Red-faced and caterwauling, Cynthia Lee Wall came into the world in September 1958. Newborn, she was part of Tamara Wall's life untouched by the sadness of the past -- the harassment of Nazi Germany, the exile, the cold years and deaths in Siberia, the lonely world of an immigrant child in Portland.
By the time Bill Wall left his wife for good, before his daughter was out of diapers, Tamara felt closer to Cindy than to anyone else in the world. So strong was her desire to protect her daughter -- and herself -- from pain that she created a separate reality for the two of them.
In this world, Bill Wall was transformed into a man who had died, not a man so jealous and bitter that he could not live with his wife. No mention of the painful years of Tamara's childhood intruded. And Tamara refused to mar the perfection of their world by admitting to herself or her friends that Cindy was developing differently from other children.
There were signs early on that something might be wrong. By the age of 2, Cindy still could not talk. She had an extraordinarily pretty face, framed by blond hair. But her head was slightly enlarged -- the result of a condition that doctors would later diagnose as hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. The water exerted enough pressure to damage some brain cells, impairing Cindy's ability to learn.
"Cindy was slow," explained Maurice Rosenblatt, a longtime friend of Tamara's who is now one of Cindy's guardians. "But Tammy lived in the illusion, insisted on the illusion" that her daughter's problems were only temporary, a quirk she would eventually outgrow.
The illusion lasted more than 10 years.
The earliest months of Cindy's life were difficult for Tamara. She was still going to law school, she had a part-time job at a downtown law firm and the bad blood between her and her husband was leading to more and more violent scenes in their Woody Park apartment.
She had to hire a young woman to take care of Cindy during the day and sometimes in the evenings. Bill Wall's sister Elaine Bluemel recalls now that this woman was barely more than a child herself, and seemed to do little to entertain the baby or do more than see to the child's basic neeeds.
But Tamara was immensely proud of the child, bringing new law school friends home to see her. One of these was Lilla Cummings, one of two other women in Tamara's class at George Washington Law School. "[Tamara] wanted me to see her daughter early on," said Lilla Cummings. "She was so proud of her." But after her first visit, Lilla Cummings called a friend to say there was something "eerie" about the child. Something, she thought, was wrong.
It took two more years for Tamaral to accept the fact that Cindy might need some help. Still, she was sure that if her daughter's problem could be identified, it could be cured. One of her oldest friends, Bill Blum, enlisted a member of the board of directors of Children's Hospital to help Tamara find a doctor to diagnose the problem and do away with it.
That doctor could not be found.
"She started seeing a lot of doctors, having the child tested," recalled Lilla Cummings. "[Cindy] was tested for hearing difficulties, speech difficulties, dyslexia, autism. Tammy went from one doctor to another. And found out nothing. Nothing."
This process went on for years, Cummings recalled. "It was evident to Tammy that Cindy was different, but when you go to the so-called experts and they can't find something, you get discouraged."
While the testing continued, Tamara enrolled her daughter in the local public school, the Janney School on Albemarle Street. Cindy started there in 1964, when she was almost 6 years old. Soon she fell behind her peers, becoming a handy target for their taunts. Rosenblatt remembers many days when she returned home in tears, saying that the work was too hard.
"She couldn't do the tasks," he said. "She complained that they were too difficult. . . .
"[But] Tammy clung to the rather simple notion that, given time, things could work themselves out," he added. Tamara planned a full future for Cindy, bought her a piano, an encyclopedia, a globe. She taught her to be careful about her clothes, she passed on to the child her own good taste in attire.
She also arranged her life around Cindy. Since the fiasco of her trip to Europe with Adam Clayton Powell, which led to her forced departure from the staff of his House Education and Labor Committee, she had found a job as a staff attorney with the National Labor Relations Board. The job was not glamorous, but she found it challenging, and it offered a steady career ladder.
More important, it offered stability, the protections of the Civil Service and the assurance that, most days, she could leave work promptly at five so she could spend the evenings with her daughter. Said Myer Feldman, an attorney who knew Tamara: "She was a representative of that part of Washington that didn't seek out political power. She wanted stability."
The work of a large law firm might have been more exciting for her, he added. But it would have been all-consuming, taking evenings and weekends away from her time with her child. This she would not do.
For Cindy's sake, too, she searched for a house with a yard, a place for the child to play, a neighborhood of streets and trees instead of the corridors of an apartment building. At one time, Tamara despaired of being able to afford this, but Lilla Cummings helped arrange easy financing terms for a home in American University Park in Northwest off Wisconsin Avenue, and Rosenblatt cosigned the mortgage note.
Since she would have no more to do with marriage and so could not give Cindy a larger family, Tamara created a family for the child out of her own friends. Rosenblatt was the central figure in this family. The son of a New York labor oganizer, he grew up fascinated with government but never part of it: a connoisseur of its foibles and a friend to the people involved in it. In his town house near Capitol Hill, he ran a political version of a European literary salon.
Rosenblatt also did some lobbying on the side. He was working for the Encyclopedia Britannica as a lobbyist when he met Tamara, then a young staffer on Powell's committee. For a time he courted her. "There was a time when we might have been married," he muses now. "But she enjoyed her status as a free person."
Even after the romance ended, he remained a friend. He gave her advice, he took her on trips, he recommended good books, he introduced her to all his friends, and be became a surrogate father to Cindy.
Rosenblatt and Tamara and Cindy went on trips to Rohoboth Beach, to Shelter Island, N.Y., in the summertime and even to Europe. They had weekends at his country home in Virginia, days at his town house on New Jersey Avenue. Cindy's childish mispronunciation of his name became a permanent nickname; to Tamara's friends, he is 'Bobo.'
There were other friends, too: restaurateur Paul Young, for instance."Paul Young got me a dog for my birthday," Cindy remembers. "A wire-haired fox terrior. Polly. It was my ninth birthday. Later she had two litters of puppies. Some were white, some brown. I wanted to keep one, but my mother said I couldn't."
Once, the child arranged a surprise birthday party for her mother, enlisting the help of a friend from the neighborhood. The two girls called all of Tamara's closest friends, Rosenblatt, Young, Stewart McClure and Lilla Cummings. Then they kept Tamara away from the kitchen while they baked a cake.
But when the party actually got underway, Cindy turned shy, and stayed in a corner, shyly admiring her creation. "She was overwhelmed with what she had wrought," said Rosenblatt.
There was enough happiness in those days to bolster Tamara in her illusion that everything would be all right for Cindy, given time. Not until the child was 12 did Tamara break down and accept the recommendation of school counselors that Cindy be evaluated.
On a cold day in February 1971, Tamara and Rosenblatt drove Cindy to Baltimore for a two-week evaluation at the Kennedy Institute, a diagnostic and treatment center affiliated with Johns Hopkins University Medical School. For two weeks, doctors tested the child for a broad spectrum of physical and mental impairments.
Even before the evaluation had ended, Tamara noticed something disconcerting. Here in the institute, which treated a range of children from the severly retarded to those with mild mental handicaps, Cindy seemed to feel comfortable, far more at ease than at the Janney School. "It surprised Tammy," Rosenblatt said. "Cindy seemed quite at home in that atmosphere."
After the two weeks of testing, the doctors gave their prognosis. Cindy's disability, while not severe, was permanent. She would require special schooling, special care. She could learn to read, she could be a loving daughter, but her future would be limited.
A few days later, Tamara sat quietly in her car with Lilla Cummings, trying to adjust to the new facts confronting her. "God, she was wiped out," Cummings recalls now. "Her focus was on the child and how she would never have what other people had. The richness of literature, the knowledge of the world . . . all this would be shut to her forever.
"But I said, 'Look at it from this side. Cindy is not going to suffer all the pains of growing up that the rest of us suffer. In childhood you still have intoxicating dreams. And innocence. So there's a saving grace. She will always see the world through the eyes of a child.'"
Tamara was ready to accept the fact that Cindy could not continue her education at the Janney School, even in special classes. She needed a school designed to help children like her.
Out in far Northeast Washington, in a gray stone building with high, sharp gables, Tamara Wall found Cindy's new school. Founded in 1926 by Don Thomas Verner Moore, a Benedictine monk who was also a psychiatrist, St. Gertrude's School is designed to teach children with mental handicaps. For Tamara, it was affordable. In addition, Cindy had the opposition of being a day student or a boarder.
Cindy started going to St. Gertrude's as a day student in 1971. But things were not easy at first. Cindy had been used to being closer to home, and she seemed to feel a separation from her mother. The nuns recall now that Cindy would get very upset if her mother was late in fetching her. "Cindy had these tantrums when Tammy was late, and Tammy would always make excuses," remembered one of Cindy's teachers.
Then, too, Tamara was not entirely at home with the religious character of the school; whatever religion she herself had had she had abandoned before she grew up.
"At the beginning, she was not comfortable around us. It took her more than a couple of years to be really happy with us," said the school's principal, Sister Luanne.
During Cindy's second year there, she suffered a near-fatal attack of Guillian-Barre syndrome, the disease that was later associated with swine flu vaccinations. While Cindy was in the hospital, Tamara had a chance to see how frequently the nuns visited her daughter. In the face of their obvious affection for the child, she lost her mistrust.
"The only lasting effect of the crisis was on Tammy," Sister Luanne recalled. "She found out the nuns were warm people who cared about her daughter."
Tamara could also see the clear improvement in Cindy's attitudes, her behavior, and her progress. She could read easily. A sociable child, she made many friends. "It was no longer a world where she would always be bested at things," said Rosenblatt. "The reward for achievement came at St. Gertrude's, where things were properly paced."
"I liked everything at St. Gertrude's. We had gym; we played outside. I had classes in biology, math, spelling, reading -- everything," said Cindy. i"We sang a lot. Sometimes my mother came and listened."
During Cindy's six years there, the school, the parents and the teachers became a sort of family for Tamara. She was treasurer of the Parent-Teacher League, she was always on hand to help out with Easter or Christmas programs or special events. "I don't remember anything she wouldn't do," said Sister Luanne.
But as the child neared her 18th birthday, Tamara was faced with a new decision. After Cindy turned 18, she could no longer stay at St. Gertrude's. The school was for children, and Cindy would be grown up.
The child had blossomed at St. Gertrude's. She always dressed well; she had learned to type; she was good with younger children sometimes put in her care for brief periods. Cindy had a social life; she had gone out on dates with a boy she met behind the counter at a pizza parlor, while her mother had chewed her fingernails and had a few drinks to combat the nervousness till Cindy got home.
Tamara didn't want to face the question of Cindy's future until she had to. Not until Cindy's final year at St. Gertrude's did Tamara begin a serious investigation of the options open to her. And not until Cindy was close to graduation did she settle on a residential school in Troy, Pa.
"[Tamara] always did hope that Cindy would find some nice man to take care of her," said Mary Ellen Benard, a friend from the NLRB. "Tamara never stopped hoping that someday Cindy would be able to run a home, have a family. No matter how liberated Tammy seemed, I believe she always thought that was a man's job, to take care of a woman. She hadn't had it for herself for most of her life. She wanted it for Cindy."