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

 

August 7, 1977

August 7, 1977

Cindy and Jeffrey
Cindy and Jeffrey

 This is one of those days where hope and birth comingle with despair and death – although, fortunately, it didn’t end in literal death.  I didn’t know N personally – apparently, around the office she was regarded as a drama queen, not to be taken seriously. Forty-one years later, after the high-profile suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain as well as the suicides of two people I knew very casually – I don’t think it’s safe to ignore anyone’s threat of suicide, histrionic drama queen or not.

People - Talent & Tragedy

Although this isn’t the meaning the attorney quoted above intended, every suicide leaves a mess to clean up in the lives of those left behind. No one in my immediate orbit has taken their own life (yet) but several of my dearest friends have gone through this – if “getting through” it is even possible. To me, it seems like those left behind feel the pain of that loss every day of their lives.

Sanity & Grace

I’ve read a lot about suicide but I don’t understand it. Sanity and Grace, a memoir by singer Judy Collins about the suicide of her only son Clark, was memorable for its insights into the legacy a suicide leaves to the living. My heart goes out to anyone who’s lived through this and I applaud those brave enough to talk about it.  A great resource for all information pertaining to suicide and suicide prevention can be found at The Suicide Resource Center and can be reached at this link – https://www.sprc.org/.

May 2, 2007

May 2, 2007

 

If I must be the villain of my life, might as well do it as a Blue Meanie.
If I must be the villain of my life, I might as well do it as a Blue Meanie.

 

By the time I wrote this entry in 2007, I knew I wanted to do something with my voluminous diary entries although I wasn’t sure what. I was well into the process of transcribing my handwritten entries into a computer journal program (currently, I use one simply called The Journal). I started with the first entries in 63 and progressed forward.   Since all my blogs would be in the 60s and 70s if I stuck with that program, I eventually allowed myself to skip around a little bit. I’m still not even a third of the way through all my longhand volumes and if I don’t transcribe them, nobody will due to my horrific handwriting and weird shorthand abbreviations (which perplex me sometimes) – not to mention a few days written entirely in a weird code that looks like cuneiform.

 

Cuneiform writing system

BLUE MEANIE 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At my most ambitious, I transcribed 15 entries a day which may not sound like much but revisiting my own past is not always a walk in the park.  Sometimes, it’s emotionally grueling as well as confusing because there’s so much I’ve forgotten and/or repressed.  These diary entries force me to reconfigure my life story – the one I tell myself as well as others. If my diary and my memory disagree about what happened, it’s a safe bet the diary is correct.  Many times, I’m forced to face the fact I’m not as wonderful as I like to believe.  I made mistakes, I treated some people poorly.  Sometimes, I start missing people I lost touch with long ago through no one’s fault – it just happened.

 

BLUE MEANIE 3

 

Spending so much time re-examining the past leaves me with a visceral longing to revisit and recapture those times – particularly those when my children were young and my parents were still alive – but since time moves forward, never back, that desire is doomed.  The closest I can come is probably by transcribing them. And so, I forge on….

 

Some, but not all, of my diaries
Some, but not all, of my diaries

 

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

 

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