To read part one, click here.
To read part two, click here.
To read part three, click here.
One missed call…
An entire week had gone by with nothing, and now, as I was saying goodbye to Alice and the life we built, there she was.
I debated calling her back right then, but decided to finish moving my things first. Kramer had already set up the guest room for me. I had my own computer and was within walking distance from the university. It was almost perfect. I felt better about my decision to move out already.
I reasoned that it would be best to call her back while I was in a good mood. I dialed her number. My heart raced as I debated why she’d called and tried to figure out what to say when she picked up. She didn’t.
I hung up at the beep, just after I’d listened to her voicemail greeting. I figured I’d find out why she called whenever she got around to calling me back. She didn’t.
That was the last time I heard her voice.
The next few weeks I tried to stay as focused on school as I could. To say it was difficult would be putting it mildly. She permeated my thoughts.
Waking up was the hardest part of every day. Apparently my sleeping brain hadn’t yet adjusted to the fact that Alice was no longer a part of my life. Every morning I expected her to be there with me, and every morning I had to come to grips with losing her all over again. It was torture. But I learned if I could make it through the first few hours of the day I’d be okay.
I kept myself busy with schoolwork during the day. I knew weekends would be hard to get through, so I started my own movie review website called Screen Scrutiny. Whenever I had a moment of free time, I’d see a new movie. Then I’d spend the rest of the day writing about what it meant to me. It was the best form of therapy.
The rest of my time I filled by applying for internships in Los Angeles. I must have sent over 200 resumes and cover letters. I ended up landing an internship at Laura Ziskin Productions.
“Who?” my mom said when I told her the news.
“Laura Ziskin. She produced Spider-Man, Pretty Woman and As Good As It Gets. She’s married to Alvin Sargent. He’s one of the best screenwriters of all-time.”
I was pumped. It was enough to keep Alice off of my mind while I finished out the semester.
The last day of school was May 4th. I didn’t waste any time getting out of New Mexico. As soon as my last final was done I went back to Kramer’s, packed the few things I had inside, thanked him and Keisha for everything they’d done, then hit the road.
It was Friday afternoon when I drove into Los Angeles. The freeways were packed but I didn’t care. A change of scenery was exactly what I needed and the more people there to keep my mind occupied, the better. My cousin Robbie was living in a small studio apartment in Venice just a few blocks from the beach and had offered to let me stay there until we found a bigger place. It was crowded, to say the least, but we had beds and a shower and could cook our own food. I was grateful.
That week I started the internship at Laura Ziskin Productions. Her offices were based on the Sony Pictures lot. I was a kid in a candy store. Everywhere I looked were companies who’d produced movies I loved or buildings from a TV show I watched. Each day at lunch I’d look around the restaurant to see if there was anyone I recognized. One day it’d be Judd Apatow, the next day Justin Timberlake, then Adam Sandler.
It’s funny how the brain works. I knew intellectually that these people, places and companies existed, but actually seeing them with my own eyes really brought it to life. Writing, directing and producing films for a living was no longer just a pipe dream, but something that could be done. I was completely inspired by my surroundings.
Maybe Alice had a point about all this ”energy” stuff, I thought.
The last day of my third week at the office, Laura Ziskin returned from New York where they had just wrapped production on The Amazing Spider-Man. She appeared frail but I knew better. Seven years earlier she’d been diagnosed with cancer and had gone on to found the non-profit Stand Up 2 Cancer, which had raised over 100 million dollars for cancer research. She did all that while producing movies, two Academy Awards telecasts and raising a daughter. Despite her physical appearance, this woman was as tough as they got. She seemed busy so I decided not to introduce myself that day. I’d have ample time to talk to her in the next two months.
That night I drove back to Venice with a huge smile on my face. It had been a great week. I really felt like I had moved on, so I decided this was the weekend I’d try to get “back out there.”
Robbie and I decided to go out with some friends. We hit our usual Venice hot spots, Erwin, Danny’s and Townhouse. In an out-of-character move, I’d approached a group of girls at Townhouse, singling in on the strawberry blonde at the back.
“You’ve got pretty friends,” I whispered, “Don’t tell them, but you’re the best looking girl in this group.”
She smiled as her friends pulled her away to the next bar. “Come to James Beach,” she said. Her voice was soft and raspy. I couldn’t believe my cheesy pick-up line had worked.
I turned to Robbie.
Despite being drunk, I still found it completely nerve-racking talking to a girl I wanted to hook up with. It’d been four years since I’d been single and I had no idea if I was saying the right things or if she was even interested, but it seemed like she was giving me the right signals so I went along with it. An hour later she asked if Robbie and I wanted to go back to her friend’s studio apartment.
The only thing more distressing than wondering if a girl likes you is knowing she does.
We all decided to pile in the hot tub on the roof, except none of us could figure out how to work it, so instead it turned into a slightly-warmer-than-cold tub. My body has never reacted well to the cold and I shivered while talking and trying to figure out the best way to go about kissing her.
“Wuh, wuh, what do you duh, do?” I said.
“I teach special ed kids. Look,” she said as she grabbed her phone from the side of the tub.
A video came up on the screen of a kid with Down syndrome playing guitar. This was not the right time to kiss her. She beamed with pride as she watched the video. After a couple minutes of feigning interest, I took the phone from her and handed it to Robbie as if I wanted to show him, but really so I wouldn’t have to keep watching.
“What the fuck is this?!” he said.
“No. It’s, uhh… that’s one of the cuh, cuh, kids she tuh, teaches.”
“Oh,” he said before handing the phone back to me.
I turned off the video and handed it back to her. This was not the right time either.
We decided to go back inside. By this time everyone was beginning to sober up and I knew I didn’t have much more time to make my move.
I poured a drink for the four of us as her and her friend went into the bathroom. The shower turned on. Robbie and I looked at each other, somewhat confused, then proceeded to drink.
Five minutes later the water stopped and they walked out in sweats.
“Shower’s yours if you want it,” her friend said.
Robbie went first. I still had headway to make.
Two minutes later my hand had finally made its way from her shoulder to the small of her back. This was the right time. I positioned myself for the kiss, then the water cut off again.
“All yours,” Robbie said as he walked out.
I pulled myself away from her and jumped in the shower. If a representative from Guinness had been there that night I’d be in the record books for quickest shower ever. “You can do this,” I said to my reflection in the mirror before walking back out to the bed/living room.
I walked in and surveyed my surroundings. Robbie was on the floor and the girl and her friend were on the bed.
They were all asleep.
This is not happening.
In a last-ditched effort I climbed into bed beside her. Rather than do the normal single-guy thing and try to kiss her, I did the three-year relationship thing and cuddled her instead. Two minutes later she turned her head and looked at me. I puckered my lips. Go time.
“Do you mind sleeping on the floor with your cousin,” she said.
“Yeah. I mean no. I mean yeah, okay.” I rolled out of bed and found the least uncomfortable spot on the floor. Other than being de-pantsed in front of the three hottest girls in my school at the age of 15, it’s hard to think of a more humiliating moment in my life.
A few hours later, as the sun was rising, we cabbed it home, my embarrassment hurting far worse than the hangover.
There are times when you’re single that you really miss being in a relationship. I would have clubbed a baby seal in front of PETA’s headquarters to be in one that day.
I tried in vain to take my mind off of Alice and how much I missed having someone to come home to. I went for a run, walked to the beach, hung out at Whole Foods, but none of it worked.
It was midnight, I was alone and I couldn’t sleep. I decided to surf the web. Porn was off limits. I didn’t need anything to remind me of my failed sexual exploits the night before. I decided to see what was going on in the entertainment industry.
I typed “d-e-a” in the address bar, then clicked on “deadline.com” when it appeared below. I scrolled down to read the first article.
I read it again: “R.I.P. Laura Ziskin” (http://www.deadline.com/2011/06/r-i-p-laura-ziskin/)
She had died a few hours earlier.
Being in her office that week was surreal. Everyone who worked there had been a friend as well as a colleague and they were all dealing with her death in their own way. A memorial service was planned for the following week and much of the preparation was left to the interns. We sent out invitations and emails, fielded phone calls, delivered personal items to her house and anything else that was asked of us. I was happy to do my part.
The service was beautiful. It was a who’s who of Hollywood, all there to pay their respects to a woman who’d retained her integrity while working in a business filled with more than its share of assholes. Actors, directors and producers took the stage to talk about the Laura they’d known. Her husband Alvin’s speech was particularly inspiring.
“Some people say Laura was good at what she did because she was fearless,” he said. “But that’s not true. She was often afraid. You see, fear and her were good companions. She knew if she was afraid of something it was a great indicator she should do it.”
He was eulogizing the love of his life, but it felt like he was talking to me.
That Thanksgiving, I returned home for the first time since moving out of Alice and I’s apartment. It was the first time I’d seen them since moving out so I wasn’t surprised when my family asked about her or how I was dealing even though it had been seven months.
“It was rough for a while but I hope she’s doing well,” I’d say, or some other version of that sentence that conveyed I’d moved on and hoped she was okay. I thought I was telling the truth.
Two weeks later, back in LA, I was sitting in the studio apartment by myself. Robbie and I had lived there for six months now and our resolve was growing thin. We needed to get a bigger place or we’d go insane. But after working unpaid internships for five months, I could barely afford the $200 a month we were paying at the studio. I was fed up and unsure what to do.
On the plus side, all the worrying about my finances clouded any thoughts I had of Alice. She was still there, like the undertow of a wave, but easy enough to overlook while I was sitting on the beach trying not to get a sunburn.
It may sound crazy, but I almost missed missing her. She’d occupied the majority of my thoughts for so long that I had neglected to pay attention to the other areas in my life that were lacking. As I was contemplating the irony of that I realized I couldn’t remember what she looked like. I’ve always been able to picture people in vivid detail but she wasn’t coming to me. It was as disconcerting as it was liberating.
I decided I wanted to see her face. At the very least, it would be a good test to determine the extent to which my emotions were still affected by her. I logged in to Facebook (I know… don’t say it, I know) and typed in her name. Several Alices came up in the search dropdown list but none with her last name. I was just about to start typing it in when I recognized one of the girl’s smiles.
It was Alice.
There was a guy in the photo with her.
She had a different last name. His last name.
She was married. They were happy. I was dying.
I clicked on her profile. I clicked on his profile.
He had a cigarette in his mouth. His favorite band was Radiohead. I was dying.
She’d written on his wall: “Happy two week anniversary to the love of my life.”
Their friends were congratulating them. Our friends were congratulating them. I was dying.
I googled his name. The first webpage that popped up was a deadline.com article.
She’d moved to LA and married an actor and he was famous and they were in love and I was dying.
I crawled into a hole for the next few weeks. I wrote hate letters to her that I never sent. I wrote scripts making fun of her. I drank too much alcohol. I bottled up so much anger and resentment that I thought I was going to explode.
When I was sure I couldn’t take anymore, I pulled out a pen and wrote another letter. This time I congratulated her on her marriage and wished her happiness. I didn’t know her LA address so I found her sister’s house in El Paso on Google maps and mailed it there. I breathed.
A week later I came home to find the letter. It had been returned. Apparently I had the wrong address. It didn’t matter. I’d realized that letter was more for me than for her anyway. As I was throwing it away, my phone rang.
It was BA. I picked up. Like best friends do, we talked for a long time about nothing in particular.
Finally, he said, “You sitting down?”
My pulse sped up.
“What’s going on?” I’d heard this tone from people before. Someone had died.
“I wasn’t sure if you saw online or anything, but, uhh…”
“What is it?!” I said.
My heartbeat stopped.
In the year since we’d broken up, her brother had gotten married, her sister had gotten married, my brother had a baby, my sister had a baby, her brother was having a baby, her sister was having a baby, she had gotten married and now she was having a baby. Meanwhile, I was the only single person left in the world and I was dead.
Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression…
There are times in life where I think I’ve finally got it, whatever “it” may be. As a former drug addict, I get what it means to have to hit rock bottom before you can get better. As a former football player, I get what people talk about when they speak of being “in the zone.” As a writer, I get Thomas Mann’s declaration, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
But when it comes to love, no matter how many times I think I’ve finally got it, life always proves otherwise. I don’t get why I fall in love with the women I do and I don’t get why they fall in love with me. I don’t get why some people can move on in a day and it takes others a year. I don’t get why a look is more disarming than a confession, silence more distressing than an argument, a laugh more heartbreaking than a tear.
But maybe that’s a good thing.
Maybe it’s like Alvin said. Maybe I should be more like Laura. Maybe I should embrace my fears.
When I was a kid, I hated swimming lessons. It wasn’t the teachers or the pool that made me hate it, but my fear of drowning. But I didn’t drown. And now I can swim.
When Alice and I broke up, I hated the idea of being alone, but being single for the past two years was the absolute best thing for me to grow as a person. Instead of falling into the next relationship to camouflage my suffering, I worked on myself, and discovered that I was really afraid of loneliness. It wasn’t easy, and I was often afraid, but I was never lonely. And now I’m not alone.