I think back over the years to the time in the mid-70s when I finally left home for good and headed for Los Angeles, driving an old car that broke down twice on the way to California.
I have never let go of the idea, instilled in me years earlier in a literature class, that I might become a writer myself, and it seemed to me that Los Angeles was the place where I needed to be. I wanted to be in a city, to meet people who were doing something with their lives. And yet I discovered it wasn't easy living in a city like L.A. Or to make such a big change. My first apartment was a place near Western Avenue and Beverly Boulevard, in a building where I was the only person who didn't speak Spanish. I understood for the first time how it was possible to feel like a foreigner in your own country.
I remember once, not long after I arrived in Los Angeles, I went to a department store on Wilshire Boulevard to buy a few things I needed and the clerk wouldn't take my check because it was out-of-state. She was rude to me and I made the mistake of arguing with her until I'd gotten myself thoroughly upset, and then when I went out to the parking lot, my old car wouldn't start, and I discovered I didn't have any money, not even a quarter for a phone call, not that I knew anyone at that point whom I could call for help. I was supposed to pick my son Justin up from school and I was already a few minutes late. I began to panic, thinking of him waiting for me. He was only 9 and I was sure he didn't know the city well enough yet to find his way back to the apartment, and in any case, I didn't like to think of him walking home alone.
In desperation I decided I had no choice but to take a bus, although I didn't know the bus system yet and I wasn't even sure whether I could get a bus that would take me near his school, even if I'd had the fare, which I didn't. I stood in front of the department store for a while, watching the buses come and go, and then I got up my courage and I began asking passersby for change. I thought it would be easy to come up with a dollar once somebody heard my story--my car broken down, my kid waiting for me at school, my money left at home--but it wasn't. Person after person walked away from me, usually not even bothering to listen to me finish my story. I saw how cruel and indifferent people could be, and how you could so easily be taken for a liar. I must have asked two dozen people before an elderly woman gave me a dollar and a short lecture about how I shouldn't spend it on drugs.
When I got to the school, Justin wasn't there. I began to feel very afraid. All my shortcomings as a mother became glaringly clear. I began running down the street and, a little while later, arrived at the apartment, out of breath. There was Justin, sitting on the front steps, playing with a neighbor's dog. "My God," I said, "how did you get home?" "Easy," he replied, "I just walked."
I met a man named Richard Taylor, who was a lot older than me. He used to come into the cafe where I worked, and we'd end up chatting. He was a writer and he worked in the film business. When he mentioned the movies he'd written, I took pleasure from the fact I had seen some of them.
He was a very decent man--kind, generous, intelligent. And he was funny. That, in many ways, was the thing I liked most about him: He could, and did, make me laugh.
I had been writing some stories in the evenings after I'd gotten Justin to bed, and when Richard Taylor discovered I had an interest in writing, he persuaded me to let him see some of these stories. He liked them, he said they showed promise, and after that he began encouraging me. Sometimes he offered suggestions about how I might change something to make a story stronger. He became my mentor, in a way. And then he became my lover.
It lasted only a few years, the relationship with Richard, but everything changed during those years. Justin and I moved into his house in the Hollywood Hills, a Spanish-style villa surrounded by beautiful gardens that looked out over the city.
I quit my job at the drugstore, at Richard's insistence, and also at his urging I began devoting myself full-time to my writing. I began meeting people--writers, artists, actors--interesting people who led interesting lives.
I began getting a few of my stories published in small magazines. Many of these stories featured a much older lover, sometimes of foreign nationality, or a sick child or a girl raised on a farm at the edge of a lake. I think Richard assumed he was the model for the older man in these stories, and I never let on that he wasn't, although the passion, the longing so evident in these stories, was not quite the same as what I felt for him.