‘Wild is the wind,’ Nina Simone
This is my story. It’s not a pretty one. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I was born in the midst of a storm, on Long Island in the States, to a Welsh mother and an American father. I came into the world apparently screaming my rage at the thunder and lightning that broke the dawn into shards. My parents were young, in love, and cast with the longest shadow of all. They died here on Long Island, after a party given by friends to celebrate my birth. What a poisoned chalice I was. Three months old, and my mother just ready to face the world in her sequinned gowns and jewels. I’ve seen pictures of her from that night, and she was beautiful. I can almost conjure the smell of her. I imagine Joy, something expensive and French and lesser known. My father stands by her, almost shadowy and happy to be so. He is tall and slim and in profile. A gentle presence, radiating quiet strength. But there was something sotto about him, as if he knew a countdown had begun.
She drove the car, my mother. She hadn’t drunk for months, they said, so just a couple of glasses must have gone to her head. It was late. She would have been tired. Laughing perhaps, turning to him to share an anecdote, taking her eyes from the road for that brief moment - enough to plough through the bridge and into the river below. Did they drown or did the impact kill them? I’ve always wondered. Was it quick and merciful, or did they know what they were leaving behind, to a life empty of everything that mattered? Me. The three-month-old. No aunts, no uncles. No-one who wanted to take me. Not a godparent. My parents didn’t give me any of them. Perhaps they would have if they’d lived to my christening.
What I did have was a guardian, a trustee - Geoffrey Warrender - to minister to my needs. And I had money. That was always there in abundance. So I had nannies, and nurseries, and toys, and cooks in his house in Long Island. And later, a succession of tutors. That sounds antediluvian, some prehistoric eccentricity of Geoffrey’s, I know. But it was purely practical. When Geoffrey inherited me he took me away from my dead parents’ home in Long Island to live with him, close to his job at the bank in Manhattan. Whether it was bereavement that triggered it the doctors would never say conclusively, but in Manhattan I developed an intense asthma and eczema that were so bad that Geoffrey took me back to Long Island. Not to my parents’ house, for that had been sold, but to a new one he bought himself: Mirador. He commuted from there to New York, graduating from buses and trains to the helicopter his wealth and position in the bank now allowed. Back beside the sea, my ailments vanished almost as quickly as they had appeared. But, if I spent more than a few days in the city, or far from the sea, they returned. So tutors at home it was. A succession of the finest. I was beautifully educated, erudite beyond my years, socially adept with adults, and totally incapable of dealing with the few contemporaries who came my way. So I had a largely friendless childhood, unless you count elderly tutors.