got the little boy. He proved he still had control over his ex-wife.Quindlan's portrayal of the mother-son relationship hits home with me. Mothers treat their sons like kings. They put them on a pedestal.This is speaking from personal experience. My own brother has been violent with me and his wife.My mom contiues to blame everyone else but him.
More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I started it at 3AM on the train coming home from NYC on a Saturday morning and finished it Saturday night! Anne Quindlen 'sees' LIFE-she actually notices the smallest things that are taken for granted. What a touching, moving story.
More than 1 year ago
It was a good book
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
This book was well written and the characters became very real - almost too real. The ending was absolutely heartbreaking. If you are very empathetic and sensitive to mother-child relationships, I would strongly suggest choosing another book. This one stayed with me for days. The ending was way too disturbing.
More than 1 year ago
I loved Anna Quindlen's Black and Blue. It was fantastically written, and it was thrilling yet horrifying. I loved it because it had ordinary characters that you could relate to. I have read this book about 20 times, I recommend it to anyone I know. It is truly amazing, and Ms Quindlen is a fantastic author. Please email me with any comments you have, good or bad.
3 months ago
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
Honestly its an amang book to read. I absolutly love it, i had to read for a book assignment in college and i must it was the best book i have ever read. Considering that im not that type of person who likes to read.
One bad thing about this book is the ending, its not the typical ending of a book.
Bible John killed three women, and took three souvenirs. Johnny Bible killed to steal his
namesake's glory. Oilman Allan Mitchelson died for his principles. And convict Lenny Spaven died just to prove a point. Bible John terrorized Glasgow in the ...
MURDER IN MAYFAIRModern art dealer Granville Hardwick has a way with people -- a way
of making them wish he were dead. His London gallery is filled with works of questionable merit, his dating pool consists of other men's wives, ...
Is Harriet Blue as great a detective as Lindsay Boxer?Harriet Blue, the most single-minded detective
since Lindsay Boxer, won't rest until she stops a savage killer targeting female university students. But new clues point to a more chilling predator than ...
Raised by Father Fujimoto, a famous exorcist, Rin Okumura never knew his real father. One
day a fateful argument with Father Fujimoto forces Rin to face a terrible truth – the blood of the demon lord Satan runs in Rin’s ...
Fight Hellfire with Hellfire!Reads R to L (Japanese Style). Raised by Father Fujimoto, a famous
exorcist, Rin Okumura never knew his real father. One day a fateful argument with Father Fujimoto forces Rin to face a terrible truth—the blood of ...
Kimolijah AdaniClass 2 gridTech, beloved brother, most promising student the Academy’s ever had the privilege
of calling their own, genius mechanical gridstream engineer, brilliantly pioneering inventor... and dead man. But that’s what happens when a whiz kid messes with dynamic ...
THE LIBRARY OF CONTEMPORARY THOUGHT is a groundbreaking series where America's finest writers and most
brilliant minds tackle today's most provocative, fascinating, and relevant issues. Striking and daring, creative and important, these original voices on matters political, social, economic, and ...
Anna Quindlen first visited London from a chair in her suburban Philadelphia home—in one of
her beloved childhood mystery novels. She has been back to London countless times since, through the pages of books and in person, and now, in ...