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  • What We Kept from Willa
  • Willa Schneberg (bio)

We decided it would be best not to tell Willa about her mother's nose job or my agoraphobia, until she was twenty-one. We thought she would be enough of her own person then to handle it.

We let her assume that her nose was long like mine, although it is the spitting image of her mother's nose I saw in a photo when she was a WAAC. Everyone has always said that Esther and I make a handsome couple, so why wouldn't Willa like her appearance? Esther "fixed" her nose before she met me and always said if Barbara Streisand was around when she was young, she would have never done it. Esther was as beautiful as Lauren Bacall with her old nose. To me, and to many others, she is still beautiful. After puberty, Willa starting hocking Esther, "How come I don't have a cute little nose like yours?" We thought, if she wants to change something, she will when she's older. So far, she hasn't, and she's pushing 50.

Although it's been years since I recovered and can drive across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and through the Queens Midtown Tunnel unaccompanied. I never told Willa before about the agoraphobia, because I didn't want her to worry about something she wouldn't understand. It was the lie I told myself. The truth is: I didn't tell her from shame. We let Willa believe [End Page 141] I didn't go overseas because I was the only son, the sole support of the family. That was the truth, but I wanted to be like Bernie, the mailman, who had no father either, but was still shipped off to the Philippines; or Hymie, the smoked fish man, who dropped bombs over Dresden; or my brother-in-law, a Ritchie Boy, who broadcast false information in German to the enemy. How could I possibly go overseas, when some days three stops away on the IRT were too much for me. Waiting on the New Lots Avenue train platform on my way to Brooklyn College, I would think, I'm sweating bullets, I'm having a heart attack, any minute I'm going to black out.

How could I tell Willa how weird the panic was, that for no reason I could cruise across the Williamsburg Bridge like anyone else, and other times, I couldn't even attempt it, without a body next to me—even a child or a dog would do. Esther would never look at her mishigas, so I became the crazy one. When I was in the hospital, those Freudians said I should be able to take a plane to Washington D.C., if I just admitted that I hated my mother, who I loved with all my heart. Willa adores her mother the way I loved mine, but she doesn't love me that way.

Esther has all the power: if she doesn't want to go somewhere, I can't go (like to a B'nai B'rith meeting or to visit Joanie in New Jersey). More often than I would like to admit, I still get exasperated with her, and yell, "Damn you, Esther," when she isn't in the mood and wants to stay home. I plead, "You can read and crochet in the car." She won't even learn to drive. Willa of course, when she was a teenager, could never figure out why I'd get so hysterical. She would scream, "Why don't you just go by yourself?" I would snap back, "People of my generation actually like to do things with their spouses." [End Page 142]

Willa Schneberg

Willa Schneberg received the Oregon Book Award in Poetry for her second collection In The Margins Of The World. Poems have appeared in Women's Review of Books, Tikkun and Bridges, since its inception. Her Judaic ceramic sculpture has been on display at the Oregon Jewish Museum, Portland, and in the pages of Moment Magazine. She is the organizer of the Oregon Jewish Writers Reading Series held annually at O.J.M. Visit www...


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pp. 141-142
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2012
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