Authors: Mary L. Trump;
It was a long recovery, and Dad stayed at the House to recuperate. A year after the surgery, he was better than he had been, but he would never be well enough to live on his own again. Part of the obstacle to that may have been financial. He started working for my grandfather again but this time on a maintenance crew. It wasn't surprising that apart from a few stints in rehab to dry out, he had never stopped drinking. He told me once that one of his doctors had warned him, “If you have another drink, it's going to kill you.” Even open-heart surgery wasn't enough to stop him.
That Thanksgiving, Dad joined us for the first time since he'd moved back to New York. He sat with me at Gam's end of the table, pale and thin as a specter.
Halfway through the meal, Gam started choking. “You okay, Mom?” Dad asked. Nobody else seemed to notice. As she continued to struggle, a couple of people at the other end of the table looked up to see what was going on but then looked down at their plates and continued eating.
“Come on,” Dad said as he put a hand under Gam's elbow and gently helped her to her feet. He led her to the kitchen, where we
heard some shuffling and the distressing sound of my grandmother's grunts as Dad performed the Heimlich maneuver; he'd learned it when he had been a volunteer ambulance driver in the late 1960s and early '70s.
When they returned, there was a desultory round of applause. “Good job, Freddy,” Rob said, as if my father had just killed a mosquito.
Donald was becoming a constant presence even when he wasn't in the House. Every time my father wanted to go to the kitchen or back to his room, he had to pass through the gauntlet of magazine covers and newspaper articles that littered the breakfast room table. Ever since the 1973 lawsuit, Donald had been a staple of the New York tabloids, and my grandfather had collected every single article that mentioned his name.
The Grand Hyatt deal Donald was working on when Dad moved back to the House was merely a more complex version of the 1972 partnership my grandfather had formed with Donald in New Jersey. The Grand Hyatt was initially made possible because of my grandfather's association with New York City mayor Abe Beame. Fred also contributed generously to both the mayor's and Governor Hugh Carey's campaigns. Louise Sunshine, Carey's fund-raiser, helped pull the deal together. In order to seal it, Beame offered him a $10-million-a-year tax abatement that would remain in place for forty years. When the demolition of the Commodore Hotel began, the New York press, taking Donald at his word, consistently presented the deal as something Donald had accomplished single-handedly.
Perhaps to bridge the gap that had widened between us since he'd moved back to New York, Dad told me he wanted to throw me a Sweet Sixteen party in May 1981. The Grand Hyatt had had its grand opening a few months earlier, and Dad said he'd ask Donald if we could use one of the smaller ballrooms. Donald, who seemed eager for the chance to
show off his new project to the family, readily agreed and even offered him a discount.
Dad told my grandfather about the plans for the party a few days later when the three of us were in the breakfast room, the ubiquitous clippings covering the table. “Fred,” he said angrily, “Donald's busy, he doesn't need this bullshit.”
The subtext was clear: Donald is important, and he's doing important things; you're not.
I don't know how the situation got resolved, but Dad eventually pulled it off. I was going to have my party.
Most of my guests had arrived and I was standing with a small group of friends when Donald made his entrance. He walked over to us, and instead of saying hello, he spread his arms and said, “Isn't this great?”
We all agreed that it was, indeed, great. I thanked him again for letting us use the hotel, then introduced him to everybody.
“So what'd you think of that lobby? Fantastic, right?”
“Fantastic,” I said. My friends nodded.
“Nobody else could have pulled this off. Just look at those windows.”
I worried that he might tell us how great the bathroom tiles were next, but he saw my grandparents, shook my hand, kissed me on the cheek, said, “Have fun, Honeybunch,” and walked over to them. My dad was sitting a couple of tables away from them, by himself.
When I turned back to my friends, they were staring at me.
“What the hell was that?” one of them asked.
In the summer of 1981, Maryanne drove my father to the Carrier Clinic in Belle Mead, New Jersey, about half an hour from the Bedminster property that Donald would later turn into a golf course. Dad went through the thirty-day program, but he did it reluctantly. At the end of his stay, Maryanne and her second husband, John Barry, picked him up and brought him back to the House, arguably the worst place he could
be. When she checked on him the next day, Dad had already started drinking again.
Freddy had lost his home and family, his profession, much of his willpower, and most of his friends. Eventually his parents were the only people left to take care of him. And they resented it. In the end, Freddy's very existence infuriated his father.
Fred's treatment of my father had always served as an object lesson to his other childrenâa warning. In the end, though, the control became something much different. Fred wielded the complete power of the torturer, but he was ultimately as trapped in the circumstance of Freddy's growing dependence due to his alcoholism and declining health as Freddy was tied to him. Fred had no imagination and no ability to see a way beyond the circumstances he was essentially responsible for having created. The situation was proof that his power had limits.
After I got home from summer camp that August, I announced that I wanted to go to boarding school. I explained to Dad that after ten years at Kew-Forest, the same extremely small school my aunts and uncles had gone to, I was feeling hemmed in and bored. I wanted more of a challenge, a place with a campus, better sports facilities, more opportunities. Dad warned me about the dangers of becoming a small fish in a big pond, but I think he understood that although my stated reasons were all true, I also needed to get away.
The problem was that I had only three weeks to figure out where I wanted to go, fill out applications, and get accepted. Over the last two weeks of August 1981, my mother and I visited almost every boarding school in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
While I waited for the results, we needed to get permission from my grandfather, or at least that's what Dad said.
The two of us stood in front of my grandfather's usual spot on the love seat, and Dad explained what I wanted to do. “What does she want to do that for?” my grandfather asked, as if I weren't standing right in
front of him. “Kew-Forest is fine.” He'd been on the board there for almost thirty years.
“It's just time for a change. Come on, Pop. It'll be good for her.”
My grandfather complained about the extra expense, even though the money would come from my father's trust fund and wouldn't affect him at all, and he reiterated his belief in the superiority of Kew-Forest. But Dad didn't back down.
I don't think my grandfather really cared where I went to school, but I was grateful that Dad had stood by my side once again.
The day before heading to boarding school, I left the apartment at the Highlander and rode my bike to my grandparents' house. I coasted down the driveway, propped my bike against the high brick wall next to the garage, then climbed the stairs to the path leading to the back door.
The backyard was quiet in the early-September afternoon. I jumped up the two steps to the cement patio and rang the doorbell. There was no outdoor furniture, just an empty slab. The only person who'd ever used it when we were younger was my uncle Rob. At one time there had been a couple of wrought-iron chairs out there, and when he was home for the weekend, he'd pull them together, and, using one as a footrest, he'd slather himself with baby oil and prop his folding aluminum tanning reflector under his chin.
Minutes passed. I was about to press the doorbell again when my grandmother finally answered the door. She seemed surprised to see me. I pulled the screen door toward me to enter, but Gam remained in the doorway.
“Hi, Gam. I'm here to see Dad.”
Gam stood there wiping her hands on her apron, tense, as if I'd just caught her at something. I reminded her that I was leaving for school the next day. She was quite tall, and with her blond hair swept up and pinned tightly behind her head, she looked more severe than usual. She didn't move to let me in.
“Your father's not home,” she said. “I don't know when he'll be back.”
I was confused. I knew my father had wanted to see me offâwe'd talked about it only a few days before. I assumed that he had forgotten I was coming by. In the last year, he'd often forgotten when we had plans. I wasn't surprised, exactly, but something about it still didn't seem right. Directly above where my grandmother and I stood, the sound of a radio came through the open window of my father's bedroom.
I shrugged at Gam, pretending not to care. “Okay, then, I guess tell him to call me later.” I moved toward her for a hug, and she put her arms around me stiffly. When I turned to leave, I heard the door close. I walked down the path and down the stairs to the driveway, got on my bike, and rode home. I left for school the next day. Dad never called me.
I was watching a movie in the brand-new auditorium of the Ethel Walker School when the projector went dark and the lights came up. The students were there to watch
The Other Side of the Mountain
, an uplifting story about an Olympic skier who becomes paralyzed in a skiing accident. Instead,
The Other Side of Midnight
âa decidedly different kind of movie with an early rape sceneâhad been ordered. The faculty were in a bit of a tumult trying to figure out what to do next, while we students thought it was hysterical.
As I sat talking and laughing with some kids from my dorm, I saw Diane Dunn, a phys ed teacher, making her way through the crowd. Dunn was also a counselor at the sailing camp I went to every summer, so I'd known her since I was a little kid. To everyone else at Walker's, she was Miss Dunn, which I found impossible to wrap my head around. At camp she was Dunn and I was Trump, and that's what we continued to call each other. She was largely responsible for my having decided to go to this boarding school, and after I had been there for only two weeks, she was still the only person I really knew.
When she waved me over, I smiled and said, “Hey, Dunn.”
“Trump, you need to call home,” she said. She had a piece of paper in her fist but didn't give it to me. She looked flustered.
“You need to call your mother.”
“Yes. If she isn't home, call your grandparents.” She was speaking to me as if she'd memorized the lines.
It was almost 10:00 p.m., and I had never called my grandparents so late, but my dad and grandmother were both in the hospital pretty frequentlyâDad due to his years of heavy drinking and smoking, and Gam's tendency to break bones fairly often because of her osteoporosis. So I wasn't really worriedâor, rather, I didn't think it was anything more serious than usual.
My dorm was adjacent to the auditorium, so I went outside, crossed the oval lawn between them, and climbed the two flights of stairs to my floor. The pay phone hung on the stairwell wall on the landing right next to the door.
I placed a collect call to my mother, but there was no answer, so I dialed the House. Gam answered and accepted the chargesâso the emergency wasn't about her. After a quick, muffled “Hello,” she immediately handed the phone to my grandfather.
“Yes,” he said, brisk and businesslike as usual. For a moment, it was easy to believe that there had been a mistake, that nothing was really wrong. But then something had been urgent enough for me to be pulled out of the auditorium. I had also seen the way Dunn's eyes had widened in panic as she looked for me in the auditorium. It would only occur to me much later that she already knew.
“What's the matter?” I asked.
“Your mother just left,” he said. “She should be home in a few minutes.” I could picture him in the poorly lit library standing next to the telephone table wearing his starched white shirt, red tie, and navy blue three-piece suit, impatient to be done with me.
“But what's wrong?”
“Your father has been taken to the hospital, but it's nothing to worry about,” he said as though reporting the weather.
I could have hung up then. I could have gone back to trying to fit in with my new classmates at my new school.
“Is it his heart?” It was unheard of for meâfor anyone but Donaldâto challenge my grandfather in any way, but there was obviously a reason I'd been told to call.
“Then it's serious.”
“Yes, I would say it's serious.” There was a pause during which, perhaps, he was deciding whether to tell me the truth. “Go to sleep,” he said finally. “Call your mother in the morning.” He hung up.
I stood there in the stairwell with the phone in my hand, not knowing quite what to do. A door slammed on the floor above me. Footsteps followed, growing louder. A couple of students passed me on their way to the first floor. I put the receiver back into the cradle, picked it up, and tried my mother again.
This time she answered the phone.
“Mom, I just spoke to Grandpa. He told me Dad's in the hospital, but he wouldn't tell me what's going on. Is he okay?”
“He had a heart attack,” my mother said.
From the moment she spoke, time took on a different quality. Or maybe it was the next moment, which I don't remember, and the effect of the shock was retroactive. Either way, my mother kept talking but I didn't hear any of the words she said. As far as I could tell, there was no gap in the conversation, but part of it never existed for me.