* Minutes before Reagan was sworn in as the 40th President in 1981, Davis overheard someone telling her father "the hostages have just lifted off." Davis expected Reagan to announce the news immediately, but he didn't do so until the luncheon after the swearing-in. "He wasn't yet President when he got the news. He wasn't supposed to have had anything to do with it. In my view, what was whispered to him was an indication that he'd been involved before he was in office."
Davis says she hasn't spoken to her father in a year or to her mother in two, but she says she knows the book will upset them. (The family has pursued the curious practice of going for years without speaking to each other, only to communicate in books and the press.)
Still, she justifies the book as the fruit of her own evolution over the last few years, which she says has resulted in her own understanding and forgiveness. She says those qualities--not anger at her parents--prompted her to divulge her mother's dependence on prescription drugs.
"I agonized over revealing this," Davis says. "What I kept coming back to was that my mother has gotten an indictment of hypocrisy in her choice of the anti-drug issue. 'What does she know about it?' and 'It's a PR stunt.'
"I never saw it as hypocritical. I saw it as both an act of denial and a cry for help, and I saw her withdrawal from Phoenix House as a panic reaction of getting too close to her own reality," she says, referring to her mother's about-face on helping the drug rehabilitation center plan a new facility.
Davis says she was about 9 when she became aware of her mother's drug use. When the two would emerge from their frequent battles, Davis says, Nancy Reagan would pop a pill--as many as four or five a day. Depending on which tranquilizer was in vogue, Reagan variously consumed Miltown, Quaaludes, Dalmane, Librium and Valium, Davis says. When Nancy Reagan turned in for the evening, she placed a glass of water and Seconal by her bed, Davis says. Since Davis was blamed for her mother's stress, Davis says she took to counting her mother's pills to gauge the impact of her own behavior.
Davis writes that Nancy Reagan's dependence on drugs erupted on her stepfather's deathbed:
"Suddenly my mother let go of my grandfather's hand and touched the doctor's arm. " 'Listen,' she said, 'I forgot my pills at home and I haven't been getting any sleep. I'll be OK for another night, I guess, but then I'll really need something.' "
Davis speculates that Dalmane was responsible for her mother's spill before the TV cameras at the 1980 Republican Convention in Detroit.
Davis finds the seeds for her family's woes in her parents' own troubled childhoods. Reagan's father was an alcoholic, forging his tendency to blot out what displeased him.
In Nancy's recollection of her youth, her father abandoned her mother. And her stepfather, a Chicago neurosurgeon named Loyal Davis, forced Nancy to earn his love before he would adopt her 10 years into his marriage to her mother. Nancy courted his love by watching him perform surgery. Those events contributed to Nancy's insecurity and excessive need for control, Davis says.
Although Davis insists her book--the fifth autobiography of a Reagan family member, is not intended to answer charges made by other Reagans in other books, it nonetheless does so. (Brother Ron is the only book-free Reagan.)
Davis also acknowledges her own lie about why she failed to attend her grandmother's funeral in 1987, a year after the publication of her \o7 roman a clef\f7 "Home Front."
Her family's reaction to "Home Front" was so negative that she and her siblings have not spoken since. Rather than face them at her grandmother's funeral, she left a message with her mother's secretary that she would be out of the country on a work-related trip. Her mother responded through her press secretary, who released a statement that Patti's absence formed "another crack in an already broken heart."
Davis writes: "I probably should have called my mother personally. I probably should have sent flowers, or a card. I probably should have gone to the funeral. But fear is powerful, and at that point, my fear was not only of my mother, but of the entire family."
Against such a history, it may seem curious that Davis chose to adopt her mother's maiden name. "Symbolically to me, it meant something having my own name," says Davis, who divorced yoga instructor Paul Grilley in 1990. "It was that kind of complicated thing of, 'I'm going to distance myself, but I want some approval here.' "
Even though Davis and her father clashed often on politics, she applauds his political commitment. And for all her battles with her mother, Davis says Nancy came through in times of personal crisis: "All of her defenses were dropped. All of my defenses were dropped and there was nothing but love there.
"There's no way that my mother looked at me when I was born and said, 'I'm so glad because I always wanted to have a child I could hit.' They set out to love you, but if they didn't learn unconditional love in their childhoods, then they can't give that to you."
So when Davis is asked whether she misses her family, the question somehow does not compute. She pauses before she answers: "The sad thing about this family is that there's no foundation there for a relationship. And the times that we've kind of come together, usually at election times or something like that, I had this image that we were sort of trying to build a house on sand with no foundation. It worked for about a minute and then the wind would come and blow it down.
"So I don't really know what it would be like to have a family in the way that I see my friends have families. I think it would be nice, but I can't use the word \o7 miss\f7 , because I don't feel it's ever something I really had."