Bart’s father was the second Slepian Harvardite. Phil earned a degree in physics, but he devoted himself to the leather-bits business. Family lore has it that Phil filed for bankruptcy the day Bart was born.
So my grandparents and their three children (Bart, my mother, and my uncle Jacob) all moved into the attic of my great-grandmother’s apartment in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. There, my grandfather launched a new “business”—a service that provided the etymologies of surnames and conveyed breaking patent news—and my grandmother sold Parents magazine door-to-door. Since no one remembers anyone else taking care of toddler-age Bart, it seems my grandmother dragged him along, a sullen little sales tool.
The children had to fend for themselves. Jacob escaped into his studies and long-distance running. Bart and my mother became hooligans. They commandeered a television in a neighborhood doctor’s waiting room, and when that failed to amuse, they attended funerals at a “colored” cemetery. After the mourners left, my uncle and mother stole the floral arrangements and gave them to their mother.
My grandmother beat them with a brush. She kept the flowers.
Possibly because my grandmother had sunk into hopeless debt and possibly because she embezzled from her local Hadassah, the family left McKeesport and moved to Rochester, New York, when Bart was 10. The family’s economic situation steadily worsened, and my grandmother stole money Bart collected from the customers on his paper route and was supposed to give his distributor.
In Bart’s school records, a teacher wrote, “Bart has very little home life. . . . [I] feel he suffers from malnutrition and a lack of sleep.”
By the time Bart graduated from high school, my grandfather had given up hope of ever achieving anything himself. His stated goal in life became the right to line up his three boys (he had a son from a previous marriage) and say, "My son the doctor. My son the doctor. My son the doctor."
The other two complied, with degrees from MIT and Harvard. But Bart was not a natural student, and he was the most squeamish person I’ve ever met. The sight of blood made him queasy. So it took my uncle twelve years, studying on two continents and in three languages, to become a doctor. Because he never became workaday about sickness, he trained to be an ob-gyn. Those patients were usually healthy and often happy.
The last few years have sobered me on the subject of abortion. Bart’s murder made me think about the procedure’s moral dimensions; becoming a mother made me feel them. And getting to really know pro-lifers has forced me to admit that they’re not—as I long believed—all crazy. To be sure, some are: driven by subconscious needs to punish women for having sex, to rationalize operatic furies raging in their souls, and to justify their own aborted lives. But others are perfectly sane people who just believe that life begins at conception and all life is sacred.
After I met with Jim in his French jail, I wrote him several letters. I told him I’d read Story of a Soul. I didn’t hear back until last month. In a short note, written just after he’d officially confessed, he said he was sorry he’d lied to me.
It’s been more than four years since Jim killed Bart. I still miss him. I love him more than ever. Bart was a hero. Because he did what he thought was right, because he faced up to bullies, and because he refused to sanitize the truth for other people’s comfort or even for his own.