Was I staring at the almost-empty jar of peanut butter, or was it staring back at me? Organic, the label announced. What words could be made from the word organic? Nag. Rag. Rig. Okay, those were too easy; I switched to four letters. Gain. Rain. Narc. Rang.
Carrie Fisher wrote about eating peanut butter in bed in Postcards from the Edge….which was about a famous actor who made it really big on one movie. (One recommended rule of writing is to write about what you know.) I love how she turned her autobiography into a comedy. In the book, she’d sit in bed eating peanut butter. There’s a good reason for that—it’s the ultimate comfort food.
The yapper dogs next door started their daily yapping. Ugh! We had neighbors with a screaming toddler, plus the dad played the tuba. Frequently. Cyn and I would long for them to leave. We were so happy when we saw a moving truck pull up in front of their house one day. That one darling, adorable, fabulous, screaming toddler and that dear, old, tuba-aficionado dad was replaced with four screaming kids, three yapper dogs, two smokers… and perhaps a partridge in a pear tree. Who the hell smokes anymore, anyway? I’ll take that tuba back!
On my moving-in day, the tuba blared.
"I’ve been meaning to tell you about the whale that lives next door,” Cyn chuckled.
Cyn. Oh, Cyn. You were so funny, so silly, so much fun, so outrageous, so out there. Now you’re really out there. You were so…strong, so…amazing, so…alive. So… much for that.
I couldn’t even cry, I was so numb. I couldn’t move, couldn’t eat, couldn’t get out of bed, could barely muster the strength to go to the bathroom, which didn’t happen all that much because I wasn’t drinking or eating anything at all, other than the odd spoonful of peanut butter. My body started aching from the lack of movement, but I ignored it.
Cyndi. Why? Whywhywhywhywhywhywhywhywhy?
Sweetie, I said inside my head to her when the numbness stopped for a minute, if I knew that in your heart of hearts you really wanted to do this, I would’ve held your hand as you went out. Okay, maybe not. I would’ve held your hand and called 911. You probably knew that.
You were more than my best friend. You were my sister by another mister. You were the love of my life, even though it was never a romantic or sexual thing. I didn’t know this until you left me.
Mom flew out to tend to me. Normally having her around wouldn’t be viewed as a favor, but this time it was. She stayed on her “best behavior,” fortunately….I’ll explain more about that later. She dealt with Cyndi’s parents because I couldn’t—I couldn’t answer their questions or deal with the utter heartbreak in their eyes that I knew would be there, and I would be grilled: Why didn’t you tell us? Why didn’t you know? We trusted you! How could you let us down like this? Why didn’t you save her?
I didn’t know she was so close to the edge. And if I had known, I still wouldn’t have known....that there was nothing I could do and nothing I could say, that it wasn’t even my responsibility. But right then, I wasn’t thinking any of that. I was thinking that I should have known, that I should have said something, that it was completely my responsibility. And if I hadn’t failed so miserably at said responsibility, Cyndi would still be here, dramatically brooding over her morning coffee, laughing at my jokes, making me laugh at her jokes, teasing the houseplants with her ooziness, coming up with some crazy shenanigan or another.
It’s completely my fault.
Somewhere in the far recesses of my mind, I knew that was a crock, but right then that thought reigned front and center.
It was this town, wasn’t it, Cyn? This fucking town—it can chew you up and spit you out like no other. It was acting, too, wasn’t it? This fucking career—it, too, can chew you up and spit you out like no other.
She’d met someone just a few weeks beforehand. Oh, Cyn. How many times did I suggest that you just tell potential beaus everything (well, perhaps not everything) up front so they’re not surprised. He was from Europe and was so taken by her beauty, her carriage, her demeanor. He thought she was a real movie star. But by their third or fourth date, she let him know that she was a star of a number of commercials, but not much more than that. He left—the cad.
“Crazy fucking town. Crazy fucking people. Crazy fucking everything about this place.” Even the successful ones, as I mentioned earlier, say they never feel like they’ve arrived. “Perhaps if we would’ve arrived without it,” I said to the air.
Hah! That’s the whole secret of life, isn’t it? Be happy with what is. We all know that, somewhere deep inside in there. But there can be a long journey between knowing the secret and truly being happy.
We talked about the elusiveness of high-level success all the time.
“It’s right near me,” Cyn said once, “but it’s just out of reach. It’s floating in my periphery.”
Most of our myriad esoteric conversations took place in our two persimmon-colored overstuffed, scrumfy (scrumptiously comfy, my invention) chairs, with morning coffee or evening wine sitting nearby on the huge slab of oak that served as our coffee table. An equally overstuffed, comfy sofa sat on the other side of the table, beckoning everyone who saw it to stretch out and forget the problems of the world. A petite person could nearly disappear in our furniture. Our beds were super scrumfy, too.
Oh, I haven’t told you about our darling, little hobbit house yet! It was absolutely adorable. Tucked away in a grove of trees in the hills of Glendale, you could easily see Frodo walking in to this part cottage, part living fairy tale. It was painted the cheeriest yellow you could stand without being nauseated, and it had rounded recesses over the rounded, latticed windows. Even the top of the door was rounded.
And……it came with fairly low rent! Cyndi’s mom was in real estate and owned a ton of rental properties. She let her daughter live in this one for a song, and Cyn had a ragtag bunch of odd roommates until I moved in. (Maybe I could be counted as ragtag and odd, too, though?)
Colorful artwork from our multitude of colorful artist friends lined the butter-yellow walls. Little palm trees were tucked into every nook and cranny, and this little hobbit house had plenty of those.
There was no carport, but that’s okay. In the whole time I’ve been in LA, I’ve had to scrape ice off my windshield twice.
We even had a bit of a view from the deck, since we were up a hill a bit. We couldn’t see the ocean, but on a clear day we could see that far out, so I’d imagine I was looking at it. At night we saw lights; it wasn’t anything like the Hollywood lights, but I liked to pretend it was a snippet of them, instead of just downtown Glendale.
Anyway….(Don’t you hate it when people say that? I do, so I take it back!) Here’s one version of our many conversations regarding success (or lack thereof) where one of us would play devil’s advocate to exorcise our holding-back demons.
“Why don’t you want to be an actor?”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes, I do. There’s nothing I want more than to be an actor. Acting and movies help people open their hearts and give them something to think about that they wouldn’t have thought about otherwise. It’s my calling. It’s what I want to do. It’s in my soul.”
“You’d be there if you really wanted to be.”
“I want to be!”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes, I do.”
“No, you don’t. Otherwise you’d be there.”
That conversation happened on many occasions, with each of us taking a turn on each side. Sometimes it helped. Here’s another one, which had taken place just a few weeks before she died:
“What’d make it come in for a landing?” I asked her referring to the ever-elusive, circling success, while asking myself at the same time.
“Dunno. Right timing? A better me?”
“Nah. There couldn’t be a better you.” I was in one of those moods—beneficent, which might’ve annoyed the bejesus out of her if she hadn’t been slightly tipsy already. “You’re the best you you are. Besides, it’s not about deserving. Nasty, abusive drunks make it big all the time.”
She took another sip of wine. And two. And three. Wait a minute—why didn’t I see this at the time?
“Invite it in,” I continued. “Make it welcome. Serve it tea and crumpets.”
She nearly spit out her wine. “Tea and crumpets?”
“Well, if not that, what does it want? Beer and brats? Champagne and caviar?”
The wine was starting to make itself known in her system and speech. “Maybe it’s an agreement I made before I came in to this lifetime—that success will weasel away from me this time around. This one isn’t my lifetime to be successful because I’m here to experience what trying and trying and trying feels like.”
“I can’t imagine making that kind of agreement.”
“Maybe I’m just supposed to light things up no matter what I do.”
“What about people who never, ever find the ‘one’—or the two or three if they’re into that kind of thing. Some people are lonely their whole, entire lives.”
“And some people are lonelier inside a sad marriage than some people are on their own. But wouldn’t folks be married if they really, really wanted to be?”
“Wouldn’t I be a star if I really wanted to be?”
“Maybe you don’t have to be a star—be a starburst! Light up the world everywhere you go.”
She downed the rest of her wine.
Maybe if I hadn’t used the tea-and-crumpets metaphor, she’d still be alive.
Yes, of course I’m being facetious, but not about this….If only she hadn’t taken me so literally about being a starburst.
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