I USED TO LOVE SKATING alongside the Hudson River. Though the highway was crowded, and the bumpy concrete made for precarious maneuvering, I'd sneak out of our West Village apartment when I was supposed to be doing homework. Dressed to the nines even then in jeans, T-Shirt and fringed vest, I'd lace up my expensive new skates for my run--depositing my ballet shoes in our mailbox for safekeeping.  

I'd soar down to Perry Street, knowing that I only had an hour before winter darkness set in--and with it, the strange waterfront goings-on Mom warned me about. And I'd hold up my arms in a Christ-like motion, expecting the congested traffic to stop for me so I could cross the highway.

Almost always, it did.

I'd have my run--up one block, then turn and back again. Sometimes drivers would smile, sometimes frown. A few clapped while several gave me the finger, but I didn't care. I was on my own, marking my own route, curly hair flying, my body safe and sure.

Flying high!

One rainy afternoon, I ran smack into a homeless man who'd taken an unexpected turn with his cart. I doubled over and hit the ground, lucky that it was dirt and not concrete. But I clipped my nose on the cart, and blood came streaming forth.

In that instant I transformed from flying girl to whimpering baby. There was only one place I wanted to be, and that was home.

My mother was chopping celery in the kitchen. "What happened?" she shouted, making defensive motions with the large knife in her hand.

"I f-fell," I said, stumbling over the very words.

Mom did all the right things--cleaning away the blood on my face, feeling around for broken bones, deciding there were none--but we ran over to St. Vincent's Emergency just in case.

A young intern said I needed stitches.

I began to weep.

Mom said, "Lizzie stop being such a coward." She went on to cite every feminist icon from the goddess Isis to Gloria Steinem as the brave New Women of the future.

"You are one of them. My daughter will change the world," she boasted to the confused intern.

"She's really hurting," he admonished.

So Mom leaned closer to me and said, "Lizzie, please don't cry. It'll ruin my makeup."

Somehow, I sucked it up...

That night when Dad came home from his important producer's job at Sam Shapiro's film company, I was in bed reading Jane Austen. Mom's accusations were muted, but I knew she was asking him why he was so late. He grumbled his usual excuses, then heard today's news flash and rushed into my bedroom.

He put his arms around me in a great hug, "How's my princess?"

"Oh, Daddy, I'm ugly!" I cried, pointing to the large bandage around my nose before breaking into a loud wail.

"You'll never be ugly to me," he said softly. "Those tears falling on your cheeks--they're like diamonds. I'm going to catch them and put them right next to my heart, so they can sparkle every time it beats."

I felt better right away. "Mom says I shouldn't cry. She says I should be brave."

"Lizzie, if you feel like crying, just do it."

"But I don't want to be some stupid silly girl," I mumbled and cried some more. "I want to be a heroine... like in Jane Austen's books."

He kissed my moist cheeks. "Then be like Jane."

I stared at him through my tears. "Huh?"

"Be funny--and everyone will love you!"


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