We were teenagers when my mother was on a book tour – she was to appear on Larry King. My father had gone to New York with her. It was a big moment, and my brothers and I wanted her to fail. There was a part of us that knew she would.
I thought Larry King would tear her to shreds. My mother was way too emotional for him and thought the FBI was following her from studio to studio on her tour, threatening her life because of her conspiracy theories.
If she went on one of her tangents, it would not end well.
To gloat and witness, my brothers and I gathered in our home in front of the television and watched, her three ungrateful children, waiting for her collapse on prime time, rooting for her failure on national television, because we were little shits then, and because none of us believed in her conspiracy theories.
And because we could not fathom how my mother got a gig on Larry King.
Was it a slow week? Was her publicist that good?
This was the mid seventies, and Larry King was a thing then, but not as big a thing as later. This little man in suspenders…I wanted him to take my mother down because she had hurt me, because I did not understand her pain then, because I was a teenager and didn’t know the complexities of love yet or what my mother had survived…the breakdown, her cancer, the abortion, three teenagers in the home, all the hormones, her deadlines. After my grandmother came to live with us after her stroke, my mother’s office was moved to our brown formica kitchen table.
The interview started with what we all called my mother’s stage voice. A voice we only heard in our home when she answered the telephone or my father’s boss was over for dinner with his wife.
And now, here she was using her stage voice on national television.
I don’t remember the details, but it was a shit show. We all held our breath, because we got our wish and then it didn’t feel so good. They were arguing, my mother was an early QAnon type journalist who lost her job over it and wrote a book – very little was based on fact, just emotion – suggesting the FBI had a file on her, and so many other things, and then they cut to what felt like an early commercial break.
During the commercials, we didn’t move. Or talk.
When the show came back on, my mother was gone and there was another guest, I don’t remember who, and no mention of her, like she just disappeared.
Many years later, I ran into Larry King in Barney’s in New York. I swear he looked the same. I was at the jewelry counter. I had a habit of buying a piece of jewelry for myself after bad medical news, and I had just come from Sloan Kettering.
I was looking at a pearl and stone necklace when Larry King began directing my salesperson, even though she was busy helping me, as if I wasn’t there.
The woman showing me the jewelry said he would have to wait and he threw a fit in the middle of Barney’s, saying he needed a birthday gift for his wife and didn’t have time to wait.
Witnessing Larry King get escorted out of Barney’s felt good, a little like revenge for what he did to my mother, who did disappear into dementia in her later years. I often wondered if her mind had always been a little slippery before it went down the big slide, and if we all could be a little kinder to those who don’t think like us.
I bought the necklace in Barney’s, and mailed it to my mother in Florida.
My mother was the kind of woman who let everyone into our home who was holding a bible under their armpit. Even Jerry Falwell. She let them talk about God, use our bathroom, made them Lipton iced tea with real sugar and lime juice and large ice chunks in orange glasses she collected.
I’m writing this story to tell you she was often wrong, and also sometimes right, like all of us. She fought for justice for some, even if it was misguided. And in this world of bad journalism and websites supporting conspiracy theories, we need more compassion for those who are attracted to a different way of thinking.
Because we know so little about the functions of the mind and trauma, and how much one person can take in before it all becomes too much.
A few weeks after the ill fated Larry King show, the FBI started following us all home from school.