Arriving at Civitella, my plan was to finish my second novel ‘The Nakeds’ and I thought that I’d accept nothing else from myself but a finished book. Although I didn’t finish the manuscript, something better happened. I made the sort of progress, the leaps and surprises, that I could have only made here, among you all. I’m more than grateful to have had the time, the magic place, the incredibly gifted company.
I was walking to school alone because my parents were fighting and the older twins who lived across the street and sometimes walked with me had chickenpox.
I’d been standing in the dining room, listening to them scream fuck this and fuck that and fuck you and oh no, mister, fuck you. I’d been hiding behind a chair that was taller than me, and from between the wooden slats I could see them. My father in the corner in gray sweatpants and socks, shirtless, his very hairy chest puffing up. “This is no life,” he said. “Look at us—the three of us trapped here.”
“Trapped?” my mother said in a low whisper. “Who’s trapped?” She was only half dressed for work, cotton pajama bottoms and silk floral blouse—a gold hoop earring in one ear and nothing in the other. Her hair was sprayed stiff like a helmet and she had two perfectly rigid, solid curls twirling past each ear and down each cheek that bounced as she hollered. “Do you think I’ll let that shiksa make a fool of me?”
“Enough. Genuk,” he kept saying. “Enough, Nina. You’re going to make this worse.”
“Me?” she screamed. “Who’s the dog here? Tell me that,” she demanded. “Who behaves like an animal?”
“I’ve got to get out of here,” my father said. “Don’t you see, Nina, that we’re trapped here?”
Here was an A-frame cottage, a small two bedroom house in a Southern California beach city. Here was a street without sidewalks, lawns and flowerbeds going right down to the curbs, and today was Monday, trash day, so those curbs were lined with fat green bags and reeking metal bins. I was walking on the neighbors’ lawns, using stepping stones where I could find them.
I waited until the O’Brien’s sprinklers sputtered to an end, and then moved through their yard. The Parker’s grass was so bright green it looked fake, more like carpet than something alive. The Reynolds had painted their house, front gate, and the short fence that protected their wild lilacs, an outlandish red. They clipped their bushes into living room furniture. This bush was a leafy, miniature couch, this one was a dining room table, this one was a chair.