Diana Whitney | Longreads | August 2018 | 13 minutes (3,338 words)
My mother never warned me about anything before I left home. She never came into my room, sat down on my bed, ventured a comment about condoms or consent. No little talks about protection of the body or the soul, the ways a woman might use her voice. Was it her responsibility to start that conversation? Did I dismiss her attempts? I was naive and covetous and hungry to be desired. She couldn’t have changed my nature.
I was 29 before I learned she’d nearly been murdered in college. She didn’t tell me. My father did, over a pot of earl grey in my Vermont farmhouse kitchen. They’d driven up north for a visit before I moved out west with my new rower boyfriend. Tim sat beside me, tall and glorious in his sweats post-workout, while my mom chatted on about the cool weather, the sudden frost.
Dad a-hemmed professorially. “We’re flying down to Philadelphia next month. Your mother’s been asked to be a witness in a murder trial.”
“What?” I didn’t understand.
Mom looked down into her lap, her red hair loose, cheeks flushed. In her late 50s she was still a statuesque beauty, a half-Irish mix of Julianne Moore and Janis Joplin, radiant except when worry furrowed her face.
“Someone your mother dated at Penn is on trial for murdering a woman back in 1977,” Dad continued in his formal baritone. “The prosecuting attorney wants her to testify.”
“Who is this guy?” I asked.
“Ira Einhorn,” Mom said, softly. “He was crazy.”
“Ira was a kind of cult figure on campus,” Dad explained. “A charismatic Sixties radical. Your mother went out with him and he… well, he hit her over the head and left her unconscious.”
“I thought he was going to kill me,” Mom corrected.
I glanced from one parent to the other in the sunlit kitchen. A log shifted in the wood stove. The neighbor’s milking herd lumbered into the back pasture.
My quiet boyfriend, Tim, summoned the courage to speak when I couldn’t. “What happened?”
Dad sketched out the story for us then, Mom nodding in assent, adding a detail here and there. Stunned, I could barely follow their voices, unable to grasp the existence of this man, his connection to my mother, and the trial she was about to attend. I don’t remember wishing her luck or hugging them goodbye, though I hope I did both. I don’t remember following up on the conversation. Like smoke I let the name Ira Einhorn dissolve and recede from my consciousness.