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Monologue by Susan Meville

Meville, Susan
Butler, Belinda
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming Obstacles; Relationships with People and Places; Then and Now; Childhood Adventures; Stories and Storytellers; Tolerance and Respect
Susan Meville gives an account of the tragic life of her beloved cousin.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Belinda Butler interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
SM (Susan Meville): I'm going to, um, tell you something about my, um, cousin, whose name was Deirdre, and, ah, I, I, I'll give a little bit of background, just, it needs to, it needs to be put into a little bit of a context. Ah, I was very, very fond of my, my cousin, um, she was, she was a very beautiful person, both physically and, and spiritually. She was very tall, she was very elegant, um, and she also just, she had a, a radiance about her, it was really, ah, irresistible. She had an irresistible quality, she just drew people to her. And, um, she was, her, her mother was my father's sister, was highly neurotic, dramatic, dissatisfied woman, who had been married a couple of times before she married Deirdre's father and, uh, when she married Deirdre's father, he had, he was, he was a, a, a very sort, ah, of reclusive, um, scholar. He was a philosopher and also a psy, uh, a psychologist. And he, he was a professor at, at, um, Hunter. But he came from a, an extremely exclusive family, um, they were, his name was Livingston Welch, and it, it's a very old American family, the Livingstons and the Welches. And when they combined the families, they, they, ah, he was sort of their, the legacy is in him, was that he was Livingston Welch, both families. Anyway, he was a real character, Uncle Livingston. And a brilliant man, uh, but, incredibly eccentric. And he had been in love with my, with my father's sister since they were very little. They grew up on, on Long Island, sort of in Great Gatsby land. Um, in Sand's Point. My, my father's family were, were in a little area called, um, Plandome, which is next to Manhassett, which is right next to Sand's Point, and Sand's Point is, is perhaps where the, the richest people in America live. And, um, they, ah, they knew each other and he was in love with her, but she wouldn't have anything to do with him. She, because he was, he was a nerd. [Laughs] A very rich nerd, but a nerd! [Laugh] And um, my father's family were probably nouveau riche in, in, in their estimation. My, my, my father's, um, my father's parents were both English. They didn't meet in England, they met here, but both, both of their families had immigrated to this, to this country and, um, they, my, my grandfather was in banking, and, um, they, he made obviously a very nice income. But not quite on the level of the Welches, um, who subsequently lost all of their money, which is always the way it is, in life. Ah, but, anyway, so there was this whole social thing. And they were, they were a part of a social milieu that my father's family were close to but not quite in. And, um, ultimately when my, when my aunt finally went through her other husbands, ah, she decided that really she was ready for some social status, and perhaps some money, and so she acquiesced to, to marry my uncle! [Laughs] And, they had a very peculiar marriage. And, at some point along the way, and I don't know the historical details, they, the Welches did lose all of their money, and they, they had had this beautiful mansion on, on Sand's Point, um, and it was right at the very tip of Sand's Point and they had an absolutely beautiful town home in, um, in Manhattan on 65th Street, ah, right between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue, so it was the sort of the place to be, so to speak. And eventually they, they were, Livingston, in his older, in his old age, was relegated to the, [laugh] to the kitchen in the sub-basement of the building because they sold it to, to some woman in New Orleans, but they'd kept that part of the building and he loved it, that was, for him that was like, that was the greatest. Ah, by that time, he and my aunt were living in, in, uh, you know, sort of, uh, uh, an apartment in, on East 57th Street that was just one of those sort of, those little run through apartments. And it wasn't a bad apartment, but nonetheless it was, you know, not certainly my, my aunt's idea of why she might have been ma, been marrying my uncle [laugh]! It wasn't quite what she had in mind. And they had also stuffed all of this really beautiful furniture, um, from all over the world into this tiny [laugh] little apartment, so it was very cluttered. Ah, and ah, first she, she got pregnant and I don't know how they ever managed to consummate the marriage because by the time I knew them as a couple they were, um, my aunt dressed all in black and, uh, she, as I said, she was very neurotic, she was also very, very dramatic and everything was over-stated and, they obviously could, couldn't stand [laugh] each other by this time, although they were never rude to each other, they just lived completely separate lives. And she hurt because she had worn really high heels, and she'd been a model when she was, she was, she had been really, stunningly beautiful, in the thirties, and, um, when she had modeled. And uh, but she had worn these really, really high heels because she was incredibly vain, and her arches had fallen [laugh], so she had to wear these big, thick black shoes which she hated. [Laugh] So she would be sort of roaming around the, the apartment with all of her, her drama and her, her overstatement, and my uncle, who barely ever came home if he could help it, ah, would live in this one tiny room at the very, very front of the apartment that overlooked 57th Street, and, uh, he had nailed down the windows because he didn't want to have any fresh air because he, he believed that fresh air was really bad for you. [Laughs] But he basically spent all this time in the, in the kitchen in the sub-basement of what had once been his family home. And he had a, a German mistress, um, who everybody knew about, ah, who sort of took ca, took care of him and looked after him and adored him, but my aunt couldn't be bothered with him. Anyway, out of, out of this wonderful marriage he'd produced these two daughters, one of whom was Deirdre who, as I said, just was this incredibly beautiful person. And, ah, my, my family are, are Episcopalian, hardly practicing, but nonetheless that's my, my grandmother had been a very, uh, very religious woman and she, she was, she made sure that, that all of the children were, were christened, and, um, and that certainly my sister and I were, um, confirmed [pause]. The Welches were Catholic. And, ah, for some reason, and I don't know who made this decision, Deirdre, both Pamela and Deirdre, my two cousins, were sent to, ah, Catholic school in Tarrytown and, um, they for some reason, according to my aunt, who was very hysterical about the whole thing, they always recruit some of the young women into the convent according to her [pause]. So, as I said, you know, Deirdre was extremely beautiful, very elegant, and all of these things, so she was not perceived as, as being a candidate for quote, as the family put it, "To escape from the world," but to be out there in the world with all of her, her charms and graces and, and what have you. And, ah, anyway, she, she decide, [pause] she said that she was, that she made this decision that she was going to go into the convent, and become a nun. And, of course, everybody in the family was absolutely hysterical and put out about this, but my, and my aunt, her, her, her, her response to the whole thing was that she needed to see a psychiatrist, meaning my aunt needed to see a psychiatrist to get her over the, [laugh] the pain and the loss of her daughter having made this decision. So, uh, but anyway, Deirdre was really, she, she, she was a, she really believed that that's what she wanted and that was what she should do. And, uh, as I go along, I'll, I'll talk a little bit more about, you know, my, my family's interpretation of this whole thing because that's part of what when I, when I think of Deirdre and I think of the loss of Deirdre, some of what I try to come to terms with is why, why my family interpreted her choice the way they did. But, um, because the, the general consensus was that she was too scared or somehow felt insecure and she couldn't be a part of the world they never, they never said, "Oh, she, she did this because this is what she believes." You know, it was simply that, "Oh, she doesn't know what she's doing, and she's misguided, and she's scared," that was the general consensus. Anyway, she became a nun, and, um, I would go and visit her. And, um, she was, she became, she was a teaching nun, she taught in a school, um, Marymount was the name of the, uh, of the convent and, and the school, and they had a, a school in Tarrytown but they also had a school in Manhattan. She ultimately ended up teaching art, because she was a very, very gifted artist, um, at Marymount. And when I would go over, first she was at Tarrytown, initially, and I would go over and I would visit her from time to time, and it was always just a joy to, you know, to see her. And at that time, this was, this was before Vatican II, and she was fully garbed and it was, and it was strange, because I had been very close to her, I was very little when, but she was very, very kind to me, and she was always very interested in me and would take me places, and include me and so it was strange for me to, you know, suddenly see her in, in, in, um, all in black, ah, with profuse robes, and, she had a, the, um, head dress was very, it was, it was shaped like this, it was, so you, um, really could not see very much of her face, so that was, that was a very strange thing for me, but she always seemed happy. So in that context, I never questioned it. You know, it was just wonderful to see her. And, um, and then there was a part of it too where I felt like she looked beautiful in wearing what she was wearing. I mean they were, they were in some way just, the garb is very medieval, and it's, it's, it is certainly more interesting than some of what we wear, you know, in, in that sense. But, so there, as a child, there was that kind of, uh, a sense of it was strange but it was also interesting, you know. Um, at some point she was sent to Spain. And at that time, Spain and I, and I am not very good on dates and, and, um, historical happenings, but at that time Franco was, was in, um, was in control in Spain and they were, there was, there was, the church was not, um, was definitely repressed, and there was a lot of political things happening. But that's where she was, and so there the family was obviously concerned because she was in a, in a country that was under a lot of strife and conflict and, and, she was an in a part of an institution that was definitely, not only not supported, but was actually persecuted. And, um, she at that time she contracted cancer, but nobody knew about it because they, um, th, th, the situation in Spain was, was such that there wasn't a lot of medical, um, assistance for, for nuns and other, uh, members of the clergy. So it, it went undiagnosed. By the time she came back to this country, um, [pause] she wa, she was diagnosed, and she had cancer of the uterus and she was completely, I mean she just was, she was very, very sick. So they had to operate and they ha, they took out everything. Um, and uh, but of course, you know, it would be obviously more [pause] of a tragedy if she was somebody who was planning to get married and have children. So she was, I think that she was, she was comfortable with it in the sense that she, it wasn't part of her destiny, so to speak, but it was, it was still a very traumatic thing to experience [pause]. And then, she, she was, she, she was, because she was convalescing, they, she stayed in New York, they, they didn't send her overseas again. And she, she was teaching at Marymount and I would go in and visit her. And, um, she, she was also taking classes at the Art Students' League, and I was taking classes at the Art Students' League, so we would pass in the halls, and she would show me what she was doing, and, um, and as I say, she was a very gifted artist, and she loved teaching and again, she still seemed very, you know I never got a sense with Deirdre of there may have been discontent [background noises], there may have been a sense [background noises] [pause] that maybe she had made wrong choices, but, um, she never expressed that. At some point this was, right about the time of Vatican II, because she started to wear different clothes, and it was, it was very, um, it was very discreet, I mean, she didn't suddenly just go out to Bloomingdale's and buy a whole lot of, you know, [pause] fashionable clothes, but, when I would go in to visit with my, um, with my aunt, and if she was, if she was there, she was dressed in, in, um, very, very, uh, very elegant but understated, you know, suits and things like that, but she definitely was no longer in the full garb. And, uh, my aunt at that time had, was diagnosed as having lung cancer and she was very sick. So Deirdre took, was, took a leave from the convent, she was given, um, permission, to, um, for temporary leave, and I don't know logistically how that works, but she was, she was allowed to go home and, and be with her mother, to help her, um, go through, she was going to die, I mean everybody knew that she was going to die, but to be with her through that whole period, and, um, she did have some operations. And, um, at that point Deirdre made the decision, and her mother did die, and it was, it was all very traumatic, my father was very sick, he's a manic depressive, so we were going through all of that, and he was very upset with the medical profession for how they were treating my aunt, and this and that. But anyway, Deirdre made the decision that she wasn't going to go back to the convent. And she had already taken final vows, so it was a big, it was a huge thing, for her to make that decision. But she did. I never sat down and had discussions with her about it, so I don't really know what was going on in her heart and in her, in her mind. But she made the decision that she was going to, to leave and she, and she started to, she continued to teach, she, she continued to do the things that she was always doing but she just slowly started to, to live what would be considered a normal life. And she started to date and, she had several boyfriends and, uh, [pause] she was, she had met this one, this one person, and they were going to a, some kind of social gathering, in, in Rye, New York. They went out and on the way back, ah, it was late at night, um, they were on the, on the train platform waiting to take the train back into the, into Manhattan, and this, this man, who was drunk, and his car went out of control and hit both of them, and they were both thrown against the, uh, the railroad tracks. And you know there was no train coming, but they, they hit the rails, their, and she, both of them had severe head injuries [pause]. And, um, she went to the hospital and at first they thought his condition was much worse than her condition, they felt fairly, um, [pause] and I remember we got the, the phone call came, it was late at night, and my father, who was a, was a psychiatrist, but he was a neurologist psychiatrist, so um, anything to do with, with the brain and the nervous system was, um, something that he was an expert on, and he went over and ah, [pause] the prognosis at that time was that sh, they thought that she would pull out, um, but she never did. [Pause] And she, she was in a coma for a week, and she just continued to decline whereas this, the man that she was with, he, he got better, and he was really in worse condition when, when they brought him in, and yet he, he regain, he regained, and within a couple of days he'd regained full consciousness, and he, you know, and she just, she just, um, [pause] she just never came back. And, um, I just had a, I had a feeling that she made a decision not to come back. And she died when we were there, my sister and I were there and, she just suddenly just she just let go, and she just died. And I think she died because she knew we were there, and she made a decision for some reason that she didn't want to live in this world. And, um, I've often pondered that ev, you know, that [pause] this whole thing about, that she, that she became a nun because she didn't, um, she was scared to live fully in the world. That there was something wrong with her, that she made that decision, that that was, that was the impression, that it was like the worst thing a person could, could decide to do. And I, you know I, I can't ask her because she's not here, but, you know I wonder well, "Why, why was that always the interpretation? I mean, why wasn't, why didn't we as a family try to support her more in the decision that she made, and to see that maybe, that there was, that there was, that she wasn't trying to run away from the world but that there was some greater truth that she was somehow privy to, that she was actually running towards?" And, um, you know, I, I, I wrote a long poem, actually, a twenty page poem about this, and I, you know, I, my question to, you know, to her, would be, you know, "Were you happier when you, when you actually left the convent and you came into a world that was just, you know [pause] uh, striving after money, and social status, and all of those things, I mean, was that, was that really a better choice, you know, was that really, um, [pause] you know, did you, did you feel more alive, making that choice, and actually dying, under those conditions?" [Long pause] But I can't ask her, I can only just go on asking myself, sort of rhetorically, you know, When did you feel more real? And then you know, the question for my family is, "Why couldn't you accept her decision? Why couldn't you believe in what she was striving for?"