11 feb 1999  

175,320 (part three)

And party we did. We threw 'em and we went to 'em. We were in our late twenties by now, sliding around Hollywood, and, like chowing down crab off a plastic platter, we took great fistfuls of glamour and devoured them just like anybody would who'd had a dream and seen it fulfilled.

Okay, maybe we didn't. But we could've if we'd wanted to.

Viv worked at one studio and I worked at another. We lived together in a small wisteria-covered cottage in Glendale and had cats. Our social life consisted of neighbors and friends who would come and go through the cottage and through the neighborhood, half of them with a Hollywood dream of their own, the other half with a dream of, well, take your pick - one guy wanted to become a palm tree, another painted houses, there was the pair of lesbian cops, the frighteningly quiet man, the coked-up Sparkletts delivery guy - we lived in the middle of a parade.

When the parade didn't come to us, we went to the parade, and that was generally Venice beach. There, I could get my supply of interesting people, change of scenery, and, of course, really good drugs.

To go with my whiskey.

It may be the standard Hollywood writer druggin' and boozin' dreamboy cliché, but it was my cliché, and I had to live it out. 'Course, by this time the writing was suffering, my body was suffering, and yeppers, my relationship was suffering too.

Yes, of course I saw the pattern. I grew up with the pattern. I knew the dull ache that comes from seeing a grown-up slide a nice big lump of denial onto the toothpick next to the olive. Fearing the ugly fate, I did what every good alcoholic does - I promised myself I'd tone it down. Ease up a little. Be more responsible.

It was right about here that Viv and I got married. Boom. Fast. Let's do it. In just a few days we were at the courthouse in downtown L.A., in line with a whole buncha folks I'd love to see again just to get the stats on what the hell happened to them.

There are various schools of thought on the idea of small quick civil weddings, and I've heard lectures from each of these schools. But, as with everyone's ceremony, the experience was unique to us, and without the usual stresses of a huge lace-dripping extravaganza, all of our focus was on each other. This may sound selfish, and guess what - it was. It was about just the two of us, and, twelve years later, that still gives me a powerful warm satisfaction even though it may not have given me a photo album. There is, however, a picture of us, all smiley, taken that morning by a lesbian cop. Bet you don't have one of those.

Though we'd already been living together for five years, marriage really did offer a new feeling of solidarity. My wife's generosity can be overwhelming, and her unconditional acceptance of me served as an incubator for whatever self-respect I had left. It was this acceptance that prompted me to take some drastic action. Well, that and falling off the back porch into the ivy.

I called the Betty Ford Center.

CUT TO: Montage of a frightened 31-year-old man entering a bizarre desert community. Dissolve through various scenes depicting all sorts of people in different stages of life, some close to death. Include confessions, laughter, camaraderie, tears, anguish, elation, surprise, spiritual stuff, lectures, Betty and Jerry, large female Secret Service agents, conflict, insight, and way too much baked chicken. Final dissolve is to the 31-year-old man returning a month later to the arms of his stunningly beautiful wife. She drives him home to a cottage, its wisteria in full bloom.

Everything changes.

We were lucky we got a chance to get off the big torpedo ride. The gratitude still runs rampant sometimes.

Two-and-a-half years later, our daughter was born.

Everything changes.

Call it Optimistic Mortality, nothing makes Life's Rich Pageant so tangible as being a parent. For me, with the birth of Amy came an irrevocable connection to a thread that runs back through a long line of ancestry whose population I can only imagine. I was no longer the celebrated Me dangling off the end of the line, I became a link, with a lock on the future. There's nothing, I mean nothing, like holding your own kid. Get on my shoulders, darlin', look what's comin'.

When there were complications after birth, and there was some uncertainty about Amy's survival, the bond between my wife and me grew strong in the face of the challenge. The tools we'd found in our work on sobriety served us well, and the marriage gained a richness that transcended what I could ever have hoped for.

Amy is seven now, and in the last few years we've moved, bought a house, found wonderful friends, and managed to create a home where laughter thrives. And, to prove that life is never perfect, we still have cats.

There's no way to adequately report on what happens inside a man and his mate over the great stretches of time they share together. So much of life's treasure is in its details, its jewels tiny but pure. I'm sure some other form could hold the whole story better, and do more justice to the passion. But I like remembering. It's fun. I relish the little turns of fate, how life may pivot on looking right instead of left.

We honored, last Sunday, the 20th anniversary of that night we met. From my wife I received a hand-made vase, a clay vessel painted delicately in black and white. In return, I gave her an hourglass. Its design in wood and glass and sand is simple, and it celebrates, with every turning, the time we've spent together. Twenty years.

175,320 hours.

Thanks, Viv.

today's music:

"It's On" -- George Duke -- AFTER HOURS


today's wisdom:

"Your whole past was but a birth and a becoming."

- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry