Copyright ©1994, 1996 by Paula Naomi Friedman. All rights
Even in the birthmothers groups, I have been told You
had some choice. I was neither impoverished nor a frightened
teenager, after all, but a highly educated radicalrunning
around with those other tie-dyed, fanatic, family-dumping spongers
through the streets
But, hey, it wasnt really like that, Id
tellwhom? the groups? my kid? Myself, more likely.
My choice wasnt free, and the baby
wasnt some glitch I just tossed
Only, if I were to tell my son this, he would shake his head, with
what Id wish still to believe spontaneous sincerity, No,
no, I never and, glancing about, politely change the subject.
Yet if we still could speak, Id recount my half of what we well
understood, in our silent tears and hugs, those first weeksor
would if Id only the pristine voice of someone never trapped by
the inhibitions of her times.
For, while I may have been politically or intellectually advanced,
by the mid-1960s I was still in the sort of extreme self-hatred
common to fifties repression. I had grown up in Washington,
D.C., a middle-class misfit in that first Cold War generation. It
was a world where little girls had to be round with yellow curls,
and to compete in sports and over boys; there was no place for anyone
different. Short, thin, dark, last chosen, easily made to cry, I
stood alone year after year in the playground, unpopular.
Fleeing to college didnt change much; I was too socially
and sexually naive. Seeking philosophical truths, I didnt
know to put this more attractively as truths of
the, you know, universe and, as it were, languageor,
in general, to repackage my style; when I finally found a peer group,
I threw out everything to adapt. I learned to find the parents
despicable and at fault, to drop earlier interests, and to doubtthe
groping sex and competitive class debates precisely targeting the
natural and the curiousmy body and mind. What I could not
learn was to cover emotion, and so, too thin to appeal to many men,
too obvious in love to keep them, I suffered a series of unrequited
loves and was suspendednot for having missed classes in fear
of bodily and intellectual embarrassment but for wearing jeans,
going stockingless to dinner, expressing the wrong opinionsa
so-called nervous breakdown. Sent back to what no longer
seemed my home, required to see a psychiatrist, I returned to that
Ivy university a brittle, cigarette-addicted woman, sexual nerve-endings
dulled, who had gone all the way.
Its not that there were no beautiful days or brilliant teachings.
But what I, and many others, experienced was well expressed by a
slogan of late-sixties Berkeley, Oppression means to think
Whats wrong is wrong in me. This may seem seriocomic
amid todays horror and starkly worsened economic suffering; our
insistence that internalized oppression might be basic must seem
damned dumb. But was it? One can still read Fanon.
Actually, Im glad you dont understand, I have told
my son, of that forced self-destruction. For what was wrong, in
that period when even those too philosophically sophisticated to
swallow popular Freudianisms were swallowed by them, was seen as
deeply wrong indeed. What was wrong had to be some underlying twist
or dearth in our basic human feelings, mind, or, above all, sexuality.
We did one another in. It was a venerated professor who slighted
my provincially dressed presentations for the same answers from
a long-braided bohemian, but it was we who took seriously the writers
who denounced aggressive/possessive women or found frigidity
in whoever didnt come as came the characters
of D.H. Lawrence. It was the closeted young man I adored who, one
New York night, took my tremorous hand but soon, unable to enter,
blamed our failure on my unconscious anger and castrating
vagina ; it was I who, the following year, followed the theories
denouncing (in a time when disability rights would only have met
laughs) my love for a scarred man as necessarily perverted. And
it was I who questioned my closeness with the gutsy younger woman
or the flamboyant, small-chinned singer, and listened to those suggesting
psychotherapy when in fact I was too gangly and Jewish, my typing
too slow, to get hired.
But these were our times, and again, (I wouldnt tell
the child, he neednt know all this), these experiences were
standard. The webs of self-condemnations, the equation of
failure or weakness with regressed personality, of sexual
or economic success with maturity, and maturity with
the capacity to really love meant few people could have
considered themselves whole, and not believed I must change
whats wrong in me before I canreallyjudge, live, love.
We fell for this who in other areas knew betterwho questioned
segregation, bomb shelters, national security, for instance, and
saw past the commonplaces, religious to relativist, of the times.
We questioned, but we failed to see certain evident discriminations
or formulate obvious challengesobserving, for example, the teleological
absurdity and daily drudgery of parenthood yet ignoring the related
denigration of lifechildren, old people, the mother-infant bond.
When the worlds inside out, It took, I might really
say to this witty, grown, politically conscious son, little
intellectual slippage to fall into mirror-land.
Then one daysummer of 1965, 50,000 troops going off to Vietnam,
and in Berkeley I had been working (because, however trivial meaningful
activity or dubious my inner motives, it was necessary to counter
massacre) with something called the Citizens Committee Against
the WarI answered the door to an older, dark-eyed man from another
He was radical beyond my experience. He respected and cared for
people in a way Id never known. I came to love him. One afternoonhe
had been awayhe visited unexpectedly.
Afraid that trying to hide response must seem defensive, I offered
myself. (I want you. Did I believe something wrong in
my love, to riskto give upso much on those three words?) But
he reached out his handIts all right.
Only, it wasntbecause my offer was sexual but the love was deeper.
I didnt know if he acceded from kindness, but I sensed something
and, between this hesitance and the old body-doubting fear not to
open, I held back, said Wait (a strangelaughable?request,
even today, in such circumstances, but then self-perceived as unspeakable,
unwomanly). Sensitive, not like men of this country, he stopped.
I never learned what he thought. Much later he said he had missed
me and There are no judges. But also you must let me be my
The next weeks, waiting, I broke into ricocheting bits. Lets
just be natural, he had told me; I came to think it my sexual
inhibitedness that had failed him. Something must have, surely,
since he did not return yet could only have shown such care if he
lovedunless his was an all-encompassing love beyond my comprehension.
Not to judge meant to trust in his return, to make no judgment of
what was true, no decision what to do. Any judgment came of a system
of rational artifice, suspicion and doubts of love from precisely
that life-destroying system we opposed.
It was not, finally, only the one afternoon, the one man, but the
shadows of my whole past led me, the next three weeks, through the
two surging crests of stunned beliefthe first, that even the hesitance
of my body and proclamation of desire were meant to entice and sacrifice
the beloved to those (parts of myself, the superego
parents, as it were) who judgedbut the second, that
Id not such an inner demand for sacrifice but rather clung like
a child to love for some (interiorized) parent and thus, in a sort
of transference, to the unreal needs and unattainable loves defined
by elders judgments and words. My one hope was to regrow a
truer self, experience what Id never known, that I might find new
ways to care, tononjudgingly, maturely, really and all-encompassinglylove.
But I cant further explain how that not uncommon experience of
loss and the ideas of that period led to this conclusion, or how,
for so many of us, evolving external events and conceptsspontaneity,
play, distrust of systemic judgmentscross-fertilized (abetted
by the cultures hidden demand to learn lessons ) internal
query and change. What is important is that interwoven with the
confusion and denial were truths.
My son would have appeared immediately to understand this, those
first weeks, but not today. How can one era know the cultural mazes
of anotherbut also there was his need, after our re-bonding, to
separate. And, I think, the fear that there might have been only
some casual summer of love came to shadow his at first
exhilirated words, I used to thinkBerkeley, 1967, maybe
the radical scene was involved. So that I want to say Yes,
you were borne, child, on something very deep.
In any case, its not to that gently sardonic young man Id say
The quest for meaning, universal love, and peace may be old,
but to meld this search with the climb from under psychological
oppression began, for so many of us, what was (as far as it went)
revolution; our antiwar acts also sought new identity, new forms.
It was not that we joined the Movement to work out [supposed] pathologies, but rather our involvement in the ever-growing need for peace of
a country at war, our search for new ways to care in a society of
frozen compassion, forced us to evolvestrand by strand, and often
threaded with mistakeslarger tissues of structure and self.
But this now seems clichéd. It was too fragile then.
To use my words for others, not to express false personal
problems , I returned to antiwar work through underground
reporting. At that time, this meant the Berkeley Barbno focus
of compassion, but one of only four antiwar papers, and not yet
the exploiter of sex it would become. It was a base from which to
reach the people exploring new ways, and to meet the urgent needevery
day in the papers were the photographsto oppose the war, to save
I was writing the events column (Sat 3 pm Lincoln Brig dinn;
Fri 8 pm Avalon, Jeff Air Barb tending to tight spacing)
and reporting on the peace movement. As spring went on, amid rumors
that Johnson would soon bomb Hanoi, we began to hear of a demonstration
planned for the Redwood City napalm plant, far more than civil
disobedience. By mid-May, however, I had nearly given up seeking
leads on the Redwood City thing and, as the midnight
issue deadline neared, turned to phone about a first anniversary
picnic of the Vietnam Day Committee. But I could not reach
that once-crucial organizations headquarters.
The editor, Max, tossed me another number. Hell know.
A picnicwere about to bomb Hanoi, and theyll end the
war with their picnic. This, I may yet tell my son,
is how I remember your fathers voice on the phone.
But do you care what were doing to the Vietnamese?
Why arent you covering Redwood Cityif you really want to stop
You know about Redwood City? Ive been trying
Yes. If anyones actually interested. Ive got lots
of stuff. Give me an hour or two, Ill
Were on deadline. Get here in fifteen minutesif you
really want to end the war.
Hed been drinking; when he arrived, he staggered around the room.
I said You want some coffee? and he said Yeh I
should drink coffee, and then he put some clips and photos
on the table and, after awhile, a jar of some sort of jellyGuess
I jumped, and he said That scares you? They have to live
with napalm dropping from the sky.
It was three days later we went down to Redwood City and San Jose
to look at the bomb-storage sites, two days afterward that he unveiled
his napalm escort vehicle with its little red fire-extinguishers
and wooden placard, Caution: Napalm Bombs Ahead, and
the same weekThis was in our days, I told the childwe
went to bed. With love, on my partand over the next month we found
we could have arguments without making the other go away. But there
were tacit limits; I had to avoid judging, never ask false
needs nor fall into unreal closeness, and he could
not drop his self-image of focused challenge against the war. And
so we never discussed that Systems self that is
biography; everything was of the moment, only the body and emotions
But they did, Id say; Dear child, they did.
After some weeks, we began to open moreand of course at that
point he was gone. Twice in the next weeks, I stood on the sidelines
as he drove the escort vehicle up to a Berkeley rally,
trailed by an unsuspecting weapons truck, while the crowd cheered
his daring, funny antiwar actions. By then, this country had bombed
Hanoi and Haiphong, and that day the pregnancy been confirmed.
Therapeutic abortions existedone had only to adjust;
I had still the requisite contacts and self-doubts. My struggle
for renewal precluded asking parental help, and, like most middle-class
radicals, I was ignorant about Welfare. Meanwhile, there had been
threatening phonecalls and my fear, termed paranoid
by Barb coworkers (COINTELPRO was still unknown), clearly meant
I was still trapped in self-protective closure and judgment
and must thus question my decisions. Yet finally the
outcome was never really in question; it came down to life, to giving
(even though to have a mans baby would seem, in many systems,
symbolic possession), to love for the growing life within.
I would have the child. I would give up the child. (Id known
a few who had, just as Id known those who had aborted; it was what
one did, and went on.) Neither I nor anyone else could regard this
matter as so important as the struggle against the war.
Around this time, someone came to the Barb with word of a demonstration
planned for the military base at Port Chicago. This was Tom, who
would soon show what it is to risk ones life from love, and
who would know to reach through fear and anger, to listen and be
vulnerable, to speak of his need for me, so that I came to see I
could love, had always loved and been whole, and to glimpse the
strength of a world where people trust their own loves possibilities.
Once my son asked, because I had mentioned the event several times,
What happened at Port Chicago? but I could only relate
the episode, not its crucial effects; (words, in those first weeks,
emerged slowly from shared depths).
The demonstration began in early August with a march to the Port
Chicago/Concord Naval Weapons Station, shipping point for the bulk
of American weapons to Vietnam. There, protestors would block the
weapons trucks, however brieflyby this nonviolent civil disobedience
focusing attention on the war. Tom was among the leaders even though,
like many of us, he questioned the tightly structured limits of
the action. I had begun to know him wellthis big, gruff, army
veteran who was always aiding people, who had promised to help me
through my pregnancy, who intuited the core of issuesand to whom,
only partly from having lived in Korea, the Vietnamese were not
vague victims but persons who must be saved. During long talks,
I had tried to explain my changes, he to recount a lonely past.
We all need to be like children, he would say. Children
are curious about everything, they care about everyone.
Outside the base that first night, across from what was called
Main Gate, few remained. We slept fitfully. Only with dawn came
the trucks, andas one after another protestor stepped out to nonviolently
halt their onrushing approacha new, impossible form
of community, a love for, and through, each other. I understood
this, when Tom put his hand on one brave womans shoulder; I felt
his care for her, our love for her and one anothereven perhaps
for those lounging Marines across the road, certainly even for the
distant, unknown people in Vietnam.
But after Tom was arrested, Ipregnant, afraid, trying not to
judge but still skeptical of strict civil disobedienceonly carried
the tapes and photos to the press.
In the next days, a separation began between those arrested and
those not, between those constantly on the linesas what became
a vigil continuedand new people. Out there only occasional
nights, I became distanced from Tom.
Meanwhile, over several days the vigilers numbers shrank, and
the danger from the Marine guards, sheriffs deputies, and local
So we came to that night, I told my son, August
A few well-known activists had responded, in Washington, to subpoena
by the House Unamerican Activities Committee with widely publicized
agit-prop. A rally had been called in Berkeley to back them, and
that hot night the crowd in the stifling auditorium quickly moved
also to support the vigil. Two young ABC television reporters were
there, and people were encouraged by the media presence, the challenge
to HUAC, the intense commitment at Port Chicago; at the speakers
crescendoing calls, they swarmed outside, moving by carloads toward
the vigil in the night.
I didnt go in the van with Tom. By then, I didnt dare; it was
their scene, theyd been out there. Instead,
I guided a bunch of new people to the base.
Suddenly, Tom was running toward me; we held each other, across
from Main Gate on the roadside strip of grass.
But it was only for a moment, and soon he moved off. In spite of
his doubts, If we keep coming back and stopping the weapons,
he had begun to insist, more people will see its possibletheyll
see they can care, and will comeand we can close this base and
we can stop this war; with the crowdsand publicity to bring
morefinally arrived, it was necessary to act. Besides, the sudden
upsurge had maddened the hecklers, and Tom, we need you over
here, some vigiler cried out.
Without glancing back, he went loping up the slope to the crest
of the road. Soon I could see him standing there with several others,
by the triangle of dirt formed by what was called the Overpass Road
turnoff. Here, the weapons trucks slowed to enter the base, and
here, clearly, people planned to stop them. As I walked hesitantly
up the hill, an older pacifist shouted You know the scene.
Tell any new people the ruleif someone goes out to stop a truck
and is attacked, no one is to try to protect them, itll only make
I nodded, and recalled I must not judge.
There was a long wait. Near the triangle of ground, Tom and the
other vigil veteransthe fragile-looking legal secretary Pamela,
the tough farm mother Jo, the Barbs cynical photographer Eliot,
one or two othersstood apart, beside the two young men who planned
to stop the nights trucks; their quiet voices now and then rose
as they planned tactics. Nearby, the television crew sat, smoking
cigarettes. Across the way, Marines and police lounged in taut silence.
Only occasionally Eliot would wander over to where I waited, isolated
between the in group and the line of vigilers stretching
down to the massed new people across from Main Gate.
Sometime after midnight, someone pointed. Five yellow lights were
approachinga truck, coming in from Concord. Behind it, another
five lights. Both vehicles were moving fast. Very fast.
As the first rushed up the hill, still accelerating, the two young
men raced out to meet itand jumped back; it was coming too fast.
In a moment, it had made its turn and rushed on, napalm bombs gleaming,
into the base. Thenagain, too fastthe second truck appeared.
Someone, in the television lights, was running toward it. In that
moment, I saw it was Tom, his arms lifted, and that the person would
be killed. And if I ran out, I and the baby might also dieor I
might confuse his timing, increase his danger, and was I trying
to possess him?
The road at my feet in the light shone white. Something, the truck,
was passing. If I took one step, he, someone (I couldnt see,
was it Tom? Id not liked how the person held his arms) might
be killed, I might be hurt, the baby, these people, everyone might
be hurtand he might not want me there, it would intrude upon his
scene, his couragehe was the one who cared, who could love; Id
only make things worse. . . I dont recall the exact thoughts, but
then the truck had passed.
The demonstrator had not been killed, but the Marines had pulled
him down, were striking him, and if I took one step -
SomeonePamelahad raced forward and was tearing at the nearest
Marines, breaking through their lines.
As she and two others brought Tom back, in the white television
lights the peoples hands were raised in V-signs and their voices
sang We Shall Overcome. Now I am dead, I
thought. Now I shall never overcome.
LaterPamela and Tom were still by the turnoff, each insisting
on stopping the next truckI said Ill stop the next one
but no one heard. As I turned away, Eliot came over; together we
walked down the hill to find a ride before, as he expressed
it, someone gets himself killed.
There was a long wait, standing around with the newcomers by the
food table, before Eliot wandered back, saying Ive found
a car; lets go. I nodded, glancing up. Beyond him, down the
road, were five yellow lights.
Truck, I said. Truck, Eliot, truck.
He was trying to put film into his camera. The lights kept growing
nearer; he said Run; go put your arms around him or somethingrun.
I did (Ill always know I didnt run out before that truck). Then
Tom and Pamela and Jo were moving toward it, and I could see Marines
immediately grabbing the women and throwing them back. For a second
the load of bomb-crates blocked the light, then it was past. The
scene had repeated. Tom lay cordoned off by Marines.
But this time it was like a dance, my feet could move, and I ran
across the road.
Only, for a long time there was no way through. Once a Marine grabbed
me and Jo and pushed us toward the base. But we fought, my sandal
strap broke, the Marinehe was very younglet go. I kicked off
my shoes and ran back towards Tom. But no way opened; for so long
we swayed there, lines in silent confrontation; then suddenly two
Marines stood in the light, one was black and one was white, and
then there was a space. I ran to Tom.
I leaned over himTheyll have to hit me first, I thought,
but told him only Were here. I heard him say Im
alright. I knew he mustnt move his injured leg, yet I feared
the Marines return.
But they had pulled back, the demonstrators had got through.
Everything was safe. And then abruptly the security guards halfton
truck rolled toward us from the base. But no one expected danger,
everyone jumped aside; only I, standing by Toms head, was
still in its way. I didnt see how I could help himhold onto the
hood and push him sideways with my feet, possiblybut somehow I
would; I stood between him and the little truck, while its headlights
approached within inches, and then it stopped. My feet,
(as Ive said, too often, of this), took root.
(Sure must haveshe hasnt left the 60s since, one might
say, and some have. But it was to the changes andthough I did
not understandthe child, I have clung.)
We were still in the wonder of reunion when I told my son, in less
detail, of that night. But it was not solely the one night (and
the earlier mornings impossible community of love)
that soon formed for me the crucial metaphor of getting through
of fighting past the bars of ones own and others fears,
shames, guilts, denials, to the love and strength in everyonea
metaphor for both personal or intimate love and a more loving, order-less
society. This metaphorrather, this new comprehensioncame, too,
or even mostly, from recognizing the deep response of my love when
Tom, over the next two months, would say he needed me, as well as
from the love for the baby growing in my womb.
And what became clear during this time (even as Tom, caught up in
the vigil where I could no longer go, slowly left me), the message
of this metaphor, was that myeveryoneslove had always
been whole and real and simply love. There was nothing wrong or
unreal in feelings or self. The feared aggression was a way to fight
for people (even words or judgments might be tools), to struggle
through barriers (even those of words, of judgments, of denial)
to help where one may care. The feared empathy for a man who is
vulnerable (it was still the wake of the 1950s, the moment before
womens liberation, and this idea novel) was simply
tender response, was even desire to renew the wholeness and strength
in the beloved and receive his giving love. The terrifying possessiveness
was only the struggle of concern. The deepest needin a person
laughing, in a person weeping, in a lost beloved, in a calling childwas
the same; the cry to be loved and the murmur of loves offer were
one voice, childs need and giving, mature
love not distinct, for each yearned, in ones depths, to give love;
this deepest need, the love for the love, in everyone yearned for
this same love in each.
But in this truth lay also the possibility of peaceful anarchy,
the natural good life for to know ones depths are
love, and ones worth thus unbreachable, is to step beyond fear
into revolutionary hope, reaching out with curiosity and courage
to care, no longer held back by barriers of doubt or interdiction,
by the guilts or shames from any eyes, denials of any systems, but
letting love leadeven through actual lines of cops, of Marines,
of those who killtogether in the struggle to create a world of
peace and the possible dream.
I knowagain what once seemed liberating sounds parody or trite.
There is no way now to make intellectually convincing the wonder,
the awareness (unexpected, for the struggle then was against oppression,
not foror fromphilosophical answers ) that everythingthe
beautiful, the good, the naturalcould merge in the love that was
most deep. Especially when these newly opened eyes could be blind
to what was clear.
For, while mine may have been a homespun womans definition
of love, (influenced, as well, two years before the womens
movement, by Helen Lynds Shame and the Search for Identity),
I had not yet enough seen through the dominant climax-oriented version,
with its insistence on the emotional primacy of lovemaking and its
tacit paradigm of maturity as the couple with kids.
I could not fully believe the deepest love was equally the agape,
the heroic, even the bond (I could not see, child,) between parent
and newborn thatgrowing, speaking in my soul but the words uncomprehendedhovered
those months when the babys heart met mine and perhaps I cried
his cries and dreamed his dreams and (as later in the time of our
re-bonding) it was not only hope from new concepts brought euphoric
This is, of course, also the love that bears the faith to raise
But early in 1967, six months after Port Chicago, eighteen months
after Watts, one week after the first Be-In, when the baby was born
I, like my vanguard peers, still thought love for a
child must be secondary and a baby needed the love of a two-parent
home. When I held my newborn close, feeling nothing but tenderness,
decision had already been made; besides, the mental struggle against
the years losses and against the sorrow yet to come occluded the
simple recognition Ill be giving my baby into the unknown.
And so it was remainders of ignorance and shreds of lossnot simply
circumstance, not only the insecurity of How could I raise
such a wonderful child? or folklore of the perfect, carefully
selected, adoptive parentsmade the decision; the hope, the belief,
was also too frail and new.
I remember, I have told this child, how you flew
into the doctors hands. Three times, I held you. One day Tom sat
beside us, showing me the way to make silk gods-eyes. How tiny
you looked in that yellow-tiled nursery when I left.
The radios were playing Strawberry Fields Forever ;
then it was Somebody to Love. At the agency I wouldnt
sign until they brought the baby, and I rocked himbigger,
older, different. When he cried, the worker lifted him out of my
incompetent hands. . .with which I signed the papers, thinking everyone
unnecessarily emotional, and, through the next months, wove the
little gods-eyes, like booties to protect a child-idea.
Afterwards I lived two years as if (something like
the Movements as if to create a better world by believing
it)as if there would be response, as if
would come the loving need, as if by acting as if with
love I might again care, by reaching find someone out there.
I marched with 100,000 in the April Mobilization, leafleted the
docking Enterprise, organized Barb workers, helped to build the
Peace and Freedom Party, stood before the cops at Stop the Draft
Week, at Peoples Park. . .. And there were efforts toward
two shaggy men; there were an agit-prop, a fledgling womens
group, a magazine. But the crest was over, and perhaps it was as
if I could never have been giving enough, no matter how much I gave,
and, like so manyand this is one reason our revolution ebbed too
soonhad given everything away.
By the end of another decade there would be another love, another
child; I put the gods-eyes in the trunk. My sons new
parents would indeed be parentsloving, doting, protecting him
in the sensitivity of a good childhood. The truthsthe trust that
one can love, the recognition that love and our trust in it may
heal the worldwould hold firm. And certainly the self-acceptance
and internal changes, the loves of those days, the care and heroism
of Port Chicago, revolutionary hope itself, and the
social progress of those times were crucially important and deep.
Only, in clearing out the layers of false voices and destructive
systems of this false societyin finding in the world and self
what was loving, liberating, life-protective, motherly, and coming
to brief revolutionary (so to speak) fruitionsomehow that theoretical-minded,
giving young woman I was had made a big mistakeI had
thrown out the baby with the bath water.
The changes and commitment of those days were real,
I would conclude. Yet the loss and yearning, unrecognized
in that culture and veiled as mere curiosity or aimless seeking
even in our dreams, lingered, colored the world; and it was only
when you found meyou, son whod the courage to dare the impossible
searchthat fears occlusions could lift and the joy of our reunion
spring forth, for the necessary time, from the hearts deepest need,
the love that is the depth and hope of human life.
to Writings page)