معشوقه

کتاب: زندگی در چند بخش / فصل 30

معشوقه

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Lover

I met her at an audition for some TV show whose name I can’t remember. She asked me out there and then. She wanted to go out that night. Tonight? She was pretty, funny, quick-witted, and I found her assertiveness sexy. Yes, I said, let’s go out. I met her at her apartment; it was a Friday at 7:00 p.m. I didn’t leave until Monday at noon.

I’ve never been into drugs—I do drink now and then, nothing out of hand—but that weekend with Ava felt like what I imagine a binge or a bender must feel like. I lost track of time.

The idea of spending the weekend—that kind of weekend—with someone you just met wasn’t unique back then. But it did take its toll. It’s the myth of my generation: sex creates intimacy. It would take me several more years to discover that the opposite is true: intimacy creates sex.

And crazy creates great sex. From the beginning, Ava gave me clear signs she was not emotionally well. I remember going to a play with her at the old Schubert Theater in Century City. We’d had an argument at intermission. I figured we’d work things out after the play. As we settled in for Act Two, Ava resumed the quarrel. Not in a hushed tone, but at normal volume, totally unacceptable during a performance.

“We’ll talk about this later,” I whispered.

She said, “We’ll talk about it NOW.”

Half the audience heard that. I saw scornful faces all around us. We were close enough to the stage that the actors heard her; they continued tentatively with their dialogue. I heard a chorus of shushing. I shushed, too: a desperate plea. Ava blurted out: DON’T FUCKING SHUSH ME!

Everything stopped. The actors froze, the audience was aghast. My heart planted itself in my throat. Abject embarrassment and shame coursed through me. I left my seat and raced to the exit. I should have kept going, but I let her catch up with me outside, and our argument escalated. I don’t know what it was. Maybe I was attracted to her unpredictability. The danger was sexy. But it was also dangerous.

Once, we were on our way back from a day trip, and we were at it again, naturally. As she drove up to her apartment, I suggested maybe it was best if I headed home. She slammed on the brakes and said, “Get the fuck out.”

I got out and walked to my motorcycle, which was parked across the street. I heard the squeal of tires and turned to see that Ava had swung a U-turn and was headed right for me. I quickly ducked between two parked cars as she zoomed by, inches away from sideswiping the car in front of me. She screamed out her window, “Fuck you, asshoooooole.”

The first time I tried to break up with Ava, she collapsed in my apartment, her eyes rolling back in her head. She was having some kind of seizure. I quickly picked her up and went out to her car and managed to put her in the passenger seat. I drove her to the emergency room of a hospital not far from my house, and waited. I was scared.

After an hour, the ER doctor came out and asked me if I brought her in.

“Yes,” I said.

“Are you her boyfriend?” I hesitated. Then I figured it was easier to say yes than to get into all the drama.

“Well,” the doctor said, narrowing his eyes at me, “your girlfriend overdosed. We pumped her stomach, but I need to know what she took.”

I told him that I didn’t know. He thought I was lying. I wasn’t.

I thought back to a night we’d gone out to a nice little restaurant on Melrose Avenue. I should have known then. We were celebrating, a birthday or a job or something. She made half a dozen trips to the bathroom; she was more agitated each time she returned. My condition is acting up, she explained. She did have a condition. Her body didn’t regulate temperature very well, so she had a tendency to overheat and sweat. This had been corroborated by her mother, a nice woman I had met a few times, who was just as ignorant about Ava’s drug use as I was. But now I knew.

Ava was released from the hospital a day later. She made me promise not to mention this to her mother or sister. I promised. I waited a few more days before finally, unequivocally breaking up with her. I was determined, and willing to take the blame for the failed relationship. I was prepared for any response: sadness, anger, bargaining, confusion. If she cried, yelled, or threw things, I was ready. I just wasn’t prepared for the response she gave.

No.

That was it. Just, no. She calmly, unemotionally, said, “No, we’re not breaking up.”

• • •

In early 1983 I got a job on a new daytime drama for ABC called Loving, which was to shoot in New York. So, done. Not only did I land the job that would change the course of my career, I also got to flee a messy relationship. Hallelujah. I found a nice studio apartment on the Upper West Side, on Seventy-First, just a half block from Central Park, and I explained to Ava that I was going to live in Manhattan; better for both of us to just move on. She accepted that. Finally, we were no longer a couple.

But a few months after I moved, Ava followed. She subleased a friend’s apartment in New York and contacted me and said she wanted to have dinner. I politely refused her invitation. I cautioned that reacquainting would not resolve our issues but exacerbate them. She lamented that her process of ending the relationship was not like mine. For her, the “cold turkey” approach was cruel. I’d left her dangling emotionally. How can you do this to me? she said. Didn’t I mean anything to you?

Her words filled me with guilt. Maybe she was right. Maybe if I agreed to a casual meeting and showed no interest in a relationship, it would give her closure. Maybe being with her as just a friend would allow us both to clearly see boundaries and honor them. We’d meet in a public place. What could go wrong?

Halfway through dinner she went to the bathroom, and when she came back, she started blaming me for some strange thing. But she wasn’t making any sense. It was like she was carrying on a conversation using every other word. And my confusion wasn’t helping. The opposite.

Eventually she worked herself into a frenzy. The manager had already been on us for the volume of the conversation, and I begged Ava: Let’s get out of here. She refused. When I tried to stand she put her hand on my shoulder and pushed me back down. She was small in stature, but her will gave her a scary might.

I looked around the restaurant and tried to appease the other patrons. “I’m sorry,” I stammered.

She yelled, “Don’t apologize to these assholes, you fucking pussy!” With that, she swept everything off the table: dishes, wineglasses, water glasses, vase, silverware—everything crashed to the floor.

It took one man to shove me out the door and two to get Ava into the street. I reached into my pocket and grabbed all the cash I had and handed it over to the guy who’d manhandled me. I knew it wasn’t nearly enough to pay for the damage, let alone the food and wine, but I didn’t know what else to do. I was embarrassed. I was livid. I exploded with anger. I grabbed her arm and physically forced her down the street, screaming at her, holding nothing back.

It worked. She shut down. Apparently brute force was the only thing she responded to. In fact, my burst of anger excited her, and she kissed me wildly. I am ashamed to admit it, but I got caught up in the moment. We were in public, ripping each other’s clothes off. We had just enough sense to get to her apartment to finish the act. This was not a loving, tender moment—it was savage, sick, something out of the animal kingdom.

Afterward, I lay there, astonished by my stupidity. How had I ended up here again? I was trapped. It was my own damn fault, but still . . . trapped. I knew I had to do something radical. I apologized profusely. It’s my fault. Completely. I’m so sorry. I just can’t do this anymore.

She, of course, would not accept that. She would try to see me before or after work on the soap opera. She’d leave messages on my answering machine, alternating between desperate and threatening. On one message she pledged her love. We were destined to be together. The next, she vowed to have me killed.

ABC Studios on West Sixty-Sixth Street, where we shot Loving, was a very busy place. Cameras, props, and sound equipment were constantly shifting from set to set, while actors ran lines and reviewed their blocking before shooting their scenes. I was in our kitchen-set rehearsing with my TV family when for some reason my gaze was drawn to one of the large cameras getting into position for the scene. Ava. She was standing next to the camera, staring at me, arms folded, furious.

I froze, too stunned to even acknowledge her. She’d somehow gotten past building security and then onto the floor of the studio? Impossible. My castmates observed my reaction and followed my sight line and understood this was not a welcome visitor. I believe it was my friend Susan Walters, who played Lorna on the show, who told our stage manager, Brooks, to call security. The exact sequence of events is foggy now. I only remember that within minutes, Ava was whisked away, her name put on a “no access” list.

I was deeply troubled that she’d just shown up at my workplace, but I found it even more worrisome that she’d left peaceably. This was not her modus operandi. If she wasn’t intending to make a scene, why did she go through all the trouble to sneak past security? On my walk home that day, I stopped cold in the middle of the sidewalk. It suddenly occurred to me that she’d gone to the trouble because she wanted me to know that she could get to me any time she chose to.

I started walking again—fast—darting looks over my shoulder. She could have been anywhere. I approached my apartment building, crouching behind cars. I dashed inside and up to my apartment and locked, chained, and bolted the door.

I took a breath, put my things down, and pressed play on my answering machine. A couple personal calls, one from my manager, then Ava’s low, unmistakable voice. It sent a chill up my spine.

“That’s how easy it is, Bryan. So simple. You think I can’t get to you anytime I want?”

I guessed right. Terrifying.

She continued: “You think I can’t have someone take you out? Wrong, asshole. You led me on. You told me that we were going to have a life together. I bend over backward for you and this is what you do? This is how you treat me?! Motherfucker. You’re dead. You’re fucking dead. You’ll never know when, or where, but I’ve fucking got you. You’re dead.”

I stayed in my apartment all night, sleepless. The next day I was nervous and scared. And truth be told, I was embarrassed. I was a young, strong man; how could I be afraid of a woman who barely stood five foot two? My viewpoint may have been immature and myopic—but the feeling was real.

I didn’t hear from her for a few days. I relaxed a little. One night as I walked into the apartment, the phone rang. Forgetting what had become my routine—screening all calls and responding to messages later—I picked it up.

“Hello, Bryan.”

I shuddered. She suggested we meet. I told her that seeing each other wasn’t healthy for either of us. A pause. In the silence I sensed her coiling, getting ready to strike. “Do you think you can just ignore me, motherfucker? You can’t just fuck me and dump me on the side of the road.”

She planned to have me killed, she said. My body would never be found. If it were found, it would be unrecognizable.

I was a cornered animal. But I spoke slowly, emphatically. “Ava,” I said, “if you don’t stop this and leave me alone, I’m going to tell your mother.”

It sounded so juvenile, but I knew it would get her attention. Ava and her mother adored each other. They were very close. But Ava’s mom was completely in the dark about the stalking, the drug use, the instability. Ava would die if her mother found out. She would keel over.

Silence on the line. I knew I had her.

“I’ve kept the tape of all the phone messages you’ve left on my machine,” I continued, “and if you don’t stop this right fucking now, your mother is going to hear them all.”

Except for the ambient street noise in the background from the pay phone, I heard nothing. I said, “If you stop, I won’t send the tape to your mom, but only if you stop. Do you understand?”

Silence.

The quiet became unnerving. I said, “Ava? Do you understand? If you stop all of this, right now, I promise not to send anything to your mother.” A long pause. “Ava, are you still there?”

A slow, guttural, deeply resonant sound came through the receiver. It started low and built into a high pitch. Something resembling a war cry.

“I. Want. That. Tape.”

“Ava, listen to me. If you stop right now, I will never send the tape to your mother. I promise.”

“I WANT THAT TAPE, MOTHERFUCKER! I WANT THAT TAPE!”

“Ava, you’re not listening to me. If you just stop I won’t—”

“I’M COMING TO GET THAT TAPE, YOU COCKSUCKER.”

“Ava, just calm down, okay? Ava?” Silence. “Ava? . . . Ava, are you there?”

Nothing. Silence.

Finally: “Hello?” The soft male voice surprised me.

“Hello?” I said. “Who is this?”

“Ben,” was his reply.

“Ben? Who are—are you with Ava?”

“Who’s Ava? I’m just trying to use the phone. It was dangling off the hook.”

Oh. Shit.

She was on her way. And I knew she wasn’t bluffing. I paced my apartment in terror. I contemplated leaving. But she could have called from the corner and it was possible that I’d run into her on my way out. She might have a gun. It was entirely possible, maybe even probable. What to do? My fear paralyzed me. I had recorded proof of her threatening to kill me. That is a crime. I could have called the cops. I should have. I really can’t explain why I didn’t. But I wish I had.

I just kept pacing. She would have to gain entry into the building—but anyone could breach the door’s buzzer system. Push several buttons on the entry panel of any New York apartment building and someone will buzz you in. I needed a weapon. I went to the kitchen to find my best option, a knife, but wait, the door! Did I lock it? I quickly double-checked, and yes, the door was locked. Thank God she didn’t have the keys to my apartment. I sat down and waited it out.

The sound of the buzzer sprang me to my feet in panic. She was here. In seconds she’d ascended the three stories and was pounding on my door. Each pound was like a hammer. Would she beat the lock off the door? I had no idea what she was capable of. I could envision the veins in her neck bulging as she was screaming, “Open the door, motherfucker!”

My body was now pressed into a tight ball, on the floor, at the foot of my bed. And I was rocking, muttering to myself, overtaken by fear. Ava was kicking the door and screaming obscenities and threatening to kill me.

I squeezed my arms around my legs, making an even tighter ball. Then slowly, very slowly, I felt something that surprised me. I was calming down. I was separating from the fear. I was moving past fear into a quiet resolve. I rose and walked to the door. I unlocked it.

Ava was still screaming as I opened the door, her face flushed red. Seeing me didn’t bring her any relief. I grabbed her arm and brought her into my apartment. I saw no weapon but then again I wasn’t looking for one. In truth, she could have been armed, and I would not have noticed or really cared. I was on another plane. The fear had broken and given way to pure anger and an eerie stillness. I was controlled and determined. Once we were in the room together, I adjusted my grip on her body to hold her shoulder firmly with my left hand, and her hair at the back of her head with my right hand. Her screaming continued but I was no longer hearing words, just a cacophony of high-pitched sound. I walked her over to the lone brick wall in the apartment.

I slammed her head against the brick wall. Months and months of fury rippled throughout me and gave me an almost superhuman strength. But I was also surprisingly calm. I slammed her head against the wall with a metronomic consistency. Clumps of hair and bits of skin and brain matter stuck to the brick. Blood formed on the wall and then began dribbling to the floor.

The screaming had stopped, of course.

I remained calm. I was released from fear and anger. I wasn’t glad or relieved or filled with satisfaction. I felt nothing. I let go of her and the body slid to the floor.

Dead.

I stood still. My eyes closed. There was silence. Sweet silence. I was numb. Then I heard a faint cry . . . a whimper, really. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. My eyes flashed open. My breathing was rapid and shallow. My stomach convulsed in a dry heave. I was sweating and shaking uncontrollably. My body was revolting.

It was only then that I realized I was still tightly wrapped in a ball on the floor at the foot of my bed. I looked at the brick wall. No blood. Ava’s body wasn’t in a heap on the floor.

It didn’t happen.

Thank God. Oh, thank God, I didn’t do that. It was a dream—but it wasn’t, it couldn’t have been. I wasn’t sleeping; I was more awake than ever, and feeling every particle of anger and dread. How then could I explain what I had seen? What I had done? Ava was still outside my door in the hall. I could hear her. But something was different. Something had changed. And it wasn’t just me.

I began to recognize other voices in the hall. I stood up, but immediately felt sharp pains streak through my body: my legs, arms, neck, back, head—everywhere. I’d been holding myself so tightly that I was cramping. I breathed through the pain and made my way to the door to listen.

The police were in the hall. Her vitriol was now distress. I heard two strains I had never heard in her voice before: defeat and surrender.

The police took her away without ever knocking on my door. A couple of neighbors had called about the disturbance and told the NYPD that she was not a tenant. That was all the police needed to remove her from the premises as a trespasser. The last thing I heard from Ava as the elevator door was closing was a deep, mournful wailing, like a mortally wounded animal.

Nothing happened in that apartment, but everything had changed. I understood clearly, without question, that I was capable of taking a life. I understood that given the right pressures and circumstances, I was capable of anything. I think that’s true of all of us.

I understood the fragility of everything we think is solid and true. That was humbling. It shook me to my core.

I never saw Ava again.

When I heard many years later that she had died, I hoped she had eventually found some peace.

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