SIDEWALKING TO BREAKING MY SILENCE
This is the beginning of the journey, to write my way home.
“The fall was impulsive. All the misguided messages and warnings tumbled over me. When I finally found the bottom of self-defeat, the shelves of my soul empty, I was 43 years old. Beyond getting married and having children, career, or stability, there were the untold stories of my gangster father and glamour girl mother. The struggle to break my silence began to erupt. The problem was, they were both dead, and no one knew their stories.
The journey began one day in 1994. I was standing on the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Barrington, in West Los Angeles. This was the crossroads of my adolescence; a few blocks from my high school, where I learned to survive silently.
I was in the phone booth, the same booth from which I used to call my father, and report where I was going after school. The fellow next to me was talking on the phone to his agent, about a script. I was dialing UCLA, Emergency Psychiatric Counseling, inquiring about treatment. Choking on my tears and the lopsided humor of our juxtapose conversations, I screamed silently. The next week I found myself inside the UCLA center, seated next to a woman with a clipboard ready to document what I said. I kept looking out the window. The Hilgard House, where I lived with my mother, was visible from where I sat. I remembered the days we would all go swimming and would later walk in the village, eat cheeseburgers and shop at Bullocks. I remembered my cats, my friends, my records and my joy.
“You have sadness and pain, how would you describe that?” the counselor asked.
“What do you mean?”
“How do you handle your sadness?” she said, leaning forward.
“By myself, I just live with it.”
“Do you feel pitiful?” she asked.
“Yes. I have nothing.
“Are you eating and sleeping properly?” she asked making a note.
“No, I ‘m not hungry and I can’t sleep. Today’s my birthday.” I said.
“You’ve made a conscious decision to change haven’t you?”
She put the notebook away, and with appeasing eyes assured me she would find a therapist suited to my problems. I walked outside into the light of day. Across the street from the building was where the Hasty House used to be. We used to have dinner there with my grandmother. I didn’t know if my grandmother was even alive. We had lost touch. I lost touch.
There were two people to call, Rudy, my ex-boyfriend and Florence, my adopted Jewish mother, whom I had known fifteen years. My choice was guided by instinct.
“Hi Florence, its Luellen.”
“Darling, how are you? Oh for heaven’s sake it’s so good to hear your voice. What are you doing?” I didn’t have an answer.
“How are you?”
“I’m fine, fine. Well, you know since the earthquake, the place is a mess and I don’t have time, I’m so busy. Oh, everyone keeps asking me if I’m all right, the girls think I should go to a therapist… did I tell you I was pinned under my oil painting for three hours before the paramedic arrived.”
“You feel all right though?” I asked.
“Well, to be honest, I’m scared– who wouldn’t be all by herself.”
“What are you doing, you haven’t told me a thing?” she said.
“Florence, I quit my job at the Terraces, and moved out of the condominium. I was supposed to take over an Art Gallery in Laguna Beach; it’s not working out well. Do you think I could stay…..?”
“Oh would I love it, come right over. I’ll be home.”
That’s how I ended up at Florence’s home in the summer of 1994. We hadn’t spent much time together since I moved back to San Diego from Los Angeles. Though 30 years separated us, she was the friend that could be mothering one minute and girlfriend the next.
“Oh darling you look wonderful,” she cooed.
“You do too Florence.”
“You think so… really?” she said glancing down at her waistline.
“Yes, you look gorgeous.”
“You’re so skinny? Have you lost more weight?”
“A little, you can fatten me up.”
We sat in the dining room, drinking coffee and I answered questions. I told her selected chapters from the last scene in my life. I left out the part about PJ’s alcoholic binges and his partner Aaron’s daily dosage of marijuana. There was the twisted, anti semantic charge between PJ and all Jewish people, and why I fell into a hole with all the alarms of dysfunctional behavior ringing at once. Florence told me how she survived the earthquake, and how her daughter Madeleine had sensed she was in trouble, and sent the paramedics. We were both afraid; we needed daily encouragement to face the unsteadiness. Florence put me upstairs in Sam’s old room, her husband who had passed away several years prior. I flopped on the fold out bed. I was as close as I’d ever come to giving up on myself.”