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  • Gifted
  • Sharon Solwitz (bio)

They lived across from a run-down park on a street they jokingly called Park Place. They drove older cars, drove as little as possible for the sake of the environment. They had a cleaning service, so they wouldn’t fight over who had left what where. But they rarely fought, in part because Allan was easy-going, in part because Thea was happy. Her job required travel (what fun!) but not enough to upset the applecart of the family. She made it to basketball games (Nate), violin recitals (Nate), and soccer matches (Dylan). When she was gone, Allan, who taught two courses a semester at a Research I university, took care of the boys. Amiably. Lovingly.

Was she lucky? She felt it, though less keenly than if she were less used to being lucky. The older of two girls, she had been deemed (so it seemed) the prettier and smarter early on, so it stuck. Which floated her through high school, sent her to the University of Chicago, and made her want to test herself—not just her luck but her limitations. Nixon was routed, the war over. Money and work were easy to come by and would be forever and ever, amen, world without end.

Her sophomore year she quit school without asking for a leave and moved in with a gifted, troubled boyfriend. She worked as a waitress, took classes in painting, then singing and acting; she auditioned for plays. She had other boyfriends amid the mysterious AIDS epidemic, went to bed with men whose names she didn’t know, and once had asked for and received money. And she remained healthy; what luck! She could stay up far into the night at a bar where a boyfriend’s band was playing, her pleasure in the music intensified by MDA, then get a couple of hours sleep and still make it to work the next day. She could have an abortion in the morning, deliver correctly designated plates of food in the afternoon, and remember her lines (there weren’t many lines) in the play she was in that night, with an occasional break to change her pad. To friends in law or medical school she would declare wryly: I’m downwardly mobile.

By her mid-twenties her élan was flagging. Gaby, her sister, had married right out of college, taught fifth grade, and had two girls one after the other while her solid-citizen husband climbed his corporate ladder. They moved to Highland Park, threw dinner parties, gave to the Symphony and the United Jewish Appeal. Gaby started working out, cut her hair short, looked no-nonsense glamorous. At a downtown lunch, Gaby picked up the tab. And Thea could see sister lunches down the years, Gaby generously paying, and she grateful and ashamed. And now the balance had shifted, or else it was always like this but till now she hadn’t [End Page 145] understood: Gaby knew what she wanted and what she didn’t want, while Thea wanted just about everything. If not everything, she would have nothing. She’d impress the theater world with her Portia and Gypsy Rose Lee, she’d reign over a salon where she and other brilliant people amused each other, or she’d shuffle through alleys with all her possessions in a shopping cart. One or the other.

The thought of pity from her family and friends (in some cases, perhaps pleasure) induced the hot spurt of terror that returned her to action. She applied and was admitted to art school, and earned not only her degree in Design but the love of her department head, twelve years older than she but trim and sweet-natured with a warm, wry delivery. Thea always pulls it off. That was said of her. Which she publicly disputed but in her heart believed. She had slacked off a bit but the stars or Whoever was running the show were on her side. Then, wanting children, with a man who wanted them too, she managed that as well. Two boys, after age thirty. After two abortions weighing on her with their nasty irony.

Money had been...