Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Why I'm Still Married

Fifty Years in the Bonds of Matrimony
By - Anne Bernays 

During the early years of our marriage I felt about fourteen years old. As the daughter of extremely rich parents, I had never shopped for or cooked a meal. Joe had to demonstrate how to shop for food, prepare it, wash up after eating. He was amazingly patient. Tying on an apron, I thought, Look at me, I’m a bride in her own kitchen. Still, I deferred to him in most things that involved the two of us: where to go on a two-week vacation (Montauk), when it was time to move (from East Thirty-seventh Street to Nineteenth), whether we should buy a car (no). We loved being with each other and rarely quarreled. We stayed in bed until noon on Saturdays doing what newlyweds do, playing childish games and listening to records–long-hair stuff, Mozart, and Bach. The spinster who lived on the floor beneath us complained to the management about our noise. After lunch we put on our Saturday clothes and visited auction houses like Sotheby’s where we watched and never bought anything. 

Weekdays, Joe worked at the art-book publisher Harry N. Abrams. I was the managing editor of discovery, a literary magazine published by Pocket Books. We spoke to each other on the phone a couple of times a day, at the end of which Joe picked me up and we walked back to our tiny apartment together. Hearing that “marriage takes a lot of work,” I didn’t know what people were talking about. Our honeymoon lasted a long time.

Around the middle of our third year together I woke up one morning desperate to have a baby. Joe and I– partly, I suspect, because we believed ourselves sort of Peter Pan-ish and not that far from childhood–had never once mentioned having any children together. When the maternal urge took hold, it was fierce. Within months I was pregnant and visiting my mother’s ob/gyn, a natty person with an office on Park Avenue. He made me starve myself – “No more than seventeen pounds, please.” 

I used my pregnancy to quit my job and took a writing assignment from Joe, who was now a senior editor at Simon and Schuster. The assignment meant rewriting a manuscript he had bought but that needed several runs through my Olivetti typewriter. 

We had already moved once, from his tiny bachelor pad to a  somewhat larger place. Now we moved again, this time into a five-room apartment on Riverside Drive. It was when Susanna, born in May 1957, was about two months old that I began to write fiction. The origin of this urge was as mysterious and subterranean as the urge to produce a child had been. Maybe they had something to do with each other, the creative floodgates having been released in a torrent. Whenever Susanna slept in the daytime, I put the phone in a deep drawer, piled pillows on top of it, and closed the drawer. I wrote then short stories in one year, the words pouring almost, it seemed, unbidden. The stories were awful– humorless, tedious– but my agent, whom I had acquired from knowing him while at discovery, managed to sell one of them for twenty dollars. It was about a young pregnant woman (guess who?) who meets and old beau on the street who upsets her by asking what she’s doing to make the world a better place. She runs to her husband for comfort. By the end of this overlong, overwrought story, we learn that what really upsets her is childbirth; how does the baby get through such a tiny opening? I published this story– is an obscure literary magazine– under the name of Anne Kaplan. Who was this stranger whose name was printed under the title of the story? Kaplan hadn’t written it– Bernays had; it occurred to me that maybe my mother was right about keeping one’s name. In spite of its subject matter, the story embraced far more of what I had learned while single than what I had experienced as a married person. I told Joe I wanted to bring Miss Bernays back out of exile. A look of doubt crossed his face, not, I think, because his manly pride was bruised but because he thought that maybe this meant I didn’t love him anymore. But he didn’t make a fuss. From then on, Joe always introduced me by saying, “This is my wife, Anne Bernays.” I’ve been Anne Bernays ever since– except on my driver’s license, my passport, and my Social Security card.