I traveled to Europe with Richard, spent a summer living in Ireland, returned and wrote more short stories, which were eventually published as a collection and which enjoyed a small success. Then I finished a novel, "The Invention of Light," about my childhood and early marriage. It featured an older, aristocratic lover who changes the course of the heroine's life and brings her into a different consciousness of the world, only to discover an incompatibility he finds insurmountable. "The Invention of Light" was eventually made into a movie. On the first day of filming, I stood on the shores of Lake Sherwood, inland from Malibu and the sea, looking at a director, actors, cameras--the sun bright upon the water and the bodies moving into position--and watched as others took my story and began to make it their own. It did not seem to matter at that moment that this story might become something different than the one I had told. I felt only the happiness of money in my pocket, and the excitement of the day, what seemed to me an alchemy of motion and beauty and light.
Quite suddenly everything changed. I found I had an income of my own, as well as a new identity as a writer. I began to feel more independent, more capable, less reliant on Richard not only for the necessities of life but also for a sense of myself. Perhaps this was the beginning of our troubles.
Eventually, everything between Richard and me just sort of fell apart--not with bitterness, but with a kind of benign understanding that we were not absolutely suited to each other, though we might care about one another deeply--and I moved out and found a place for Justin and myself in West Hollywood.
The next few years weren't easy for me, but I think they were even more difficult for Justin. I moved again, this time to a cottage in Santa Monica Canyon, near the beach. By then, he had changed schools three times in six years. He was tired of making new friends. He felt a little lost, and more than a little lonely. I tried to make it up to him with trips to Disneyland, with presents and surprise visits to see his grandparents. But what he really wanted was more of me. What he really wanted was a home life, and a real family and a mother who didn't go out so much in the evenings. And that I wasn't able to give him.
I often wonder what it would have been like to have had a son when I was 30, or 35, instead of bringing a child into the world when I was only 17. Would I have known any more about mothering? Or is parenting, like bingo, a matter of luck?
Justin never held anything against me--not the divorce, which occurred when he was 5 and took him from his father. Nor the decisions I made afterward. He didn't even fault me for my later self-involvement, for the way in which I put myself first, always first, in a splendid display of egoism.
In any case, he did get back at me later. I'm sure he didn't intend it. I'm sure it wasn't simply a matter of punishing me, though it seemed that way at the time.
It was one thing for Justin to decide to reject me when he was 14 and left my house in order to go live with his father. That I could understand. A boy needs a man in his life at that age. I had to let him go (let's tell the truth: I was ready to let him go). But how could he have so fervently embraced, just a short while later, the religion I had so scrupulously kept from contaminating him? How could he have so willingly joined the church whose influence I had spent my whole adult life purging from my being?
The easy answer is, it was his father's doing. He joined a religious household--a stepmother, a half brother, and a father who had gone back to the church not long after we divorced--and they had influenced him.
But he was nobody's pawn, I know that. He was a strong boy, with a strong mind. He made his choice. I'm afraid he actually believed. He had a testimony, as he put it, of the truthfulness of the gospel, which he believed was being restored on earth, in these latter days. He wanted to be baptized, to go down into the waters beneath his father's hands and emerge a newborn and cleansed being.
When he turned 20 and decided to accept a mission call to Guatemala, I pleaded with him not to go. Believe in it all if you must, I said. But a mission? Do you really think it correct to proselytize? Must you try to convert those poor Guatemalans?
I did everything to dissuade him from going on a mission. But to no avail.
He had driven down from Idaho, where he had been going to school, in order to give me the news, although he didn't mention the matter of the mission right away. It had been months since I'd seen him, and as always, there was a little tension between us at first. I believe I made some comment about his needing a haircut when he first arrived, a comment he didn't like.
"Why do you always have to find fault with me?" he said. "There's always something you have to criticize, isn't there?"