My husband came to visit. It may have been a weekend day, I can only think it must have been. He seemed very tired and he did not say much. He was a big man, but he lay down next to me on my skinny bed and ran his hand through his blond hair. He turned on the television that hung above the bed. He was paying for me to have it, but because I didn’t have one growing up, I think I’ve never quite understood television. And in the hospital I seldom put it on, because I associated it with people being sick during the day. Whenever I was told to walk the halls for exercise, pushing my little apparatus of IV bags, I saw that most patients just stared at their televisions, and it made me feel very sad. But my husband turned it on, and he lay next to me on the bed. I wanted to talk, but he was tired. We lay quietly that way.
My doctor seemed surprised to see him. Perhaps he was not at all surprised, but I thought he seemed that way. And he said something about how nice it was, that we could be together like this, and I remember a twing or twang in my head, I didn’t know why. No one knows why until later.
I know that my husband came more than that one day to visit me. But it is that day I remember, and so I write it down. This is not the story of my marriage. I cannot tell that story: I cannot take hold of, or lay out for anyone, the many swamps and grasses and pockets of fresh air and dank air that have gone over us. But I can tell you this: My mother was right; I had trouble in my marriage. And when my girls were nineteen and twenty years old, I left their father, and we have both remarried. There are days when I feel I love him more than I did when I was married to him, but that is an easy thing to think — we are free of each other, and yet not, and never will be. And there are days when I have such a clear image of him sitting at his desk in his study while the girls played in their room that I almost cry out: We were a family! I think of cellphones now, how quickly we are in touch. I remember when the girls were young I said to William, I wish there was something we could each wear on our wrists, like a phone, and then we could talk to each other and know where the other was all the time.
But that day that he came to see me in the hospital, when we barely spoke, it might have been when he had found out his father had left him no small amount of money in a Swiss bank account. His grandfather had profited on the war, and had put no small amount of money into a Swiss bank account, and now that William had turned thirty-five, the money was suddenly his. I learned about this later, when I came home. But it must have made William feel strange to think what the money was and what it meant, and he was never a person who could speak easily of his feelings, and so he lay on the bed with me, I who had — as we joked over the years, or perhaps only I joked — I, who had “come from nothing.”
When I first met my mother-in-law she was a great surprise to me. Her house seemed enormous and well-appointed, but over the years I came to see that it was not so, it was just a nice house, a nice middle-class house. Because she had been a farmer’s wife in Maine, and I thought of Maine as smaller in their farms than the Midwestern ones I knew, I had pictured her to look like some of the hired hands’ wives, but she didn’t look like that, she was a pleasing-looking woman who looked — she was fifty-five — no older than she was, and who moved through her lovely house with ease, a woman who had been married to a civil engineer. The first time I met her she said, “Lucy, let’s take you shopping and buy you some clothes.” I did not take offense, I didn’t take anything but some surprise — no one had ever said such a thing to me in my life. And I went shopping with her, and she bought me some clothes.
At our small wedding reception she said to a friend of hers, “This is Lucy.” She added, almost playfully, “Lucy comes from nothing.” I took no offense, and really, I take none now. But I think: No one in this world comes from nothing.
Yet there was this: After I left the hospital I had recurring dreams that I, and my babies, were to be killed by the Nazis. Even now, so many years later, I can remember the dreams. In what looked like a locker room, I had my two little girls with me; they were both very young. In the dream I understood — we all understood, for there were others in this locker room — that we were to be taken and killed by the Nazis. At first we thought that this room was a gas chamber, but we came to understand that instead the Nazis would come and take us to another room and that would be the gas chamber. I sang to my babies, and held them, and they were not afraid. I kept them off in a corner, away from the other people. And the situation was this: I accepted my death but did not want my children to be afraid. I was terribly scared they would be taken from me, perhaps they would be adopted by the Germans, for they looked like the little Aryan children they were. I could not bear to think of them mistreated, and there was some sense — a knowledge — in the dream that they would be mistreated. It was the most terrifying dream. It never went beyond that. I don’t know how long I had this dream. But I had it as I lived in New York, with some affluence and as my children were growing and healthy. And I never told my husband that I had this dream.