It is such a relief being back in New York, for me and for Peter too. I don’t think Michigan was very good for him. As soon as we get back he stops drinking cough syrup and starts losing weight, he reclaims his old life and looks up old friends, gets high and listens to music with them and leaves me behind to indulge in domesticity which I don’t mind, I embrace it really. I decorate our new apartment and visit the obstetrician, I have lunch with my mother. She stopped being annoyed with me now that I settled down.
We live right around the corner from Zabar’s on Broadway, where I buy bagels and lox. The store smells of fresh baked bread and spices, big slabs of glistening pink smoked salmon and heaps of whitefish in the glass cases, fat bursting salamis hanging from the ceiling, shiny Challah braids, stacks of Jewish rye with caraway seeds, roast beef, pastrami, pungent pickles in a barrel, paradise if paradise kept kosher. Three portly Yiddisher men stand behind the counter with white aprons and sharp knives, slicing meat and scooping chopped liver while they laugh and ask me, “What are you making for dinner, darling”, and wink.
In 1968, Broadway isn’t very gentrified, old Jewish ladies sit on benches, crazy ladies pull shopping wagons and talk out loud, Cuban-Chinese restaurants hire stowaways to wait on tables, bedraggled pigeons waddle the streets and peck at cigarette butts mashed out against the sidewalk. Down the way is a flop house, you have to be careful passing by in case some drunk throws a beer can out the window. After my isolation in the Midwest, it is glorious.
In November I have my baby. I can tell you that labor is not much fun in case you have never experienced it, terrible really and seems to last forever. My mother waits at the hospital but Peter goes for a walk to kill time and doesn’t come back until it’s all over. It is an old-fashioned hospital, and my doctor is old-fashioned too. I am left alone to thrash in bed where the rules require me to stay, am not allowed my glasses so I can only squint and I beg for anesthesia between screams, my pubic hair has been shaved and if I had dentures or a wig or a peg leg, they would have stripped those too.
My baby is sweet and has huge startling blue eyes. We name her Caitlin after Dylan Thomas’ wife.
To my surprise I am happy, it is fun to dress her all fancy and wheel her down Broadway in the baby carriage, it is fun to be a mother. Peter buys a back carrier so that he can take her out too, she makes good cover when he scores dope.
When Caitlin is ten months old Peter decides he has to leave his job and go to college in New Hampshire. He never went beyond high school and is feeling limited, futureless, also bored. On one of his strolls in Central Park to buy pot, he meets Philip who is entering Franconia College in the fall. Franconia is now defunct because when the Vietnam War ended and you didn’t have to dodge the draft any more, nobody wanted to attend and it had to close. Even at its peak, which is when we are there, it is not much of a school. It is located in a part of the White Mountains that used to be a bustling summer resort a century ago, full up with city vacationers trying to avoid goldenrod and allergies. The hills are littered with derelict wooden ocean liners of hotels, all empty with long vacant porches, and the founders of Franconia created an alternative college in one of them, a place the local newspaper once called “a hotbed of debauchery”.
Peter decides that we will share a house with Phil, Horace agrees to pay tuition, and I’m supposed to get a job to support us. Peter is going to shake off the fate of an unskilled hipster and learn something useful. I am not so pleased, not a bit.