grief

April 4, 1995

April 4, 1995 Diary

My Cub Scout, A
My Cub Scout, A

In retrospect, it’s ironic my youngest son “vanished” the day after Vanished aired on NBC. (I wrote the teleplay, based on the Danielle Steele novel.) It’s about “a man and woman faced with an almost unthinkable tragedy – the mysterious abduction of their son.”


Vanished 1

My fascination with kidnapped children began with a Reader’s Digest condensed book, Kidnap: The Story of the Lindbergh Case by George Waller.  Half a century later, I’ve read almost every book on the subject (and there are a lot).  IMHO, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was innocent, but we’ll never know for sure. That enduring mystery is one of the reasons the case still captivates. Kidnappers Leopold and Loeb also inspired their share of films and books but in their case, the mystery wasn’t who did it, but why.  More recently, the 2007 disappearance of Madeleine McCann is a hot case and the subject of a new Netflix documentary.

I didn't know this until today, but this version of the DVD lists me as the director and the director as the writer.
I didn’t know this until today, but this version of the DVD lists me as the director and the director as the writer.

Missing children – in fiction as well as true crime – capture public imagination because the stories speak to a primal parental fear. I suspect most parents survive at least one heart-stopping moment where their child appears to vanish and the previously unimaginable is agonizingly imminent. In a moment of clarity, you understand that one mistake – an instant of distraction – can shatter everything. Since all of us are human, all of us make mistakes. I made several. All my children terrified me with at least one disappearing act. Luckily, none of them were gone very long.

A, again.
A, again.

 

 

RIP Judith Russell

Judith at an Oscar party
Judith at an Oscar party

Some of you may remember Judith Russell, a guest at some of our outrageous 80s and Oscar parties. I’m sad to report she died earlier this week, alone, in her apartment; her body wasn’t discovered for two or three days.  When I knew her, Judith was pretty, vibrant and funny.  Two industry heavyweights – Terry Semel and Sherry Lansing – hired her to be their personal secretary – she had the perfect voice, face and sassy attitude to charm the public.

Judith with writer Art Everett and Oscar-winning cinematographer Russ Carpenter
Judith with writer Art Everett and Oscar-winning cinematographer Russ Carpenter

Judith’s life was anything but enchanted, though. In the 80s, a fall on the Warner’s lot dislodged a brain tumor that could not be 100% removed – sooner or later, it would grow back, and she’d face surgery again. Hospitalized at UCLA, she was inundated with flowers and get-well wishes from almost every A-list celebrity.  Her hair grew back and she recovered.

Judith an Once at another Oscar party
Judith an Once at another Oscar party

She couldn’t recover from alcoholism, though. Employers paid for pricey inpatient rehabs because they wanted her sober. Judith had no interest whatsoever in life without alcohol. After one Oscar party, I took her car keys because she was far too drunk to drive home. In the morning, she was gone. Turns out she traveled with a second set in her purse, “just in case” something like that happened. That’s alcoholic thinking in action.

Judith in Edwardian costume with Kirk Hulstrom
Judith in Edwardian costume with Kirk Hulstrom

She lost the high-profile jobs and lacked the high-tech skills required to land an equally impressive gig. She withdrew from her friends. My sister Joyce hung in there the longest. She and Judith went to Saturday matinees in Burbank for years until it interrupted Judith’s drinking so she declined.

Judith and Joyce - yet another Oscars night
Judith and Joyce – yet another Oscars night

For the last ten years, Judith woke up and went straight to her local bar, where she spent the day and part of evening, until she staggered home or close to it – sometimes, she passed out in the parking garage or vestibule.  Her landlady was concerned. We all were, but she no longer talked to people that knew her before.

Judith playing bridge with me, J and Gail. I grieve for the Judith I knew in the past. I think she had a lot to give, but we’ll never know. I wish she’d let someone help her but she was adamant – to Judith, life without booze looked worse than death. So, of course, it had to end like this.
Judith playing bridge with me, J and Gail. I grieve for the Judith I knew in the past. I think she had a lot to give, but we’ll never know. I wish she’d let someone help her but she was adamant – to Judith, life without booze looked worse than death. So, of course, it had to end like this.

I grieve for the Judith I knew in the past. I think she had a lot to give, but we’ll never know. I wish she’d let someone help her but she was adamant – to Judith, life without booze looked worse than death. So, of course, it had to end like this.

RIP old friend

Rest in peace, old friend. I pray you’re in a better place.

Judith with Bill Connell and Joyce
Judith with Bill Connell and Joyce

December 8,1973

December 8, 1973 

This debacle – I truly tanked the GREs – was due to my own hubris. I hadn’t spent a minute in a math class since high school. For that matter, I avoided hard core English classes too, choosing to specialize in courses like Ibsen and Tolstoy in lieu of grammatical structure. I never did like diagramming sentences.

In front of Knudsen Hall, UCLA (our name was spelled with a T not a D)
In front of Knudsen Hall, UCLA (our name was spelled with a T not a D)

So, sure, my hard-core academics were rusty, but all my life, I tested high on standardized tests. Why should today be any exception? I sailed into the GRE exam without so much as a cursory glance at a GRE preparation guide. Why bother? How much can a person forget in four years?

Striking a pose

News flash. In four years, you can forget more math than you ever knew.  Granted, I could still nail basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division but guess what? They don’t ask that kind of question. Algebra and geometry were center stage. I suspect calculus and trig played starring roles, too, but I can’t verify because I didn’t take either one in high school.

Walking across campus at UCLA

So, how badly did I choke on the GREs? Suffice to stay, none of the Ivy’s competed to recruit me.

 

November 22, 1970

November 22, 1970

Sharon A

The one-bedroom Sharon and I shared near the VA cemetery was my first apartment but I had years of practice co-existing in small spaces with others. Growing up in a Santa Clara parsonage, then sharing UCLA dorm rooms, taught me a little about compromise but apparently not enough.  Things had been testy between Sharon and me from the start, but it was still devastating when she wanted me gone.


After that, I avoided her on campus. We lost touch after graduation. Decades passed and I still felt badly about how our friendship imploded. I wondered what she did with her life. When the internet arrived, I googled her but “Sharon Richards” produced so many hits it was hopeless– until UCLA published a student directory.

Sharon B

Imagine my surprise to discover Sharon lived less than five miles away – we actually shopped at the same Ralph’s market. It took courage to call her. I’m not sure if I was scared she wouldn’t remember me or that she would. We met for lunch and I apologized for being the roommate from Hell.

She explained that regardless of what she might’ve said (I wrote it down, so I knew), she was in the throes of her own anxieties – what I read as brutal rejection wasn’t much about me at all. As it turns out, very few things actually are “all about me.” This insight was healing and, as a bonus, Sharon and I became better friends than we were before we became roommates.

Sharon C_edited-1

 

April 26, 1973

April 26, 1973

Emotionally defenseless

I don’t know what I expected when I walked into Student Counseling – I’d seen psychologists and psychiatrists before but never felt helped by any of them. Maybe because I was so  emotionally defenseless,  this woman got to me.

I knew I was falling apart and I felt terrible about it because I shouldn’t be. I’d just graduated from UCLA and – on the outside – it looked like good things were about to transpire for my writing career. Unfortunately, instead of giving me confidence, this made me feel under pressure which was compounded by my efforts to escape an extremely toxic relationship with L, a much older man who manipulated me with threats of self-harm and other histrionics. (On the plus side, I’m grateful to L for illustrating – by example – how unattractive and unpleasant drama queens can be.)

L took this photo of me - to me, I don't look like myself - there's a lot of strain in my smile.
L took this photo of me – to me, I don’t look like myself – there’s a lot of strain in my smile.

The counselor said  I was lucky to have a supportive family and I shouldn’t feel guilty about moving home. San Diego wasn’t that far from LA – I could make the drive in under three hours if I needed  to take a meeting.

Happy at home, reunited with my sisters around the family dining table. What could be finer?
Happy at home, reunited with my sisters around the family dining table. What could be finer?

I took her advice and moved home. I left L behind, leaving it up to him whether he committed suicide.  (Spoiler alert – he did not kill himself.) It was the right course and I might not have found my way if that counselor hadn’t extended her compassion. I’m not sure I ever knew her name – I know I never thanked her personally because I never saw her again – something I regret because, looking back, I feel like she saved my life

March 19, 1973

March 19, 1973

Luke was an art major
Luke was an art major

When Luke and I met in 1969, I was the depressive and he was calm and smiling. At some point during our three years together, he absorbed my darkness and I took his light. I didn’t consciously steal it – it just happened.

Luke and I in the beginning
Luke and I in the beginning

We’d broken up for the final time a year before this entry but we remained friends like many couples promise but few actually do. (Spoiler alert – it’s not easy.)  He never called me, I always called him, which under ordinary circumstances I would’ve read as cease and desist. I didn’t because I was profoundly worried about him. Slim to start with, he now looked skeletal (due to macrobiotic diet, not drugs). He’d withdrawn from everyone and everything, including painting which he once loved. I was afraid he’d die. He was only 22 years old.

Luke and I in the middle
Luke and I in the middle

I knew we could never get back together. We were travelling in diverging directions. Soon we’d move on without each other, not even as friends, but that didn’t mean I’d stop caring.  I’d always wonder about his life – did he find what he was looking for? Was he happy?  In the unlikely event our paths crossed again in this lifetime, I’d be happy to see him and eager to hear his voice. I’d always want to know what would happen next – and then, after that.  They say love never dies. In my case, neither does the power of curiosity.

Near the end. Check the body language. I'm trying to hang on. He's trying to get away.
Near the end. Check the body language. I’m trying to hang on. He’s trying to get away.

Luke isn’t the only one who arouses my intense (obsessive is such a harsh word) interest– I feel that way about anyone I cared about and I suspect I always will. Maybe that’s why the Bible story about Lot’s wife struck me as tragic. As she and her family fled Sodom, she turned to look back – in my view, because she couldn’t bear not to know what happened to the people she left behind. For that, God turned her into a pillar of salt.  I know, the sin was disobedience, not curiosity but the punishment seems a tad Draconian. I’d look back too – so there’d be at least two pillars of salt outside where Sodom and Gomorrah once stood.

Looking back one last time (outside Melnitz)
Looking back one last time (outside Melnitz)

 

March 7, 1964

March 7, 1964

Top: Natalie Nilsen, Susan Tanaka, Donna Duncan, me, Loretta Dirks, Julie Farnham, Sandra Walker (Hegwood) Bottom: Debbie Neel, Kathy Niebuhr, Janet, Roseanne Provenzano, Susan Campbell
Top: Natalie Nilsen, Susan Tanaka, Donna Duncan, me, Loretta Dirks, Julie Farnham, Sandra Walker (Hegwood) Bottom: Debbie Neel, Kathy Niebuhr, Janet, Roseanne Provenzano, Susan Campbell

I think this is the only photo taken at this party but it’s such a classic assemblage of sixties hair and fashion I couldn’t resist. Note my own perennial bad hair day, slacks color-keyed to my sweater, hemmed at that oh-so-chic high-water mark to allow a peek of ankle above thick white socks and shoes.  Compare and contrast to my sister, who overthrew my reign as favored child when she chose to be born two years and two days after me. (See photo galleries When I was an Only Child (2 years 2 days of Bliss) and Kathy vs. the Alien Baby for the gory details.) Not only is she blessed with straight, easy to manage blonde hair that looks classy and somehow “right” no matter what decade you’re in, her fashion sense is noticeably less terrible than mine. And she takes a cuter picture.

Janet and Joyce both out-cute me here.
Janet and Joyce both out-cute me here.

A bowling party wouldn’t be my first (or second, third, hundredth) choice today even though there’s a cool fifties style bowling alley (Montrose Bowl) less than a mile away that other people rent for fun parties. Our Moonlight Bowl party in ’64 was the last time I had fun bowling.

Moonlight Bowl 1964

At a subsequent bowling party – my last, given the humiliation – I scored a total of three points. I’ve repressed the rules of play but I’m guessing I threw nineteen gutter balls and for someone as competitive as me, that’s “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” time. When I’m so successfully challenged by a sport, I don’t climb back on the horse – I quit.

SPARE ME THE GRIEF

During the fifty-four years that followed this party, I lost touch with Donna Duncan and Susan Tanaka – if either of them chances upon this blog, please message me. I’d love to know what you’ve been doing for the past half a century.  Susan and I walked to school when the Lawrence Expressway was still Lawrence Station Road. Donna lived on the other side of Del Monte and we spent many a summer day playing endless games of Lie Detector or Monopoly.

Fighting a losing battle.
Fighting a losing battle.

You might’ve thought all those hours of board games would’ve taught me to be a good loser. You’d be wrong. Neither game required strength or coordination, making it highly unlikely I’d suffer nineteen consecutive losses.

 

March 2, 1980

 

Showing off the nightgown Peggy gave me.
Showing off the nightgown Peggy gave me

March 2, 1980 P

With Janet, whose birthday is two days after mine.
With Janet, whose birthday is two days after mine.
With Bennett Traub and an incognito JoAnn Hill.
With Bennett Traub and an incognito JoAnn Hill.

As the photos suggest (a very well-documented party, thanks to my sister Janet) this was a fun birthday party with two very familiar features – the phone call with my parents, in which they regale me once again with the details of my birth in a snowstorm. I’m ashamed to admit I got impatient with them although I tried not to show it – don’t they understand that I know this story by heart? How many times are we going to tell it? Of course, now that they’re gone, I’d give anything to stroll down those familiar paths of memory again.

JoAnn Hill, ArtEverett, Joyce and John Salter
JoAnn Hill, ArtEverett, Joyce and John Salter
The beautiful Peggy
The beautiful Peggy

And – true confession – I’ve been known to torture my own three children with overly-long sagas about their birth – which I’m sure they’d prefer to live without.

Sharon Grish, CD - who recently turned 3 -Joyce and JoAnn Hill
Sharon Grish, CD – who recently turned 3 – Joyce and JoAnn Hill

CD at my party

My second obligatory birthday riff – no matter what birthday it happens to be – is how achingly sad I feel to be so old. The melancholy trauma of aging hit me for the first time when I turned ten. I was inconsolable at the realization that from that day forward, my age would never again be a single digit.

Peggy Tanneyhill (Horn) and Bennett Traub
Peggy Tanneyhill (Horn) and Bennett Traub
Me with Terry McDonnell
Me with Terry McDonnell

Although I should know better by now (live for today, darn it!) I’m always lamenting the loss of something trivial, especially compared to the blessings I’ve enjoyed in this life. If you’re into the enneagram, I’m a classic type 4 personality – obsessed by what’s missing, never satisfied with what I have – until I lose it, anyway.

Me talking to Peggy
Me talking to Peggy

 

February 27, 1969

February 27, 1969

 This entry captures my skewed priorities during my senior year (aka known as my Great Depression). Getting accepted at UCLA was momentous (and kind of crucial, since I neglected to apply to any other institution of higher learning). It was truly life changing.

Reading acceptance letter from UCLA
Reading acceptance letter from UCLA

That said, my obsessive focus was on pinpointing where I stood in my relationship with X – talk about an absurd waste of time!  A mollusk could’ve deduced I was nowhere – the same place I’d been for almost two years.

Even a Mollusk would know
Even a Mollusk would know

It’s a peculiar kind of hell, pretending to be satisfied being “just friends” with somebody  you’re madly in love with. To level the “just friends” playing field, I invented a boyfriend to compete with his living girlfriend. When he tortured me by rhapsodizing about how much he loved her,  I could retaliate with my make-believe relationship with the non-existent Pericles. (I gave him a more normal name which is not to imply he was one iota more believable.)

The letter that forged my destiny
The letter that forged my destiny

To render an already pitiful situation more pathetic, I repeatedly pulled my fictional punches. Instead of touting my relationship with Pericles as a love affair for the ages, at the slightest hint X might be interested in me again, I kicked poor Pericles to the curb. My brilliant reasoning  went, “X secretly wants to come back to me but he’s afraid he’ll be rejected for Pericles! Play it smart. Tell him you dumped Pericles so you’re fully available to him.”

Saying goodbye to Santa Clara
Saying goodbye to Santa Clara

Yeah, that’ll work every time – somewhere other than the planet earth. Suffice to say, my Herculean efforts to recapture X’s heart failed miserably. When I left Santa Clara (as it turned out, for good – and in June, not September) I never expected to see or hear from X again – but at least I had UCLA in my future.  And that’s what actually mattered.

February 21, 2015

 

February 21, 2015

 Happy 89th Birthday

This is one of those days with more significance today than when I wrote it; there was so much we didn’t know, couldn’t let ourselves imagine. This breakfast/lunch would be the last time I’d see and speak to my father while he was still mobile and able-bodied. Sam and I were lucky to get there at all. I was sound asleep on a Saturday morning when Sam darted into our room and said she just received a text from Janet – we were invited to breakfast for Daddy’s 89th birthday, starting five minutes ago. We threw on our clothes and raced over – even so, we were last to arrive and CD and Alex missed it entirely.

With grand-daughters on birthday

The word I used to describe it in this diary entry is so bland – pleasant. Foxy’s is a long-standing Glendale coffee shop on Colorado Blvd. It was another sunny day in California. In a large group like ours, it’s hard to indulge in much intimate conversation but – as he always did – my father engaged everybody at the table individually about what was going on in our lives. As usual, he said next to nothing about what was going on in his. He certainly didn’t mention he was in pain.

Vance & Geneva 2-21-2015

If anything, he might’ve urged us to spend more time with my mother, who was struggling to adjust to the nursing facility where she landed. (It would be weeks before we could move her to Solheim, the Lutheran nursing home they had selected for that far-off day in the distant future when they might need one.) Right now, all my mother wanted was to return to her life at their condo. None of us knew that life was already over. None of us knew we were already counting down hours and minutes.

89th birthday with some of his girls

If I’d known, what would I have said? The question haunts me because contemplating what I would’ve said if I’d known  makes the banality of what I did say painfully obvious. We probably said “I love you” in the casual hello-goodbye way we always said it, not in the heartfelt way I wish I’d said it. Not like I’d say it if I’d known it was the last time. I would’ve told him he was the best father ever and the greatest blessing in my life. I would’ve said, please stay. I need more time to study the kindness in your face, so I can reflect a fragment of what you gave to me and anyone else who was lucky enough to drift into your orbit. I would’ve said, the world is a colder place without you. Nothing will be the same when you’re gone. I hunger for the sound of your voice. I’ll miss you every day for the rest of my life.

Celebrating his 89th birthday

Instead I said, happy birthday. Thanks for lunch, what a great idea. Let’s do it again for my birthday and Janet’s, coming up in less than two weeks. We didn’t have two weeks. In retrospect, I see his tumble during the photo shoot as foreshadowing but on that sunny day in February, it seemed like a careless mishap, nothing to worry about.  We had years of sunny days to brunch in our future. Next time, the whole family – including my mother, who’d surely soon be ambulatory – would gather. We’d get everything right next time.

Sam admires Bree's handiwork on Grandma's nails.
Sam admires Bree’s handiwork on Grandma’s nails.