With a head start, I charged and disappeared into my beloved woods. I knew each stone, branch, and hill from my childhood when I played cowboys and Indians with my brothers. I grew up playing in these woods as a child and discovered arrowheads buried by the Ramapough Lenape Indians in the soil, surrounding our house, which sat on top of the Ramapo Mountains in Wayne, New Jersey. Making spears with the arrowheads attached to the end of a branch, I imagined how the Lenape lived and fantasized about being a squaw. Leaping over logs and climbing rock walls, I threw away the doll my mom gave me. This worried Mrs. Holly, our babysitter, who told my mom I refused to play with it, but my mother was not bothered by the news. Not worried about my welfare; later, when I dated a boy in college who began to stalk me, her response to my concerned Dad was, “Nina can take care of herself.”

I preferred the feeling of freedom I experienced when climbing trees with my brothers, Daniel, two years older, and Robby, two years younger than me. Jumping from branches, I sometimes fell but never cried. I wanted to be like my Dad, independent and self-determined. Even though my mom won most arguments by nagging and haranguing, she was always bitterly complaining about having to be married to a man like my Dad and having to cook Piedmontese cuisine.

Now I was 19, trying to jump over logs and bushes again, but it wasn’t for fun. My legs wobbled terribly and my gazelle-like grace failed me as I crashed into a tree, then stumbled and somersaulted through the woods. Twigs got lodged in my hair and my leather pants tore on the branches. Rolling on the dirt, I managed to get up and run faster.

I was running from Arnold’s medical school graduation party.

Arnold Smith was the neighborhood bully, six years older than me. He always terrorized the younger kids. He had two younger brothers around my age. I was the only girl of the gang, which consisted of the Smith boys and my brothers. We all shared some great times throughout the years, beginning with learning to ski as toddlers. Our fathers were best friends and colleagues and physicians at Wayne General Hospital.

When he was 14, Dad heard over the radio the announcement of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He wanted to enlist at the age of 16, even though he was scrawny and small for his age, barely weighing 145 pounds. His parents refused to give their consent. At the age of 18, no longer needing their permission, he enlisted in the navy, and they first stationed him in San Diego. He trained as a corpsman during his second year at Sampson Naval Base in New York. When he had time off, on the weekends, Dad hitchhiked to his parents’ house in New Jersey. He never deployed overseas. As a result of his medical training while in the navy, he became interested in pursuing medicine. Returning home after two years of service, he went on to receive a B.S. from St Peter’s College in 1950 and an M.D. from Chicago Medical School in 1954.

Growing up, we kids played ice hockey on the lake around the block, shoveling off the snow to make a rink. My white figure skates stood out from the dark ice hockey ones worn by the boys. A skinny, lithe lass, I skated swiftly, having learned front and backward crossovers and figure eights from skating lessons. We were playing a fast, hard game when Arnold checked my younger and much smaller brother, hitting him with his stick. Though I was half Arnold’s size, I mustered up as much speed as I could, then hip-checked him, knocking him back, nearly off his skates. He chased me, but I was too fast, and before he could do anything, my older brother, Daniel, protected us by flipping Arnold over his shoulder with a Judo move.

Daniel smoked pot every day in high school. Arnold, who attended Horace Mann, was Daniel’s supplier. Daniel also sold pot in our high school and got caught smoking it during his junior year. All the teachers liked him, feeling empathetic, and they bent their rules so he wasn’t expelled. Despite my telling them about Daniel’s drug use very early on, my parents continued to behave like all was well, and no problem existed. Yet, my parents reacted with profound shock and anger when the school called them. My Dad screamed and beat Daniel, who verbally fought back. Mom cried hysterically and then became even more emotionally distant and inconsolable.

She eventually scheduled sessions with a child psychiatrist, accompanying Daniel each week. But that wasn’t enough. While we were away on vacation with the Smiths at their ski house in Montreal, my father brought Daniel into a small room. First he screamed at him, and then he beat him. The beating took a long time. When my father came out of the room, he was soaked with sweat and red-faced. Beating a child can be very hard work. Daniel lay in a heap, moaning. Privately, I prayed to take on Daniel’s disease of addiction, because, being more resilient than my brother, I was better equipped to fight. Mom said she was ashamed of all of her rotten kids. The rest of us went skiing, but Daniel was not allowed. How could we all be so ungrateful, my father wanted to know, reminding us how hard he’d worked to send us to private school and give us the best education.

Many years later, at the age of 53, I was returning from Alabama, where I’d attended my sister-in-law’s funeral, who died from complications of breast cancer, when I discovered that, by sheer chance, the Smith siblings and I had the same flight back to New York. We met at the airport and had lunch before getting on the plane. It was nice to catch up with the two younger brothers. I remained civil with Arnold, but never felt comfortable around him. While deplaning, I got stuck between people in the aisle. Arnold, seeing me trapped, rushed over to squeeze his corpulent body between me and the other passengers, pressing against my back. He reeked of staleness and acidity, and the feeling of him against me made my skin crawl. Disgusted, I turned around to face him, knocking into the person in front of me. My furious stare spoke for me: knock it off! He took a step back, giving me some breathing space, but his pleading eyes crawled over me, and he sniffed the air like he was trying to inhale my aura.

Three years later, Arnold’s father, two months before he died, confided to me that all three of his boys were expelled from Horace Mann School for selling drugs.


Except to listen to her complain and reflect back what she was feeling at a particular moment, I barely existed for my mother. So when she noticed my medical problem and decided to take me to the doctor, I was amazed. Despite being children of a physician, we only visited doctors under extreme situations. My mom finally brought me to New York City to see an endocrinological gynecologist because, though I was already 18, I’d only experienced one menstruation. As we crossed the George Washington Bridge on the way to the doctor, I began to have my second one. While I waited on the street for my mother to park, men stared at me. Sweating, I worried that they thought I was a prostitute.

Mom was concerned about my lower legs growing hair. During the gynecological exam, she pointed to my legs, and the doctor shook his head in recognition. I felt like a one eyed-monster on display. He reassured her, “This is normal development.” Later, he confided in me, saying, “It’s the psychological climate of your home that contributes to not having menses.” My cortisol blood levels tested sky high due to stress.

After I left for Grinnell College in Iowa, I began to have a regular period every month. Throughout medical school and during my obstetrical/ gynecological internship, I had normal menses. Yet, when I returned to New York City to complete a psychiatric residency and go home to Wayne each weekend, my period stopped like a sudden drought for that entire year. When I stopped visiting my parents’ home, my period returned to normal throughout my psychiatric residency and fellowship.


Looking at myself in the mirror of the morning of Arnold’s graduation party, I felt excited, sexy at 19, dressed in my new leather black pants and fuzzy camisole that I’d bought by saving up money from summer jobs, working as a lifeguard and a swim instructor. This was a rare event: me dressing up. Dad rarely went out socially, and except for the annual hospital formal, my parents did not go out to parties. The only time I got dressed up was for weddings. Though the August day sweltered, I’d finally get to wear those pants. My mom said I looked like a streetwalker in them. I didn’t care. Arnold was having an elaborate party in his backyard, and many people would be there. I wanted to look good. To be beautiful and noticed, isn’t that what women are commanded to do from the time they are little girls?

My dad and I walked through the woods that separated our house from the Smiths’, bringing a cash envelope as a gift. My mom and sister took the longer route, walking the street around the bend. The party was very lavish with no cost denied since Arnold’s mother favored him most among her children. At 24 years old, he stood at a chubby 5 feet 7 inches and had a photographic memory. He had breasts, and because he had only four toes on his right foot, we were forbidden to go barefoot in his house. His mother was a physician. Three enormous white tents now stood in the Smith backyard, while waiters dressed in tuxedos with white gloves helped the elegant guests. Hundreds of people milled around from the horsey set, the equestrian world, since all three Smith boys excelled in equestrian show jumping. Struggling to find my seat, I felt uncomfortable when Arnold’s friends checked me out. I desperately wanted to be noticed, but I was also fearful and unsure of what to do with the attention. They all knew each other and seemed surrounded by an insurmountable wall erected by their wealth and snobbery. Finding Arnold, I congratulated him.

When I ordered a glass of red wine, Arnold whispered something to the bartender, who laughed. I paid little attention to it and got into the buffet line, feeling self-conscious. Sitting down with my ten-year-old sister, I sipped some wine. After a couple of sips, my head began to spin, and I could not stand up. The tents swayed and the faces around me became menacing and distorted. Suddenly, my head was spinning. I could barely stand up, though I’d drunk only a quarter glass of wine.

Ever the charming host, Arnold came over to our table and mockingly encouraged me to finish my wine. I ignored his jabs and pushed the drink further from me. My mind slipped from me, blacking out and lapsing in memory. The next thing I recall was my parents saying their goodbyes and leaving the party with my sister, walking back on the road together. I felt sick and disoriented, wanting to get out of this nightmare. Getting up, I staggered and almost fell. An eight-year-old boy commented, “Nina, you are really drunk.”

I tried screaming after my parents, “Wait!” but nothing came out. They’d already left. I woke up on the Smith’s front lawn to one of the horsey guys sticking his tongue down my throat and groping my breasts. I pushed him off, screaming, “Get off of me!” Arnold, smiling, with three of his friends came over to us. I got up and ran stumbling into the woods.

When I arrived at my parents’ house, I knew that I was in serious trouble. I braced myself against the house and prepared for the second battle. My head was screaming because I had never experienced anything like this. I never used drugs, and I drank a glass of wine only on special occasions. I had never been drunk or had a blackout. Still a virgin, I had dated only one man at that point. Breathing deeply, I built up the courage to steady myself and enter the house. As I walked through the door, my father pounced. “You slut! You have shamed this family!” Somehow, I made it upstairs through his verbal barrage and fell into a spinning bed.

The next day, I woke up with a terrible headache. Feeling more coherent, I told my dad, who was shunning me, “Arnold slipped me a mickey with his bartender. He must have learned this in medical school.” My father shook his head incredulously. My sister interceded. “I saw Arnold egg Nina on to finish her wine.” Thank God, I thought, this time I had a witness. My mom said, “It is possible.”

My parents never confronted Arnold. They never asked me what happened or how I got home. Forty years later, despite my mom saying she dislikes Arnold, Arnold and his family visit my parents on holidays. When Arnold arrives, I say my goodbyes and leave.