A Miracle for Sue
Something very fundamental changed in Sue's philosophy when baby David
was born. This had less to do with rehab or her husband Mark than the
awe and fear that struck Sue when that tiny creature David crawled out
from between her legs, so bloody her pain-killer-numbed brain thought at
first glimpse the baby was dead.
Her whole perception of the world shifted off herself. For all Sue's
stories of vulnerability, of being hunted and needing protection, she
never once imagined herself so helpless as the creature she held in her
arms, a creature whose neck was too weak to hold up its own head, a
creature whose eyes looked through a fog at her and thought -- without
knowing the word -- of her as mother.
How could any other human being depend upon her, she wondered?
Sue had gone through countless who claimed they needed her and would die
without her, but here was a human being incapable of saying as much and
yet depended on Sue for everything but the air he breathed.
A man! A boy! A needy creature!
Sue was absolutely shocked. She understood only after she woke in the
hospital how big a mistake she had made, allowing this whole thing to go
a far as it had, far enough to produce a living, breathing imitation of
Because that's what Sue saw when she looked down into young David's
eyes, the spitting image of the child she remembered herself as being,
one more potentially vulnerable victims of a cruel world. How was she --
who could barely protect herself from these forces -- be expected to
guard such a creature of this, to make sure that what happened to her at
three did not happen to David?
Many women change with the birth of their first child, yet even she
could feel the stir of something spectacular going on inside herself,
something that so altered the basic pattern of her life she didn't
recognize herself, and felt that much more at a loss as to what to do.
She was in deep trouble, but no longer had the old tools to dig herself
out of this trap. Whenever she found herself this deep in shit in the
past, she fled, if not physically, then in her head, dumping her lover
or moving on to some new venue where she could start fresh. Most of the
time, she left without many resources, relying on guile and her natural
instincts to get along, giving in when her enemies grew too powerful.
She always put on a face as if what they did to her didn't matter, when
all the time, every thing stung so bad she wanted to die.
Sue could never rely on such strategies to save her baby. It was one
thing to fend for herself, quite another to let others hurt her baby.
And above all, above even the idea of protecting herself, Sue vowed to
Sue had always been alienated from society, marked by that act which
haunted her nightmares. She felt trapped in a world which did not love
her and she could not love back, a cold world full of empty rituals and
pointless routines. She knew that somewhere deep in her unconscious, the
real anger stirred, a beast trapped inside her skull, lashing out at the
world through her, using her mind, her hands and her sexuality, and yet
was impotent against those beasts she called men who haunted and hunted
her and constantly sought to do her harm.
Yet Sue wasn't hunted so much by stalkers, but by society itself -- a
society that would not let her take her rightful place, who had marked
her in childhood, and which wanted her out of existence, and against
which she constantly struggled, bravely and nobly, if also futile.
How could she expect to protect her baby from what was inside her and
outside? For the first time in her life, she is not alone. For the first
time in her life, something comes out of her that isn't angry, isn't
seeking to destroy, but a young boy -- the first male she could ever
trust, and someone as vulnerable as she had been, needing her to protect
him. While she will not allow the world to mark her child the way the
world had marked her when she was young, she can feel the world leaning
in, feel the society seeking to destroy the boy, and her own anger
reacting, and she knows she needs to stop herself as well as the world.
She knows that she must try to blend in, straighten herself out in order
to save the boy.
Mark is no help.
He is part and parcel with her old life, just one more man she can't
trust. In fact, she half blames him for the whole thing, as if he had
sold her on marriage instead of the other way around, as if marriage and
the child had been one more manly effort to seduce and destroy her,
backfiring with the birth of the child.
So within months after my seeing her again at WPC, Sue shed Mark and his
protection, as one more ugly part of her old life. She needed to reiShe
needed to reinvent herself again, but this time to make herself over
into another person, one that looked and sounded ordinary an
Sue told several people over the years that the movie "Desperately
Seeking Susan" had been written about her. This may have been one more
of her outrageous lies, yet not so far from the truth. Her life before
the birth of the baby David did read like that scrip, as it would later
when she grew more and more desperate to find her place in the world,
after the world once more betrayed her. Only Sue was never content to
play just one role. She hogged the whole scene, playing both female
leads alternately, sometimes the vixen Madonna, sometimes the middle
class housewife played by Roseanne Arnett.
For those unaware of the movie plot, it involves a high class prostitute
who rips off her clients and wanders through the East Village. A bored
middle class house wife from New Jersey buys her coat from a village
store, then is mistaken for the street-wise prostitute con artist. This
housewife is pursued by villains, is supported by a hero who thinks she
is deluded, and then, momentarily, thinks she might be the thief, but
saves her anyway.
It must have been hard for her to shed the Madonna role and set out on
her own, for the first time in her life, the protector rather than the
She was scared, feeling worse now than she had after high school when
she first came to a campus full of strangers, where all the faces seemed
angry at her arrival. She repeated the ritual of nightmares that always
haunted her when she was forced to change, those vague images of
violence flashing inside her head again and again as if someone banged
her head against a wall.
Yet even awake the fear gripped her. She was no more prepared to deal
with the real world this time than she was during every other encounter.
She couldn't even use the excuse of alcohol. She could not pretend to be
lost in a fog. Everything seemed so stark, the faces of straights so
judgmental. She didn't know how to play the game by their rules, she
knew only how to cheat, how to seduce men and women into helping her,
but she could use few of those skills without calling attention to
herself, and to her son, David. Those were the tools of the other world,
the over-the-edge world, and to use them, to call upon them, was to
invite herself back into the shadows where dark shapes might snatch her
son away from her.
"It's a cold, hard world out there, David," she told her baby. "But
somehow we'll survive. How bad can it be?"
A twenty-five, Sue felt worn, and was surprised to not find her hair
gray and her face wrinkled each morning when she woke to face the
mirror, and dressed in clothing she had seen on friends like Holly and
Dorothy and even Nicole, the street clothing with high heels and panty
hose, and a skirt that touched her knee. She felt so uninspired, like
that old Traffic song she used to hear on FM radio when she was twelve.
If it wasn't for the anger, for the burning rage she felt inside her
chest towards all those who had hurt her and all those who now
threatened to hurt her son, she wouldn't have made it, wouldn't have
been able to cling to the mask of the straight person as well as she
did, keeping her new lifnow threatened to hurt her son, she wouldn't
have made it,
Of course, this same rage sometimes made her do stupid things -- like
the first time she went to Plato's Retreat to spite her mother, or the
time she took Stanley's books. She hated Hemingway, and Stanley, too,
for that matter.
But it wasn't rage that got her the job in New York City, a real job,
for a real magazine, not writing exposes on Washington Corruption, or
detailed tales about life in sleek world of New York City fashion, but a
job on a magazine where her technical writing skills were appreciated.
Her father helped. So did the long list of publishing credits she had
acquired doing small articles for him over the years. She said nothing
about her reports for Screw. She said nothing about her arrest or her
sentencing to rehabilitation in Pennsylvania. She just did the work,
getting up every morning, catching a ride on a train, or bus or car to
Manhattan -- not downtown, but midtown, among the stiffs.
Oh how she hated that job, writing pieces on -- of all things --
metallurgy. It was beneath her skills and she knew it. She should have
been writing short stories for the New Yorker and investigative pieces
for the Village Voice. She did keep in touch with Screw, jotting down a
review now and then for a little extra cash. But this was less about
money than creativity. She felt so trapped up top in the straight world,
she just didn't know how to relate one on one with people who talked
about football, TV sitcoms and rocks!
"I'm doing this for the boy," she constantly had to tell herself. "I
need to be invisible for him. If I work hard enough, if I stay straight
enough, THEY will leave David alone."
But only Sue knew who THEY were, or where they came from, those
outrageously ugly faces out of the fog she has seen in her dreams since
she was three, thin rails of people seeking only to do her harm. She
vowed to give them no ammunition against her, to become a one-woman
alcoholics anonymous with only one step -- to survive.
< The Treadmill of Life /a>