By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“And then one night, I was waiting to close up the flower shop. I was looking through a magazine, and there was a full-page ad for Martini & Rossi vermouth, and I thought, ’I‘m gettin’ some.‘” She decapitates another cigarette. “I bought a half a bottle, and the next night I bought a full bottle. Finally, the manager gave me a leave of absence to sober up, and that didn’t work, and that was that.”
P.O.V.: The Husband
“I had no idea where she was until I heard from her social worker,” says Nancy‘s former husband, Michael Safonov, a professor of electrical engineering at USC. His office is on the third floor of the Hughes Aircraft Building of Electrical Engineering, a stark warren whose walls are affixed with Dilbert and Gary Larson cartoons. Michael is a tall, soft-spoken man who emits patience; when discussing Nancy, whom he visited on Mother’s Day, his chest caves.
“It was the first time I‘d seen her in many years,” he says. “It was really a shock to see, not only the injuries, but also other things that have transpired in between. She looks as bad as I could imagine.”
He laughs lightly, almost apologetically. “She was a living on the edge all the time. I realize that . . . I understand that I can’t help her, you know. She can be helped, but she won‘t. She defies help.”
Asked when he first met Nancy, Michael is silent for a very long time. When he does speak, it’s as though a wound he‘s been stanching for many years has hemorrhaged.
“I was just 17 years old when I met Nancy, and she was, too. I thought she was wonderful. She was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. You wouldn’t believe from [seeing] the person she is now how beautiful she was then . . . She had led an incredibly privileged life. I was raised in Pacific Palisades, so I knew a lot of people who were well-off, but Nancy had that sort of New York, Eastern panache about her. I wasn‘t interested in the fact that she was wealthy at all, but I was very impressed with the way she carried herself, she was quite elegant. And so, it became my obsession to make her my girlfriend.”
He clears his throat, and continues in a tone both sad and astonished. “All the time she was at B.U., projecting an air of confidence, it turned out that she wasn’t doing anything in school. She was turning in no homework assignments, skipping classes. We were staying up all night, you know, just to be together, and then I would work all day on my homework and she‘d go home and sleep.”
He laughs lightly again. “She flunked out at the end of the first year, which was a total surprise to me, because I had no idea, you know? Within a year after that, we married, over the objections of her father, who was always trying to prevent it. I think he probably felt, you know, that I wasn’t aristocratic enough for his daughter. To him, it was very important that somebody should come from a family with money. He didn‘t see that in a kid on a scholarship at MIT, which was what I was, so he fought it all the way.
”In Boston, Nancy worked as an office assistant at various places, and eventually she got a job as a secretary at MIT, in the biology department, working with a Nobel laureate and a Nobel laureate-to-be -- Salvador Luria and David Baltimore, who is now the president of Caltech -- so she had some interesting company in those days. But it was the time of the Vietnam War, and they were very radical over there, especially in the biology department. Over in the electrical-engineering side of the university, where I worked, people didn’t worry so much about those kinds of things -- they were more concerned with research and mathematics and things like that -- so it began to build a little bit of tension between us. I didn‘t feel that way about the war. I felt sort of neutral. And when it came time and I got a very low draft number, I didn’t run away to Canada, I didn‘t declare myself a conscientious objector, I signed up to join the Navy as an officer, so that was kind of a blow to Nancy. She stuck by me; she traveled around the Mediterranean while I was on an aircraft carrier there. Then our son, Alex, was born, and she traveled around Europe to be with me, but she had a seething anger about the Navy. It became a crutch, a focal point, a ’You‘re away from me and I hate you for that,’ and she began drinking to help ease the pain when we were separated. a
“She made up her mind, she just wasn‘t going to travel around anymore. She was going to stay in Jacksonville, where I’d been stationed. And apparently she began drinking because she got courage, it made it easy for her to go out and meet people.”