First of all, thank you so much for all of your sweet emails, PMs, and kind words in passing. About a week ago, I took to the internet in tears when someone who had once been a friend had shut me out because of my impending move. While it’s not about numbers so I couldn’t look at the situation and say, ‘Who cares about that one friend when I have so many others…’ the love really pulled the stinger out of that wound. I could still go down the rabbit-hole of hurt feelings with that friend (now former friend, I guess…), but it’s a lot easier to stay out of that hole with so much love around. And thank you also for your kind feedback about this blogging experiment. I’m enjoying it and it seems a few others of you are enjoying it, too, so I’m onto the next chapter….
By the following summer, I had a much better time in everything in life. I’d figured out that approaching work in a friendly manner not a “GETTHEFUCKOUTTAMYWAYASSHOLE” was much more conducive to a happier work experience. The crop of interns the next summer were more fun, too. There were bonfires on the beaches and skinny dipping in the possibly-radioactive waters. The composers of Avenue Q made a number of guest appearances and I got to know a really nice young composer named Lin Manuel Miranda, as he was workshopping this fantastic new show called In the Heights. I met the Henson family (of Jim Henson!). I met the woman who did all the voices for the female characters in South Park during its first few season .I read Tarot for people in my tiny little room overlooking the Long Island Sound.
It was a Magickal time, and I couldn’t get out of that place fast enough at the summer’s end.
Why? Why the hell would I leave a Magickal artists enclave in walking distance of a beach? Where I had a room over the sea–next to a graveyard? It should have been a writer-Witch’s fantasy in flesh.
But I’d come out of a winter from hell, that dwarfed my disastrous time in NYC.
Three things happened at the end of my first summer in Connecticut: 1.) I was published for the first time. If you’ve heard my stories about promising Brigid a book in exchange for helping me write a short story, this is that short story. 2.) I woke up each day, smiling, for the first time in a very long time. 3.) I don’t remember my third point.
I woke up smiling because I had fallen into a beautiful, safe place. I wandered out onto the grounds each morning, my commute a little garden path from the rambling New England mansion where I lived to the rambling New England mansion where I worked. I couldn’t believe I’d landed in such a beautiful place. On foggy mornings, a solemn fog horn sang off in the distance. At night, the Sound was lit up with passing barges. It was fall and the leaves slowly turned a gorgeous gold. While I dreaded the winter (one thing I learned about myself from living in the NorthEast is that I really really hate the deep cold), I was actually happy and I couldn’t remember the last time I was just plain happy.
It was, however, an isolating experience. The center was miles from town and while I could sometimes borrow a car from the center, I was often very much alone. One other young woman lived in the big house with me and we hated each other. We also had to share an office. “Courtney’s more psycho today than usual!” “Courtney, don’t you know how terrible you are on the phone?” “Um…if you want me to do your job for you, could you at least ask me?” That last quip came once when I had the audacity to leave the phone line for the bathroom and she was incredibly inconvenienced by having to answer it when it rang while I was peeing. I’m sure I was just as quippy, but I don’t remember what I might have said. Anyway, we hated each other. I practiced my hexing skills on her, daily. Once, I poured out all of her Diet Cokes (they were ones I gave her to try to make peace. She accepted them and then was rude again, so I poured them all out by her car). Either way, she was gone on the weekends so there would be stretches when I would be entirely alone on that big campus in that big house. During the winter, a college-aged theater group came in and their director told them to use me as a character study for a Russian play they were studying–about an isolated young woman in a cold, sterile place.
I was the poster-child for the Shining.
But I had a friend. His name was Drake and he was the Human Resources manager. He was the one who recommended me for the job. I still think we did so when he figured out I was a Witch. He was also a Witch, but I called him a vampire. He wore suits, every day, with no tie in a work culture where most of us wore jeans. He never ate. He lived on cigarettes the way ferns live on air (I think….), but many mornings his breath smelled of wine. On Saturday mornings, he would pick me up and drive me to fabulous places like the metaphysical shops in the area, or the Book Barn, which was barns and barns of used books. He bought me whatever I wanted. He re-introduced me to Tori Amos and got me hooked into Anne Rice and re-hooked into Stephen King. I’d stopped reading King years before and originally scoffed at Rice for being “too popular,” like the pain in the ass 90’s kid from Portland that I was. Anything successful was stupid. As it turned out, some successful things are successful for a reason. He gave me uncorrected proofs of Anne Rice’s classics–all signed by her. He used to work for her, he said. They talked on the phone regularly and she was interested in reading the book I was writing.
He promised to take me to New Orleans and introduce me to her. He introduced me to the Key of Solomon and taught me the power of wearing oils. He also taught me that Magick was not only what you do at your altar, but how you dress yourself to interact with the world. Magick, he would explain, was about getting what you want and if you did it correctly, there was nothing you couldn’t have. He told me stories of being in Los Angeles and meeting the Witches out there. “All fabulously wealthy, never aging, and could eat whatever they want.”
He took me to dinner about once a week, charging our drinks and food to the company account and telling me he’d pay it back, later. He’d throw a wad of cash at me, hundreds of dollars, and say, “You figure out the bill. Keep the rest if you want.” I never kept the rest, but I loved handling that much money.
Most of all, he told me my writing was good. He wanted to help. I had an idea for a novel, the story of Jesus Christ, but I would tell it from Jesus’s perspective. At those dinners, we poured over my work. He made notes and gave me feedback. We got to be a little famous in that town, of the strangely-matched couple who always came to dinner with papers.
One night, he helped me rescue a little black kitten who had been living on the porch of the restaurant we frequented. He promised me it was no problem for me to have a pet at the theater house. I named her Lilith. We called her Lily.
“Your writing will change the world,” he said. “But you have to make it by the time you’re twenty-five. You’ll be a millionaire by twenty-six. I’ll help you.” I was twenty-three at the time.
I started my routine of getting up between four and five in the morning, and reading and writing. At night, I’d write some more. But my writing was constantly interrupted by Drake calling me on the phone line he’d had installed in my room. He drank a lot in the evenings and the more he drank, the more he wanted to talk. “You’re going to be so great,” he’d say over and over, nearly crying sometimes. “You’re the little daughter I’m so damn glad I never had.”
He also told me, “People at the theater don’t like you very much. Your officemate is trying to get you fired. The Development Director even suggested replacing you. Other people are constantly trying to put you in a lower position. But don’t worry. Aileen loves you and you have me. Nothing is going to happen to you.”
I bought into it. All of it. The promise of money and fame. The attention. Being told I was great. I sucked it up in the way only a 23-year old with a huge ego and absolutely no confidence could. As it turns out, you can have a huge ego and no confidence. Can you believe that? I can. I did. I was also afraid of losing the little bit of stability I finally had. I believed him and believed he was the only person who was really looking out for me.
Winter got harder. My boss, Aileen, disappeared. Literally. She didn’t come to work and wouldn’t take our calls. We told board members she had the flu. But weeks passed. Eventually, Drake called to tell me that she had cancer and that it was serious. The theater went into a crazy time. As spring approached, a friend in Texas invited me to come and visit her. I hadn’t seen her in years and I missed her. She was the first person I talked to about Wicca when I first started on the path. She had a family, now. And….she had a male friend she very much wanted me to meet.
Needing to get away from the snow and the snotty coworker and the angry other coworkers and the isolation, I used the little money I’d saved over the year and went. I was so glad I did. It was warm. It was friendly. And I really, really liked the male Witch she set me up with. I came back to Connecticut rejuvenated, but with a severe bladder infection….as that’s what can happen when you suddenly have too much sex after not having any in ages!!! The intern who picked me up at the airport took me right to the emergency room. I called Drake the next day, to gush about my time in Texas, the way young women do with their friends. But he wasn’t happy for me.
“You’ve ruined it. You’ve ruined everything. You can’t date right now. You need to focus on your writing. I don’t even know this guy….”
We fought. We made up. I started venturing out into the little town more often and made some friends. Sometimes I drove, when there was a car available, sometimes I walked the three or so miles over the ice just to get coffee and talk to people. Drake would grumble, but then would ultimately say, “Don’t worry. I’m going to take care of you.”
But one day, Drake started asking me about my plans. “Where are you going? What time will you be back? Okay. That sounds fine.”
And I snapped.
I tore into him. Why did he need to know where I was going? Why should I have to tell him what time I’ll be back? Why is any of that ‘fine’? Why was he always telling me the shitty things people say about me? I didn’t need to know any of that. What the fuck was wrong with him???
I hung up. The phone rang. I let it ring. It went to voicemail.
“Fine, Courtney. Fine. I don’t need you. You’re just another problem. Go be a Pollyanna. Go think everyone has your best interests at heart. They don’t. I do. But don’t anymore. I gave you everything. I just wanted to help. You’re so damn talented. But you’re going to blow it. I know you are. I know you.”
I turned off the ringer, but the little light kept flashing. He filled up my voicemail. The messages started out angry and then turned to near-weeping. “Please. Please don’t do this to me. You’re making my cat sick.”
I was truly, legitimately scared that night. Either there were no cars I could drive or the ice was too thick and I couldn’t get out. But I knew the doors on the house I was staying at had warped in the wet cold and did not close all the way. I also knew Drake lived in walking distance. I also did not know anyone in town well enough to call for help. I called my friends in Texas and they were supportive, but I was still very much alone. The only thing that I clung to was Drake’s COPD. He was too sick to travel in this cold.
I couldn’t tell Human Resources about the fucked-up messages on the phone that he installed. He was Human Resources. I couldn’t tell the rest of the management. With my boss gone, there was so much chaos that even when I asked to have a regular lunch break, the management treated me like I was being a fucking prima donna. I know now that I had far more power over Drake than I realized. I had those voicemails. He emailed me privately to say that it was silly that I was keeping them (the box was full so he knew they were all his). In a regular job situation, I could have ruined his career if I’d played them for the right people. But sometimes in the arts, what you do to others is not nearly as important as what you do for the company. He had all the business skills. I’m not sure who they needed more–him, or me–the one assistant Aileen truly liked. I don’t think he knew, either, so we were in this cold-war game of chicken. I also don’t know who had more to lose. I had my housing and income tied up in that job, but he had his entire sense of self-worth. At his age and, as I realized later, his meager prospects for any other work, it would have been the last thing he’d ever done.
Spring finally rolled into summer and that’s when we got back to the top of this blog post. Aileen’s chemo was doing good things for her. She would come straight from her treatments to work, where I would have the AC running and would have a cold Coke open for her. I would put her jewelry on for her as her hands were numb. She would have kept me forever, I knew it. But I was too young to be living like a hermit. I thought that if I wanted to live in a sleepy little town, particularly so far removed from said sleepy little town, I should just go back to Portland. But I wasn’t ready to go back to Portland. I tried to decide if I should stay or go. I knew it was beautiful and I loved Aileen.
Then, I got an invitation for a festival there in Connecticut. Janet Farrar would be there. I laughed when I saw that. The Gods knew what they were doing. I didn’t have to go to Ireland and be homeless to find her. I could have a home and wait right there until she showed up. All I had to do was battle a vampire.
Then I realized that festival was the same weekend as the theater’s gala. That made my decision. I would quit and leave. I would go to the festival, and then I would go back to New York.
I said goodbye to Drake at the grocery store. Isabell was coming and Tiffany had flown out for it. We picked up snacks and ran into Drake there, buying cat food. “I’m moving to New York!” I called to him in the aisle. He smiled weakly. That was it. That was goodbye.
I woke up the next morning on a bunkbed at the festival site. Staring at the metal bed above mine, I realized I was back where I started before. Living out of a backpack and heading off to another NE adventure. But I was stronger, then. And I had a plan.
Drake and I saw each other one more time, at Aileen’s funeral. We made amends. He told me how I had hurt him and I really did pull some shit that was unkind. How convenient that I’m way over my limit and didn’t get a chance to say how awful I was, too! But I was and I admit it. I wanted to hurt him because he’d hurt me. I saw that Anne Rice published “Christ the Lord out of Egypt” just a few months after I left the theater Had he given her my idea? Or was what he said about him telling her about me all a lie, as wouldn’t he have told me she was working on a book of the same concept? Or did he know but he chose not to tell me? On one visit back at the theater, former co-workers snickered at a short-story I’d written about a guy who worked there whom I had a crush on. The only person I’d showed it to was Drake. Had he told them? Or had they found a copy laying around somewhere? He never paid those bills of the dinners. The company did. Just before I left, Drake had the phone guy come in and remove my line along with the voicemails on it. But on the last time I saw him, he looked so sad and alone. Grief brings out forgiveness and we forgave each other in the light of losing someone we both loved. He emailed me several times after that, asking me to come to visit him. So we could drive and get a burger and a beer and talk. Just talk. I never responded and I never went.
A few years later, he died-alone and penniless. On the night he died, he came to me in a dream and told me. I woke up angry at his method of delivery as even after death, he could still be rude and snarky, but always just short of distasteful. He lives on in the novel I’m writing, in which he’s the villain, as he always wanted to be a villain in a book. That was his dream. Someone really needs to publish this fucker and give an old man his last wish.