Continued from Transitioning:
Hoping to ground his rebellious daughter in a useful occupation, Herman set her up with her own desk at the office. Here, he was convinced, she could put her literary skills to work proofing and typing letters, and she could file documents and make ledger entries. Yry, however, stared into the dark tunnel of a future, locked in the tarry minutia of clerical work. Even if she pushed her way up in the firm, business was cold work, lacking humanity. While her father lost hours reading professional journals and trade magazines, she couldn’t get past the drab covers, much less study the numbers and strategies. It was reassuring to always have some sort of employment to fall back on, but her hatred for the business grew along with feelings of suffocation in the city.
“You’re trying to turn me into the son you never had!” she screeched one particularly trying afternoon in the hot, stuffy office.
Her father was hurt and angered by her immaturity. Perhaps his wife’s genes imprinted her with an itchy foot and dissatisfaction. Or maybe Herman’s colorful tales of frequent and exotic travels created the boiling magma that compelled her mind to drift outdoors, to mountains, trees, birds, flowers, and places she’d heard of and read about but never seen. The state of Montana took on epic visions in her imagination: Montana, the state with the fewest people per square mile. She craved the state’s stupendous open sky, the wild mountains, and vast emptiness. And horses. Those mystical beings whose dark, bottomless eyes could look right into a young woman’s heart.
Norah convinced Herman to fund more riding lessons at a stable in Central Park. She thought perhaps more time with horses would pull Yry out from under the blanket of depression. Yry rode the bridle paths of Central Park and dreamed that she was high in the mountains of the Rockies where the air was pure and the sun always bright. From the back of a horse she felt safe—protected from French soldiers, depraved “gentlemen,” drunken idiots, and the mundane existence of city life.
At the stables, Heinrich, the riding instructor looked forward to Yry’s visits. He fussed over her and helped her saddle and mount her horse. Heinrich was in his 40’s—tall, lean, with dark, wavy hair peppered with grey at the edges. His blue eyes danced when he spoke to Yry with his thick Austrian accent. Soon she was anticipating Heinrich as much as she was looking forward to her rides. The story of his life dribbled out a bit at a time. His parents had been quite poor and so, at an early age, he had enlisted in the Army, full of enthusiasm and patriotism. He alluded to the trenches of WWI without really talking about them. She sensed a familiar depth of misery. He didn’t need to spell it out, she understood his pain; they were kindred spirits. After four years of mud, hunger, blood, gore, and loss, his ideals about life, love, religion, and patriotism and been sucked out and replaced by callous pragmatism.
Yry, with her heart still smarting from that long-ago, first love of Philip and the huge disappointment of being unable to establish her place in the world, was drawn into Heinrich’s mystique. He was interested in all she had to offer. I’m sure her stunning figure and dramatic looks didn’t go unnoticed. The more attention he paid her, the more appealing he seemed. He swept her off her boot heels with his worldly experience and hardened view of politics. An aura of elusiveness and danger lured my mother like the scent of warm horseflesh lures young girls. After several months of skillful courting, he invited her to dinner at his apartment on 77th street.