She began to look forward to the day when she would take another man's name. It was the thoroughgoing Irishness of Tumulty that bothered her, the redolence of peat bogs and sloppy rebel songs and an uproar in the blood, of a defeat that ran so deep it reemerged as a treacherous conviviality.
She'd grown up around so many Irish people that she'd never had to think much about the fact that she was Irish. On St. Patrick's Day, when the city buzzed like a family reunion, she felt a tribal pride, and whenever she heard the plaintive whine of bagpipes, she was summoned to an ancient loyalty.
When she got to college, though, and saw that there was a world in which her father didn't hold much currency, she began to grasp the crucial role the opinions of others played in the settling of one's own prospects. "Eileen" she couldn't get rid of, but if she could join it to something altogether different, she might be able to enjoy her Irishness again, even feel safe enough to take a defensive pride in it, the way she did now only on those rare occasions when her soul was stirred to its origins, like the day just before her nineteenth birthday when President Kennedy was elected and she wept for joy.
She wanted a name that sounded like no name at all, one of those decorous placeholders that suggested an unbroken line of WASP restraint. If the name came with a pedigree to match it, she wasn't going to complain.
It was mid-December 1965. She was in a master's program in nursing administration at NYU after getting college done in three years, as she'd planned. Between classes, she met her friend Ruth, who worked nearby, under the arch in Washington Square, to head to lunch together. It was an unusually mild day for December; some young men had on only a sweater and no jacket.
"Well, it's not that he needs a date, necessarily," Ruth was saying as they walked toward the luncheonette on Broadway. "He just doesn't have one."
Eileen sighed; it was happening again. Everyone always believed they'd found her man for her, but more often than not he was a blarneying, blustering playboy who'd charmed her friends and the rest of the bar and whom she couldn't ditch fast enough.
"I'm sure one will turn up," she said. "Tell him good things come to those who wait."
The men that stirred herreliable ones, predictable oneswere boring by other girls' standards. She didn't meet enough of these men. Maybe they couldn't get past the guys who crowded around her at bars. If they couldn't at least get to her, though, they weren't for her. She'd rather be alone than end up with a man who was afraid.
"You are impossible!" Ruth said. "I am trying to look out for you here. Noyou know what? Fine. That's just fine." Ruth fastened the buttons on her coat.
She could feel Ruth burning. In front of the luncheonette, Ruth stopped her. "Here's the thing," she said. "Frank asked me to do this favor, and we just started, so I want to come through for him. I don't care what you do on New Year's. You want to miss the fun, that's fine by me. You want to be alone the rest of your life, that's fine too. I've tried. I even set you up with Tommy Delaney, and look what you did with that."
"You think you're safe with a West Point man," Eileen said, as though to herself. "You think he'll have a bit of class." She watched a cab stop at the corner and a man with a newspaper tucked under his arm pay his fare.
"Tommy's a fine man," Ruth said.
"Oh, I'm sure he's swell," Eileen said. "I have no way of knowing. He couldn't sit still long enough to say two words to me. He spent the whole time making sure every back in the place got slapped."
"Tommy has a lot of friends."
"He bought everyone a round and said I didn't know it yet, but he was my future husband. There was a big cheer. The nerve!"
Excerpted from We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. Copyright © 2014 by Matthew Thomas. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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