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کتاب: زندگی در چند بخش / فصل 23

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Estranged Son

The motel my mother and Peter bought in Florida didn’t pan out. To no one’s surprise, she and Peter didn’t pan out, either. Shortly after they moved back to California, they split. My mom moved to a mobile home in Desert Hot Springs. Her hobbies included finding early bird specials, flirting with men, and drinking—she’d switched from wine to . . . anything. Once I went to visit her in her trailer, and she took three trips into the bathroom in the span of an hour. Each time she returned a little more inebriated. I went to the bathroom on a hunch and searched around. I finally lifted the lid off the toilet tank and peered inside. I saw a tall, thin plastic container filled halfway with a clear liquid. I picked it up and unscrewed the top and smelled it. Vodka. That’s the kind of alcoholic she’d become.

My poor sister, Amy. With good reason, she’d run away from my mom when they were living in Florida. After dropping out of high school at sixteen, she was waiting tables, living in North Hollywood with our family friend Julia, the one who eventually married my brother to stay in the country. Amy got her GED, but it would take her several years to decide she wanted to go back to school and become a nurse.

Ed and I saw our mom sporadically, and we checked in on Amy and Julia in their little two-bedroom apartment as often as we could. But we were laser-like in our focus. We wanted to be actors. Ed changed his name again and enrolled at UCLA as a theater major as Kyle Cranston. I took the impatient route. I wanted to get to work right away.

Though our paths were different, our purpose was the same. And that spurred us to track down our dad. We hadn’t seen him in a decade, but my paternal grandmother, Alice, was still alive, so he wasn’t hard to find. I guess we could have tried earlier, but I think we’d assumed he didn’t have any interest.

But now we had a subject. Men have to have a subject, a reason. If a guy said to me, “Let’s have lunch together,” I’d say, “What’s up?” There has to be a reason. Women like to get together to get together. Men need a reason. Kyle and I had ours. We wanted to get into acting. We wanted his help. I think subconsciously we really wanted to reconnect with him, but we were scared to admit that.

Kyle and I decided that a reconciliation dinner at Grandma’s was the best idea; Grandma could be a buffer. And her presence did put us all at ease. We bantered. We discussed the business. My dad was glad to help, glad to have some neutral topic on which to focus.

Though we never talked about it directly—men of his generation didn’t talk about things—I think he felt a tremendous, heavy guilt about how he’d left. He just kept saying over and over again, “It was a bad time.” My brother and I would try for years after that to reopen the subject, but we’d never get much more than that. For my father, the past was the past. It was painful, and it could teach us nothing. So it wasn’t worth dredging up. Eventually I realized he had gone as far as he was capable.

Still, I saw how he tried with us, his forced casualness, his eagerness to help with our careers (he introduced me to my first talent agent, Doovid Barksin), and I felt the regret we all had about the unrecoverable chasm of lost time, the ten years he’d been gone, recede a bit.

We played racquetball. It was good to have an activity and something to hit. There was just the thwack of the racket and the hard boing of the ball and the focus and intensity and driving rhythms. There was winning and losing. I’m sure we said a lot in those games without ever saying a word.

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