An excerpt from Trust Me
Holly didn’t even bother with make-up. With her hair towel-dried and pulled straight back, tied with a rubber band, she put on some jeans and a Gold’s Gym sweatshirt. Tonight’s meeting was not an affair to get all done up for. Still, she thought, with a last glance at the mirror, she was lucky—she still looked good: tan, slim, and healthy. Her gray-green eyes looked out over high, carved cheekbones; her nose was straight, and her full lips, when she smiled, showed perfect teeth. Her modeling days were over, but acting was so much more real, more substantial and satisfying.
She went out to the carport and thumbed the button on the remote device on her keychain. The woop-woop sound from her little BMW convertible told her the alarm was disengaged. Holly loved her car; she loved driving in the warm LA nights, with music blasting and her hair blowing crazily in the wind.
She drove up to Olympic Boulevard and turned east, then north when she got to La Brea. By the time she got up to Sunset and over to Franklin it was nearly dark; she would be just on time if she could get a parking spot.
The meeting was in a church annex. Some people filed into a door in the side of the building. When Holly got there a greeter she had never seen told her “Welcome” and shook her hand.
Inside, about thirty people sat in folding chairs arranged in a circle. At one end of the room was a table covered with books, carefully displayed, and a tray with coffee, cups, and sweetener. She nodded to the several people she knew and took one of the few vacant seats, opposite the side where the table was set up.
A woman with a notebook on her lap cleared her throat and said, “Greetings, and welcome to the regular Wednesday night meeting of SAVING OUR LIVES.” She was reading from a format, Holly saw; the same format that all the meetings used, with small variations according to each group.
“My name is Cynthia and I’m here to save my life.”
“Hi, Cynthia,” the group intoned in unison.
“Our purpose,” Cynthia continued to read, “is to learn to live free from the injuries of our past and find our potentials as fully expressed human beings. We are here to take charge of our lives, having spent too many years giving our power to other people or to concepts like money and prestige.” There was more, but Holly stopped listening as she began looking at the other people in the room.
It seemed to be an affluent group, no down-and-outers, and she was glad of it. Of the thirty in the circle, about twenty were women, ranging from their early twenties to mid fifties, with a couple of attentive teenagers just to her left. Then there were the men. It seemed odd to her that men would come to hear information like this; to talk about honesty and emotional issues, about trust and fear of abandonment. It struck her as courageous and wimpy at the same time.
“I will now share for ten minutes and the meeting will open up for discussion.” Cynthia wrapped up the reading from the notebook and cleared her throat again. She looked about forty, very thin and rather smart looking in a gabardine suit.
“Okay,” she began, “I’m a little nervous. I’ve never spoken in front of a group before. I guess I’ll begin with how I got here.
“About two years ago my life just seemed to be coming apart. I had been divorced for five years and every man I had dated since turned out to be a bigger jerk than my ex-husband,” she paused, “or else he was totally boring.” This got a laugh from at least half the room. “My daughter had just gone off to college and my home seemed intolerably empty. I had a decent career in advertising and couldn’t stand going in to work, and nothing seemed to have any meaning for me—I was dying inside. I had been in therapy and . . .”
She lost track of what the woman was saying. She had noticed a man gazing at her from across the circle; he was sitting several seats to the right of the speaker. He didn’t look away when she noticed him. Instead, he smiled and nodded slightly, as if encouraging her or drawing her into complicity.
He was interesting looking, she thought. Not the type to come to this group—he looked far too self-assured. She guessed he was in his mid-fifties, tanned and athletic looking and could pass for much younger. His hair was combed straight back in a European style and he wore a cream-colored suit. She looked away. He had a distinguished look, not someone she would ever go for, but interesting. His nod had been somehow reassuring.
“. . . and my friend told me about Bobbi Bradley’s work and how Bobbi’s book had changed her life.” Cynthia paused and looked up at the ceiling, as if recalling her favorite childhood memory. “So I read that book and when I was halfway through I came to my first meeting. That’s when I discovered that other people felt the same way I did and that they had found a way out. Then I read about how there was a little child in me . . .” Here Cynthia’s voice cracked and the room went silent. Inaudibly at first, she began to cry, and then she covered her face and a great sob blurted out from between her hands. The girl next to Cynthia patted her on the back and offered her a Kleenex.
“That child”—Cynthia’s voice came out in a high-pitched croaking—“had been smothered by the expectations of my parents. I realized that I had been shut off from joy since I was eight years old and had paid for it in every aspect of my life.”
She wasn’t sure she liked this speaker. It embarrassed her when they cried, but then she had to admit that she had been clearly instructed at an early age that crying was foolish and wouldn’t get her what she wanted. She started to wonder if she was going to hear anything useful tonight.
“So I learned that this program was based on Bobbi’s technique of accessing the inner child and that by reassuring the child that she was okay I could have a new experience of life. And I could have a spiritual life, for the Bible says ‘and ye shall be like children.’ So, by following this program I have reclaimed power over my life. I have learned to set boundaries with other people. Once in a while I still get anxiety, but overall I seem to be much more in control.”
Holly glanced over at the man in the cream-colored suit. He seemed to have looked her way at the same moment, and he gave a smile and a little shrug as if to say, “Oh well, who knows?” She frowned. She disliked Biblical references.
“Thank you for letting me share. The meeting is now open for participation.” Cynthia looked relieved that her ordeal was over. Several hands shot up; Cynthia pointed to a large, soft man to her left.
“My name is Ted. Thank you so much for sharing. I got so much from what you had to say. I always seem to hear just what I need to hear. The part about giving your power away to other people is exactly my issue . . .”
That was in the part she read, she thought. Who are these people? What am I doing here? But then she considered the man in the nice suit and several of the women, very composed and smart-looking. They had an air of knowingness about them that intrigued her.
Others participated. One of the teenagers had a stepfather who got drunk and fondled her. A man said that since he had come to SOL he had managed to stop drinking hard liquor and was now able to ration his beer. One very distraught woman had just been left by her boyfriend and was talking about her abandonment issues. The man in the cream-colored suit raised his hand.
“My name is Art, and I’m here to save my own life.” He had a deep and resonant voice with a cultured flavor to it. Holly sat forward, listening now with full attention.
“I’m sure you’re all familiar with Bobbi Bradley. Hopefully you have each read her book, SAVING OUR LIVES, from which this program came into being.” He paused and looked around. Members in the group were nodding their heads in acknowledgement. “If so, then you know that this work has drawn from twelve-step programs, time-honored spiritual disciplines, and the latest work in psychology and neurolinguistics.”
She hadn’t read the book but felt hopeful that there was something substantial here, possibly something that could solve her problem.
“We bring our problems here,” Art went on, “our insecurities and fears, our addictions and self-destructive behaviors, and expose them to the light of day. But that’s only the beginning. There is something available here, a map to navigate by, to get us to a safe haven of sanity and rational living. It’s charted out in Bobbi’s book but to really experience the power of her ideas, there’s nothing like seeing her in person. So I just wanted to share, for those of you who didn’t know, that Bobbi will be giving a seminar on the course tomorrow night at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. I have flyers if you would like to know more about it. Thank you.”
Cynthia checked her watch and then announced, “That’s all the time we’ve got.” She buried herself in the format for a moment and then added, “It is a custom after this meeting to get together at Hamburger Harry’s for fellowship. We welcome the new people to join us.”
Everyone stood up and joined hands. “I already have the power to change,” the group chanted in unison. Holly, embarrassed, joined in: “Together, we can save our lives.” The room burst into a cacophony of scattered chattering and the folding and gathering of metal chairs.
She thought of saying hello to the few people she had met before, but they all seemed to be engaged in conversation. People throughout the room were hugging each other. She headed for the door, which was blocked by a knot of people gathered around Art, who cheerfully handed out bright orange flyers for the seminar.
“Hello,” he said and held out his hand. When she took it he gently drew her around in such a way as to separate the two of them from the rest; it even seemed quieter, she thought, as though they were in a cocoon. “I sense that you’re new here.” His gaze was very direct, but he drew her in in a comforting way, his smile friendly and reassuring.
“Yes. I’ve been to two other meetings before tonight.” He was still holding her hand. “I’m Holly. It’s very nice to meet you,” and she shook his hand, expecting him to then let go. Instead, he brought up his other hand and now held her palm between both of his.
“Holly. How very nice that you’re here.” He still smiled, but his voice became grave. “Something quite painful is usually required to bring us here. The path to freedom begins with sharing your pain.”
His hands were warm and dry, comforting, even though she felt a bit foolish. “Yes. Things are a little confusing. It seems like the parts of my life definitely don’t fit together like they should.”
Art let go of her hand, only to take her shoulder and propel her toward the other people by the door. “Everybody, this is Holly! She’s new and she’s joining us at Harry’s.”
After reluctantly allowing herself to be hugged by five or six people whose names she immediately forgot, Holly felt Art take at her by the elbow. “Why don’t you leave your car here and drive with me? It’s really much easier than trying to find the place by yourself. I’ll bring you back.”
“Well, I think I’ll just follow . . .” she stammered, but Art interrupted her.
“Holly,” he seemed suddenly stern. “It’s okay. It’s different here. It’s safe, and it’s crucial that you believe that, starting right now. You need a place where you can begin to trust.”
She hadn’t intended to go, but found herself intrigued. He was clearly a leader in the group, and she felt flattered to be included. She allowed him to guide her out to the parking lot to where his car was parked.
He drove a gleaming new Jaguar, low-slung and forest green. It smelled of leather, mingled with a pleasant, spicy note that she took to be Art’s cologne. He pushed a button and Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain started to play. She knew it because it had been one of her father’s favorite records.
“So,” Art began, as he wheeled out of the lot, “let me guess. You have a boyfriend but things aren’t quite perfect.” He was turned toward her as though they were still parked but drove with perfect assurance. “Maybe he drinks a bit more than he should. He’s exciting but hasn’t found success just yet; in fact, he’s not in great shape financially. How am I doing?”
She was very uncomfortable—she felt exposed, as though her life had been shown to be transparent and trite. She had experienced a distinct sensation of falling as he spoke, but anger provided the solid branch that she needed to steady herself, to come back into her own.
“Actually,” she replied, “I do have a boyfriend, and the fact is he’s about to become very successful. He is also a very decent person.” She wondered why she rallied to Tony’s defense in the face of such an accurate assessment
“I’m sure he can be,” Art said, seeming amused.
“You certainly go out on a limb with your presumptions.” She needed to nip this in the bud before the man started plucking more data about her life out of thin air.
“Oh, let me venture a bit further. This limb bends but never breaks, and below it are other limbs. The question is, what tree am I up in?”
“Maybe you’re up a tree of bullshit,” she shot back.
“Oh, feisty, that’s a very appropriate tactic. Tell me, which of your parents was the alcoholic and which was obese?”
She felt like she had been punched in the gut. Her father had died of cirrhosis of the liver, but was certainly not an alcoholic. Her mother, however, was definitely overweight. Holly was baffled at her reaction. An overweight parent would have been easy enough to guess, but there was something relentless in Art’s approach; she was under siege.
At that moment the Jag turned into the parking lot of Hamburger Harry’s. It looked like the whole group had shown up, and some of the members that she had just met grinned and waved as Art parked the car.
“This is not about me attacking you,” Art said, turning toward her as he switched off the ignition. “This is about finding the chink in the armor that you’re so unwilling to reveal. Even if I am mistaken in my guesswork so far, something impelled you to come to our meeting. It has a face. It has a description, it has a background, and you have a part in it. That’s why it’s so hard to be honest about it. Relax, let’s go in and eat, enjoy. I promise I’ll lighten up.” He made a face of mock seriousness and it seemed to her that she was looking at a very little boy trying to look grown up. She smiled. He smiled back, and it occurred to her for the first time that he was attractive in an odd way. His nose was too large, his lips too full, his features were rough, but it all added up to a strange appeal.
She allowed Art to take her hand as he helped her out of the Jaguar. They joined the others in the lot and entered the restaurant. Other members of the group were already seated in a section where all the tables had been pushed together to make one long row. Art led her to the far end of the row and seated her in the last chair. He then sat at the end of the table, to her right, as though he were the host of a dinner party.
“The salad bar here is excellent,” he said. “Follow me and do everything I do.” She did, even though she wasn’t hungry.
They returned to their seats with identical plates, each covered by little piles of chili, pasta, artichoke hearts, salad greens, and sourdough bread. “To faith, fellowship, and food!” Art proclaimed, and the others, now all seated, laughed and raised their water glasses, their ice teas, and their diet cokes.
¤ ¤ ¤
It was past midnight when Art brought her back to her BMW in the church parking lot. He had held court for hours; Holly, like the others, had refilled her plate several times, and the serious mood of the meeting had evaporated. The whole line of approach Art had pursued earlier, during the ride to the restaurant, seemed to be finished as well.
“Holly,” he began as he again held both of her hands, standing at the open door of her car, “it has been delightful having you along tonight.”
She felt flattered. Throughout the evening he had treated her like a special guest. The meeting had been kind of a downer, she thought, but the get-together afterward was quite pleasant.
“I had a great time. Thank you.” She meant it.
“Holly.” He was stern again, intense, saying her name as if he didn’t already have her attention. “I think that you are about to embark on a major voyage of discovery. About yourself and about the world. Tonight was a beginning, but you need a real introduction to this work, and tomorrow night’s seminar is perfect, crucial even, for you at this moment in your life.” He let go with one hand and, reaching in his jacket pocket, pulled out an envelope. Handing it to Holly, he told her, “Please be my guest tomorrow night. Seven sharp, at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. There’s a ticket in the envelope, along with my card. Call me if you would like a ride.”
She was flustered. Something in his manner almost commanded her to go—it seemed too forceful; he certainly wasn’t attractive in this moment. And yet she couldn’t say no. She thanked him again, took the envelope and, disengaging her other hand from his, she got into her own car and closed the door. She put the envelope in her purse and started the BMW.
¤ ¤ ¤
She listened to music at full volume as she drove—in order not to have to think—but her mind just shouted louder. “Who the hell does he think he is?” His personal interrogation came back to her, with all its attendant discomfort. What an asshole, she thought, shaking her head as she turned into her building’s driveway.
Tony’s car was parked in her spot. It was a decrepit Volvo station wagon, parked askew with its tail end sticking out into the traffic lane. All of his gear was visible in the back—amplifiers and instrument cases—and the driver’s side window was open.
She parked in visitor parking and hurried up to her flat. Music was blaring from her stereo—it had that noisy, messy quality she had come to know as belonging to a live recording of one of Tony’s club gigs. She started to let herself in when the doorknob flew out of her grasp.
“Hey, Miss nighty-night-early-tonight made it home. I know. You tried to sleep and couldn’t so you made the bed and got dressed and went for a FUCKING DRIVE. AM I RIGHT?” He’s shouting at me, she thought, inside my own home. He stood holding her door open but blocking the doorway. In one hand he gripped a bottle of Wild Turkey. The words “Get it while it’s
hot . . .” came in a distorted roar from the stereo behind him—it was the chorus to a rock song he had co-written.
She brushed past Tony, surprised at her own audacity. He let her through and followed her into the living room. She hit the off button on the stereo and turned back to him. “I want you to leave here right now.”
“Whoah, baby. Aren’t you glad to see me?” he taunted as he stepped toward her. “I called and I called and then I thought to myself, well why don’t I just go over and sneak in real quiet-like and snuggle up with her in bed. Wouldn’t that be nice? But nooo. Check it out. The bitch flew the coop!”
“Get out of here, Tony. You’re drunk. I hate it when you’re drunk. Go home.”
“Where were you?”
“I went to a meeting.”
“Bullshit. Fucking meetings are over at nine. BULLSHIT.” Now he was yelling again.
“Look, I went out with the people from the meeting afterward. We went to a restaurant.”
“Bullshit.” Tony lunged forward and grabbed her purse. He reached in and pulled out her compact. “Nice,” he said, and threw it over his shoulder. He followed with her wallet, hairbrush, and address book, throwing them aside, until he got to the envelope.
“Hey now. What have we got here?” He opened the envelope and pulled out a business card. “Dr. Art Bradley, Psychologist, Licensed Family Counselor, Co-dependency and Substance Abuse Specialist, hey, in Bevahlee Hills, dahling. Oh, and look here!” He pulled out the ticket. “The Bevahlee Hills fuckin’ Playhouse. Well, isn’t that nice. Tomorrow night.” He stepped up to her and lowered his face to her, then moved around to whisper, “I thought we had . . .” his tongue flickered warmly in her ear, “a date tomorrow night.”
“Tony, goddamit, cut it out.” She turned her head and tried to pull away, but Tony’s hand shot out and caught her hair. She felt a shock of pain as he wrenched her around and flung her, by the hair, back into the stereo console.
“Tony, please, you’ve got it all mixed up, stop.” She was pleading with him, but somewhere in the back of her mind she was furious, ready to push a brick in his face if only she could get her hands on one.
“All mixed up. You’ve got it all mixed up,” he mimicked. “All mixed up? Mix this up, you little cunt,” and his hand shot out and caught her right above the eye in a backhanded slap that she heard before she felt.
At that moment a voice came from the door. “Holly! Holly, is everything okay?” The voice had a lisp; it was Arnie, her next door neighbor, very sweet, very gay, and not her first choice for the moment, but Tony simply said, “Oh Christ,” and turned around and left. As he passed Arnie at the door he said, “What a fuckin’ joke,” and then he was gone.