Continued from A babe is born

And now the vows are broken
And time has passed and soothed
My revolted spirit, my volcanic hate,
I can even learn to laugh
At this stupid hypocrite
Who comes to view his undesired offspring
To fawn and smile and bribe an innocent babe
Not for love of the poor little one
But for hate of me
For this Jekyll and Hyde
That could be so sweet and yet so raw and mad
Are bound under one hide.

The idyllic life couldn’t last forever. Wistfully, Yry returned to New York, where she resumed her former household responsibilities. She lived like a draft horse, trudging to and from the grocery store, tugging the shopping cart behind her through a sludge of tired, gray and brown snow puddles in the winter, and wilting in the sauna summers. She was shopping for five, cooking and cleaning the upper west side flat, providing increasing personal care to her ailing mother, while parenting two kids with vastly different needs. And there were the weekly “father” visits. At first Sidney arrived every Sunday, but as time passed and his arrival was met with cold aloofness and hard looks, the visits dwindled. Lying heavy on Yry’s mind was that stipulation that when I was old enough, Sidney would be entitled to take me for two weeks during the summer.

I don’t remember much about our New York years. Mother would say that is a blessing. I can relate to her hate for the traffic, the noise, the congestion, the stench of diesel and ripe ocean. If I crawl deeply inside her head, I can also imagine that life in the city embodied the deep, unavoidable disappointment of failure. She was still a striking woman in her fourth decade, but the bloom of youth was fading. She was living with her parents. She had no means of supporting herself, let alone two kids. She was wholly dependent upon the generosity of her father, a driven, self-made, man with high expectations.

Her relationship with her father was tense. A history of poor judgment shadowed her. How would she provide for his two grandchildren once he was gone? He threw himself into his work at the office with the vigor of a younger man. The work left him drained and nervous. His reward was coming home to Joan, a child who blossomed with fair beauty and the eager, alert mind of a budding scholar. The love he showered on Joan was different from the classic, German, discipline he’d used with Yry when she was a child—a predictable grandparent phenomenon. As a child, Yry was taught to be seen and not heard. Yet she was pushed to perform flawlessly when asked, to learn German, then French, then Spanish. She was expected to excel academically—and even when she did, there was no fanfare for her efforts, merely caustic reminders to strive harder and to reach higher. Warmth was painfully absent in letters he sent to his eleven-year-old daughter when she was homesick and lonely in Switzerland; there was only a ceaseless standard of excellence to meet.

Herman’s lax attitude toward Joan flabbergasted my mother. They argued over Joan’s behavior and how she should be disciplined. By this time, my grandmother was terribly ill, cranky and easily disturbed by noise. But Herman’s romps through the flat with Joan were anything but quiet. He snuck treats to the chubby child—again, against my mother’s wishes.

And now the flat was filled with the needs and shrieks of an infant. Joan stepped into the role of big sister like a pro. She’d had lots of experience with her dolls and my squirming self was that much more challenging and engaging.