Testimony, by Margery Wakefield - Next - Previous

Chapter 2


My grandparents had a large cottage on Lake Superior called Bete Gris and I loved spending time there with my dad's three lively sisters and their families. The happiness of those families contrasted with the unhappiness I felt in my own home.

One night when I was about eleven years old, my mother woke me up in the middle of the night and told me to get dressed and we drove the thirty miles back into town. All I was told was that Grandpa was sick.

The next time I saw him was in the hospital. He was in a coma. Then came the funeral. After the funeral I was standing in the porch of my grandparents' house. There were a lot of people in the kitchen and my grandmother was in the back bedroom and she was crying as other women tried to comfort her. "What was happening?" I asked. I still didn't understand that Grandpa was dead.

I continued to be miserable at home. School offered a respite from the constant bickering of my parents. I loved to read and I enjoyed doing well in school. I was just not a happy child. I tried to get attention from my teachers by always excelling and doing extra work and asking a lot of questions. The attention I got from my teachers helped to compensate for the lack of love at home.

I had a best friend named Christine, and when we went to her house and she and her mother hugged and kissed I felt the pain of not having that love for myself.

In junior high school, I began to develop crushes on some of my teachers, both male and female. Mostly I wanted them to be my parents. My usual routine each day was to come home from school, scavenge whatever food I could from the kitchen, then go up to my room and close the door and the shades and sit in the dark, eating and fantasizing about different teachers adopting me. This was my lonely world.

I was still playing the piano, and I was entered by my teacher in various music contests all over the state. After one of the contests, a film was shown about a music camp called Interlochen, in lower Michigan. I knew at once that I wanted to go there.

Somehow I managed to get the address of the camp. One day I came home from school when my mother was out, and I set up the tape recorder and made a tape of my playing. Without telling anyone, I sent it to Interlochen. Within a few weeks, I got back a letter saying that I had a scholarship to the camp. I took the letter to school with me and I cried all during study period. I was so happy that I could get away from home.

My parents did agree to let me go, and for the next two summers I spent eight wonderful and happy weeks at the camp. Because of my shyness, I did not do well at performing, but I had a gentle piano teacher from Hungary named Balint Vazsonyi and he taught me to love the music I was playing.

At about this time, Interlochen opened a year round academy, and I begged my parents to let me go. I knew that Mr. Vazsonyi was one of the teachers there.

The first year they said no, but during my junior and senior years they finally relented and I was allowed to go to the Interlochen Arts Academy.

These two years were probably the happiest of my life. I flourished with other young people who were more like me and loved music. During my first year, I won a part in the concerto contest and played the first movement of the Beethoven First Piano Concerto with the orchestra, with the aged Dr. Maddy (who had founded Interlochen) conducting. I got a standing ovation.

My piano playing helped me make friends at the academy. A highly idealistic and high spirited group of young people in a utopian setting far from home. I loved it.

I had my first boyfriend, another pianist named Greg, although it was an innocent relationship. I was not ready for sex, scared off by my mother's frequent lectures about the dangers of men and sex.

The shadow took a back seat during those two happy years, but it was still there, lurking in the background. I would say I was in remission, but not for long.

After I graduated from Interlochen, the question was not whether I would go to college, but where. I wanted to go to a small college, but my father wanted me to go to his school, the University of Michigan, and it was less expensive. I didn't mind as I knew that several of my friends from Interlochen would be there.

I enrolled at U of M in the fall of 1965, in the music school. I had a small room in the basement of one of the women's dorms. I soon paired up with Bill, who was a violinist from Interlochen with bright red hair. We had given a recital together at Interlochen and now became best friends.

Bill and I began experimenting sexually on the long walk home from the music school to the dorms, across a golf course. We found a spot in the woods adjoining the golf course and this became our secret hiding place. We made out and attempted sex, although we were both very awkward.

One night while we were making out under a bridge in the winter cold, I had my first panic attack. It came out of nowhere. I froze with fear, unable to talk. Bill became alarmed and took me to the clinic, but by then it had passed. It was merely a harbinger of things to come.

During that year, I began to feel funny and my vision was affected. I would get a very bad feeling and then everything around me would look watery and strange. I had a feeling of doom, that something terrible was going to happen. This experience became more and more frequent. I must have told someone about it, because I ended up seeing a female therapist at the clinic, although I never felt a bonding with her and the sessions did not seem to make sense. After awhile I quit going.

One night when Bill and I were together in his room, he asked me to go on a picnic with him the next day in the nearby state park. His older brother and his brother's girlfriend would also be going. I said sure.

The next morning I woke up with a strange feeling and a high fever. I went to the clinic and they found my temperature to be 103 degrees. They put me in bed and I was not allowed to go on the picnic. Later in the afternoon, a nurse came into my room and she quietly told me that Bill and his brother and the girlfriend had all been killed on their way to the picnic in a head on car crash between their Volkswagen and a truck.

I was in shock. I called my mother and she came to take me home. I dropped out of school.

I remember standing by the window in my parents' bedroom, staring out and trying to comprehend what had happened. I could not cry. I didn't cry until about twenty years later when, driving on the freeway one day in Tampa, Florida, I heard on the radio the Franck Violin Sonata that Bill and I had played in our recital at Interlochen. Twenty years later, the tears fell.

My mother did not seem to know how to deal with the situation either. That night she took me to a movie called A Thousand Clowns, presumably to take my mind off my grief.

When we got home, my parents had a fight. My father was sitting in the family room watching Johnny Carson and my mother came and stood between him and the TV, trying to get him to talk to her about something. He took his foot and just kicked her out of the way. That small act of violence somehow shattered whatever link to sanity I had at the time. I knew I could not stay in that house.

I went upstairs and called Craig Sheppard, one of the piano students at the University of Michigan. I remembered him talking about a concert pianist who lived in Philadelphia who needed a governess for her children. Did she still need a governess? Craig said he would call me right back. Within minutes he called and gave me the phone number of Susan Starr, the concert pianist in Philadelphia. I called her and I told her I would come the next day.

I packed my suitcase. I had just enough money for a ticket to Philadelphia. I don't remember how I got to the airport, whether I told my parents where I was going. My next memory is of being in the plane and circling over the brown city below.

Carrying my suitcase, I got a bus into town. I had about $2.40 in my purse.

I walked about for several hours, trying to find the address Susan had given me, 2203 Panama Street. Somehow the directions just didn't make sense. I stopped and asked a policeman for directions and before long I was wandering out on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The day passed in this way. I developed blisters on my feet and spent part of my money on bandaids. After that I had no money for food.

Soon it was night. I asked directions again. Somehow I ended up on the subway headed for 69th Street. At the end of the line, I walked up the steps with my suitcase in hand, and a little old black man met me and said, "Miss, you don't want to be out here at night." I was in the black section of town. He took me across the street and put me on the subway headed the other way.

I took the subway to the end of the line and got out. By now it was about one o'clock in the morning. I ended up in a suburb somewhere outside of Philadelphia. I found a convenience store. I remembered that one of the students from Interlochen lived in Levittown, Pennsylvania, and I managed to get her phone number from information.

Her parents answered and I explained my plight. They were far from happy at the inconvenience but they did come and pick me up and I spent the night at their house. The next day they drove me into the city and found Panama Street and I was deposited at Susan's doorway.

Brenda, Susan's black maid answered the door, accompanied by two large dobermans. Inside it was pandemonium: Susan was just finishing up with a student; Brenda was screaming at the two young children; and Susan's ex-husband was there -- as was Susan's date for the night. Susan had no babysitter.

After the piano lesson was over and the student had departed, I was introduced to the two small children, Eric and Lori Amada, ages about two and three. Brenda went home, the dogs were put downstairs, the ex-husband left, and Susan left on her date for the horse races. I had $2 left and I gave them to Susan to bet on the daily double. I picked the names of the horses out of the paper.

I gave the children supper and baths and put them to bed, then took my suitcase to the small room where I would be staying. When Susan finally got home, she was angry. She had lost $50, but I had won $200 by correctly choosing the daily double.

I enjoyed working at Susan's. There was always plenty of activity. I liked the children and I enjoyed taking them down to the small park at the end of the block and watching them play. Susan frequently went out at night, so I had plenty of time to myself.

One day, Susan had a student who was playing some Bach. After the student left, Susan went upstairs and I sat down at the piano and started playing the same Bach piece by ear. Susan appeared at the top of the stairs.

"Where did you learn that?" she asked.

"I didn't," I answered. "I was just playing what your student played." Susan was amazed. Then my studies with her began in earnest. She gave me lessons nearly every day, and at night after the children were in bed and Susan was out, I was free to practice on her grand piano.

I stayed at Susan's for a year. She introduced me to Jewish food, especially bagels, cream cheese tomatoes and lox on Sunday mornings for breakfast. I was happy living there.

I was always hungry, however. Whenever Susan was out on a date, I would raid the refrigerator for whatever I could find, eating only enough that the food wouldn't be missed. This was the beginning of my eating disorder.

In the end, Susan became disillusioned with me as a student because of my shyness in performing. She wanted me to play a concerto with a small nearby orchestra, but I was terrified at the thought and I refused to audition.

But I enjoyed the musical life at Susan's. I especially liked listening in on her piano lessons with other students and hearing them play. Sometimes a violinist would come over and he and Susan would play together. There was always music in the house.

I was bothered sometimes by a high pitched ringing in my ears that made it impossible for me to hear what people were saying. I tried not to pay too much attention to it because I didn't know what it was. It always seemed to be accompanied by the old sensation of doom, of something awful about to happen.

Susan had a student my age named Lorenzo and we soon started dating. He was an amateur photographer and we walked all over the city while he snapped his pictures. He especially liked to visit the Italian section of the city where he would buy pickles and sardines out of a bin.

I began to visit Lorenzo at his apartment and we soon became sexually active. He was much more experienced than Bill had been and soon we were having a full fledged affair, using no protection. It is a miracle that I didn't get pregnant.

This affair lasted during most of the year I lived at Susan's. Eventually Lorenzo asked me to move in with him, and I agreed. I got a job working as a junior claims examiner for Prudential Insurance and earned $56 for my first week's pay.

Life continued in this way for several months. I still went to Susan's house for piano lessons and baby sat whenever she needed me. I was relatively happy except for the ringing in my ears which would not go away.

One night Lorenzo told me that he had fallen in love with another girl and he wanted me to move. I was devastated. I remember walking down the street in Philadelphia and crying unashamedly, wondering what I was going to do.

I called a friend from Interlochen named Erica Fisher, who lived in Toronto. We agreed that I would come up to visit her. I took the train to Toronto, leaving my life in Philadelphia behind without a thought.

It was the year of the World's Fair in Montreal and Erica and I were wandering around the fair when she came up with a brilliant idea.

"Why don't we go to London?" she asked. We both knew that Balint Vazsonyi was now living and teaching in London. "We could study with him," she said.

It seemed like an irresistible adventure.

I had about $600 left from my insurance job, so we both purchased the cheapest tickets we could find on a boat leaving from Montreal and with her parents' blessings we set sail to London, England.

However, we neglected to tell Mr. Vazsonyi that we were coming, a fatal mistake.

The boat trip took six days. We would land in Liverpool and then take a train to London.

On the boat we soon got to know the ship's crew who were young boys about our age. There were nightly parties to which we were invited. Erica was shocked by my behavior. I managed to have sex with one and sometimes two of these young lads each night after the parties. I was sexually promiscuous, looking for the love in this way that I had lacked for so long.

But in spite of everything, the trip was great fun. I loved to stand out at the deck and watch the water trailing behind the boat. Water has always had a hypnotic effect on me. And there was the fun of learning the new English currency and new foods. Before we knew it we saw land. Soon we were on a train bound for London, and a new life.

As we passed through the countryside, I was struck by how different everything looked. Tiny houses crowded together. Laundry hanging out to dry. Children running about. It was fascinating.

Little did I know that the adventure ahead would end in disaster for me.

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