My speciﬁc form of disorientation
I had gone with some friends from high school to see the preview of an oﬀ-Broadway play about a New York City couple struggling with guilt over their son’s recent suicide. It was the second day of spring break 1972 in my ﬁrst year at college in New England. My parents had fought ﬁercely against my leaving the Bronx. “What can you do in a dorm that you can’t do at home?” my father asked me when I was pleading with him and my mother to let me go. My father had dropped out of school in the sixth grade to support his mother and younger brother after his father died suddenly. My visit home had begun poorly. A girl from my dorm who I had a crush on dropped me oﬀ in the Bronx on the way down from Connecticut to her family’s Park Avenue apartment and, leaning next to her against the car while we waited for my mother to return from the beauty parlor, the old neighborhood suddenly seemed strange, shabby, and abandoned, and my neighbors, whose stories I had been telling this girl for months by way of charming her, shuﬄed by, much older and frailer now than when I last saw them, not recognizing me. My mother, when she got back, looked waxen to me, her lipstick too red, her hair like a lacquered wig, and
her cheeks overly bright with rouge. The girl who drove me down declined my mother’s invitation to come in for lunch and soon after departed for Manhattan, leaving me standing on the sidewalk alone beside my mother. At dinner that ﬁrst night home one of my relatives, furiously crushing out her cigarette, called me a “big shot” after I had made some comment about a psychology class I was taking. She did not mean it as a compliment.