Author Archives

Diana Whitney lives in Southern Vermont, where she writes across the genres with a focus on sexuality, parenting, and feminism. Her first book, WANTING IT, became an indie bestseller in 2014 and won the Rubery Book Award in poetry. She’s the poetry critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and her essays have appeared in Glamour, The Washington Post, Salon, Ms. Magazine, and many more. When she’s not teaching yoga, she’s finishing a memoir about motherhood and sexuality. Find out more at www.diana-whitney.com

The Killer Who Spared My Mother

Nicodemos / Getty, Associated Press, Illustration by Katie Kosma

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.
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My Father’s Adventure Was My Terror

Diana Whitney | Longreads | June 2017 | 8 minutes (2,009 words)

 

Afterward, I wondered whether my father understood there was danger at the Afghan border. He thrived on adventure, had joined the Merchant Marine at age 16 and later driven his blue Alfa Romeo across Europe and a battered VW bus through the Serengeti. He was famous for making ill-considered decisions and delighted in emerging untouched from disaster. When I was a baby in England, he’d taken my mother out in a tiny sailboat and nearly capsized in a storm off the Cornish coast.

My father brought me with him to Pakistan in 1987, when I was 13, deeming me old enough to experience the developing world. He dashed off to his World Bank meetings while I sunbathed poolside in a raspberry colored tank-suit, sipping fizzy lemonade at our gated hotel. If I raised a hand, a silent waiter brought me sweet-and-sour chicken. Deep in my teenage cocoon, I listened to Madonna on my Walkman, applied Coppertone oil SPF 2, and spoke to no one. By the third day I had a sunburn and cried myself to sleep slathered in aloe.

It feels important that I’m the only one left who knows the bomb story. My dad is dead and my mom has dementia and can’t remember or articulate the past. Now the keepers of my childhood are gone, all I have is my own chinked memory, with imaginative caulking to fill in the gaps.

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