Excerpt 1: Help, I Need Somebody

Help, I Need Somebody – 1964

New York. East Village. 1964. We sit in a dark corner of Steve’s coffee shop on E.10th Street.

“Call her,” Caty says.

“Call her,” Nancy says.

“Go to Portland. She’ll help you,” Caty says.

Portland, Oregon. It’s far away.

Far away from the Lower East Side.

“You can always come back. Go. Renee studied with Bruno Bettelheim. She’ll know what to do. We all lived with her at one time or another, Nancy, Ed, Steve, and me. Go.”

I call Renee.

“Tom will pick you up.”

Will she really help me?

Will she save me from another mental hospital?

My German psychiatrist wants me to go to Hillsdale Hospital.

I won’t survive.

Portland. I’m going to Portland.

I pack up my stuff, my knit suits.

I quit my job.

Take my savings, about $2,000. I take it with me in traveler’s checks.

In Portland, Tom picks me up.

He is tall, has a beard, wears wire rim glasses.

Tom shakes my hand and says, “How was the trip?”

We get in the truck and drive.

It’s too quiet.

He stops in front of a big Victorian wooden house. He carries my bags. Puts them down in the entrance. We walk down a long dark hallway. He opens the door. The light comes in, bright lights. I see light from the wood stove. We are in a big kitchen.

Renee. I see her. She’s sitting on a mattress on the floor plucking on an autoharp. Caty told me Renee was fifty-four; Tom is about my age, thirty years younger than her. I see long strands of stringy graying hair. She’s in a muumuu dress, sitting cross-legged. Her skirt is above her knees. No underpants. I can see everything. I just stare. She doesn’t say a word to me. No hello, no how was your trip. She doesn’t even look at me, just sits there on the mattress on the kitchen floor, next to the wood stove, playing an autoharp, playing “Oh Freedom. Before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave.”

I stand there. Pots and pans hanging from the ceiling. Kitchen crammed with coats, cups, bowls, books, bed clothes, silk throws, art supplies, and stuff. Autoharps, there are autoharps all around. On the wall, on the bed, on the chairs.

“Don’t just stand there like a fool, take your coat off,” Renee shreiks. She keeps strumming away. She stops to sip from a teacup by her side.

“What are you staring at?” she shouts. “What are you doing here, anyway?”

I start to tell her that Caty and Nancy said I should come… but I don’t get it out.

“Oh, you’re listening to Caty, are you? Well, she went running off with Steve. So what are you going to do?”

What am I going to do?  What am I going to do?  I thought she would tell me.