K.O.S Her Demons

updated 04/10/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/10/1995 01:00AM

AFTER ANOTHER MORNING OF playing unflappable foil to syndicated radio shock jock Howard Stern, Robin Quivers collapses on the living-room sofa in her Manhattan apartment. A LeRoy Nieman portrait of Stern hangs on one wall; framed photos of nieces, nephews and friends are scattered on tabletops. Nowhere though is there a snapshot of her parents. "No, I don't have pictures of them around," says Quivers, 42. "I never did."

No wonder. As Robin confesses in her disturbing new memoir, Quivers (HarperCollins), hers was a childhood devoid of Kodak moments. Quivers remembers her early years as a battlefront, her parents as the enemy. With some bitterness, she recounts her hard-fought recovery from the psychic wounds of her mother's physical and verbal lashings and her father's sexual abuse. Some of the book's revelations have stunned her closest friends, including shockmeister Stern himself. Quivers recalls that after he read an early manuscript, Stern phoned her at home to tease her. "He said, 'Robin, I have a list of 20 things I think you made up." The recollection elicits Quivers's familiar guffaw.

"After the success of Howard's book, publishers approached me wanting something light and frivolous," she says. "I thought, sure, I can do that, but there are so many angry people talking about being abused as children. I wanted to show that you don't have to carry the burden forever."

For Quivers, the burden of shame began in a cramped row house in Baltimore. Her father, Charles, was a steel-worker, her mother, Louise, a housewife. Robin and her older brother, Charles Jr., from whom she has long been estranged, grew up terrified witnesses to their parents vicious battles. Jimmy Carter, a foster child who lived with the family from 1967 to 1970 remembers, "We would hear them argue and try to make a joke of it. Robin taught me you always have to look for silver linings." Quivers and her brother were frequent victims of their mother's unpredictable mood swings. "When I was 4," she recalls, "my mother beat me so badly [for wandering away from the house], I had to stay in bed for days." At 11, she was fending off her father's sexual advances. "It became a Thursday thing because that was his day off and it was my mom's shopping day," says Quivers, who can't forget the sound of her father climbing the stairs, walking down the hall and turning the knob on her bedroom door. Once, she writes, "he was mauling me, pawing at my breasts with his big, ham hands and forcing his fat tongue down my throat. When I resisted, he laughed."

After months of terror, the sixth-grader retaliated by sinking her teeth deep into her father's bare shoulder until he released her. "He never touched me again," says Quivers, who kept the secret from her mother for 20 years. (Her mother's reaction, reports Quivers: "Why don't you sweep it under the rug?") "When the person you love most does something horrible to you, you lose your ability to trust," she says. "You don't look forward to your first pair of high heels, your first date. You feel totally unsafe. You just wait until you can get away."

Eventually, Quivers escaped to the University of Maryland, where she graduated in 1974 with a degree in nursing. Fed up with the long hours and poor pay and despondent over a failed romance, she enlisted in the Air Force and served 2 ½ years. In 1979 she enrolled in the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. A year later she landed her first radio job as a morning anchor at W100 in Carlisle, Pa. In 1981, she joined WWDC as a newsreader on Stern's morning show in Washington.

Along the way she had her share of affairs. "My father taught me that lovers and best friends don't come in the same package," says Quivers, who isn't involved with anyone at the moment. "I would look for sex with male bimbos, not relationships. I didn't think I needed them." She also looked for solace in psychotherapy in 1987. It has helped her finally to forgive. After a 10-year estrangement, Quivers now calls her parents regularly and visits them in Baltimore twice a year. She says her father, who suffers from severe senility, remembers nothing of the past. Her mother, who refuses to comment publicly about the book, has accepted her daughter's need to write it. "I'm proud of her," says Quivers, "for being able to deal with the truth."

She credits Stern with helping quiet the rage that simmered for years beneath her sunny on-air disposition. "She used to just freak out and yell," says coworker "Stuttering John" Melendez. "It could be over the coffee not being made." Says Quivers: "No matter how bad I got, Howard never gave up hope that I could pull it together."

Now that she has overcome her troubled past, Quivers says she's ready for romance. But is she ready for Stern's public razzing? "Oh, absolutely," she says. "I've heard little things creeping in already. The other day someone called in and he said, 'Well, did you sleep with your father?' "

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