• Cindy

In Their Own Words - Erica Jong Breaks a Leg


Erica about the time she suffered the broken leg

Erica Jong is an an American novelist, satirist, and poet, known particularly for her 1973 novel Fear of Flying. The book became famously controversial for its attitudes towards female sexuality and figured prominently in the development of the American feminist movement.


Fear of Flying introduced the concept of the 'zipless fuck' which, according to Jong, is the ultimate form of sexual climax. Unfortunately, the 'zipless fuck' is rarer than a unicorn.


Jong was born in New York State the daughter of Jewish parents. While married four times to men, she was openly welcoming to female bed partners.


In 1984, Jong penned a book called Parachutes and Kisses. During the 70's she had lived in Germany with her first husband Bennett. He was having an affair with Jong's best friend Penny. Erica was returning the favor by screwing a man named Michael who would later become her second husband. During her stay in Germany, Erica Jong did, in fact, break her leg skiing.


Erica Jong during the 70's




The following is an excerpt from the book. The broken leg incident is told through the mouth of the book's heroine Isadora Wing:


 In the morning, light flurries of snow begin and settle on the slopes just enough to resemble two days' cover of fresh powder. Sheer ice camouflaged in fluffy snow. After a breakfast of croissants and coffee, I trudge along after Bennett toward the nursery slope T-bar.


"We'll start on the easy slopes, okay?" he says, appeasing me. And I nod, thinking, There are no easy slopes. But already, Bennett is on the T-bar, heading upward, and I follow. I remember the words of my first ski teacher, an American college dropout: "All you have to worry about is gravity." All. At the top of the T-bar, gravity strikes and I fall, ass first, on the icy ground. A brisk German girl snaps at me as if my falling were a rude gaffe, an antisocial gesture like a fart or a belch. I scramble to my feet, look for Bennett, and realize that there's a terrible cramp in my leg. The days of sitting around the Sport-Hotel Edelweiss have left me out of shape. Meanwhile Bennett is already whizzing down the slope.


I follow. My leg is cramped, I can't bend my knees, I am doing the sort of straight-legged panicked snowplow they show in ski manuals as an example of what never to do.

Bennett does two graceful parallel turns and I mimic him, looking like something out of Chaplin's Gold Rush. The poles are lethal weapons in my hands, my knees are absolutely rigid, my eyes closed in panic. Just then, I must have hit a patch of ice because I got going so fast that I suddenly understood the expression greased lightning. I fell-deliberately I think, in order to stop myself-and lay in the snow, twisted into a pretzel of arms and legs, wondering what in hell I had done to deserve so much pain.


"Are you all right?" Bennett yelled. I answered in groans. I was looking melodramatically up at the blazing blue sky and thinking of The Snows of Kilamanjaro - the part where the hero says something about how you are supposed to black out from the pain, but, alas, you never do.


"Don't move," Bennett admonished, but I was stuck in such a painful position that I had to try to move. One ski stuck in the snow, my foot wedged in the boot, the special quick release bindings not releasing and all the pressure on my own non-releasing leg.


Bennett comes over and pronounced it "just a sprain." Then tried to extricate my foot from the boot. The pain was excruciating, but the humiliation was even worse.


Help came in the form of two young men on skis who arrived at the top of the T-Bar with a cunning aluminum gondola contraption between them. One was wearing bright yellow sun goggles, and the other had a gap between his teeth. My whole being was focused on that gap. They got me out of my ski boot somehow (my leg was already swelling up) slipped a long plastic balloon over my leg, , zipped it up, and inflated it. I was lifted onto the gondola, covered in blankets (like a corpse), and my skis were strapped alongside me. My rescuers clicked into their skis and we were off down the mountain, the neon-blue sky above and the blinding snow below, and my presence evoking looks of curiosity, relief, and, fear from the skiers we passed. We zigzagged down the mountain with incredible speed and lightness, then we trudged along the slushy Hauptstrasse (where I was jostled considerably). More vulture-like looks from my fellow humans, to whom I smile and wave, trying to be brave. Cars passing. People staring down at me. Pain. That intense physical pain which cannot be remembered except as a kind of blinding whiteness. White sound.


I am taken to the office of an unforgettable shark named Dr. Med., Holger Kapp (an avaricious Austrian who'd learned the latest medieval shenanigans in Boston), and there I am X-rayed. Bennett appears, assuring me once again that it's "just a sprain." The X-rays appear, assuring us that it's an impressive break, a spiral fracture above the ankle and the tibia shattered into bits the shape of sharks' teeth. In German the diagnosis Sounds even more menacing: Schienbeindrehbruch am distalen Ende (Aufsplitterung in mehrere Bruchsttucke)! This is what happens to any woman who even thinks of leaving her husband!


Then I remember Dr. Med. Kapp, waltzing in, trying to sell us bone hardware, special crutches, and a week (at least) of chicken soup at steak prices Anything might happen on the way home, he warned. Severe skids on icy roads, fogged-in autobahns, drunk drivers. But Bennett insisted on getting me back to the good old army hospital, where the doctors did not have funny accents and believed in "conservative treatment" of fractures. And so we hit the road that very night.


Deserted, rainy autobahns all the way back to Heidelberg. The grimmest Christmas Eve I've ever spent in my life-and, believe me, I've spent some grim ones. Ricey and Chuck drove our VW bug and Bennett and I took the Squareback so that I could stretch out on an inflatable mattress in the back. I was by then delirious with pain, and alternated between weepy remorse for having ruined Bennett's vacation and deep embarrassment for having to pee into wadded-tip Kleenexes and then toss them out the window.


The next thing I knew I was in the army hospital, flying high on Demerol. Nothing much seemed to bother me then. I skied in and out of sleep, weaving, looping, sailing over icy slopes, rocks, and boulders. Each time I awakened from my Demerol dreams, there was some new diversion. Chaplain Glascock, for example, came bearing mimeographed copies of the latest Character Guidance Briefing, blessed me, and then hastily departed as if afraid of opening some theological dispute he couldn't resolve. Pete Hatch, the well-named head of ob-gyn hung around telling gynecologist jokes which all dealt with vaginal odor. Phyllis Stein, the president of the Jewish Officers' Wives Club (or JOWC) wished me the obligatory mazel and assured me that she had the clout to get me kosher meals if I desired them. Even the hospital CO appeared to tell the stories of his two broken legs (Davos and Kitzbuhel) and to admonish me to get right back on skis the following year. Only my husband made himself scarce. Guilt and anger kept him away, but as long as I was on Demerol, it didn't much matter.


A week later, though, trapped at home, a prisoner of my cast and Bennett's wrath, the full horror of my disability struck. I couldn't drive with the cast on or walk up stairs or bathe. Bennett refused to let me sleep with him at night because he said the cast "disturbed" him, He refused to come home for lunch because he claimed I was so hysterical and weepy that I depressed him. I was in constant pain and without the drugs I'd had in the hospital I was a wreck. Dreams of mutilation replaced the dreams of flying. I hopped glumly from one room to the next, trying to clean up the house, trying to work, trying to block out my constant, nagging feeling of betrayal. I'd drink coffee. Read junk mail. The entire army appeared afflicted with the doggerel-writing bug, and in the morning mail there was always something diverting. The Medical Wives Club Newsletter (MCWN) reminded me: "As you go through life/Never forget/Strangers are friends/You've just never met!"


But where were those friends? And where was my husband. Missing in action. Off with another officer's wife? And I was home with bound feet like a good Chinese wife.

Somehow, just when the day seemed unbearable, Michael Coleman would arrived. He arrived with hand rolled joints or little bottles of champagne, with handfuls of flowers, with books, with strawberries, with brandy. My neighbors probably thought we were having a torrid affair when they saw his car parked outside my house for hours and hours. But we were talking. And laughing. Telling each other stories. Remembering New York together. Telling Polish jokes. Drinking. Getting stoned. Making fun of Germany and the Army. And giving each other marital therapy.


On the days when Michael couldn't come, he would call. I'd hop madly to the phone on my good leg and plop down on the couch, rest my cast on the ugly army coffee table, and we'd settle down for two hours of mutual therapy at government expense.


He'd call ostensibly to ask me how I was doing and to let me cry on his shoulder about my problems with Bennett. But it wasn't long before he would start talking about his problems, telling me his reaction to DeeDee's much vaunted affair with a local hippie, what he blamed it on, how he rationalized it, and so on. Then he'd reminisce about his youth, treat me to long Jean Sheperdesque monologues about his violin teacher Mrs. Traumstein; his third grade teacher Mrs. Gletscer; his sexual explorations in the bathrooms of PS 103; his fraternity days at Cornell; how he once put barbecue sauce on his penis and asked this girl to lick it off; how Harriet Finklestein had the biggest clitoris he'd ever felt; how Mr. Weinberger (of Weinberger Window and Shade) once caught him in bed with Sally Weinberger; what different girls said (moaned, yelled) when they came; how he had this recurrent dream that he was involved in an orgy with the characters in Archie comics; how one day he would forgive DeeDee for her affair and then the next day start imagining it in vivid detail and haul off and slug her. Et cetera.


I was more grateful to Michael than I've ever been to anyone. He called out of his need; I listened out of my own, and, while perhaps this wasn't the best possible basis for a friendship, a real friendship grew. Even after my leg had mended, Michael remained my best friend and confidant. In seven months the bone had healed, leaving a slight thickening in an otherwise slender shin-and Michael and I were still just talking.


***


Six years later. Isadora and Michael meet again. They talk of the broken leg again.


"Do you remember my broken leg?" I ask.


"How could I forget it? You were so fucking sexy in that cast. One time, I remember, you wore a black net stocking over it and a red velvet rose at your knee. You were always hot for me, weren't you?"


"You know you're irresistible," I said, not altogether mockingly. I was thinking of all the men I knew with whom I had tender, bantering, good natured friendships. Why was I married to the one man in the world I couldn't talk to?


"You know the worst thing about Bennett's affair with Penny?"


"I don't know if I want to hear."


There was a pause, during which we both listened to the livers sizzling.


"Well, do you?"


"No ... Yes, I do. I want to hear everything." I wanted to open my wounds again, rub salt in them, and shriek my pain until I got it all out of my system.


Her car was parked outside your apartment practically the whole time you were in the hospital."


His words had the desired effect. I was crying again, long,


choking sobs that seemed born out of my gut, my womb, my cunt. Michael put his arms around me and rocked me for a long time.


"Leave the bastard," he said, "and then come back to me. Okay?"


That night, at home, I asked Bennett how he could have raged at me for breaking my leg when he was fucking Penny the whole time I was in the hospital. He looked impassive. At first he didn't seem to know what I meant. He was brushing his teeth methodically. I was sitting on the toilet seat cover staring at him hatefully. Finally, he took the toothbrush out of his month.


"You were always getting into accidents to deprive me.." he said as if he hadn't the slightest idea what he was implying psychologically.


"To deprive you! You! We were skiing on ice, if you remember. And it was your idea!"



Erica with writers James Baldwin and Allen Ginsberg

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