I went back to Rumson for a few hours last week….
Rumson is the town near the Jersey Shore where I was a kid. My family lived there from 1950 until 1962 – from age 0 to age 11. My childhood, pretty much.
Over the decades since, I’ve gone back there several times. In the fall of 1984 I went back for two whole weeks. I owned a house in Hawaii at the time, and could have arranged a ‘vacation home exchange’ anywhere in the world. I could have gone to England or France; I chose instead to spend two weeks in New Jersey. But even that was not enough to heal the psychic wounds inflicted by the way I’d left 22 years earlier.
Prior to this most recent visit, the last time I was there was in 2002, when my sister and my brother and his wife and a couple of their kids and I granted our mother’s final wish and spread her ashes around the town where she’d spent the happiest years of her life – before our father’s untimely demise in 1958.
Today I am publishing a pair of companion pieces that explore my departure from Rumson in 1962 – and why I keep going back:
The Summer of ’62 is about the move. It’s a piece that I wrote as part of a memoir writing class I took in March of this year.
Return to Brigadoon is about one of those return visits in the summer of 1969; it’s based on a poem I found when I re-opened the journals I kept during my last year of high school and first year in college.
I’m posting these now as part of an attempt to find meaningful closure around some of what my new therapist calls “early childhood trauma.”
For the past 8 months, I have been working with Lee Norton, a therapist in Nashville who specializes in the full spectrum of trauma, from assault-rifle-massacre-survival to the sort of catastrophic early losses like I suffered when Harvey died. I’ve been in-and-out of therapy since I was in the third grade but this feels like the most productive therapeutic work I’ve ever done. Please don’t ask me why it took so long.
I’m not sure what the outcome of this current course is supposed to be. My 67-year-old-self has been spending a lot of time with my 7-year-old self, who, it seems, went into hiding about the time his father died. The kid and I are still deliberating over who liberates who.
And while I’ve been doing that work, I’ve been spending some (but not nearly enough) time rummaging through my father’s writing and the correspondence he and my mother exchanged during World War II. There seems to be a connection.
I know what some of you are thinking: Why doesn’t he just get over it? His father died, the family moved, yada yada. It was 60 years ago. Move along…
I’ve even heard the word “indulgent” to describe these nostalgic disquisitions.
Yes, I am deeply conflicted about the whole proposition. On the one hand, it feels like necessary and unfinished work, despite the half-dozen decades between me and the events I keep returning to. On the other hand, at times the whole exercise seems like an excuse for not moving on to more constructive pursuits.
All of this came up in a session I had with Lee Norton shortly after this last visit to my point of origin. After wondering why am the only one of three siblings that continues to be affected by these long ago events, Lee offered:
One kid tends to get hit more than the others. Regardless of what the catastrophic loss was, the usual defense mechanisms are overwhelmed. It’s a very physiological process. The brain doesn’t have anywhere to put it, so it accumulates and sequesters in the right hemisphere which has no sense of time.
The brain always wants one linear, explicit storyline that it can then put away. Until you look into a catastrophic event and do something …. the brain does not recognize it as finished and when it’s not finished then all these unconscious processes kick in and we recapitulate. We’ll have relationship or job dilemmas; it’ll show up in lots of different ways – financially, self medication (umm…that would be me). The goal is you have to get it finished...
So I am, once again trying to get it finished.
For you, reading these things is optional. For me, apparently, writing them is not.
In which the hint of a diagnosis is finally revealed in a letter written to Harvey and Ellen’s friends Renee and Jules Gordon during his visit to the Mayo Clinic:
December 8, 1956
Dear Renée and Jules,
I am now some 150 pages into the Civil War and enjoying it fine. It’s a very exciting business, and I wonder how it comes out. The book is swell. Many thanks. I tried to reach you Monday night before I left but gave up after a half hour or so of busy signals. No perseverance.
It’s cold out here, but ideal for winter sports such as sleeping, and sitting around fires drinking hot toddies. I may very well settle for sitting around a nice, roaring radiator drinking scotch. Of course it’s that pleasant, dry cold that they have in Minnesota, so you don’t really notice it or mind it so much. It’s just that I wish those damn penguins would quit waddling up and down my windowsill.
The clinic itself is a real swell place, full of jolly old doctors, nurses, technicians, clerks and the like. There’s plenty to do, which makes it so different from a lot of these winter lodges that offer nothing but skiing and ice-skating. Although so far I haven’t picked up any gold medals, (after all I’m a relative newcomer) I’ve done very well in the following: The Hundred Meter Needle Toss, Blood Polo, The Urine Put, and the Freestyle Rectal Dash. My coach is very proud of me.
I keep seeing the doctor from time to time, but so far he has had nothing much to tell me. By Monday the results of all the tests should be tabulated, and I expect to have a conference with him and learn the answer to this whole business – whether I am really Jewish or not.
Well, that’s about all for now. I want to go back to my book and find out if Grant really does win the damn thing after all.
Look to you both,
P. S. If you want to start making a line of mouton-aligned ankle straps and wedgies, I think you have a real market for them out here.
“There will always be those
who say you are too young and delicate
to make anything happen for yourself.
They don’t see the part of you that smolders.
Don’t let their doubting drown out
the sound of your own heartbeat.”
––Clementine von Radics, Mouthful of Forevers
I don’t generally photograph children or families, but this was setup as part of a photography workshop I recently participated in, and I like it enough to add to the “People” column of my Instagram feed. A future heartbreaker, for sure. . .
(Above: The Schatzkin family, seated around the dining room table at 14 Monmouth Ave, Rumson NJ – celebrating what would be Harvey’s last birthday: January 16, 1958.)
It does not appear that “A Visit to the Mayo Clinic” was ever continued or finished past the second day’s entry. Maybe that was as long as Harvey was there.
But there is another essay in the archives that seems to pick up where that one left off. There is no date on the copies in the files, so no way to tell when in the course of his illness it was written. I do note the mention of Monmouth Memorial Hospital in Long Branch, NJ, which is where he finally succumbed in September, 1958. But the piece also mentions “they day that I left,” so, obviously, this was before that.
This one is called, simply,
by Harvey Schatzkin
I always enjoy trips to the hospital. I also enjoy stubbing my toe or making a public appearance with my fly open. The last trip was no exception. Herewith a few highlights:
Food: All hospitals serve food. It is probably the result of some State Regulation. I hear they are pretty good with the intravenous gambit. It’s the intra-oral deal that I am concerned with.
First-of-all, hospitals specialize in diets. On my floor, patients were being treated to low-salt diets, low-fat diets, and the like. For me, it was the specialty of the house – the low-taste diet. All the harmful flavor had been removed by a special process we call cooking.
I understand that this is presided over by a dietitian – flown in at no small expense. I believe it. To get spaghetti, salad, and bran flakes all to taste alike is no job to leave to chance. It requires an expert’s hand at the helm. Monmouth Memorial has a gem.
Electronics: Hospitals are abreast of this modern trend. Handy to every patient is a pushbutton. Pushing on it sets into motion a chain of events not unlike what happens when an unknown blip appears on an Air Force radar scope. First, a voice (with a smile) asks, “are you dying?” If you answer, “No”, the voice goes away and that ends it. I soon learned this trick and managed to have several conversations with the voice. I was given time signals, weather reports, road conditions, and an occasional beep whenever Sputnik whizzed over Long Branch. Sometimes, I can even elicit a discussion about my condition or particular needs of the moment.
On the day I left, I found out that the whole business is recorded on a series of tapes in Master Control and no nurses are ever involved in any of it.
Getting About: Even as a non-ambulatory patient, I was frequently needed in parts of the building other than my room. This required my being shoved into a cart and rolled to my destination. A very dangerous situation. You may never return. There is no particular malice involved, it’s just that you may be wheeled into some hall and left there. The halls of Monmouth Memorial (known as the Halls of Purgatory) are filled with dispossessed patients. These D. P.’s have – in some age long past – been wheeled into a hall for a purpose – a purpose now vanished on some decayed record.
As I waited to come back from the X-ray room, I talked with one of the hall people – and the horror of it all dawned on me. My friend had no idea how long he had been in The Halls; but he kept mumbling about, “that man in the White House.” It was pretty disquieting.
I was one of the lucky ones. After a few hours and attendant from the 6th floor came roaming along to see if she could find any patients she had misplaced during the day. I threw my arms around her promising love, devotion, and jewels. She agreed to wheeled me back up.
I made it just in time. They were starting to change my bed clothes and erase my name from the door. After making it back from the X-ray room in one day I was regarded as something of a celebrity – and treated with considerably more respect.
As long as we’re observing birthday’s, here’s another photo, a month later, from my brother Arthur’s 10th birthday – February 11, 1958.
…not much happening at the beach tonight.
Shot at Sunset Beach in Cape May New Jersey May 7. I’m up here for a week-long photography workshop.