I’d gone to bed my normal self. But it was as if something had touched me in the night or infiltrated my dreams. I woke up determined to have a child.
I’d never thought about this before. Having children was somewhere off in la la land for me. I wasn’t particularly maternal and the idea just didn’t spark me. Milky boobs? Diapers? Loss of freedom? Uh unh.
If the idea of children was foreign to me, it was total anathema to Werner. I might as well have asked him to stick poison needles in his eyes. But once the idea infiltrated my system, it wouldn’t stop and quickly became an obsession. This was early March, 1972. I’d been married three years. Werner’s treasure boxes in our hallway were piling up: we now had four side-by-side, floor-to-ceiling towers and were well on our way toward completing a fifth. I’d given up on dinner parties. And I had one chapter left to write for “Cities of a Thousand and One Nights.”
It was a dry, scholarly text that equaled hours of nail biting angst in front of the typewriter. My editor would look at the pages and kindly suggest changes. I’d written nineteen chapters and was just about to cross the finish line when Werner got a call from his Viennese publisher. The photos had disappeared.
What?! The publisher played dumb. He was a jovial crew-cutted guy in his forties with a penchant for dirty jokes. The photos, years’ worth of work, had simply vanished. No photos, no book. This was a different kind of dirty joke, lawsuit material.
Werner was strangely quiescent about the whole thing. He was a man who played his cards very close to his chest, and so I never knew what really went down. A legal problem between the two publishers? An argument about rights and fees? Nastiness between the Austrian joke-teller and Werner, whose diva side may have exploded? This was a major opus for him and if it wasn’t handled to his liking, then screw whoever got in his way. He claimed that the publisher had had all the material for months and somehow “lost” it out of ill-will. He didn’t want to go to court or investigate further. He simply closed the door on the subject.
I, for my part, was somewhat relieved. Childishly, I didn’t want to write even that one last chapter. I never admitted this aloud, and am a little embarrassed to do so now. Years later, after graduate school, I briefly worked for a commodities company cranking out monthly newsletters about pricing for corn, sugar, coffee, gold – a job I had to quit because it was so deadly. I felt the same way about “Cities of a Thousand and One Nights.” It was over and now I was free! But looking back I realize what a mystery the whole thing was. Werner’s life work disappearing and his being so secretive and passive about it? If I’d tied him up and threatened him with a gun, he’d have remained obstinately silent about the fate of those photos. Instead I threatened him with pregnancy, starting with hints and moving rapidly to full-blown arguments. I was so much younger than he was. One day I’d be on my own, lonely without him, and how perfect would it be for me in distant middle-age to have a child he’d fathered, a product of the two of us? Argh. You can imagine how that went over with a man as controlling and narcissistic as Werner.
To be continued…