I’m barely in grade school, trying to figure out what the word bastard means, and why my dad never married my mom or chose to stick around and raise his two children, and this somehow has led to me running home with a bloody nose and a head full of angry words I don’t really understand. I climb the stairs to the attic, which is my mom’s room, and I want to ask her, but she’s always busy with needles, and white powder, and with men that sneak in my room at night and hurt me, or do other things I don’t quite understand. When they happen, happy, safe and free don’t come to mind—I think more about surviving till the morning, sometimes hoping I don’t.
I’m eight and my mom is naked on the front porch, meowing like an alley cat, a faded look in her eyes like she can’t see anything but whatever is in her head, and it won’t let her stop meowing. Hours later the police come. Hours later I live with my grandmother. The neighborhood is better, which is confusing since the kids are just as mean except now I give the bloody noses just as much as I get them. I’m learning I guess.
I’m nine and I can’t complain, my grandmother is nice and now there’s always food to eat, and no more visits from tattooed men who smell like stale sweat and whiskey. But she doesn’t realize my little sister and me both know she’s hoping my mom hurries up and gets out of the crazy house so she can get back to, well, whatever she wants to do since my grandfather died.
I’m 12 and mom’s been out a few years now. We live with her in a new house just a few blocks from my grandmother and the kids who I play nose-punch with. I’m at a new school and I’m suspended again. I don’t really understand why. I guess when people hit you you’re just supposed to yell ouch and fall down. But I tried that. They suspended me for that too, so I’m confused. I’m in the principal’s office and I’m asked not to return the following year. Apparently I’m angry and have an attention problem. If they asked me (which they never do) I’d say I’m sad because there’s no art classes or gifted and talented program, like at my old school. The teachers here don’t encourage me to advance a grade or focus on science or math, because minds like mine only come around so often. I’m lost because I want to make friends and fit in, but I can’t shower enough to scrub off the tan color of my skin and make it white like everybody else’s. I feel lost inside myself, and I wonder if this is just the way life is. You constantly scream, but no sound ever comes out.
I’m 17 and find martial arts. Or I guess it finds me. I can hit and be hit and it doesn’t hurt, at least not on the inside anymore. And instead of suspensions I get trophies and medals. I feel good, maybe even happy. I feel powerful.
I’m 18 and in junior college. It’s like a death sentence to most of the people here. To me it’s heaven. I choose my own classes and wait… art isn’t just an elective? It’s a major? Apparently instead of being yelled at and put in detention, some people get paid to draw. I guess they weren’t doing it during social studies.
I’m 19 and I’m drunk again. I’m on the floor looking at the inside of my own front door and I guess this has to be my vomit. I call around to see how I got here. My mom laughs about it. Maybe she knows I found the empty vodka bottles she hides under her bed. Maybe she just thinks it’s funny.
I’m 21 and finally legal. Which is hilarious since I’ve been drinking heavily since I was 11. I’m looking for the edge—that sweet spot of indulgence, somewhere between feeling like I can let go and the dark oblivion of blacking out. I fall over the edge more than I hit it. But when I’m free, in those brief moments, I’m alive.
I’m 23, in Brooklyn and manage to graduate with high honors. I don’t take it too serious because I’m studying illustration. I know it’s one of the top art schools in the world but they give everybody straight A’s, don’t they?
I’m 24 and driving cross-country to Los Angeles. I’m alone, but that’s okay because that’s kind of how it’s always been. I have big dreams now. Much bigger than happy, free and safe. I gave those up with Santa Claus. We all have to grow up sometime. I’m special now. I’m one of the top illustrators at my fancy art school, and I’m on my way to being a big time animator and then, just like Tim Burton, a feature film director. Disney here I come.
I’m 26 and sleeping on a couch. I’m broke and just dropped out of graduate film school, where all I really learned was how to get further into debt. I miss the few friends I had back east. I’m failing at life.
I’m sitting in front of a psychic. Don’t ask. But here I am and here she is, and she’s saying all these great things about me and the life I’m about to be living and inside I’m looking over my shoulder and wondering who the hell she’s talking to. Last I heard there wasn’t a lot of money in couch surfing. She hands me a card.
I’m sitting across from a kind, bald man in his 40s who I trust and the little voices in my head seem to be okay with that. He’s a “healer,” which I guess in L.A. is what people call themselves when they aren’t a real doctor or a therapist, and talk about weird stuff like “auras” and “chakras” and “past lives.” This thug of a Jersey boy is doing his best to go along with it, but the voices are back and wondering how all this frou-frou nonsense is going to get me a job.
I’m crying, or at least I’m wanting to, but the emotional shut-off switch is on automatic and I don’t even have a choice about that anymore. Actually, I’m numb, looking at the frou-frou guy and wondering how just by doing some funny things to my arm, that he calls “muscle testing,” he knows things I’ve never told anybody. That I dream of being in a loving relationship. That I long to act, write and direct. That sweaty men with whiskey breath paid me visits. He even knows things I didn’t tell myself. Or at least I pretend I don’t remember. It wasn’t just sweaty men paying me visits. He’s bringing me back to that dark place I thought I escaped all those years ago and for the first time, with him knowing these things too, it’s real. I hate the word incest, but no matter how hard I try to sugarcoat it, I can’t find a better word to describe it all.
I’m 27, doing yoga and wondering how people can call this exercise. I call it stretching, and I’m looking around and I’m doing it better than everybody else, all while trying to block out the Hare Krishna music.
I’m 28 and I’m crying. I feel like yoga is to blame. Or maybe it’s just a pizza and ice cream detox, or the fact I haven’t had a drink in over a year. I’m having a spiritual awakening, he says. But to me it feels more like I’m falling apart and I can’t help but wonder who would ever bother to put me back together. I’m crying because I know it won’t be my family. I know that yoga, and chakras and words like organic and raw scare them, almost as much as the words sexual abuse. I never use those words, but when I try and talk about my healing process, the fact that this guy isn’t a real doctor is more than they can take. All they say is I’ve changed since moving to L.A., and apparently not for the better.
There’s a book somebody wrote who apparently is a doctor, and this guy says people like healers implant fake memories. In his book he says they do this to extend therapy and make money. In my book this writer is an idiot. I’m still crying and it isn’t because my family is disowning me or that my grandmother’s check for $10,000 was all they thought that was worth. No, it’s the voices in my head—they’re right, and all the practice I’ve been doing can’t shut them up. So I listen, and the argument is sound. Let me get this straight—a woman with a schizophrenic/bi-polar disorder and a nasty habit of shoving needles and violent men into any and all of her orifices is left alone to raise two young kids, but somehow nobody can understand the idea that something bad might have happened. Denial. The most addictive drug of all. Thinking this doesn't stop the crying, but at least there’s a hint of peace now. For the first time in my life, I found the edge sober. I’m alive.
I’m 30 and sitting with my eyes closed and pretending to be the person seated across from me that I can see those things called “auras.” Then something weird happens—I actually do see it. I blame a cleverly disguised class called “Intro to Meditation.” But when it’s held at the Southern California Psychic Institute, I guess I can’t be too surprised this is where it led me. Aw, crap… I’m psychic.
I’m still way too Jersey to accept that psychic is a real thing. I prefer “highly sensitive,” and I’m hoping this spiritual awakening is going to stop before I wind up at LAX chanting in a sarong. I’m meditating hours a day. I’m eating raw foods. I’m reading spiritual and metaphysical books. Deepok Chopra, Marrianne Williamson, Eckhart Tolle, Shakti Gawain, Sanaya Roman, Abraham Hicks, Osho, Rumi, and Kryon. I didn’t read this much when teachers wanted me to. Acupuncture, breath work, bodywork, ayahuasca, cranial sacral, reiki. Who the hell am I?
I’m 33 and looking at a roomful of people and can’t believe they’re all here to see me. I’m wondering what I’m going to say. I’m wondering what the people I grew up with in Jersey would think of this yoga-chanting, psychic-meditating, vegetarian of a hippie who people pay to hear speak about all things frou-frou. Then I remember to shut up and let the voices fade like I’ve been practicing all these years. I remember the rubber band theory my first healer shared with me. That we choose painful challenges so we can overcome them, and when we finally release ourselves from them, we fly farther and faster then we ever could have if we merely walked through life unchallenged. For a moment, I remember all the pain and anger I once held inside, and the long, dark journey of reconnecting to my feelings. I remembered how lost I felt when I forgot who I really was, and got stuck in the drama and stories I created to protect my heart when I believed I was a “victim.” I’m smiling, because for the first time I realize I did it—I’m happy, free, and looking at all these loving eyes. I know in my heart that I’m finally safe to be me.
I’m 37 and sitting in my first big agency listening as an agent sells me on why they should rep me as an actor/writer/director, and I’m smiling inside since I already know the answer is “yes," and I’m pinching myself, and realizing my decision to stop being a healer and focus on myself was the good kind of selfish. The kind of selfish that changes lives. Movies matter. And if I’ve got anything, it’s stories to tell.