When I was nineteen, I took a friend’s advice and signed up for Anne Anders’ nanny agency on Madison Avenue in New York City, which paired college students with incredibly wealthy families. I interviewed with an investment banker, (I didn’t realize then that they are evil incarnate) and was hired immediately.
There was no bedroom for me, only a partisan hiding a bed. Stupidly, I said I loved dogs and would be happy to walk their two golden retriever puppies. Soon I found myself waking up extra early (a major difficulty for me) and trying to walk down to Park Avenue with two rowdy dogs who pulled me everywhere and two bags of dog poop.
The investment banker constantly complained about his ex-wife, Jane, and how nuts she was. “She wants permanent nannies, not temporary ones. Would you sign this piece of paper to say that you will be the permanent nanny?”
I felt my job was on the line if I didn’t sign my name to a lie, so I signed. (NEVER do this).
I was taking care of a sweet four year old named William. I had no idea what I was doing and I was naive. I was given pin money each day to take him wherever I liked. I took him out for pizza and a coke at Ray’s pizza. I read books while he played on the playground. When a strange woman asked if I we would come over for a play date, I didn’t hesitate to go to her apartment.
The investment banker and his tough-as-nails wife Barb, who was an executive at a popular cosmetics company, made it clear that they didn’t want me to talk about myself, and they didn’t like me reading Sigmund Freud.
“Those are dangerous books, ” The investment banker warned. One evening Barb called and asked me to make a chicken dinner.
“How do I do that?” All those years of eating my Mom’s undercooked chicken in white wine sauce as a child, which tasted sour and disgusting, and she had never taught me how to make it.
Barb was upset. “Just put it in the oven at 350 degrees!” And she slammed the phone down.
One night I was too dumb to figure out they wanted alone time to make love.
“Why don’t you go to Central Park for a few hours? Go watch Shakespeare in the park. Why don’t you take in a movie?”
I ended up walking the streets of the Upper East Side, which is pretty boring with few restaurants or bars.
They took me to their cape cod summer house in Connecticut. When I was alone, I saw some photos of William so I looked through them. To my horror, there were photos of the investment banker holding Willliam’s penis. But it was the 80’s, where child pornography was never talked about, so I said nothing, but wrote about it in my journal.
Then there was another surprise–a second nanny who didn’t speak English and was “Jane’s nanny.” She had a happy repoire with William. whereas I didn’t. Now there was another partition in the living room, another cot. To make matters worse, Jane’s nanny did not lift a finger to help in any way. I was furious. I passively aggressively reacted by trying on all of Barb’s make-up, sometimes all at once so I looked clownish. I liberally dabbed myself with Joy perfume, the most expensive perfume since it was made of a thousand rose petals. When I was left alone for a weekend, I slept in their bed (who wouldn’t prefer a real bed to a cot?) and left a gigantic circular period stain. They came home early, before I could wash them. We never said a thing about it.
I was then told that I would be flying with William to San Francisco, to live with with Crazy Jane.
Crazy Jane was not crazy about having me there, considering me her ex-husband’s spy who would be reporting back to him. She put me in a room full of junk, but I didn’t mind–I had a bed. Crazy Jane was gorgeous. There was a beautiful black and white photo of her in my room. I drew her.
Crazy Jane had a large book shelf that took up an entire wall and was full of some of my favorite books. I instantly liked her. Having books meant one was a good, intelligent person, a person of character, I stupidly reasoned. I was impressed that she had Gabriel Garcia Marques’ One Hundred Years of Solitude. I had just finished it. I began to talk to her about the book.
After a few days, Crazy Jane warmed up to me. “I see how good you are with William, ” she said. “I’m sorry I put you up in my junk room. Please move your things into the guest room.” It was lovely, and I finally had my own room.
We spent a lot of time at the club, where Crazy Jane wasn’t a member and so once we got kicked to the curb. This was before there were cell phones so we just had to wait on the grass for Crazy Jane to pick us up. I forgot to put sunscreen on William, so to Crazy Jane’s dismay, half of William’s body was burned, and he looked like a red harlequin. Again, I would never hire myself as a nanny.
At the club, a handsome blonde boy developed a crush on me, but I had a boyfriend back at Cornell, so I refused all of his obvious advances. He took me to his parents’ place while they were out and played porno movies for me. He took me out to expensive dinners. We smoked pot together. My boyfriend had written on the back of a letter, “I love you more than life itself.” Too bad he turned out to be gay, and I could have had a good time with blonde boy.
Once when Jane, who had now graduated from ‘Crazy Jane,’ was out, William and I watched “Casablanca.” William became very loving in a strange way, acting like my lover instead of a four year old. He draped a blanket over my shoulders. He stroked me and whispered how much he loved me. I thought it was weird.
Years later, when I was sitting in the kitchen of my gay boyfriend’s white mansard mansion (his parents had bought it for him and he was renovating it, covering everything I owned in plaster dust), Jane called and asked me to sit down. She was crying. “William told me his father was sexually abusing him. Do you know anything about this?” I told her about the photos, my journal, the weird “Casablanca” night.
“Would you be able to testify in court as a witness?” She gave me the dates.
“The only thing is, I’m scheduled to take my GRE’s that weekend.”
“I’ll register for you to take them at U.C. Davis.” I agreed to go. I figured it would be nothing like court on TV, nothing like ‘Law and Order.’
I had to go see the investment banker’s hired psychiatrist, known for publishing books about how women falsely accused their ex-husbands of child abuse. After listening to my story, he asked in a calm voice, “Karen, why are you doing this?”
“Because I care about William!” I said and I left.