Kitty, Selden & More
I explain this email request to Bea. I have brought with me a yellow pad, a sign that I will be recording her words. My mother immediately notices. She is alert and happy to cooperate.
“Why didn’t Kitty marry Selden?” I ask.
“That’s the part of the sad story. Somebody else got there first.”
Dwight Macdonald roomed with Selden Rodman at Yale. I admire the photo, which the Macdonald children gave Bea after his death. Women of my generation would have called him a “hunk.”
“He’s very handsome,” I comment.
“He was. I fell for him.”
I request more details.
“Kitty was good-looking, one of the best-dressed girls in the class. She was very much in love. Selden was a poet of some note. He had been published, I mean. She loved him and he loved her.”
“So then, what happened?”
“It was senior year. That was when Selden shifted his interest to another woman, Eunice Stedman, one of those steadfast girls who always does everything right.”
“Kitty must have been devastated!”
“No. She was very modest and sober about it. She suffered the exigencies of life in a shifting society.” Bea adds as an aside, “We can use big words in the book you’re writing.”
“He should have married Kitty!”
“Especially since they had sex together! Life is difficult to understand.”
I am thinking about Kitty’s regret at not having married Selden. We make choices in life and must live by them. I remember Robert Frost’s Road Not Taken, which Bea used to read me as a child.
“Do you have any regrets?” I ask.
“No, I cannot think of any.”
I throw out a possibility, an experience my mother has only described to her granddaughters: “Did you regret your abortion?”
Bea is quiet and doesn’t respond at first. Her mind is moving forward from the happy-go-lucky days at Vassar. “Yes, I do remember that I had it and felt very embarrassed. That was a long time ago.”
“There wasn’t much choice then,” I point out.
“Who performed the abortion?”
“A doctor. I found him through a senior doctor in NY. The experience was very subduing.”
“Do you remember how old you were?”
“25.” Bea says this without hesitation. She certainly remembers. Her voice is void of emotion.
“Did anybody go with you?”
“No. It was a secret. I think I even went back to the office. I was afraid I was bleeding. It’s an unpleasant feeling.”
I want to ask about contraception and the prevalence of abortion in the thirties, but Bea has already retreated to more pleasant memories …