I had never had so much attention. I had the whole backseat to myself. I lay on it, wrapped in blankets. My twin, who usually got the attention because of his cute sayings and his precocious ability to read, – my twin Peter, good little Peter, was not in the car. It was just Mother and Dad, driving me down the Merrit Parkway, and through a covered area, then into the open again, then past the George Washington Bridge, which I saw as if for the first time, looking up now from where I lay, though this was not my first trip into the city. We sometimes drove in for dinner at the house of Gaga and Nana, Dad's parents. But this time I was being taken, but they didn't say "taken" they said "rushed", – to a hospital where we were to be met by my celebrated grandfather's old friend Dr. Harry Lorbar, – a Jew, they always pointed out from Gaga's long ago days working among the poor. And Dr. Lorbar was waiting there a relaxed, fat, smiling old man with a fleshy face and eyes that made me think he was happy – there at the very hospital where I'd been born – Beth Israel – so funny, they said, that any of us would be born in a hospital with such a name – but after all, they said, these are the best doctors.
They kept debating about whether to take out my appendix. Dr. Lorbar would bring in a half a dozen other old doctors who would stand around my bed debating the situation. The room smelled like a flower garden. Dr. Lorbar told his nurses that this was Ernest Poole's grandson, and order them to go around other rooms and confiscate flowers that had been give to other sick people.
When they decided not to operate they put some sort of drug into me. They put it way under my skin, not through a needle in the arm but two needles stuck deep into the fleshy part of my chest. In later years I would not let anyone touch my chest. I could not. It was decades before I let any woman in my bed touch me on the chest.
But the physical part was not the whole story. There was all this attention. Gaga and Nana came every day, and so too did Dad even though he was working hard. And always Mother.
I practically had Mother to myself.
Gaga was the center of attention. As they sat in my room he told what they said was a funny joke and they laughed furiously at it. "You can lead a whore to culture," Gaga said, chuckling. "But you can't make her drink." They would not tell me what it was that was funny, just that "whore" meant a woman who was not nice. Several years later I got into deep trouble for calling my mother a whore when all I meant was that she was not being nice.
They were always bringing me gifts. Mother always had something. Little Scotty dogs on magnets. A ball of crepe paper that revealed tiny objects -- – a rubber ball, a plastic cat figure -- – as you unraveled it. And best of all, a button to pin to my pajamas. It was like one of those buttons they had worn for an election, except that it was bigger and it was all white – or so it seemed until they turned off the lights to leave and then it glowed, a happy light green in the dark. I had never liked anything so much.
That was the last of the hospital gifts that I remembered. Mother came in like always one night. I asked her for my present. She exploded. No present. She leaned over the bed hissing at me, telling me I was the worst person – selfish, thoughtless, lazy, dirty – and it made life awful for her.
For the next eight years – not all dark years though some were – I knew my life had been in two distinct and separate parts. Before Mother told me who I was, and afterwards.