Authors: A.J. Rich
Thank you for downloading this Scribner eBook.
Join our mailing list and get updates on new releases, deals, bonus content and other great books from Scribner and Simon & Schuster.
or visit us online to sign up at
In memory of Katherine Russell Rich
Who would not tremble to think of the ills that may be caused by one dangerous liaison!
—PIERRE CHODERLOS DE LACLOS,
Yes or no:
I want everyone to be happy.
I know what people need without their having to ask me.
I have given blood.
I would donate a kidney to save a close friend’s life.
I would donate a kidney to save a stranger’s life.
I generally appear sincere.
I give more than I receive.
People take advantage of me.
People should generally be forgiven.
Today I would not answer any of these questions the way I did a year ago. And I’m the one who wrote the test. I was going to be the person who changed the definition of a predator by identifying what makes a victim. The test: it was part of my master’s thesis in forensic psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. A philosopher once said, “The threshold is the place to pause.” I was on the threshold of having everything I wanted.
Here is the question I would ask today:
Can I forgive myself?
• • •
The lecture had been about victimology. Does a symbiotic quirk in the brain of the abuser also exist in the emotional makeup of the victim? The model the professor used was battered woman syndrome, a syndrome that the professor pointed out appears nowhere in the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
), but does appear in criminal statutes. Why? I thought I had the answer.
The morning had galvanized me; I couldn’t wait to get home and back to my research. I felt a little guilty about wanting my place to myself again so I stopped at Fortunato Brothers and bought Bennett a bag of pignoli cookies.
My apartment was on the top floor of a clapboard row house in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I didn’t live with the hipsters; my block was old-world. Italian women perpetually swept their sidewalks, and retired wiseguys played chess at Fortunato’s. At a headstone store a block away they also sold loaves of bread. Bennett called it Breadstone. Rumor was the man who ran it used to work for one of the big mob families. His crew, no one under eighty, sat out front on plastic chairs smoking cigars. The ice-cream truck played the theme from
There was a saying: “It’s not HBO, it’s our neighborhood.”
Sixty-eight steps spiraled to my front door. As I climbed, I smelled the ethnic potpourri: sizzling garlic on the first landing, then boiling cabbage on the second, then frying chorizo, and finally my floor, where I never cooked anything.
The door was open. Bennett must have gone out and forgotten to jiggle the broken knob as I’d asked him to. The dogs could have gotten out. I had three: Cloud, a Great Pyrenees that I called the Great White Canvas, and Chester and George, two goofy, needy pit-bull mixes that I fostered. The dogs were the only bone of contention between Bennett and me. He wanted me to stop trying to rescue every stray at the expense of my work, but I suspected he really couldn’t bear dog hair on his sweaters. Bennett was always cold, even in summer. He claimed he had Raynaud’s syndrome, in which the veins in one’s extremities constrict, resulting in cold hands and feet. Bennett feared the advanced form in which one’s fingers and toes can atrophy. But his hands were never cold on my skin. By contrast, I ran hot. I was the first to wear sandals in spring, I never wore a scarf, I never caught a chill in air-conditioning. This was not because I carried any bulk.