I had been thinking of us, all young and tawny, our skin tanned the color of honey. How we would descend upon Soquel – driving down 17, which then was almost like a country road – arriving at Annie’s little shanty on Glen Haven Road where the big daytime attraction was stripping off our clothes so that we could sunbathe naked on her terrace.
Me and whatever passel of girlfriends I was hanging out with at the time. We were giggly and annoying.
Annie is someone who could never say, “Yes,” and could never say, “No.” So she had to tolerate us.
At night, we’d take off to the Catalyst whose house band in those days was the Ducks fronted by someone called Neil Young.
Two decades later, I spent a week there hammering out part of the first draft of Saturday Night in the Sky, my computer perched on top of Annie’s battered old desk. I forget where Annie was – maybe New Hampshire? Her Bad Boy BF Stew belonged to an East Coast family that maintained a compound there on some kind of lake.
The window overlooked the terrace and the jagged slope beyond that plunged down to Soquel Creek. It may have been beautiful: In those days, I had absolutely no appreciation for nature.
Her little shanty did afford me a spectacular solitude, and in that solitude, something magical happened: My characters came alive. By which I mean that after I was finished writing a particular scene, that scene occupied the same space inside my head that actual memories occupied. I knew I hadn’t just had an intense conversation with my charming, alcoholic screenwriter hero, but I remembered having that conversation.
A weird kind of transference.
When the Little Store came crashing down in 2008, Annie was not supportive. Rather the opposite, in fact. There was a mix-up about the dates that I could stay in Heidi and Bill’s guestroom (before I left to join Ben and Robin on the circus), and I begged Annie to let me stay with her for a few days.
It’s very hard for me to ask anyone for help.
“What did you do?” Annie snapped.
I hadn’t done anything. There’d been a mix-up about dates.
But it began to dawn on me then that this was the attitude my mother’s family had always had toward me. I was the unwanted mongrel child. The family scapegoat. I was the little girl in the basement.
And as I slowly healed, I decided I was through with my mother’s family.
I’ve never regretted that decision.
I saw Annie at Rik’s funeral. She was so completely tone-deaf to the gravity of the occasion! So. Completely. Tone-deaf. But I couldn’t even feel embarrassed by her. My sense of dissociation was that complete.
Still. When I heard that a mudslide on Glen Haven Road had taken out Annie’s terrace and that the county had red-tagged her house, I felt very bad for her.
The property is still worth well over a million dollars, and it’s not as if the first thing any prospective new owner wouldn’t have done was to tear down her old shack anyway.
All she’d have to do is sell, and she’d be rich, rich, rich beyond her wildest dreams of avarice.
But she doesn’t want to sell.
She wanted to live out the rest of her life there, sunbathing au naturel on that terrace every morning.
So I feel for her. Land-rich, money-poor.
Alicia, her daughter – with whom I am still distantly in touch – has been venting about Annie’s situation on Facebook. Most recently last night.
Despite being mad as a hatter, my mother did have some good ideas from time to time, and one of those was the Kittens and Puppies Postcard Doctrine: Namely, when there are problematic people in your life who, for one reason or another, it’s not wise to disappear completely, you send them postcards of kittens and puppies at strategic intervals: Hello! How are you! Isn’t this kitten CUTE?
I think it may be time to send Annie a kitten-and-puppy postcard. Possibly with a few bios of Liz Taylor (I’ll hit the used bookstores when I’m in NYC at the end of this week.) And an Eleanor Roosevelt mug from the FDR Library: Keep Calm and Carry On.