Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc.,1931.
THE ANTI-ANARCHIST IMMIGRATION LAW WAS AT LAST SMUGGLED through Congress, and thereafter no person disbelieving in organized government was to be permitted to enter the United States. Under its provisions men like Tolstoy, Kropotkin, Spencer, or Edward Carpenter could be excluded from the hospitable shores of America. Too late did the lukewarm liberals realize the peril of this law to advanced thought. Had they opposed in a concerted manner the activities of the reactionary element, the statute might not have been passed. The immediate result of this new assault on American liberties, however, was a very decided change of attitude towards anarchists. I myself now ceased to be considered anathema; on the contrary, the very people who had been hostile to me began to seek me out. Various lecture forums, like the Manhattan Liberal Club, the Brooklyn Philosophical Society, and other American organizations invited me to speak. I accepted gladly because of the opportunity I had been wanting for years to reach the native intelligentsia, to enlighten it as to what anarchism really means. At these gatherings I made new friends and met old ones, among them Ernest Crosby, Leonard D. Abbott, and Theodore Schroeder.
At the Sunrise Club I came to know many persons of advanced ideas. Among the most interesting were Elizabeth and Alexis Ferm, John and Abby Coryell. The Ferms were the first Americans I met whose ideas on education were akin to mine; but while I merely advocated the need of a new approach to the child, the Ferms translated their ideas into practice. In the Playhouse, as their school was called, the children of the neighbourhood were bound by neither rules nor text-books. They were free to go or come and to learn from observation and experience. I knew no one else who so well understood child psychology as Elizabeth and who was so capable of bringing out the best in the young. She and Alexis considered themselves single-taxers, but in reality they were anarchists in their views and lives. It was a great treat to visit their home, which was also the school, and to witness the beautiful relationship that existed between them and the children.
The Coryells had much of the same quality, John possessing exceptional depth of mind. He impressed me as being more European than American, and indeed he had seen much of the world. As a young enough man he had been United States consul at Canton, China. Later he had lived in Japan, had travelled extensively, and had associated with the people of various countries and races. It had served to give him a wider outlook on life and a deeper understanding of human beings. John had considerable talent as a writer; he was the author of the original Nick Carter stories, and he had earned a name and money under the pseudonym of Bertha M. Clay. He was also a frequent contributor to the Physical Culture magazine, because of his interest in health matters and because it gave him his first chance to express himself freely on the subjects he had at heart. He was one of the most generous persons I had ever met. His writings had brought him a fortune, of which he had kept almost nothing, having given lavishly to those in need. His greatest charm lay in his rich sense of humour, no less incisive because of his polished manner. The Coryells and the Ferms became my dearest American friends.
I also saw a great deal of Hugh O. Pentecost. He had undergone many changes since I had first met him during my trial in 1893. He did not impress me as a strong character, but he was among the most brilliant speakers in New York. He lectured Sunday mornings on social topics, his eloquence attracting large audiences. Pentecost was a frequent visitor at my apartment, where he used to "feel natural," as he often said. His wife, a handsome, middle-class woman, keenly disliked her husband's poor friends, and her eyes were upon the influential subscribers to his lectures.
Once I had arranged a little party in my flat, with Pentecost as one of my guests. Shortly before the party I met Mrs. Pentecost and asked her if she would like to come. "Thank you so much," she said, "I shall be delighted; I love slumming." "Isn't it fortunate?" I remarked. "Otherwise you would never meet interesting people." She did not attend the party.
My public life grew colourful. Nursing became less strenuous when several of my "charges" moved out of my apartment and thus reduced my expenses. I could afford to take longer rests between cases. It gave me the opportunity to do much reading that had been neglected for some time. I enjoyed my new experience of living alone. I could go and come without considering others and I did not always find a crowd at home upon my return from a lecture. I knew myself well enough to realize that I was not easy to live with. The dreadful months following the Buffalo tragedy had driven me desperate with the struggle to find my way back to life and work. The timid radicalism of the people on the East Side had made me impatient and intolerant with the striplings who talked about the future, yet did nothing in the present, I enjoyed the boon of retirement and the companionship of a few chosen friends, the dearest among them Ed --- no longer jealously watching, possessively demanding every thought and every breath, but giving and receiving free and spontaneous joy.
Often he would visit me weary and depressed. I knew it was the growing friction in his home; not that he had ever spoken about it, but now and then a chance remark disclosed to me that he was not happy. Once, in the course of a conversation, he remarked: "In prison I used to take solitary confinement rather than share my cell with anybody. The constant jabber of a cell-mate used to drive me frantic. Now I have to listen to incessant talk, and there is no solitary for me to get away to." On another occasion he gave vent to irony regarding the girls and women that pretend to hold advanced ideas until they have safely captured their man and then fiercely turn against those ideas for fear of losing their provider. To cheer him I would turn the talk into other channels, or ask about his daughter. At once his face would light up and his depression lift. One day he brought me a picture of the little one. I had never seen such a striking resemblance. I was so moved by the beautiful face of the child that unthinkingly I cried out: "Why don't you ever bring her to see me?" "Why?" he replied, vehemently; "the mother! The mother! If you only knew the mother!" "Please, please!" I remonstrated; "don't say anything more; I don't want to know about her!" He began excitedly to pace the floor, breaking out into a torrent of words. "You must; you must let me speak!" he cried. "You must let me tell you all I have suppressed so long. "I tried to stop him, but he paid no attention. Rage and bitterness against you drove me to that woman," he continued tempestuously; "yes, and to drink. For weeks after our last break-up I kept drinking. Then I met the woman. I had seen her at radical affairs before, but she had never meant anything to me. Now she excited me; I was maddened by the loss of you and by drink. So I took her home. I quit working and gave myself up to a wild debauch, hoping to blot out the resentment I felt against you for going away." With a sharp pain in my heart I seized his hand, crying: "Oh, Ed, not resentment?" "Yes, yes! Resentment!" he repeated; "even hate! I felt it then because you had so easily given up our love and our life. But don't interrupt me; I must get it out of my system."
We sat down. Putting his hand over mine, he continued somewhat longer more calmly: "The drunken debauch went on for weeks. I wasn't aware of time, I didn't go anywhere or see anybody. I stayed at home in a stupor of drink and sex. One day I woke up with my mind terribly clear. I was sick of myself and of the woman. I told her brutally that she would have to go; that I had never intended our affair to be a permanent thing. She did what women usually do; she said I was a cruel and unscrupulous seducer. When she saw that it did not impress me, she began weeping and begging and finally she declared that she was pregnant. I was staggered; I felt it was impossible, yet I didn't believe she would deliberately invent such a thing. I had no money and I could not let her shift for herself. I was trapped and I had to go through with it. A few months under the same roof made me realize that we didn't have a single thought in common. Everything about her repelled me; her shrill voice all over the house, her constant chatter and gossip. They grated on my nerves and often drove me out of the house, but the thought that she was carrying my child always brought me back. Two months before it was born, she taunted me, during one of our bickering wrangles, with having tricked me. She had not been pregnant at all when she had first told me. I decided then and there to leave her as soon as the child was born. You'll laugh, but the birth of the little one woke strange chords in my soul. It made me forget all that was lacking in my life. I stayed."
"Why torture yourself, dear Ed? " I tried to soothe him; "why rake up the past?" He brushed me gently aside. "You must listen," he insisted; "you had everything to do with the beginning; it's only fair you should listen to the very end."
"When you returned from Europe," he went on, "the contrast between our past life and my present existence appeared more glaring. I wanted to take my child and come to you to plead once more for our love. But you were wrapped up in other people and in your public activities. You seemed to be completely cured of what you had once felt for me."
"You were wrong!" I cried, "I still loved you even when we had drifted apart." "I see it now, my dear, but at the time you appeared indifferent and aloof," he replied. "I could not turn to you. I sought what relief I could in my child. I read, and I found --- yes, I found --- some forgetfulness in the works we used to argue about; I could understand them better. But my nerves had become blunted; I no longer winced at the sound of the shrill voice. Her recriminations had made me hard and cynical. Besides, I had discovered a way to stop the stream,: he added with a chuckle. "What was it?" I asked, glad of his lighter tone; "perhaps I could also use it on some people." "Well, you see," he explained, "I take out my watch, hold it up to the lady's face, and tell her I'll give her five minutes to get through. If by that time she still keeps it up, I leave the house." "And it works?" I inquired. "Like magic. She dashes into the kitchen, and I go into my room and lock the door." I laughed, though I really wanted to cry at the thought of Ed, who had always loved refinement and peace, forced into degrading, vulgar scenes.
"The break has come, though, at last," he went on. "It had to, anyway, even if you and I had not become good friends again. It was bound to come as soon as I began to realize the effect those quarrels were having on the child." He added that for a long time he had lacked the means. Now he was in a position to do so. He would take his child to Vienna with him, and he asked me to accompany him.
"How do you mean, take the child?" I cried. "The mother, what about her? It's her child, too, isn't it? It must mean everything to her. How can you rob her of it?" Ed got on his feet and raised me up also. His face close to mine, he said: "Love! Love! Haven't you always insisted that the love of the average mother either smothers the child with kisses or kills it with blows? Why this sudden sentimentality for the poor mother?" "I know, I know, my dear," I answered; "I haven't changed my views. Just the same, the woman endures the agony of birth and she nourishes the infant with her own substance. The man does almost nothing, and yet he claims the child. Can't you see how unjust it is, Ed? Go to Europe with you? I'd do it at once. But I cannot have a mother robbed of her child on my account." He charged me with not being free; I was like all feminists who rail against man for the wrongs he supposedly does to woman, without seeing the injustices that the man suffers, and also the child. He would go anyway and take his little girl along. Never would he allow his child to grow up in an atmosphere of strife.
Ed left me in a turmoil of conflicting emotions. I had to admit to myself that it had indeed been I who had driven him into that woman's arms. I knew, as I had known when I had gone away from him, that I could not have acted otherwise. All the same, I had been the cause. I recalled vividly Ed's violent outburst on that terrible night; it was evidence enough of his agony of spirit. There was no blinking my part in his misery; why, then, did I refuse him now when he needed me even more? Why did I deny him the help he asked for his child? The woman certainly meant nothing to me; why should I have scruples about her loss? I had always held that the mere physical process of motherhood does not make a woman a real mother; yet I had talked to Ed against robbing her!
After much thought I concluded that my feeling in regard to the mother of Ed's child was deeply embedded in my sentiments for motherhood in general, that blind, dumb force that brings forth life in travail, wasting woman's youth and strength, and leaving her in old age a burden to herself and to those to whom she has given birth. It was this helplessness of motherhood that had made me recoil from adding to its pain.
The next time Ed came I tried to explain this to him, but he could not follow me. He said he had always credited me with being able to reason like a man, objectively; now he felt I was arguing subjectively, like all women. I replied that the reasoning faculties of most men had not impressed me to the point of wishing to imitate them, and that I preferred to do my own thinking as a woman. I repeated what I had already told him: that I should be supremely happy to go with him if he went alone, or to visit him in Europe some time later, but that I could not run off with another woman's child.
I was afraid that my stand would throw a shadow on my new friendship with Ed, but he proved to be big and fine about it. His visits became beautiful events. He was planning to leave for Europe in June, together with his child.
Early in April he told me he would be very busy for a week. His firm had to buy a large stock of lumber, and the transaction was to keep him out of town for a few days. But he would remain in touch with me and wire the moment he got back. During his absence I was called on a night case in Brooklyn, to nurse a consumptive boy. It was a long and tedious journey to and fro; I would return home very tired, barely able to take my bath, and fall asleep as soon as I struck the pillow. One morning, very early, I was roused out of bed by persistent and violent ringing. It was Timmermann, whom I had not seen for more than a year. "Claus!" I cried; "what brings you at such an hour?"
His manner was unusually quiet and he looked strangely at me. "Sit down," he said at last in a solemn voice; "I have something to tell you." I wondered what had happened to him. "It's about Ed," he began. "Ed!" I cried, suddenly alarmed; "is anything the matter with him? Is he ill? Have you a message for me?"
"Ed --- Ed ---" he stammered --- "Ed has no more messages." I held out my hand as if to ward off a blow. "Ed died last night," I heard Claus say in a shaken voice. I stood staring at him. "You're drunk!" I cried; "it can't be!" Claus took my hand and gently pulled me down beside him. "I'm a messenger of evil; of all your friends I had to be the one to bring you this news. Poor, poor girl!" He stroked my hair furtively. We sat in silence.
Finally Claus spoke. He had gone to Ed's house to meet him for supper; he had waited until nine o'clock, but Ed did not return, so he decided to leave. At that moment a cab drove up to the house. The driver inquired for Brady's apartment, saying that Mr. Brady was in the cab, sick. Would someone help to carry him up? Neighbours came out and surrounded the cab. Ed was inside, sunk back in the seat, unconscious and breathing heavily. People carried him upstairs, while Claus ran for a doctor. When he came back the cabman was gone. All he had been able to tell was that he had been called to a saloon near the Long Island station, where he had found the gentleman hunched up in a chair, bleeding from a cut on his face. He was conscious, but able only to give his address. The saloon-keeper explained that the gentleman had asked for a drink and had taken it standing at the bar. Then he had paid and started towards the toilet. On the way he had suddenly fallen down in a heap, striking his forehead against the bar. That was all any of them knew.
The doctor had worked frantically to revive Ed; but it was in vain. He died without regaining consciousness.
Claus's voice was droning in my ears, but I barely heard what he was saying. Nothing mattered but that Ed had been stricken among strangers, stuffed into a cab, alone at the moment of his greatest need. Oh, Ed, my splendid friend, robbed of life when so close to the fullness of it! The cruelty of it, the senseless cruelty! My heart cried out in protest, my throat choked with tears that would not come to my eyes to relieve my poignant grief.
Claus got to his feet remarking that he must notify other friends and help with the funeral arrangements. "I will go with you!" I declared. "I will see Ed again." "Impossible!" Claus objected. "Mrs. Brady has already stated that she will not let you in. She said you had robbed her of Ed when he was alive and she will keep you away now that he is dead. You would only have to go through with an ugly scene."
I remained alone with memories of my life with Ed. In the late afternoon Yegor came, shaken by the news. He had loved Ed and was profoundly overcome now. His sweet concern melted my frozen heart. With his arms about me I found the tears that would not come before. We sat close together, talking of Ed, his life, his dreams, and premature end. It grew late and I remembered the sick boy in Brooklyn waiting for me. I might not be near my precious dead, but I could at least go to the aid of my young patient struggling for life.
Funerals had always been abhorrent to me; I felt that they expressed grief turned inside out. My loss was too deep for it. I went to the crematory and found the ceremony over, the coffin already closed. The friends who knew of my bond with Ed lifted the cover again for me. I approached to look at the dear face, so beautifully serene in sleep. The silence about me made death less gruesome.
Suddenly a shriek echoed through the place, followed by another and another. A female voice, hysterically crying: "My husband! My husband! He is mine!" The shrieking woman, her black widow's veil resembling a crow's wings, threw herself between me and the coffin, pushing me back and falling over the dead. A little blonde girl with frightened eyes, suffocating with sobs, was clutching at the woman's dress.
For a moment I stood petrified with horror. Then I slowly moved towards the exit, out into the open, away from the revolting scene. My mind was full of the child, the replica of its father, its life now to be so different from what he had intended.
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