New York City: The Last of my bad boyfriends
I just had a 6 day visit to New York City that reminded me of meeting up with an old boyfriend after years of separation. It was so seductive, so sexy and interesting and filled with endless possibilities but those possibilities were already filled or they were never real and our time together, magical as it was, is basically over.
Christmas 1985 I have hit a low point beyond comprehension. In February of that year my eldest sister was killed by a drunk driver, I had a nervous breakdown with wonderful aspects such as a complete cessation of eating and sleeping. I was put on all sorts of major drugs and advised to commit myself while I dropped 30 pounds and eventually met a person I would agree to marry without knowing or liking him. We both worked in the electronics department of Abraham and Strauss where I walked like a zombie and signed papers for which my embezzling boss would later spend years in prison. I hoped the husband would beat me to death and he nearly did. I returned to alcoholic drinking in May 1985 and kept it up until December 22 when my best friend threw the violent husband out into the snow, I told her what had happened and then I told my father, returned to AA, left the husband after he threw me down the steps of the subway cracking my head open, got an order of protection and divorced him, paying $75.00 to Jacoby and Myers, a law firm that advertised in the subway. I met a female attorney when I was returning from the assault in the subway who advised me to immediately go to family court and get a restraining order. He threw my furniture out on the sidewalk and I moved away from that awful neighborhood, the last stop on the D train, Sheepshead Bay where no one ever spoke to me and we had screamed at one another and he had punched his fists into the wall above my head.
After that, I found an apartment with a professor at Columbia who turned out to be a raging alcoholic and once introduced me to her graduate students during a party she was given as "Molly, who goes to AA." I locked myself in my tiny room in her messy apartment and cried myself to sleep. A week later I went shopping for a winter coat with my mom and when she vetoed my choice of a cool black coat for her choice of a gray loden catholic schoolgirl coat she said, "I'm buying this." At that moment, a la Scarlett O'Hara I told myself, "As God is my witness, I'll never let anyone push me around again."
I quit my job working for a married ex-boyfriend who'd lied about his marriage, applied to several publishing houses and found a bedroom in a one bedroom with another sober woman who had just drop-kicked her boyfriend. We each had a room with a tiny kitchen in-between and a tiny bathroom. It was 69th and Broadway and it was heaven. We were both newly sober, single, depressed but happy to eat our pints of ice cream and watch our tiny back-and-white televisions and eat take-out salads from the Koreans and pizza. We were happy to have the other person near and we worked and went to meetings.
I was hired at Random House for almost no money and worked for two editors, Mary Ann Eccles, the sweetest woman in the world and Christopher Cox who wasn't very sweet but was part of the gay rat pack that included Edmund White and other famous literary figures all of whom have since died of AIDS except for White. Hilton Als who is now a featured New Yorker writer was our messenger and I spent my days xeroxing and fetching stuff and buying Chris six-packs while he worked late at night. I was broke and incredibly happy. I had a few terrible dates and then swore off men as they all seemed to morph into my ex. Twice weekly I crossed Central Park to the east side where I saw a therapist to whom I had been recommended. I introduced myself in our first session by warning her not to get too fond of me because I planned to get sober and then commit suicide. I was done, I told her. I couldn't try to live anymore. She didn't react like my mother (screaming) or my father (sneering) or my friends (frightened) she said she understood, I should go to AA, take the pills she prescribed and call her before I killed myself. I agreed. We talked about my sister for one session and then my family and my childhood for the next 9 years.
New York was such a mess in the eighties but I still loved it. I loved the homeless man who lived on my grate and the lower east side junkies and the wild disparity between the rich and the poor, limousines and people begging, women in fur coats and barefoot people. I moved from Random House to Bantam Doubleday Dell where I worked with a woman who was friends with Springsteen and Jan Wenner and Clay Felker and Yoko Ono and Wendy Wasserstein, who once edited Hunter S. Thompson and was completely cool and funny. I had an expense account and became an Assistant Editor. I took all my friends to lunch at the Sherry Netherland and Cafe Des Artistes and I bought one or two novels and spoke to writers and gradually realized that my true secret was I was a writer like my father, not an actress or an editor or an agent. I loved her. She was the age of my oldest sister. I loved her and she totally fucked me over and fired me and told people I had quit. I cracked her Tiffany cup and I threw away her mail and she stood in my cubicle and said, "Now you can go write your novel."
Which I did. I was devastated and broke and got a horrible waitressing job in a fish restaurant where I leaned on the bar and wrote in a notebook. I got another waitressing job and then I was asked to work for Louis Wallace whose clients included Don Dillelo and Joan Didion and I joined the Actors Studio and wrote and wrote and then I woke up one day and realized I didn't want to be in publishing, I was a writer and I applied for the MFA program at Brooklyn College and was accepted. I quit the Wallace agency and Louis was mean to me and when I told my father he said I was a loser and the night before I left for a trip to a really cheap spa where they starved you I got a message from this woman who was a literary agent who had asked to see what I was writing and I had given her 300 pages of what I called my "thing" and HarperCollins wanted to publish it and now I was a novelist.
I went away and detoxed in upstate New York, getting the worst headache of my life going off coffee. On the bus ride back to NYC I ate a giant chocolate bar and drank a huge cup of coffee. My answering machine was full of messages from my agent and now I had an editor and a marketing person. I went to Zabars and bought a coffee cake and turned off my phone and sat in my apartment on 69th and Broadway and thought about my sister and a friend who had also been killed and how this book would probably hurt my parents a bit and my living sister and definitely the married ex-boyfriend and I wondered how I would manage to remain nice when I was rich and famous. Finally, I told my mom who was really quiet and then she said, "We didn't help you at all." and then I told my father who was quiet and when I told him about all my anxieties he said, "Try to be happy."
So now I was a novelist in New York City and I felt like my dreams had come true. I broke up with a hideous boyfriend and slept with this awful shoe designer who would later go to jail on tax fraud who actually gave me a pair of shoes after we had sex and before he called me a taxi. I didn't know how to promote myself and I didn't know how to become part of the literary Mafia and I didn't own a computer so I had to retype my MS three times.
One morning I walked in Central Park and came upon a massive pyramid rising out of the fog and a homeless man came out of the same fog and we marveled at what later turned out to be a prop from AIDA but seems to have materialized just for us. I was on my way to tell my therapist about my book deal and to cry about wishing my sister could know I had finally made my dream come true.
"This city is like Oz," the homeless man said. "Anything is possible."
"Let's touch it and make a wish," he said.
So we did, I wished that I would deserve the life I had been given, that the phoenix that rose from the ashes would never sink again.