An excerpt from Tharon Ann – a memoir by Jennifer Brookins
“I’ve gone from a scrappy kid wondering when I’d get to China digging a hole in the backyard with a spoon, to being a Hollywood starlet, then to Broadway and the high life, to the present. I’m a very pregnant crazy lady with two little kids and ten hours out from a long, hot cross country drive across America in my old Chevy. I can’t sleep for all the memories running through my head. If there was ever a time for a mind boggling quote from Dylan or a sobering passage from Moby Dick, that rambling classic with a point I never quite grabbed by the tail – this is it. Oh, and just in case I forget to mention it, with so much going on and all, my future looks like zip, and what really happened to J.D. Salinger?
The big day is here. Insomnia is driving my mind nuclear reliving every piece of minutia from my birth to the present. It’s 3:00 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I’ve cried so much, I’m alarmed at the amount of snot one person can lie in without being glued to the pillow. How did it all come to this? Seems like only yesterday, I was a rising Broad- way actress with successes under my belt. I can still hear the knock on my dressing room door, the stage manager giving me the last call, “Showtime Jennifer! It’s a packed house tonight.” As usual, I’m so terrified before going on, I can’t remember the first line. But the moment I step onstage, my jitters long gone, I vanish into character and I’m fine. It’s make believe time. The thrill of playing before a live audience is better than dope.
I’ll be driving straight through the Mojave Desert from LA to New Jersey, no doubt my three year old kicking the back of my seat all the way asking, “Are we there yet? Mommy, I have to go.” If Romie kicks hard enough, with my luck I’ll go into labor and have this baby next to a cactus. I can’t sleep for stressing over the future – no husband, no money, no job, bills to pay and three kids to raise. How will I do it? All these years I’ve supported myself as an actress. What am I supposed to do – squat on the sidewalk and sell pencils out of a shoebox? My choice is either fall back into my old, destructive ways or wrap myself around a future I know nothing of. Being clueless at thirty is a bitch.
Why cry over the “Sperm Donor?” He makes love like shoveling spaghetti with both hands. Lots of women have husbands who cheat. You could monitor how often they drop their pants by putting a metronome up their ass. They don’t fall apart like me. The ones I know marry wealthy men, and find it convenient to ignore their over active libidos. They compensate by shopping on Rodeo Drive until they pass out, then to spring shows in Paris, then to Milan, having affairs along the way, and thanking God for revolving credit. For some men, the more submissive the wife and mother, the less appealing she is as a woman; the sexual attraction and challenge no longer exists. Like a hound chasing a fox: hound chases fox, hound catches fox, hound kills fox, hound hunts for another fox. The Sperm Donor is never home. I doubt he even knows how fast the kids are growing. I closed our joint bank account today. What I took is barely enough for this trip, the hospital bill and rent for a small apartment once we arrive in New Jersey. That’s if we make it to New Jersey. Just saying those two words makes me run for Imodium, and what’s wrong with me? I always make the same mistake – jump first, and look afterwards.
I’m home late tonight. I worked overtime on a Gunsmoke. Thanks to Arness it took forever to hear, “It’s a wrap!” This house looks like a tornado just passed through, popcorn all over the floor, the kids eating Wheaties out of a box, and our latest addition, my husband’s five year old from a previous marriage racing from room to room wearing a Batman cape, his school uniform still not washed for tomorrow. The Sperm Donor is sprawled out on the couch watching Mod Squad, oblivious of the circus going on in front of him. Working all day, then coming home to a nightmare like this would push anyone over the edge. Some things never change. I shift to high, make dinner, wash and iron Willie’s uniform for tomorrow, and do a quick tidy-up. Afterwards, I bathe the boys and tuck them in for the night, knowing full well they won’t go to sleep unless I read to them. I sit on the edge of the bed, and begin the next chapter of Wind In the Willows. They love the Badger.
I still have ten pages of new dialogue to memorize for tomorrow, get five hours of sleep, be at the studio at 6:00 a.m. in makeup, and pray to God I don’t have bags down to the floor. I can’t keep up this pace. If I don’t step back from my career our home life will be in worse shape than now. There’s not enough room for two careers in this family. Let him have it. It’s what he wants.
Something is wrong.
How long does it take to answer a simple question, and what’s wrong with me that I can’t confront him? The two of us stand in this small kitchen that looks out over the mountain, his back facing me as he pours himself a second cup of coffee when I finally say, “You leave mornings, and don’t come home until dawn.”
Moments of silence pass. He continues to sip his coffee and stare down at the floor before he finally turns around, his dark eyes focused into mine and replies matter-of-factly, “I don’t love you anymore. I’m done.”
My response is frozen in silence that so reverberates in my ears that I’m deafened to its clamor. My breath pushes me to smart-ass, flippant silent retorts, “You’re done? What about me and the kids? Are we done too? When you leave the house each morning, I make you a brown-bag lunch with fresh banana bread sandwiches, the crusts cut off the way you like. My paycheck goes to you after every job. I’ve all but given up my career for you. We have two children, another on the way, and now you say you’re done?” I listen to my unspoken thoughts coming through this mealy-mouthed person I hardly recognize. I’m unable to speak because there are no words left to come right out and say, “How many hours can one man spend at the Actor’s Studio? I know damn well what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with.”
The Sperm Donor wastes no time describing his passionate feelings for her, and the futility of living one more second trapped in a loveless marriage. He talks to me like I’m not in the room, and explains in great detail how good it is to finally let it all out, that he’s not the type man to live in shadows. I can’t catch my breath … I’ll stop breathing if he doesn’t shut up. Still unable to speak, I grab both kids by their hands and run along the narrow, weathered path alongside Aunt Lowee’s house, a brick missing here and there, the smell of Eucalyptus guiding me like a silent friend to the top of the mountain that overlooks dark clouds of gray smog hovering over East Los Angeles. I can’t stop crying for the uncertainty of our future, for having wasted so much of my life, for the baby growing inside me, and for Willie, his five year old son who just came to live with us and misses his grandparents.
Several weeks ago, he mumbled something about a new project he was working on with some actress at the Actor’s Studio West. When I asked about her, he casually mentioned a name I immediately recognized. The exact same feelings of rage and jealousy welled up in me again, precisely the same as I had experienced twelve years ago. As soon as I heard her name, I knew I’d lost him … and remembered the first time I saw her face.
Twelve years earlier in Hollywood, long before I moved to New York and met the Sperm Donor, a friend gave me an article he’d cut out of the newspaper about a beautiful actress who worked in Elvis Presley films, as well as B-movies. It showed her photograph along with details of a large sum of money she inherited. It wasn’t the money. It was the recognition of her face that filled me with jealousy, feelings out of proportion to the situation. So many times I’ve asked myself why I reacted like that to someone I didn’t know. She looked like every other starlet in Hollywood, as opposed to me who was somewhat offbeat compared to the Barbie Doll look of the sixties. I threw the paper back and snapped, “This has nothing to do with me.” Ironically, as quickly as those feelings of anger entered my psyche, that’s how fast they left. That incident still puzzles me. Perhaps my reaction was a premonition of events to come – although I’m not into crystal gazers, psychics, telemarketers hawking spirituality, fake gurus and all the other scams to support their mansions. What difference does it make now?
I’m beginning to sound like those women in supermarket tabloids next to the check-out. If it’s a long wait, I’ll take one off the rack and give it a quick look. If I read about one more female who attempts suicide over a failed marriage, I’ll pull the plug on myself. I can’t stand whiners yet much as I hate to admit it, that’s what I’ve become.
“Yeah you are, so shut up!”
“I’m not. Am I?”
“Does a bear pee in the woods?
“What kind of man abandons a pregnant wife and two kids?” “The one you married stupid, now shut the hell up!”
“How will we live? I have no money.” “Stop watching As the World Turns.”
It’s as though two people live inside me. One like sand in an hour glass, moment by moment drained of self-worth, crawling through each day begging to be punished for everything I’ve ever done in my life. But the other more predominant one is a hard-edged, spirited fighter who laughs her way out of every impossible predicament.
Dammit, I may cry, I may bitch, but I won’t fall under the train. There’s got to be more to life than getting married and having babies – even a career. I remember having a close friendship with a powerful presence as a child, but somewhere along the way I lost it and I don’t know why. I’m fighting for my life, for that lost girl I only vaguely remember; one buried so deep, I fear she may never be resurrected. I fight not to fall into the depths of a mental abyss so intense, I might never recover; the ugly face of ambition rides me like a horse frothing at the mouth. Three lives depend upon rising from this quagmire of self-loathing to reinvent the person I began life with. I still talk to a God I can’t see, and I still can’t shut up. I know there is something powerful in me, something outside myself, otherwise how could I have survived the past thirty years?
Where’s my damn tissue? Blowing my nose is the only constant in my life. I always feel secure in one good blow on anything outside of my Hermes, God forbid.
Dear God, Dorothy, Sam or whatever your name is, May I shake your hand for giving us Oil of Olay and Kleen- ex, or do you prefer Puffs? Store brand? And the big winner hands down is … ta dah: Puffs!
Sincerely lost in East LA P.S: Need sleep fast
Time douches the bloom off a cheating rose
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