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Idiot: Life Stories from the Creator of Help Helen Smash / (by Laura Clery, 2019) -

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Idiot: Life Stories from the Creator of Help Helen Smash /  (by Laura Clery, 2019) -

Idiot: Life Stories from the Creator of Help Helen Smash / (by Laura Clery, 2019) -

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Idiot: Life Stories from the Creator of Help Helen Smash / (by Laura Clery, 2019) -
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2019
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Laura Clery
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Laura Clery
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upper-intermediate
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07:15:37
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64 kbps
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Idiot: Life Stories from the Creator of Help Helen Smash / :

.doc (Word) laura_clery_-_idiot.doc [2.92 Mb] (c: 3) .
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: Idiot: Life Stories from the Creator of Help Helen Smash

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To my momma. For loving me fully and believing in me always. I love you. CHAPTER 1 Oh, the Places Ive Peed Im tallsix feet, to be exact. Ive always been really tall for my age. Remember when Mary Poppins pulled that long-ass hat stand out of her Magic Bag? Thats what it was like when the doctors pulled me out of my moms vagina. With my full head of hair, I looked like a hat stand wearing a wig. Still do! By the time I was fourteen, I had outgrown my twin-size bed. So naturally, I started sleeping on the living room couch. Which meant that sleep was soon replaced with infomercial watching. Id wake up late every morning, my hat standbody sprawled across the couch, surrounded by Post-its scribbled with 1-800 numbers and names of useless products: the after-party mess from my late-night infomercial benders. When my mom walked into the living room in the morning, Id leap off the couch and accost her. MOM? Mom! We have to get the Hawaii Chair. We need it; you dont understandits only six easy payments of $19.99. You sit in it and it sways your butt around, and then you have abs in a MONTH. I saw the before and after! Its real! Mom? Come back. I followed her into the kitchen and sat down on an insufferable regular chair. To give her the full picture, I swayed my hips on the chair. After watching her daughter grind awkwardly for a good five minutes, she said, Laura, youre just gonna sit on that thing for thirty minutes and then puke. She didnt get me the Hawaii Chair. She never got me ANYTHING from infomercials. In spite of this deprivation, I did have a pretty happy childhood. I grew up in the most ideal suburb you could ever imagine: Downers Grove, Illinoisa working- /middle-class town twenty minutes outside Chicago. Now you might be thinking, Ha-ha! DOWNERS Grove? Is everyone on Xanax all the time? If were gonna be realistic, then yeah, probably. Maybe thats why everyone is so nice. Its a chill suburb. All the children play out on the street, and the community is really close. Im pretty sure we even got on a list of the Top Ten Places to Raise Kids in, like, 2006 or something. And almost nothing has changed since then. Its a lovely place where youre born and never leave. Okay, that sounds more ominous than I mean. You never leave . . . in a good way! You dont leave because it has everything youd ever need! Take my parents, for example. They were both born a few minutes away in Oak Park, Illinois. They grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same high school. They had a love story straight from the movie Grease. My dad was a greaser, leather jacket and all. He was in a gangwell, a white, middle-class, high school gang. They just stole stuff, vandalized buildings, and smoked weed all the time. My mother, on the other hand, was a total prep. She was on the honor roll, a cheerleader, and had a reserved and sweet disposition. And when they were on opposite sides of town, they would both randomly break into the same song. Okay, that last detail was a lie, but the rest is completely true. They met at an April Fools party. My dad saw my mom from across the room and knew she was the one. He was sixteen and she was fifteen. Thats right, a decade and a half out of the womb and he knew she was the one. He asked her out again and again . . . and she repeatedly said no. In her defense, he had a girlfriend at the time. When recounting the story, my dad jokingly complains, She made me break up with my girlfriend! He apparently did not want to. After he did, he and my mom started going out. And that was it. They married and had my eldest sister, Tracy; my middle sister, Colleen; and me, Laura. They settled in a home thirty minutes from the houses they grew up in. Even though they upheld the local tradition of staying in the Chicagoland area, my parents were a bit of an anomaly in our pristine town. As just one example, in a suburb that embodied practicality, my dad bought my mother a Sebring convertible. This was in a city that has good weather for like . . . two weeks out of the year. Winters in Illinois are brutal and last forever, and my dad bought my mother a car whose main feature was a top that came off and exposed us all to the rain, sleet, and snow. Soon enough the fabric roof got a hole in it, and now they keep a bucket in the backseat for when it rains. (Yes, twenty years later they still have the car.) But my parents really wanted to enjoy those two weeks of nice weather per year. I love that about them. Downers Grove is a mostly Catholic town with strong family values. Not so much religious as culturally Catholic. By far, my family had the most . . . um . . . passionate opinions about religion. One of my dads favorite dinnertime musings was FUCK ORGANIZED RELIGION! Its bullshit. And eat another hot dog, Laura, youre too skinny! My family were the only atheists in town. My dad was bent on making sure we knew that church was brainwashing. No matter what ideals they grew up with, no matter who they were speaking to, my parents were incredibly open-minded. They were authentic. They never pressured me to get married, and they made it very clear that they would love me if I was gay. Even though we were constantly struggling financially, they made sure I never felt the pressure to get a stable nine-to-five job if I didnt want one. I wouldnt trade those two for the world. Well, maybe for the world, but nothing less! While all the other parents in town were encouraging their kids to pursue practical careers, my mom and dad didnt blink twice when I told them at age eleven I was going to be a famous actress. You can do it, sweetheart. We believe in you! My dad would take the liberal parenting a bit further when he would also say things like When you try acid, make sure youre in a comfortable setting. Im not gonna try acid, Dad. Oh come on, Laura, you gotta try acid. I never did try acid. I guess it was my way of rebelling? In grammar school a few other kids asked me, When did you make your Holy Communion? I had never heard of Holy Communion. I asked them what it was. Then they frowned and said, Youre going to hell. Nine-year-olds say the darndest things! That day, I went home and asked my mother, Why are we going to hell? She was a bit alarmed. I even insisted she teach me a prayer so that I would fit in with the other kids. But even when I tried, I just didnt fit in with them. The small rejections made it hard for me to talk in school. I lacked any confidence once I stepped inside the classroom. Today, I really appreciate this aspect of how I was raised. In a town where everyone passively accepted religion as one of the defining factors of our community, my parents never forced a religion on me. My dad would say, When youre old enough to research different religions and make that decision for yourself, I want you to be able to do that. And I did. Ive been able to go my own way and find a spirituality that I fully believe in and speaks to me. Hail Satan! Just kidding. Aaaand . . . there might have been one other reason why I didnt fit in well. I had a really morbid sense of humor. And no one wants to talk to the skinny, quiet child making creepy death jokes in the corner of the room. So I channeled it all at home. My favorite thing to do was write and direct horror movies. Id grab my familys camcorder, all the kids in the neighborhood, and a butter knife (which is obviously a murderers top weapon of choice). Then Id record these cheesy short horror movies. It was difficult to be both the villain and the director, but I made it work. Video camera in one hand and butter knife clenched in the other, the frame would show just my tiny, dubiously armed fist and my neighbor John running away, screaming as I chased him. So . . . you can imagine how popular I was with the church-y kids at school. Have you ever read one of those psychology textbooks where they tell you the traits of the eldest, middle, and youngest sibling? My sisters and I fit exactly. Tracy, the eldest, follows rules, is strict, and did whatever our parents told us to do. Colleen is an introverted oddball who played songs on the guitar written in French and read books for fun. I was the annoying loudmouth comedienne that everyone loved. (Right? Right?) All I ever wanted to do was make people laugh. When I became painfully shy and quiet at school during those years, it was VERY out of character for me. Luckily, thats when I met Maggie, my childhood soul mate. I was in third grade, and we were in the talent show together. She was singing Karen Carpenters Top of the World at the top of her lungs. I remember she was so loud that her voice became shaky trying to handle it. My mother had been rehearsing my sisters and me in a roughly harmonized rendition of Chapel of Love and getting up on that stage absolutely terrified me. I knew how difficult it was to sing in front of people, and because of that, I was SO impressed by Maggie. I remember being enamored by her and thinking she was the bravest, most confident person I had ever seen. And then when she got off the stage, she punched a boy for making fun of her. Thats seriously badass. I approached her, told her I liked her headband, and we were attached at the hip after that. We spent every waking moment with each othereither she slept at my house, or we stayed up on the phone with each other. (I would have stayed at her house too, but we just got away with much more mischief at my house.) With her, I finally came out of my shell. We really were oddballs together. It was finally okay for my strangeness and humor to come out. I even loved her family. Maggies mom was a stay-at-home mom who went back to college in her late forties and started working again. Her dad was this slick FBI agent. He was very strict, so different from my own parents. #whatisstructure? The best part of Maggies family was her older sister. To the rest of the world, she was a high school theater nerd. To me, she was the most incredible actress I had ever seen. We went to see her high school play once. It was a comedy and she had complete command of the audience. Laughter rang out at one point and I remember thinking to myself, I want to do what shes doing. I was eleven years old, and it was the moment I decided I wanted to be an actress. Being in Maggies atmosphere made a huge impact on my life. We loved to try to thrill each other. It became kind of a contest as to who could be the most shocking. In school, we would write each other the most fucked up notes we could think of to see who could get a bigger rise out of the other person. We knew some curse words at this point in our lives, but we didnt exactly know how to use them. So we inserted them into sentences where they sounded good! Thats how words work, right? She passed me one that said: My arm shits smell. It really fucks that we cant go to Six Flags Great America this weekend. To which Id respond: Can you ass me some water? We were pretty legit. In sixth grade, Maggies note was intercepted by the principal. The principal read the note and then told Maggie, You need to read this aloud to your parents. We both looked at each other frantically. Her FBI agent dad would NOT be cool about this, to say the least. Oh SHIT, we both muttered to each other, finally using the word correctly! Not only did we both get so much detention, but the next day there was an assembly for just the girls in our school about the importance of being a lady. Our principal had a bold opening line: When you say shit or fuck or bitch it is very unbecoming, girls. I avoided her eye contact at all costs, while Maggie nodded along, sardonically, an air of fake concern about her. Like I said, Maggie was badass. Next on Maggie and Lauras list of shocking activities? Public urination. Maggie and I would pee in public all over the place. Thats normal, right? She would go outside of a Walmart, I would go on her neighbors lawn, we both took turns outside of a public library, again and again until we ran out of places. Or until the neighbors started to notice spots of dead grass on their lawns. But as expected, our game of Who could pee in the most shocking place? got old quickly. Fortunately, Maggie knew how to take things up a notch. In sixth grade, we took a trip to Six Flags Great America and stayed at the Holiday Inn. That night we were in the hot tub, splashing each other while sitting across from an older couple who were just trying to enjoy their vacation. Can you ladies stop it, please? Youre being disruptive, the woman said. Yeah, Laura, Maggie said, stop being disruptive. I frowned and shoved her awkwardly, but quieted down. The woman sighed. I looked down at the bubbling water to avoid the old couples shaming glaucoma-glare. I saw Maggie roll her eyes. Can we go back to the room? I asked Maggie. Nope. I want to get pruney. I sighed. A moment of silence and then Maggie smiled at me with this devilish grin. I looked at her, confused. What? I whispered. And then . . . I felt it. Something soft and mushy in my hand. I lifted my hand out of the waterand screamed! It was Maggies shit. She had shit in the Jacuzzi. AND THE SHIT WAS IN MY HAND. I was so fucking shocked that I threw the shit as hard as I could, hopped out of the Jacuzzi, and jumped into the pool. The lady sitting across from me screamed. I may or may not have gotten some shit on her. To this day I wont go in a Holiday Inn Jacuzzi. I hope Maggies not upset with me for sharing that. Maybe I should change her name. Maddie. Identity concealed! Nice, Laura. Maggie and I were fucking weird and adventurous and I loved it more than anything. We would striptease for each other to The Sign by Ace of Base. (Which really is a top striptease song, Id say, and definitely still holds up.) Wed give each other half naked massages by candlelight and wed go to Barnes & Noble and find the Victoria Secret catalogs in the back and tape pictures of our faces inside of them. This, in retrospect, was probably highly disturbing for the next person who opened them up. Someone in the market for Victoria Secret probably didnt bet on seeing a smiling eleven-year-olds face taped above some huge tits. But we didnt care! We very badly wanted to grow up and be women and know things about our bodies. We were curious. In Downers Grove, not many people were interested in educating prepubescent girls about sex. So it was just me and Maggie against the world, figuring things out for ourselves. Living in a weird, amazing bubble. At school, Maggie and I had other friends for a while. But as she and I got more and more drawn into our own world, our other friends became convinced we were lesbians and cut us off from hanging out. I guess they thought lesbian meant . . . weird? But we didnt care. If they were going to abandon us for being too strange, then I was happy to see them go. Together, it was okay to be different. To be who we were. Maggie became the star of all my horror movies, and fake-stabbing my best friend with a butter knife became my favorite pastime. Despite living in a comfortable middle-class town, my family never seemed to have any money. We were pretty much always broke. But in spite of all that, I never felt poor. Probably because families hide things well from the youngest child! But also because I felt safe and we always had enough to eat. And if I ever wanted expensive things, I would just steal them. Problem solved! My parents did a good job of making me feel like money wasnt an issue. They made it a point for us to have experiences that normal families would have, like going on vacationeven if they were vacations at which most people would turn up their noses. Every year my dads whole side of the family would go to The Golden Horse Ranch in Wisconsin. Every year, you guys. I hear some families, like, try to see different parts of the world eventually? Not us! This ranch was small and completely broken-down. The cabins would have mice in them, and when wed ask the front desk for help, they would hand us a cat and say Figure it out. There were horses and literal barn dances and terrible beige food and tiny cabins that were too hot and always a bit moist. Which is all to say: it was awesome! I dont think theres anything better than being out in the wilderness with the people you love, staying out late, climbing around the forest, making the most of your ill-functioning cabin, and running around horses redolent of poop. It was also when I got to try adult things for the first time. Its like when youre on vacation, the rules dont apply. When I was in junior high, I brought Maggie and a couple friends with me to the ranch. My sister Colleen wanted to get us drunk for the first time. She poured a shot of vodka into each of our cups of SunnyD and we gulped it down, eager to see what it felt like. In the blink of an eye we were wasted. In our drunken stupor, we thought that the coolest thing we could do would be to climb out the window instead of using the door. Because, you know, falling into scratchy bushes is really cool! So we did that. We stumbled over to the rec center and played drunk bingo. Well, it was technically normal bingo. But for us it was drunk bingo. Im sure all of the senior citizens were a bit confused by our enthusiasm. Especially after Maggie yelled BINGO! for the fourth time. IVE ONLY CALLED THREE NUMBERS; I KNOW YOU DONT HAVE A BINGO, MISS. When we walked back to the cabin, each of us now suffering a dehydration headache, my mom was outside. Arms crossed, furious. Or was she . . . scratching her arms? Either way, she looked super mad. Oh crap, what did we do? I thought to myself. She just glared and didnt say a word as we passed her. There was a soft buzzing noise. Thats weird. As we walked inside . . . it got louder and louder. We looked up to see an ominous black cloud across the ceiling of the cabin. It wasnt a cloud. It was THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF MOSQUITOS trapped inside our cabin. We had left the window open and the light on and they all came swarming inside. I screamed and tried to run out, but my mom was blocking the doorway. FIX THIS, she said. Yikes. Colleen and my friends and I spent the next three hours standing on chairs with shoes on our hands, stomping on the bugs on the ceiling. Id kill four at a time with my Sketchers, but then the bodies would fall down on my face. Yum! As someone who struggled with alcoholism years later, I can look back and see that drinking had always brought consequences. As Maggie and I got older, our insular duo got less insular. We joined a group of popular girls called The Twelve, named both because we were twelve years old and there were twelve of us. Creative geniuses over here! We were your typical group of bitchy junior high kids, complete with professional photos taken at the Yorktown mall. Our leader was named Erica (of course) and she was this beautiful, blonde, popular cheerleader, who was dating Tyler, the most popular guy in school. All the boys were in love with her because she had tits from a young age. Shes super nice now, but was a total bitch back then. It wasnt her fault, though. Today, none of those girls have a mean bone in their bodies. Something about being that age makes everyone a little mean. Once we were in this group, all of a sudden everything mattered. How you did your hair, who you dated, what brand of socks you had on. Unfortunately, the best socks my mom could get me were Tommy Hilfangures. We said we were wearing Abercrombie shirts today, Laura. I looked down at the logo on my shirt and mumbled back, This IS Aberzombie. What did you say? Nothing. Even if I didnt have the right clothes, I found my place in our crew as the entertainer. There was one fateful lunch period where I stuck grapes up my nose and Erica proclaimed Laura is totally, like, the funny one! From then on I was their clown, and I was good at it. We all had our place. Erica was the leader; I was the funny one; Holly was the shining light of positivity. She could see a bright side to everything. You got picked last for basketball? Then theres no pressure! You got detention? Its extra time to finish your homework! To this day she is the nicest, most positive woman I know, and one of my best friends. Instead of detention, now she gets excited to go to the DMV because . . . who the fuck knows? My job as The Entertainer fit me well. I could make these girls laugh their asses off. We would make prank phone calls, or rather I would. All the other girls would have to go in the other room and listen on the muted second line because theyd be in tears, laughing so hard that it would have ruined the prank. One night, we got tired of pranking the local pizza restaurant. We decided to do something to Tyler, Ericas boyfriend. He lived three doors down from Hollys house, where we were having our sleepover that night. Now, Tyler was like the golden boy of our school. He was so sweet and well liked, he had this charismatic personality and great smile that just won everyone over. And he was also one of our best friends. So we wanted to do something that would REALLY get him. Heres what we came up with: We put a training bra on his front porch and ran home giggling. Then we called his house. There was no answer, but we left the following voice mail: Boobs on your porch! Boobs on your porch! Pretty scandalous, right? But he didnt even call back! Maybe he was out at soccer practice. An hour later, we called again. Boobs on your porch! Boobs on your porch! Again nothing. Well, damn. The sleepover continued as normal and we went home the next day. But when Monday rolled around, I got a call from Holly. It was a conference call with all the girls on it. Holly was freaking out. There are cops outside Tylers house! Theyre onto us; they know we did boobs on the porch! What do we do?? Fuck fuck fuck. We all panicked! Jail time was definitely imminent. Even Holly couldnt spin this as a positive. How many cops?? Literally two cop cars! I cant get arrested! Dance team tryouts are next week! I tried to be the voice of reason. Just lay low everybody. Just lay low. We all stayed indoors that day. That night we got a call. Tylerour good friend Tylerhad committed suicide that day, in his basement. None of us knew he was even close to his breaking point. He had always seemed so happy. None of the typical signs were therehe wasnt an outcast, he never had trouble socializing. It was the first time we were faced with death that wasnt about our pets or grandparentsit was someone just like us. At that age you think youre immortal and invincible. I think Tylers death woke us up to the harsh reality that you could be here one day and gone the next. And we had that wake-up call at age twelve. That night we congregated at Hollys house again. Three doors down from Tylers. We cried and cried. After that, The Twelve were a lot more compassionate. A lot quieter. Some of us went our separate ways after junior high, but that grief bonded us in a way nothing else could have. It set the tone for the rest our adolescence: that reality outside of childhood isnt as bright as you want it to be. I started to feel tired of caring what people thought about me. I didnt want to care. I didnt want people to feel like they had to put on a happy face around me. Or that they had to pretend to be stronger than they felt. What if Tyler had been able to talk to us about how he was feeling? What if we were all able to be more authentic? I threw away all my Tommy Hilfangure socks and Aberzombie shirts, as well as the sequin scrunchies and everything I had shoplifted in order to fit in with The Twelve. Laura Clery was about to be her goddamn self, bitches. CHAPTER 2 High School Hammer Time Maggie and I changed a little after we hit high school. Our ambitions changed. For example, she wanted to give the speech at graduation. And I wanted to do drugs. Call us high achievers, because we BOTH reached our goals! I dont blame her for wanting to straighten up. I mean, she had straight As. She was good at school. Academic achievement was her ticket to success. But it wasnt for me. I tested terribly, couldnt focus, and Id ditch class whenever I could. I also took geometry three times, and not because I loved it. Almost failing school was fine, though. So what if I got bad grades? I was going to be an actress. It was my destiny. And you dont need geometry to act, dammit. I was very disruptive in class. (Kids . . . dont be like me.) I just didnt see the point of school. It was like a horrible spiral where I didnt try because I wasnt doing well and didnt care to do well, and then my teachers would hate me, and then I would be more disruptive because . . . its not like I had any student-teacher relationships to preserve! I was not a joy to have in class. For me, class was just a time for me to practice bits on my classmatestry to make everyone laugh. My teachers might have hated it, but to everyone else, I was a riot. Id do one bit where Id sit right in the middle of the classroom, where I knew people could see me from every angle. Id fill up my mouth with water, hold it in there, and then pretend to be asleep. And then I would drool excessively until I heard whispers turn into exclamations of AWWWW SICK!!! It was very committed preparation. I took clowning around seriously, you guys. Then I would fake waking up all startled, and splash everyone nearby. Classmates started trying to avoid my splash zone. But in a huge, overcrowded public school, it was either sit next to me or sit on the floor! When I worked in the speech office, I would photocopy pictures of my ass and pass them out. It was the original unsolicited dick pic. Because I was very well known for causing a disturbance, this meant Maggie and I had to go our separate ways. With no hard feelings at allshe would still come over to my house in the middle of the night to watch movies with me in secret and sometimes wed sneak into the porn section of Family Video after classbut beginning my freshman year, I was already starting to be known as a bad kid. I was tainting her image. Because my parents were liberal hippies, I didnt need to hide my bad-kid tendencies from anyone. I dont think the following is the normal conversation parents have with their kids about weed: Dad: Laura, are you smoking weed? Laura: Um . . . I dont know. Why? Dad: Heres twenty bucks. Can you get me some? I got away with a lot. I was kind of an odd bad kid, though. I wasnt completely removed from school or in a bad-kid clique. I was friends with people in all types of cliques and did extracurriculars like student council. But frequently I also happened to ditch class to smoke weed. Life is all about balance, you guys! Once we took a field trip to downtown Chicago for a student council convention (of course Im going to do an extracurricular that gets me out of class!). As I stared out the window of the bus, I made mental notes of all the shops I wanted to check out when I inevitably ditched the entire event. As I was exiting the bus and planning my escape, I saw this boy in my grade that I had seen being bullied earlier that day. The twist was that he yelled back at the jocks who were making fun of him, which was badass. In his black jacket and black jeans, he was the best-dressed bullied nerd I had ever seen. I looked down at my weird sweatpants and touched my topknot, which was currently frizzing out. My mom actually made sweatpants, so I had like ten pairs and it was all I wore. Some might have called it slovenly, but I say: Ahead of my time! Athleisure is in now!!! I approached him. Wanna ditch this and smoke a cigarette with me? I asked. I cant. I have a boner for student council. You . . . what? Im joking. Lets get out of here. We slipped away from the group. I lit a cigarette, handed it to him, and he winced as he took a drag. He was pretending to be chill about it, but I later found out that this was his first cigarette! He just jumped at the opportunity to hang out with me because I was apparently a cool kid in my homemade sweatpants. From then on, we were attached at the hip. Wed do everything together. I would defend him a lot from the guys who picked on him, but I dont think he truly even needed me. Jack had this incredible fuck you sort of attitude. He didnt care what people thought about him. He just was who he was. He didnt come out as gay to me until years later (because of course it takes a long time to build up that courage), but he was always authentically himself. Always. I loved and admired that about him. Every day we would smoke weed and ditch school. After we had too many unexcused absences, I had the brilliant idea of getting us actual excused absences. I always had a knack for accents and voices . . . and I had his moms voice down pat. Id call the front desk of our school: Hi, this is Caroline McCalpin calling. I need to come pick up Jack, so please let his teachers know, thanks. It worked every time. Other kids started to notice and ask me for my services. Can you call me out of school too? Yes. That will be twenty-five dollars. Id press *67 to make my number private, so the school had no way of seeing that everyones mom had the same phone number. It was foolproof, you guys. I got pretty sophisticated with my mom voices, too. I could do a Macedonian mom, an Irish mom, a New Jersey mom . . . Jennas, Lisas, and Jeffs mothers respectively. I could do whatever anyone wanted from me. I once excused a kid for an entire week. I started getting cocky about my ability . . . I probably crossed a line when I began making calls to the office while I was in class. In my defense, it was a huge public high school with overfilled classrooms and over four thousand students trekking through the halls. We could get away with a lot. It was fourth period when my friend Megan started to complain: Ugh I dont want to go to eighth period. I havent studied for my test at all. Im gonna fail. I grinned at her, grabbed my phone, and pressed one button (I had the school phone number on speed dial), then pressed the phone to my ear. I looked around the roomour teacher was all the way on the other side, blocked by a sea of rowdy students. It was fine. Stop worrying! I put on what I thought was a bright, enthusiastic mom voice. Hi there! This is Peggy Manzer, Megans mom? Yeah. Megans not gonna make it to eighth period today, shes got a bit of a tummy ache. I think its diarrhea, but Id rather me find out than you! Ha-ha! I had no doubt Megan would be leaving school without a problem. My Peggy Manzer impression was spot-on. Unfortunately, one small piece of classroom etiquette was ingrained in me despite all my efforts not to learn anything in school. Without realizing it, I was whispering on the call. I used my library voice, so it was pretty obvious that it was a student calling. Megan got detention . . . but I didnt! They never figured out it was me. With Jack, I was the one leading us into trouble. I introduced him to his first cigarette and his first ecstasy pill. All of it. Jack kept up smoking for years after that first cigarette that I gave him. (I recently got him to quit smoking because that guilt weighed on me all this time.) Jack went along with it all because we both felt . . . different. Also, he loved pot as much as I did. Bonding! We had this rebellious spirit that led us to shoplift and get high and hang out at the graveyard at night. There was this little section of the graveyard where an entire family was buried. The mom, the dad, and baby. Their last name was Vinkus, and our nighttime activity soon became hanging out with the Vinkuses. Jacks mom hated me. Can you imagine why? Because I totally cant. She called my mom at one point and said, I do not want your daughter anywhere near my son. We were your modern-day Homeo and Juliet: a gay boy and his troublemaker best girlfriend, torn apart by their families disapproval of their love . . . of weed. After that we would just sneak around with our friendship. Nothing was going to split us up. He would call my house phone over and over again, and my family couldnt stand it. He wouldnt let up until I had answered. Hes actually in sales now and hes really good at itits that relentless persistence. But we would end up with like ten voice mails in a row, most of which were just him saying Helloooo, Clarice in a Hannibal Lecter voice. As soon as I got my drivers license, our rebellious adventures entered a whole new realm. Driving us around in my parents convertible gave us our first taste of adult freedom! Since we were two people who tended to overdo things, Id drive with the top down and Jack would scream random things at people. Wed drive past the elementary school around the time school got out and Jack would scream, SANTAS NOT REAL!!! We were great kids. But in this particular instance, Jack saw this really serious-looking cyclist we were passing and chose to yell, GET OFF THE ROAD, ASSHOLE! The man glared at him. Jack! Thats mean, I said. Come on. He could have scratched your paint. I kept driving. And then I noticed him. The biker. Following us. And he wasnt just any cyclist, this guy was the real deal, decked out in a helmet, dark shades, and jacket. And he looked fucking mad. He sped up. Jack . . . I whispered, trying to stay calm. What? Jack looked confused, then turned around and immediately shrank with fear. DRIVE, BITCH, DRIVE! We hadnt just pissed off a random biker, we pissed off one who had apparently been pissed off FOR THE LAST TIME. Rage fueled his furious pedaling, and soon he was speeding up alongside us. I turned to try to lose him. He caught up. I turned again. There he was, pedaling on his ten-speed Schwinn, with murder in his eyes. This was the lamest car chase youd ever see in your life. Two teens in an old convertible versus a bicyclist in the suburbs. And we were somehow losing. I took one last turn . . . into a cul-de-sac. There was nowhere to go. The cyclist parked his bike in front of our car, and he kicked out the kickstand like a boss. Jack, meanwhile, was hyperventilating. Run him over! Hit him, Laura! Hit him! And he wasnt kidding. Underneath it all, Jack has got a heart of gold . . . its just really far underneath. Im not gonna fucking hit him! I yelled. The cyclist slowly walked up to Jacks side of the car. He whipped off his sunglasses. With no way to escape, Jack shrank down as far as he could into his seat and rolled up the window. Of the convertible. A car with no roof. The cyclist stared deep into Jacks eyes. Then said with raging intensity: May God have mercy on your soul. Then he got back on his bike and pedaled away. You may be wondering how a guy on a bike could have caught up to us if we were in a car. First, he was just really fast! Second, I dont speedokay? I might have cheated in school, smoked weed, and ditched class, but the speed limit is the speed limit, you guys! After that, Jack stopped yelling at people on the street. Growing up, I knew we couldnt afford things that werent, like, food and toothpaste and clothes to cover our bodies. But I was also a teenager that existed in the world! I wanted cool makeup and tacky jewelry sometimes. So I would steal it. BUT I always justified it. Its not like I was stealing from your grandma. I would never do that! Id steal from Walmart, a big capitalist corporation that wasnt exactly known for its good deeds. I was ethical; I had morals! I was basically Robin Hood, if he stole lip gloss from the rich and then . . . wore it. Things got a bit more out of hand when Jack and I teamed up. We would go to the department store, take clothes into the dressing room, and then layer on everything we wanted to steal. Wed put our regular clothes back on over them and just walk out. Jack was the worst shoplifter ever. When he was nervous, hed get these anxious, shifty eyes as he waddled out of the store with three different-colored jean hems peeking out at his ankles. But surprisingly, we never got caught there! We were invincible. It was possible that we felt so invincible because of all the weed we were smoking. When we were high, we were totally delusional. We thought we could do anything. But thats just one theory. One day, my mom gave us twenty dollars to go buy baby clothes for the neighbors newborn. Jack and I took one look at each other. Weed money! We went straight to our dealers house and spent the money, becausehonestlyyou do a better job when you dont have a backup plan. After that, we walked inside Gymboree like confident, unremarkable adults. I even had Jack wear a pair of sunglasses to help with the shifty eyes. While Jack chatted up the cashier, I slipped a Winnie the Pooh onesie under my jacket. Then we were out of there, no problem. Brilliant! After a series of high fives, Jack and I absolutely had to smoke a bowl in the car to celebrate. We had talent. We arrived home very high and handed my mother the onesie, still on the hanger, with no bag or receipt. A bit of paranoia was starting to kick in. She examined the garment and eyed both of us. Oh shit. She knows she knows she knows . . . dont make eye contact . . . she knows sh Its too big, Laura. Huh? This is a six-to-eight-month size. I said zero-to-six-months size. The baby is going to grow into it, right? Do you want her to think that we think her baby is fat? I was too high to even comprehend that last sentence. I stared at her, squinting my swollen eyes. Just exchange it. Please. No problemo, mamacita. I grabbed the onesie back, and Jack and I walked out of there. You cant return a stolen item, so wed just have to steal again . . . twenty minutes after the first time. Is this what they refer to as spiraling out of control? Perhaps! We made it back into the Gymboree. On this caper, there was no time to chat up the cashier. We had to get in and out, unnoticed. I lunged to pull Jacks sunglasses over his eyes. Stopstop it! Dont touch my hair! The cashier spotted us. Oh hey! Back again so soon. Jack panicked. Yeah, well! We had some second thoughts and we know our little diva is going to want a selection of Im hungry lets go! I interrupted, onesie already in my purse. Byeeeee! Jack waved and we were gone. The cashier watched us leave, confused. This whole debacle just confirmed that we were geniuses. Maybe our teachers didnt see it, and our grades didnt reflect it, but we were fucking smart and we were going to smoke another bowl to celebrate. But then the bowl was clogged. Good thing we had the wrong-size onesie to clean it out! In our super high state, we totally forgot to discard the resin-covered onesie. My mom found it a couple days later in the back of the car. Or more likely, she probably smelled the stale drugs first. Finding out that the source of the smell was a Winnie the Pooh resin-smeared onesie was just the cherry on top, Im sure! That sounds bad, I agree. But I want to clarify that I wasnt the bad seed in a perfect town. As I got older, the polished veneer of Downers Grove started to fade away, blemish by blemish. Suburbs arent immune from bad things! Some people there were just completely fucked up. At the high school down the road, the school librarian, (the mother of a friend of mine, I might add), fucked like seventeen different high school boys. Shed leave notes in the books for them, detailing when and where to meet. Honestly, it sounds like she got the idea from a terrible rom-com. People started to notice something was awry when all the boys at school started clamoring to hang out in the library. Like, how is there a line to get in? And then the boys started gossiping with one another. Yo dude, dont tell anyone, but I banged the librarian! Wait. I banged the librarian. Wait . . . but . . . so did I. Aaaaand cue terrible moment of recognition that everyone had banged her. But back to my story. I love my liberal hippie parents, and I love the values I was raised with, but looking back its clear I could have used a bit more structure. A few more consequences. Well, I guess they DID tell me to stop getting arrested. And the rest of the world DID try to slam me with consequences over and over again, whether it was my grades, or detention, or getting arrested for marijuana possession. Geez. Okay, maybe I just didnt listen. When I was fifteen, a few of my friends and I rented a motel room so that we could party in PEACE. Also known as . . . a place we could get wasted and high without our parents finding out. Things started to get rowdy, and soon enough, the cops knocked on our door. GREAT. Weve received a noise complaint about your gathering here and were gonna need you to quiet down or disperse. Now, I was wasted. At this time, I didnt know liquid courage was a thing. I thought I was just really fucking brave all the time. I was going to save us from the cops. Ill have you know that I did learn a few things in school. I found my psychology class particularly interesting. The better I knew how other people thought, the more easily I could steal and lie and get away with it. The cops were only there on a noise complaint, but I grabbed my purse and slurred at them: You want to check my purse?? Go ahead! Check it! Check it! I have nothing to hide! I smiled smugly. They were NEVER gonna check my purse, BECAUSE I asked them to. Thats what reverse psychology is! The two cops looked at each other and shrugged. Okay. They grabbed my purse and started to sift through it. The first cop lifted out a baggie of weed. Aaaaand . . . Youre under arrest. He enjoyed his job way too much. After that, they made me go to something called Self-Management Skills class. Have you seen that show Scared Straight? It was exactly that. A bunch of other bad kids and I did a full tour of a womens jail. Andoh cool!the librarian I mentioned earlier was there, serving her eight years! Hey Mrs. Renworth! Whats up! She didnt respond. After the tour we were separated into prison cells in order to be screamed at individually by a prisoner. I got paired with an ex-junky with especially colorful language and not enough teeth to ably pronounce all the words she was yelling at me. I came out of that program with a detailed knowledge of the prisons layout and a bunch of new drug connects and friends that liked getting into trouble. It was awesome. Through it all, I had a plan. I was going to graduate high school (although even graduating itself seemed a bit unnecessary at times), and then I was going to move to LA to be an actress. For me, it was written in the stars ever since the moment that I saw Maggies older sister in a high school play! Ill have you know I was good at acting. How did I know at only age fifteen, you ask? Its a valid question. Downers Grove was fairly small, and I had only done high school theater and speech. But I knew I had a knack for making people laugh and making people believe me. I just combined my desire to do illegal things with my ability to become anyone. In the absence of an actual agent or manager or sitcom to star in, the world was my stage, and I was casting myself. My friend Andy Junk and I did theater and improv together, and we shared the desire to take acting to the next level. One time we went to a real estate open house in town pretending to be a pair of southern newlyweds, complete with terrible accents. We stared at every aspect of the house, acting really impressed because it was so much nicer than our respective mamas houses. The bubbly real estate agent hopped over to us and started to chat us up. Dont you two love the house? I smiled at her. Yes, its so much nicer than Mamas house back in Georgia! The real estate agent hugged her clipboard to her body as she leaned into the conversation. Oh, Im so glad to hear that! What part of Georgia are you from? I have family in Atlanta. Down in . . . near the mountain The agent nodded. Do you two have any kids? Then, SIMULTANEOUSLY: Andy responded: Nope! While I responded: Six! We looked at each other, wide eyed, struggling to explain. Um . . . I . . . Andy stammered, I . . . dont have . . . per se . . . I finally thought of it. Sorry. Its just a sore spot for us. The six are mine. I have six kids. From different men. Andy here is just recently in the picture. I grinned. Yes! Shes a bit of a whore, Andy confirmed with a big thumbs-up. Oh . . . kay. She left us alone after that. Success, kind of! Another time, Jack and I wanted cigarettes, but we were both underage and had no money. Just a few hurdles there. Ive always felt that where theres a will theres a way. (Is it still a positive attitude if youre using it to do bad things?) Think, Laura, think: How are we going to get cigarettes without getting carded? Ive got it! I drove us to the gas station and parked off to the side. I turned to Jack. Walk into the store, and when I come in, pretend like you dont know me. I looked in the mirror and smeared my eyeliner down my cheeks to look distressed, as if I had been crying. Jack smiled. Ooooh, shes getting messy for this one! And then, quieter, Um . . . Is there a plan or Go go go! I pushed him out of the car. I waited three minutes and then sprinted into the gas station convenience store, out of breath, and started sobbing onto the cashiers counter. Jack was at the pop machine, filling up a soda while he watched me, wide eyed. I dont know what to do! Oh my God, oh my Godmy boyfriend just left me! He just drove away with my ID and all my money and everything I own! I was bawling and hyperventilating. The cashier looked very taken aback. He leaned as far away as he could from my sobbing body, and reached out from a distance to pat me lightly on the arm. Oh, maam . . . I am so sorry . . . Is there anything I can do? Im soplease stop crying onto the counter, maam. What can I do? I sniffled and looked up at him gratefully. Well . . . I could use some menthol lights. Yes, yes okay, here. The cashier grabbed them for me. And a lighter. Thanks. No, no, the pink one. The cashier grabbed that for me, too. I sniffled gratefully. Bless you. I feel so much better. No problem, maam, Im so sorry to hear about your boyfriend Thanks! I waved and walked away. He didnt even card me. Once we were outside, Jack grabbed my arm. BITCH, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? That deserved an Oscar! I know, right? Then I lit up both our cigarettes. Its true that I did things like this to get what I wanted, but I was also addicted to the thrill of it. The adrenaline, the risk. I think its my addict personality. It was dangerous, high stakes, and there was always something appealing about that to me. Its most peoples worst nightmare, but it was what I thrived on. Many years later, in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, I met a woman who worked in the ER of a childrens hospital. She said to me, casually, Yeah, children come in every day, age twelve and attempted suicide! And I have about five minutes to save their lives, if that. She sighed dreamily, I love my job! I just stared at her, dumbfounded. Holy shit, right? How can a person live with that kind of pressure, let alone love it? But she thrived in those life-or-death, high-stakes situations. At least she channeled her addiction to that thrill into something positive. Saving lives is a slightly more productive use of that energy than stealing menthol lights. Theater was my only source of relief at high school. I loved it and I tried hard during that class. I had the opposite perspective of most of my fellow classmates: the ticket to my future was not in chemistry or math or scienceit was in theater rehearsals and the plays we put on. I took these seriously. Because of that, my theater coach, Mrs. Heiteen, was the only adult at school that liked me and saw potential in meeven when my GPA was falling down faster than a freshman doing shots. During my senior year, when all my friends started getting into college and making plans for their futures, Mrs. Heiteen took a look at my grades. She approached me, very angry. Damn it, Laura. You fucked yourself out of 90 percent of the colleges in the country. And is that weed I smell in your purse? She was correct on both counts. No college was going to let an idiot teenager with a multiple-arrest history, failing grades, and a penchant for drunken idiocy onto their campus. And there was a lot of weed in my purse. I truly didnt care, because I was going to be an actressthere was no plan B! Luckily, I was very good at it. Because of that, it was the only thing I put effort into, besides finding drugs and places to do drugs. Lets just say it was my only positive obsession. I had joined the speech team during my freshman year. Speech is like competitive acting. You perform eight minutes of a play as one person or a duet, and then eventually compete with kids at other high schools in the area. If youre good enough, you go to the state competition; and if youre really, really good, you compete in nationals. It was a big deal, you guys. Especially to me. On the first day of speech, we did Humorous Duet Acting. Mrs. Heiteen paired me with Tina, this socially awkward girl with pants ever so slightly too short. Tina was one of the girls that The Twelve had chosen to bully in junior high. She didnt like me, and I didnt know how I was going to be able to reach my comedic-genius potential with this dorky girl on my ass. We were going to have to rehearse together for months! So . . . fuck. Really, Mrs. Heiteen? Really? But I have never been more wrong. We worked together day after day, and I realized she was one of the most hilarious people Ive ever met. She was sweet and witty and so smart. And I just fell in love with being her friend. We became so close after that. When I started taking speech seriously, it felt like I was working for my career to happen. I was memorizing the monologues I saw on television and in movies. I was trekking into the city with Andy Junk to take courses at The Second City. See? I knew how to focus . . . just not on US History. I tried my best in those Second City classes, but I still hated them. Even though comedy and acting were what I wanted to do, any sort of class made me feel stupid and not good enough to be there. Something about being in a class environment automatically made all my insecurities come out. I much preferred improv on the street with unsuspecting civilians. The annual speech competition came around. I wanted to be ready. There was a category called Original Comedy, where you play all the characters in a comedic eight-minute play that you wrote. This was MY territory. I wrote a piece called Pink Slip, about a group of oddball students who got detention. For the first time, I was doing well at something in school. I performed Pink Slip at regionals and won first place. Mrs. Heiteen ran up to me and gave me an awkward high fivethe highest form of approval from her. I couldnt stop smiling, holding my dinky medal. I remember thinking, Wait a second. Does . . . hard work . . . pay off????? Holy shit. At the same time, I was battling my need to get high. When I was winning speech, I was winning against my demons. I was still smoking and drinking, but I was balancing it with my work because I had something important to focus on. As the state competition got closer, Mrs. Heiteen became my personal coachegging me on to focus, to practice, to stay clear. I could win this. She said I could; I knew I could. I was good, and people were finally going to see that. I would finally be on my way to the career I was meant for. And then . . . I won state. First place! There was only one more step. Taking on nationals. In the week leading up to nationals, I took a break from rehearsing and went out one night to dinner with Jack and our other friend, Kaylen. We were smoking cigarettes and chatting. Side note: Did you know smoking was allowed indoors in 2004? Maybe that was just a Midwest thing, but there was a smoking section at the Omega Diner. One of the teachers at my school was there, too. She saw me smoking and reported me to the school. The next day in theater class Mrs. Heiteen approached me, looking more angry than usual. Or maybe it was sad. She told me I was disqualified from nationals for smoking last night, in the fucking diner. Of all the substances to be disqualified for, it was cigarettesthe least illegal of my vices! I was disqualified from the one thing I had going for me. I didnt cry about it. I got high with Jack instead. Mrs. Heiteen still made me go to nationals in Salt Lake City, Utah, just to watch. I saw every other student perform, wishing I was in their place, knowing I could have rocked this. Then I convinced some Mormon dudes to buy Tina and me beer. We got drunk with them in our hotel room. Speech was the one thing I had been holding on to . . . and I felt like it let go of me. So I let go, too. I began to spiral. I was fifteen when I got high and drunk and had sex with a guy who was eighteen, at least, and also high on shrooms. He was such an asshole. The room was pitch-black. It was his room. I told him to put a condom on, please. He said okay. He walked over to his nightstand. He opened the drawer and then closed it. He paused, putting it on. Then he had sex with me. A few weeks later I started throwing up in the mornings, and not because I was hungover. Fuck! At the same time, I was playing the pregnant Virgin Mary in the school play. No joke. At rehearsals I had to wear a fake pregnancy belly over my actual pregnant belly. Talk about too real. Um, Laura, your portrayal of Mary is a bit more . . . anxious than necessary, perhaps? Well, Mary didnt ask for this baby, Mrs. Heiteen! I wondered if God had lied to Mary about putting a condom on. I asked the guy who got me pregnant for three hundred dollars, half the cost of an abortion. I thought it was only fair that he paid for half of it. Even though there was nothing really fair about this at all. The kicker is that he made me meet him at a White Castle restaurant bathroom and pee on a pregnancy test in front of him to make sure I wasnt lying. He thought I was trying to get abortion money from him. He said that like it was a thing. Since when is abortion money a thing? Its NOT a thing. If a guy thinks there is a pattern of girls scamming him out of abortion money, then he really needs to reevaluate his actions. Like, damn! He took a look at the two lines on my pee stick, handed me the money, and left. No words. I never talked to him again. I added it to my own three hundred dollars and headed to Planned Parenthood with my friend Nicole. Nicole was another outcast with Jack and me. She was really smart, openly bisexual, very punk. I knew she wouldnt judge me . . . and that she would be able to handle the protesters. There were rows of them outside the clinic. Pro-life women yelling at me. You know your baby has fingers, right? It has a heartbeat! How could you kill your own child? How could you be so selfish? I looked down as I passed them. Nicole stopped. Nicole. Come on. Well, her babys actually, like, super gay, so you guys would probably want to abort that one, huh? That was the only thing that got me to smile that day. I didnt tell my parents, even though I was really close to my mom. I was too scared. A week or so later, she found prescription painkillers in my room. She asked me gently, Did you get breast implants? I stared at her, confused. Then looked down. Oh. My boobs had gotten way bigger from all the pregnancy hormones. I thought up a lie. I stuttered, No . . . no I didnt but . . . my friend Dani got an abortion and didnt want her parents to find out, so I told her she could do it in my name. The best lies have a grain of truth in them, right? And yet, I know, not my finest work. Why would I have my friends pills? Its idiotic. My mom just kind of looked at me sadly and nodded. Years later she asked if it was actually me who got the abortion. I finally told her the truth. She began to cry, and said, I just wish I could have been there for you through that. I would have supported you. You didnt have to lie. I wished I hadnt. A year later, when I was sixteen, some good news came. There was a new TV show holding auditions around the country. It was going to be like American Idol, but for acting! Contestants had to prepare a monologue and audition in front of the judges. This was going to be my big break, the thing that launched my career! I mean, it worked for Kelly Clarkson and a bunch of other people whose names I dont remember on American Idol! I learned a monologue. I was so serious about it that I didnt even smoke weed the day before the audition. THATS how much I cared. I studied my ass off. It was like speech all over again. My monologue was hilarious, and I knew I was going to nail it. I took the train to Chicago where the auditions were being held, and stood in line for hours and hours. When I finally got in front of the judges, I had them in stitches. I was on cloud nine. One of the producers, who looked to be in his forties, pulled me off to the side. Laura, right? You were brilliant. I said, Oh, you think so? Thats so nice of you. But I was thinking, Youre damn right I was. He smiled charmingly. We should meet tonight and talk about opportunities for you in Los Angeles. We want you to be on the show. YES. Yes yes yes. My sixteen-year-old brain could not even fathom my dreams coming true right now, in this moment. I trekked home, swung open the door, and yelled, HELLO, FAMILY! IVE MADE IT. My dad looked up from the couch. Thats right, honey! Youre amazing! I found my mother and Colleen in the dining room and filled them in. They needed to enjoy my company now, because my time in Downers Grove would be fleeting, as I would soon be a star and have forgotten about them completely. Its called a second meeting, and only the best actors get them. Were going to talk about my career. Colleen gasped. Thats great! I feigned confidence, but I was nervous. I didnt know how to conduct myself in professional late-night meetings! Can you come with me, Colleen? Colleen drove me to the W Hotel that night. Oh, did I mention his meeting spot of choice was the W Hotel? I found him at the bar. Colleen sat off to the side of the bar and watched. Here. Have a drink, Laura. Have another drink. Have another. I just kept drinking what he gave me. I didnt want to be rude. I had to get to LA and I kept thinking that this was my ticket, this was how the industry worked. It was getting later and later. Colleen tapped me on the shoulder. I want to go home, Laura. Can we go? We moved out of earshot of the producer. I think I have to stay, I said. Colleen was annoyed. Well, if you have to stay, then stay. Im going home. I have work in the morning. I sighed. Okay, fine. I would take the train home. I went back to the producer . . . and I dont remember anything after that. I blacked out completely. I woke up in the morning to the sun glaring on my face. Squinting in the bright morning light, I looked around. I was in an empty hotel room. There was forty dollars next to me, and a note that read: Thanks for last night. Heres money for a cab. I didnt even get on the show. Colleen got a DUI on the way home. So, lose-lose. At this point I was just ready to leave my town, to go anywhere but here. I hated school and I hated getting in trouble and it felt like that was all I was doing. After acting out in one of my classes, I was brought in to see the school counselor. I remember wondering why I wasnt just being punished like usual. Is everything okay at home? The counselor looked at me with understanding. I looked at him and narrowed my eyes. Can I just have detention? I didnt really know what to say. He recommended therapy for me. I brought it up to my mom that night. I told her that I maybe thought it was kind of a good idea. Maybe there is something going on with me and I could talk to someone and get better. If you need to talk to someone, you can talk to me. It was one of two things. First of all, we never, ever went to the doctor. We didnt have health insurance growing up. So she might have thought that there was no fucking way we could afford therapy for me, which was completely valid. She also might have not wanted to expose what was going on at home. I liked my home life. I loved my parents. But I suppose the unsettling thing at home for me was my dads drinking. It could be scary at times. He didnt beat us or anything like that, but he was six four, and he could get so angry. Like throwing-glass-at-the-wall, breaking-things sort of angry. The scary part was that wed never really know which dad we were gonna get. He could be a nice, funny, supportive drunk that I loved so much, or a mean and angry drunk. But very consistently, drunk. One time I called him to pick me up from a restaurant in town. When he arrived, he was noticeably drunk. The mean, angry kind. He was so mad that I asked him to come get me that he was driving 80 mph on the suburban streets while slurring insults at me. He swerved onto our neighbors lawn, barely missing the lampposts, and almost hit the house. I remember sprinting out of the car, into the house, and locking myself in my room. I thought he was mad enough to kill me. My mom, however, was so loving, she really made up for it. I was scared, but my dad was not a monster by any means. He was sick. He was stuck in his disease. When he was sober, he was this funny, creative musician and scientist. Always pushing us to think outside the box and be ourselves, no matter who that was. He taught me to question the status quo in a way that I am so grateful about today. Im not complaining about my childhood or where Ive been, but I can see how that would have caused me to act out. I can see now how much pain I was holding. I would sleep with a knife next to my bed, because for some reason it soothed me to know that if I wanted to, I could just grab it and end it all for myself. (Admittedly, it was a butter knife. . . .) I once took six of my mothers sleeping pills. I passed out and got really sick from them, but I was going to live. You know, if I was really trying to kill myself, I would have taken the whole bottle of pills or chosen a sharper knife. Six pills and a butter knife were not gonna take me out. I decided to channel my emotions into finding ways to escape my reality, through drinking or smoking or, even better, both. The kids in my town needed a new place to party after getting in trouble for all our motel parties, but no fear, my friends were problem solvers when it came to getting fucked up. So they chose the next best optionbreaking into our friends house while his family was on vacation! Okay, not so legal, but I didnt care. It wasnt my party and I wasnt getting in trouble for it. A boy named Richard invited me, and while I barely even knew him, I wasnt about to say no to free booze and weed. I took him up on the invite, and obviously brought along Jack and our friend Holly. Once I got there, this five-foot-tall girl in a strapless top and miniskirt (00s fashion, amirite?) came up to me. So youre Laura Clery? I had never seen this girl in my life. I was already six feet tall by now, so I looked down at herliterallyand said, Yeah? And then BOOM! She punched me in the nose. Honestly, like, how did she even reach my nose? She tackled me to the ground and started beating the shit out of me. But she was so much smaller than me that I put up my fists and took her down like she was nothing. No, Im totally kidding. Im not a fighter at all! I was just screaming and crying and taking it and begging her to stop. Some of the other kids at the party grabbed her and pulled her off me. Jack and Holly and I ran into the bathroom and locked the door. Who the fuck was that? Richards ex-girlfriend. Seriously?? Seriously????? She was that mad because her ex-boyfriend invited me to a party???? I was furious. I started pacing around the bathroom. How could she do that to me? I felt like I was a tetherball being slapped around a pole. There was nothing in my life that I had control over. I looked up and saw this painting of a boat on the bathroom wall. Just a boat floating on the water. I saw my own face reflected faintly on the glass. My fucking black eye and bloody nose. I punched it as hard as I could. Glass shattered everywhere, including into my hand and wrist. It hit some major veins, and blood was gushing everywhere. I slumped down, crying. Holly immediately jumped into action, picking out the pieces of glass. She rinsed it with water. Jack wrapped the wound in his shirt. How convenient that we were already in a bathroom. We didnt go to the hospital, even though I knew we should have. The avoidance of hospitals was something I had inherited from my parents. Plus, I didnt want to get in troublewe had all been drinking. We just bought some bandages and wrapped me up, and I went home at two a.m. There was my dad sitting on his La-Z-Boy, red wine in hand. Who did that to you? Ill fucking kill him! Its fine, Dad. Richard, who invited me, did eventually apologize for the whole thing. My ex is a crazy bitch, right? Ha-ha. Id just stared at him until it got uncomfortable for him. We are not bonding over this right now. Sorry about that, hed said awkwardly. That family who owned the house we broke into returned home eventually . . . and saw a bunch of fun things all around their house! Empty bottles of alcohol. Cigarette butts. Oh yeah, and BLOOD AND GLASS ALL OVER THEIR BATHROOM. It was on the news one night. A house in Hinsdale was broken into while that family was away on vacation. There is evidence of physical violence and property damage, although nothing was stolen. Mom! Dad! Thats my blood on the TV! Thats my blood! I was so desperate to be on TV that even my blood making an appearance on the seven oclock news was an accomplishment. That night, Holly had left her phone in the bathroom. The tiny girl who beat me up found it. I started getting texts from her. I know what youre thinking, and no, she didnt want to go for coffee. I was surprised too! You have 2 hours to get us 500 dollars. Or else were smashing this phone. Clearly, they wanted us to pay for the damage we caused in the bathroom. It would honestly be cheaper for Holly to buy a new phone. Sorry, Holly. 1 hour left. 30 minutes. 15 minutes. Geez. She didnt need to text that frequently. I knew how to read time! When it had finally been two hours . . . she sent one last text. Its Hammer Time. ITS HAMMER TIME??? Never have I heard that joyous exclamation used in such a menacing way. Next time I really want to instill fear in someone, Im going to try a deep stare into their eyes and whisper, Its Hammer Time. (Oh-oh oh oh oh-oh-oh). The time it really was, though? Time for me to get out of Downers Grove. CHAPTER 3 My Summer of (possibly too much) Freedom My senior year of high school, I was voted Most Likely to Be Late to Graduation. Which is rude! I was totally on time. I already mentioned that I had to take geometry three times, right? Well, the third time was my senior year of high school. And if I didnt pass . . . I was staying another year. I barely, barely passedand the only reason I did was because my oldest sister, Tracy, is a high school math teacher and she coached me through it. So in defense of the title I won, I very well could have been late to graduation: a year late! BUT I WASNT. Lets focus on that. I walked across that freaking stage at graduation and said my final fuck you to that godforsaken place. I was finally ready to get to LA and do what I was MEANT to do. Acting! There was only one problem. I had no plan at all. And no money. And no job lined up. Cool. Oddly, I had this unshakable faith that I was going to make it. Some might call me delusional, but Id rather think of it as trust. Faith. Blind faith! Becoming an actress was my destiny, and when someone has a destiny, it always comes true. Right? Okay, now that Im saying it out loud I can hear how delusional I sound. Maybe I was delusional! But! . . . Look at where I am nowliving the dream. When my opportunity to move to LA came, I was slightly surprised. I got a call from Neha, a girl who I did speech with. Neha graduated a year before me and was going to Northwestern now. She had it together in high school, so she got in. Good for her. Neesie and I are going to LA this summer. Im interning at a production company and shes going to stay with me for fun. Come out with us! I know you want to. I gasped. Oh God, this is it. Neha continued, I mean, youd have to pay rent and stuff, and I know flying out there can be pricey so you can take some time to think about it IM THERE. WHEN? TOMORROW? OH WAIT, I HAVE TO GRADUATE THIS WEEK. CRAP. FUCK IT, THEY WONT MISS ME. I CAN COME TOMORROW. Dude, not tomorrow. Right. You dont have to ask your parents? Who? I didnt even ask my parents if I could go. I knew theyd be fine with it. Instead I simply told them I was leaving. Bye, Mom and Dad! Im off to follow my acting dreams in Los Angeles without any practical steps or a plan! Have fun, honey! You can do it, youre amazing! They did not have the same perspective that most traditional parents did. They never tried to steer me toward a more practical, steady career. I have so many friends who got discouraged from their art by their parents before they even had a chance to try. They had to hear things like Do you know the odds of you making it? and How are you going to support a family with that? So they never even attempted it. My parents were the opposite. Theyd say, If you want to act, then do it. Life is short. Honestly Im so grateful that they had this mindset. Yes, I lived a bit dangerously for a while, but I firmly believe that if I ever gave myself a plan B, an exit door from my dreams, I wouldnt have been able to become a full-time working actress by twenty-three. I would have taken the exit. Reaching your potential is fucking scary. I still had the money issue to solve, though. Luckily, my family believed in me just as much as I did. Colleen was earning some money working at a restaurant at this time, so she and my mother both put in money to help me pay for rent and the plane ticket. This was happening! I knew that Neha and Neesie were only going to LA for the summer, but I wasnt planning on coming back to Downers Grove! If I had found a way to get myself out there, I knew I would find a way to stay. Just days after graduation, I flew straight to LA. I stayed with Neha and Neesie on their living room couch. I was perpetually out of money and never knew how I was going to pay for my next meal! It was the most fun summer of my life thus far. My first taste of real ADULTHOOD. Which to me was . . . partying. Dont get me wrong, I came to LA with the intention of getting my acting career started. But it was like unleashing a kid in a candy store. Except . . . more like an addict in a drug store. I mean, a store filled with drugs. Not, like, CVS. An addict in CVS would probably be fine. Like I said, I knew I was going to make it . . . but seventeen-year-old Laura thought that this meant I didnt have to work for it. That success would just find me. Thats how life worked, right? #notatalldelusional. While I was waiting for my million-dollar movie deal, I had to do SOMETHING, so Neesie and I would smoke weed every day and go out to clubs every night. (Meanwhile Neha was busy focusing hard at her internship and being somewhat responsible.) We were staying in Westwood, a total college town, so there were frat parties galore. I met enough frat guys that summer to get the complete college experience. When it came to acting, I had no idea what I was doing. I kind of figured that in Hollywood, you just had to look beautiful and go to a department store. Some major producer would discover your insane talent while you purchased a silk scarf. Or in my case, while I walked out of Macys with three pairs of pants layered under my jeans. I had one friend in town who knew a manager. She offered to pass on my headshot and r?sum?. Sorry, what? I didnt have either of those. You need a r?sum? if anyone is going to consider signing you. Okay. I found some dodgy modeling photos I had taken back in Downers Grove with an amateur photographer, complete with fake tan and incredibly skinny eyebrows. I also was bleaching my teeth with dollar-store teeth whitener, so I had white bleach spots all over my gums. Hello, world! And r?sum?-wise . . . I wrote it out by hand. By HAND. I want you to know that I had access to a printer, but did not use it. Instead I chose to whip out my ten-year-old-boy handwriting to really nail my professionalism as I wrote: Special skills include horseback riding, driving a car, and a Macedonian accent. On that r?sum? I made a bunch of shit up. I knew that a list of high school plays was not going to impress a real life LA manager! So I added some fake local community theater productions as well. Boom! Ready to knock their socks off. I handed it to my friend to pass along. Dude. This isnt legible at all. . . . Thankfully, she had much neater handwriting than I did, so she rewrote the whole thing more legibly. (But can someone tell me why we didnt just go to the library and print it??? Why did we not think of that?) Suffice it to say, I did not get a meeting with that manager. I wasnt exactly getting any auditions, but so what? I didnt need auditions. I was MEETING people. LA is really stratified during the day. At nine a.m., the movie executives take their elevators to the twenty-sixth floor of their skyscraper offices and the unemployed actors smoke weed in their apartments (right?). But at night, we all drank at the same bars and danced on the same dance floors until three a.m. See? Theres a bit of community in having a cocaine problem. The day might be filled with rejections, but at night, people loved me. One night, I was standing outside the Argyle at two a.m., smoking a cigarette. This really pretty boy approaches me. Damn. Is he . . . prettier than me? He came over to me. Youre gorgeous, he said. Oh God, you too, I blurted out. Oh, thanks. You should be a model. I gasped, flattered, but the cigarette in my mouth made me cough a little. Really? You think so? Yes. I would love to shoot you. Um . . . with a camera, right? Ha-ha! Wow. Youre funny, too. But seriously, with a camera, right? Right?? His name was Damon. He gave me some cocaine, so I gave him my number. And just like that, I became a professional model. Well, not actually, but if you had tried to convince me otherwise, I wouldnt have heard it. Thats the LA dream for you right there! On one night out I met an agent from Endeavor with a huge cocaine problem. This was my chance to sell my talent to him. You dont understand. Ive got what it takes. Im the next Charlize Theron. Really? Absolutely. Give me a script and I will fucking destroy it. Ill interpret the shit out of it. You think youve seen real acting before, but you havent until youve seen me. I think they typically call this liquid courage, but in my case it was powdered. All right. Im sold. Call me next week. He handed me his business card. And thats how its done, bitches. Although I was the slightest bit worried he was too high when we met to remember me at all. I gave him a call anyway, trying to channel the same confidence Id had that night. Of course I remember you, Laura! he exclaimed. Oh thank God. I got you an audition for X-Men! My mouth went dry with fear. Excuse me? X-Men? Let me remind you that Id never had a real professional audition in my life. And I was supposed to jump straight into X-Men? Perfect. That is perfect for me. Great. Well see how you do on this audition and then well talk about your future. You wont be disappointed! Oh, fuck. In the daytime, my fearlessness drained away. It was like in the dark of night I couldnt see all the things I was afraid of. Nighttime Laura really liked to fuck over daytime Laura. Mostly it was just hangovers and no energy at all, but this? This audition? This was terrifying. I prepped as hard as I could. I learned the sides forward and backward, and then I got nervous that I would accidentally do them backward, so I repeated them forward twenty more times. I knew I couldnt give myself any excuse not to show up. When I walked into the casting office, I was ready to give the performance of my life. It was a basically empty room, except for a table, a camera, a few producers, and the casting director. The casting director smiled at me. Okay, Laura, weve heard great things. Ill be reading the lines with you. You ready? Say yes, Laura. Say yes. Say something. I was petrified. I think I just opened my eyes really wide and nodded. Thats normal. She read the first line to me: Im the wrong guy to play hide and seek with. I took a breath and LOOKED STRAIGHT INTO THE CAMERA. Whos hiding, dickhead. The casting director glanced awkwardly at the producers as I MAINTAINED EYE CONTACT WITH THE CAMERA LIKE AN IDIOT. She continued on. I gave my entire reading staring into the lens. Can you guys imagine watching a movie where every character looks straight into the camera the whole time? Its not exactly what they were going for. That is the most rookie mistake someone could ever make. I just imagine the director watching the tapes later, uncomfortably trying to avoid the super-intense big-eye glare of a girl more nervous than anyone has been in the history of the world. Or laughing his ass off. Most likely that. I didnt know how to audition! I had no idea that it was even something I needed to learn how to do. By the way, the part was Kitty Pryde in X-Men: The Last Stand. Ellen Page plays her in all the movies, and she didnt look into the camera even once. So, good choice everybody. The coke-problem agent called me shortly after the audition. So . . . I got some notes back from the casting director. Oh great! Lay it on me, buster. I can handle it. She just said . . . your client needs auditioning classes. After this, he didnt want to represent me. Who knows why? Lets just say this was a humbling experience. I realized that there was a craft I needed to learn if I actually wanted to book jobs. And I did take some auditioning classes. Im only slightly embarrassed to say that this was the highest point of my career during my first stint in LA. But at the time, I wasnt embarrassed at all! I felt fucking successful, going on auditions and shit, and successfully getting high every day. I was solid. Toward the end of the summer, things started to get more and more out of control. Neha, Neesie, and I ran out of money. We had already paid rent, luckily, but money to eat? Not so plentiful. No worries! I had skills for this. I knew how to get free stuff! I trained my whole life for this. I pulled into the In-N-Out drive-thru with Neesie, fully aware that neither of us had any money. She was not down. What the fuck are you doing, Laura? Chill out. I got this, okay? I got this. Just order. Theyre going to give it to us. Neesie looked at me skeptically. Hey, save the skepticism for conspiracy theories! I pulled up to the window and we ordered. And then came time to pay. I patted my pockets EXCESSIVELY. And then dug through my purse. Oh shit. Oh shit, wheres my wallet? Oh my God, did someone steal it? I looked at the cashier for any hint of sympathy. There was none whatsoever. Damn. LA was definitely not the Midwest. Neesie was getting worried. Hold on one second, I said. I put the car in park, walked over to the dudes in the car behind us. Hey, Im SO sorry. But I cant find my wallet and I already ordered . . . could I borrow some money? The dudes were super annoyed. But they paid. And we lived another day! I began to realize my trusty stealing methods really didnt fly in LA. But am I the type of person to give up?? No! Meantime, I had given myself some scars on my lower stomach from an at-home bikini wax gone wrong (do those ever go right?). Because I was not really feeling up to rock some vagina scars, I needed to get some scar cream. I went to the CVS on La Brea and Santa Monica and found the creams. There was one for five dollars . . . but there was also one for forty dollars. I could have easily bought the five-dollar one. But the forty-dollar one was probably better. I mean, why else would it cost that much?? I wanted it. I needed it. I deserved the best. Years later in Alcoholics Anonymous, I learned that this is a trait of the alcoholic. Its either grandiose or comatose. Either Im the best and deserve the best! or Im a piece of shit and Im killing myself tonight! Once youre sober, you practice learning that youre no better or worse than anyone else. But in this moment . . . I was feeling grandiose. I slipped the forty-dollar scar cream into my purse and walked out. The manager was this big, angry man. You could tell that he had been pissed off for the last fucking time today as he followed me to the exit. HEY! STOP! One of my employees saw you put something in your purse. What did you take? This was not a man I wanted to pick a fight with. I immediately pulled out the scar cream. Im so sorry, Im so sorry. I took your scar cream. I couldnt afford it and I have scars from something I dont want to talk about and if you were a woman you would understand, but here it is, take it, Im so sorry. Please. Ill just go. He snatched the cream back and eyed me. I could tell he wished I had resisted more. He really wanted to yell at someone. What else do you have in there? Just that, I swear. Then, Im sure he thought, Fuck it, might as well just yell at this seventeen-year-old! He turned to the twenty-five people waiting in line to check out. HEY, EVERYONE. LOOK WHO DECIDED TO SHOPLIFT TODAY? MISSWhats your name? Laura. LAURA WANTED SCAR CREAM!! Everyone in line looked at me pityingly. The manager turned back to me. Get out of here. I walked out of that CVS with my head down, a walk of shame more humiliating than ANY of the times I had come home at eight a.m. in my clubbing dress. I crossed the street as fast as I could, but then I heard police sirens. The manager had called the cops on me. HANDS OVER YOUR HEAD. HANDS OVER YOUR HEAD. Are you fucking kidding me? I was in front of the busiest Starbucks in LA, leaned against a cop car. My most public performance to date! This police officer wanted to arrest me so badly. It was like a tall seventeen-year-old girl had killed his wife or something and he had a vendetta against all of us. He searched madly through my purse for anything he could get me with. He found my older sisters ID. Who is this? My sister. Why do you have it? Becausebecause Im not twenty-one! I sobbed. He pocketed the ID. And then he pulled out an empty baggie . . . that previously held cocaine. He looked closely at the white residue. He scoffed angrily. If there was anything in this youd be going fucking downtown. Get the fuck off my car. He was horrible. To him I was the scum of the earth. And I truly felt like it after that interaction. There was a huge crowd of spectators outside the Starbucks, staring at me. I wiped my eyes, took a bow, and started my second walk of shame back to the apartment. Mondays, amirite? That was the last time I ever shoplifted. The end of summer came quickly after that. Neha and Neesie had to go back to Northwestern, a.k.a. their real lives, and I had to go back to . . . nothing. We had our suitcases all packed. Ready to go, Laura? asked Neha. Yeah, um, one sec. I went out the front door to the street. I stood on the edge of the curb and held my arms open. Hello?? Anyone out there that can find a way to keep me here? Anyone want to discover my talent? Please? Anyone want to give me a large sum of money in exchange for my work as an actor so that I can keep this Westwood apartment by myself?? There was no answer. A few BMWs whizzed by dangerously close to the curb I was standing on. One car honked at me. FINE. Id go back to Downers Grove and figure out a way to settle here later on, especially now that I REALLY understood how LA worked. Obviously. This was fine! In the back of my mind, I was a little disappointed in the fact that I wasnt a big star yet. I didnt really blame my drinking or drug habits. I thought I was just having the time of my life. In reality, though, I had totally lost focus. I had gone from dinky motel-room parties to the coolest clubs in LA, unlimited drugs, and no parents to answer to. It had been a three-month-long party and a high that I did not want to come down from. When I got home, the questions of how it was came rolling in. It was awesome. I auditioned for this huge movie, I said nonchalantly. Just one audition? Whatever! I wasnt discouraged at all. This felt like a step toward my career. I had gotten out of Downers Grove once, and I was going to again. I didnt know how it was going to happen, but it would. This was just the beginning. I was completely, unwaveringly sure. Okay WHOEVER keeps calling me delusional, I can hear you and alsoSHUT UP. CHAPTER 4 How to Ignore a Hundred Red Flags I got back to Downers Grove expecting things to be the same as when I left. It still looked the same for surebut all my friends were gone. Maggie was at Northwestern, and Jack was in Wisconsin at St. Norbert. They were all doing great things and making career moves, and I was so happy for them! But for me it sucked. I did have Colleen, though. She was living at home, working at the restaurant, and going to community college. How did my investment do in LA? shed ask, referring to all the money she lent me for my summer away. Im gonna get you ten times that money after I make it big. Colleen and I were opposites in some ways, but the same in others. I was a rebellious, loudmouth weirdo, and she was an introverted, quiet weirdo. She had no friends and would just read books all day and play guitar and sing in French. When we were younger, she loved school and was good at it. She would even offer to write my high school essays for me, scrawling out the entire thing in tiny handwriting on a couple notecards so that I could take them to school and copy them over in my clumsy, boyish handwriting. When she offered the first time, I was stunned. Seriously. Ill write your essay for you. Youll write my essay . . . and Ill do nothing in return? Yeah. I just love US History. I took her hand. I dont understand you at all, but I will gladly take advantage of your weirdly vast knowledge of early-American aviation. Colleen looked into my eyes. They dreamed of flying and they did it, Laura. She also had a water bed. Yes, the bed she grew up sleeping on was the sexiest bed of the 90s. Im not sure how it got that title, seeing how it just felt like sleeping on a weird bladder. Wed slosh around on it for hours, talking and laughing and eating pistachios. And if I jumped onto it hard enough, she would go flying off from the waves I made. But being at home wasnt easy. I felt my cabin fever coming back. I grew impatient for a way to get back to LA. Oh. Theres one thing I forgot to tell you. The day I got back home, I started getting phone calls to our landline. Hello? Laura? Its me! There was a long pause. Damon! Who?? Damon! We met at the Argyle! I had to rack my brain. The Argyle? OHHHHHHHH. Damon. He was the very pretty man I met outside the Argyle in LA who gave me some coke and told me he wanted to shoot me. With a camera. How could I forget anyone who was generous enough to give me a free bump?? Side note: What kind of confidence did this dude have to start off a phone call with Its me! after I had met him just one time, two months ago. As if there were any chance I would just recognize his voice? Come out to New York so I can shoot you! he said excitedly. I barely remembered him. Honestly, he was just evidence that my summer in LA went super well. So of course I said no to his offer! Jeez, who do you think I am?? But then, a few hours later he called back: Hey Laura! Come out to New York so I can shoot you! I cant just come out to New York. Ive met you once! Im not that impulsive. But apparently, he was. He started calling . . . every day. Multiple times a day. It was always variations of: Im in New York, I still want to shoot with you! Come out here! over and over again. My family was starting to get annoyed. On one particular day, Damon had called four times, leaving a voice mail each time, as if we needed to be reminded what his call was regarding. My family had just sat down for a formal TV dinner and then . . . RINGGGGGGGG My dad, mom, and sisters all glared at me. Colleen took a bite of corn on the cob. I wonder who that is? My dad grumbled, No one. Touch. That. Phone. RRIIIIINNNGGGGG. We kept eating in silence until my dad got up, picked up the receiver, and yelled, STOP CALLING, YOU PUNK! . . . mhmmm. Right. Fine. He hung up the receiver. Some brand-new, never-heard-before information. Damon wants you to go to New York. I know what youre thinking. This dude sounds crazy, Laura! Block his number! Hey, I hear you loud and clear. But at the time I thought Damon was harmless. It was flattering, really, that he wanted to photograph me! Not a red flag at all. A few days later, Colleen and I got into a huge fight. I had worn one of her favorite shirts and covered it with red wine. I replied, completely factually, that her stupid face was the very reason I DRANK the red wine so whos really to blame here. . . . Now, I have NO IDEA WHY, but our civil, factual conversation turned into a yelling match. It wasnt my fault! A.K.A. it was completely my fault! But suddenly, in the middle of it all, Colleen yelled this: I wish you would just leave! I clenched my jaw and said, Well I dont want to be here! You know what?? You should go to New York. Just fucking GO. Just LEAVE. Fine!!! I will go! Can I borrow money for a ticket! Yes! Gladly!! It took me a second to realize what I had just agreed to. Shit. She bought me a one-way ticket to New York and I said the most menacing thank you I could muster up. I packed a bag, including her wine-stained shirt just to salt the wound a little. I guess I was going to New York. I called Damon back. Okay, Im coming. Ill be there in a week. There was a long pause on the phone . . . until I heard him say . . . What?? He really wasnt expecting me to come. Whatever. It was going to be fine! A week later, I passed my parents on my way out. My mom was reading in the dining room and my dad was sitting in his La-Z-Boy, watching CNN with a clenched fist. Bye, Mom, Im going to New York to be a model. Okay honey, have fun! My dad chimed in, too. Youre going to kill it; youre gorgeous. I yelled louder, for my sister to hear. BYE, EVERYONE. IM OFF. She yelled back. Dont fuck it up! I had one suitcase, one plane ticket, forty dollars in my pocket, and a napkin with Damons address written on it. I was off. Heres what I DIDNT have: a cell phone or any kind of plan. Looking back, I am now fully aware of how dangerous this was. This impulsive girl who hopped over to New York without a second thought is WAY DIFFERENT TODAY. Now, my idea of dangerous is binge watching Netflix until two a.m. because I might not get my full eight hours. (Good sleep is better than sex, you guys.) But eighteen-year-old me was desperate for adventure. Which might just be a nice way of saying batshit crazy. Jurys still out. When I climbed off the plane at JFK Airport, I was basically a bright-eyed suburban girl hopping off a plane in the big city, carrying a big suitcase and even bigger dreams! I was ready for my musical number to start. Hello angry people at baggage claim! Hello strange smells where they shouldnt be! Hello homeless person squatting on the curb! The kindness of the city was everywhere! A friendly-looking middle-aged man with an exotic accent approached me, offering to drive me to my destination in his unmarked taxi. Shucks, how lucky am I! I enthusiastically said yes as I politely asked him to watch my suitcase while I used the restroom. As I was peeing (and probably humming show-tunes to myself), I looked around the bathroom stall. Someone had written SUCK A DICK, GEENA on the wall. I suddenly noticed the traces of piss on the floor, the highly questionable brown smear on the stall door. Oh God, its disgusting here. Oh God, I let a random man watch my bag. Oh my God, oh my God. I wiped my vag and ran out as fast as I could. He was still there, bag in hand. Whew. Great! This, of course, was a sign that nothing bad would ever happen to me! I hopped into his unmarked taxi and read the address of mynow wrinkled and tornnapkin, Twenty-Second and Ninth, please. Damn, I sounded official. When we arrived, I asked the cabbie if he would let me borrow his cell phone. I nervously called Damon. Hey! Im outside your apartment. I anxiously waited in the backseat and looked around the busy street. Was that guy Damon? Nope. Was . . . that guy? It suddenly hit me . . . I didnt remember what the fuck he looked like. He was definitely white. He had black hair. Or wait, was he blond and it was just dark outside? And . . . two eyes, for sure. A twentysomething-year-old guy with disheveled hair and a beautiful face ran up to the cab, in shock. It was as if HE couldnt believe Id actually come. And he was wearing . . . bright red lipstick. Umm . . . lipstick? Now I was the one who was shocked. Laura! he said. He kissed my cheek, getting lipstick all over it. What had I gotten myself into? We walked up four flights of seemingly never-ending stairs, and he opened the door to the smallest studio apartment I had ever seen. It was smaller than an elementary school bathroom. No furniture. Just a gross twin-size mattress on the floor. The studio was decorated with wine bottles, ashtrays, and one green light. Which looks VERY MENACING, I MIGHT ADD. I tried to diffuse my nervousness with a joke. You okay? Youre looking a little . . . GREEN HA-HA! What? No, Im fine, Damon said with concern. Im talking about the light. Oh, no. Im not sick. Its just the light. Right. This was going to be rough. He picked up one of the wine bottles. Want a drink? Oh thank God. Dont mind if I do! Soon enough, my drunk, na?ve, Midwestern ass thought the green light was very, very cool; the apartment was cozy rather than suffocating; and the Frank Sinatra playing on a cassette player was intentionally hip rather than a random thing that Damon found on the street. This place was awesome! I asked the man for whom I moved to New York why he was wearing lipstick. Maybe he was gay? Maybe the fact that I had no choice but to sleep on the same tiny mattress with a guy Id met only twice wouldnt be a big deal, because he likes men! Maybe I had nothing to worry about! He told me he had just come from an abandoned church-turned-nightclub lipstick-launch party. Apparently, Amanda Lepore, a famous transgender model, was launching her new lip line and insisted he try a shade. Oh, and remember when he said he was a photographer? I now learned that he meant he was a . . . drug sharer . . . who accepted money in exchange for his good will. And he also took pictures occasionally. You might be thinking, Thats another red flag, for sure! But that only made me like him more because, free drugs! I was getting drunk regularly, smoking weed daily, and dabbling in cocaine; so as an addict, I was attracted to other addicts. Like Damon! He didnt judge me, criticize me, or tell me, Hey maybe you shouldnt be smoking weed for breakfast. Or, Do you really need that sixth glass of wine? Your teeth are disturbingly purple. Damon understood my purple teeth. He also understood my need to numb out any uncomfortable feelings that might have caused slight pain. God forbid I would feel human emotions, right? I didnt actually have the courage to sit through uncomfortable feelings without getting high until I was twenty-four. Thats normal, right? And to stay on this track, I made sure to only hang around with other unformed, self-sabotaging delinquents so that there was absolutely no one around that would encourage me to be a fully functioning, productive adult. He was the first on that list, the first full-blown addict that I had gotten close to. And we were sure to enable each other. Our awkward conversations and public drunkenness soon became love. It didnt really matter if we had much else in common. Bonding over our absolute inability to drink alcohol in moderate proportions was good enough for me. Within three days of being in New York, Damon was telling me he loved me and I was saying it back. It was love at . . . uh . . . tenth drink. There was truly never a dull moment during my two-month stay in the Big Apple. Damon would take me to these crazy underground clubs and wed run around the streets of New York and take pictures and get drunk. And then there were darker moments where I would sit in his green-light apartment while hed sneak away to handle his business as an, ahem, self-employed street pharmacist. Wed pay for everything in cash, and when someones name was required on any document, wed use mine instead of his. I began to wonder if there was a warrant out for Damons arrest, so he couldnt leave a paper trail. So, just to reassess the situation, I was an addict dependent on drugs and alcohol to feel okay, and I was also dependent on another addict for food and housing. Then things between Damon and me started getting more and more toxic. I didnt have anything or anyone in the city besides him. When I tried to make friends or meet other people, he would get possessive and furious. Wed often get in these huge alcohol-induced fights after he tried to tell me what to wear or what to do or who to talk to. Youre too controlling!! Id scream. Youre too out of control!! hed scream back. We were both right. One night, I added to the usual screaming match: I want to go back home to Chicago! He clenched his fists and leaned toward me a bit like he was going to lunge at me. I hadnt seen him so mad before. I got scared and flinched. I think he noticed because he didnt lunge at me. He immediately ran out into the middle of the street, laid down on it like a maniac, and screamed, IM NOT MOVING UNTIL YOU KISS ME! We were so fucking dramatic. I wanted to assert a bit of power, so I sauntered over to him VERY slowly. Dont look at me like that! The roads werent very busy at three a.m. I kissed him and we both got out of the street. Also just want to point out quickly that my prefrontal cortex, the brains RATIONAL part, was far from developed, so none of those bad decisions were actually my fault. Doesnt that make you feel so much better about the shitty decisions you made pre-twenty-five? If youre reading this and under twenty-five, remember, its not your fault. Nothing is ever your fault. If youre reading this and over twenty-five, get your shit together and fix your credit. Seriously, you have no excuse. Right on your birthday, the line is DRAWN. Damon was getting . . . weird though. To say the least. His encouragement for me to pursue modeling had started out as just a series of compliments on my appearance, but it was quickly becoming a sort of obsession for him. Like I said, we would go around the city, taking pictures. But he started to become almost manic about getting the right shot. I felt a spike in my confidence at first, wanting to go along with his ideas. The more he told me I could do this as a career, the more I believed in myself. But when I sought out any other photographer to shoot with or get jobs with, Damon would become furious with me. While I was out one night I met a photographer, Lavan. I loved to shoot with him because he was creative and kind and stable (what a concept!). It was nice to have an actual friend in this city. Lavan and I would go to fancy hotels in the middle of the night and shoot in their lobbies and hallways. Id wear these long gowns (that I would return immediately to the store) and wed stay out late, shooting across the city. When I was with Lavan, I could relax a little. It also finally gave me a chance to call my parents. I still didnt have a cell phone and, a lot of the time, Damon didnt let me use his. He never wanted me calling my family. Yepsome of that sweet, sweet isolation. There were red flags galore. Id get home late and again Damons blue eyes would be bulging out of his head with anger. How dare I betray him? He was convinced I was cheating on him, always. I told him we were just shooting! He was being ridiculous. I yelled at him, You know, real models dont get jobs by just shooting with one photographer-slashdrug dealer!! I need to network if you want me to get jobs. If you want me to get jobs. It never occurred to me that I was basically just doing this because he told me to. I still wanted to be an actor. I didnt give a shit about modeling! What the fuck was I doing? But I didnt really have time to soul-search about my choices, because Damon grabbed me by the arm and yanked me toward him. You only need me. Do you hear that? Its a chorus of beautiful angels singing YIIIKKKEEESSSSSS! RUN AWAYYYY! At the time, I couldnt hear them. Hed grab me so tightly that purple bruises started to show on my biceps. When he saw them, I think he felt bad, because he bought me a cell phone. Soon after that, he sent me to an agency where he had some connections. He was ready for the rest of the world to see my face, I guess! He thought I was beautiful!!! And also he thought I could make him some money. #romance! But, you guys, I wasnt doing too hot. I was getting high every day. I had never been so far from my actual dreams and I was working hard to numb my feelings of discouragement. I had completely lost sight of my goals. They were being eclipsed by the ones Damon had for me. I showed up at the modeling agency. They took one look at me, snapped a Polaroid, and told me theyd be in touch. Okay, I did it. That wasnt hard. You know, modeling auditions were way easier than acting auditions. I didnt have to memorize anything or interpret anything. I didnt have to search the casting directors face for any hope that I did a good job! I could do this! Maybe I should do modeling. As I walked home from the agency, I got a call from Damon. He probably wanted to hear about how it went! Laura, the agency called me. He was mad. That was fast! Do they want me to come back in for a meeting? Why the fuck did you show up with bruises on your arms and a stain on your shirt? I was stunned. Apparently the agency had called him right after I left, appalled by my appearance, bruises up and down my arms and, yes, a stain on my shirt. (Was this karma for stealing Colleens shirt??) Wine is hard to get out! I thought that it was normal for meetings to be that short. But really they had just wanted this crazy chick to get the fuck out of their offices without causing a disturbance. You gave me the bruises, you fucking asshole! Well you should have chosen a different shirt! He hung up. What the FUCK. I was so humiliated. I felt so gross. I walked down Park Avenue, my head hanging low. Then a cracked-out homeless lady sitting on the corner of the street pointed at me and yelled, You think youre pretty! YOURE AN UGLY BITCH! I mean, her timing was arguably impressive. I was completely defeated. I crawled back inside Damons world. I mean, it kind of makes sense, doesnt it? I had nothing. I felt like nothing because he had taken everything away from me. ALSO I LOVED HIM. Completely unrelated, have you heard of Stockholm syndrome? But no matter how much our spirits are crushed, we keep fighting and longing for more even if its subconscious. Its human nature. I kept meeting with Lavan, my only friend in the city, to have moments of normalcy, however fleeting. There was one night that Damon was painting a shitty nude portrait of me as we guzzled wine. We did this a lot, actually. Our tiny studio apartment was covered in weird, off-putting paintings of me. It looked like the den of a serial killer who was plotting to kill me specifically. The green light did not help! We heard a knock at the door of his dingy fourth-floor apartment. Followed by SOBBING. Damon?! a crying woman yelled out. Damon, I love you! Open the door! You told me you loved me! She kept banging on the door while sobbing hysterically. This is MY apartment too! I looked at him wide-eyed and he put his pointer finger over his mouth and mimed for me to be quiet. SHHHH!! Wait a second. He was my boyfriend, and this random woman that I had never heard about just said that . . . this was her apartment? What the fuck was going on? Also, I WAS STILL NAKED. So I did the most obvious thing to do in that situation. Laughed my ass off! Not because I found this funny, but because I WAS UNCOMFORTABLE. Also, did I mention that I dont like emotions? Somehow this discomfort was permeating my drunken numbness, which is impressive seeing how my teeth were VERY purple from wine at this point. The woman outside heard me laugh. She went quiet. I covered my mouth. It was eerie. Then she started BANGING ON THE DOOR WITH ALL HER MIGHT. Damon, I need you! YOU SAID YOU LOVED ME!! DAMONNNN!!! Eventually it became silent. Meanwhile, I had put on some goddamn clothes. She had given up and left. When it finally seemed safe to talk again, I asked Damon, Who the FUCK was that?? Damon sighed, My ex-girlfriend, Natalie. Shes fucking crazy. She doesnt matter, I swear. I only love you. Okay, that wasnt what I asked, but okay. Good to know he loves me. I let it go. Unfortunately, Natalie did not. Another night came that I had plans to shoot with Lavan. Damon and I got into this huge fight before I left, which was typical, but Damon tried to step it up this time. I was trekking down the four flights of stairs, gown in hand, and he was following me, yelling If you go, then Im not letting you back in!! I should mention that he had never let me have a key to the apartment. I had been in New York for two months by then, and that whole time he had to be home to let me in if I went out. And if he was out, I couldnt leave, because I had no way to lock the door behind me. Isnt that soooo cute and relationship-y and not psychotic or frightening at all? Fine! Dont let me in! I dont give a fuck. Your apartments disgusting anyway! I made it to the bottom of the stairs, and Lavan was there, waiting to meet me. We were gonna walk around the neighborhood this time, finding some cool walls to shoot against. We might have done really well if Instagram had been around at this time. Damon barreled over to Lavan. Stay away from my girl! Stay the fuck away! Lavan put his hands up. Dude. Were just friends. Id never even touch her. Okay, rude. As per usual, Damon wasnt in the mood to be reasonable. Or sane. Just stay away, bro! I crossed my arms. Can you stop being a fucking asshole, Damon? Like, what the fuck! Damon looked at me full of rage, grabbed the cell phone out of my hand, and SMASHED it on the concrete. Great. You know what? I didnt need a phone anyway. Especially not one that he bought for me. I wasnt putting up with this tonight. I started walking away. Lets go shoot, Lavan. I didnt put on all this makeup for nothing. Lavan followed and Damon just paced around a bit and fumed like a fucking child. He eventually went back inside. Lavan and I stayed out late after shooting. I dont think he wanted me to go back; he was really worried. Frankly, I didnt want to go back. I called my parents on his phone, to say hi and hear their voices. I spoke to Colleen for a bit, too, just to see if she was still an aviation-loving asshole. But Im telling you, I was so committed to Damon. I knew he was batshit crazy and I was terrified of him, but it was like I was brainwashed. Leaving him didnt feel like an option. I finally got back to the apartment at around two a.m., climbed up the stairs, and knocked on the door. No answer. I felt around in my pockets for my phone. Then I remembered Damon had smashed it. FUCK. No answer, no keys, no phone. Shit. He must be sleeping. I knocked louder. Damon! I yelled, trying to wake him up. Hello?! Damon?! OPEN THE DOOR, Damon! Wow, I sounded crazy. I wondered what the neighbors thought, hearing girls scream at Damons door so frequently in the middle of the night. Finally, the door opened. Only it wasnt Damon. It was a slender woman with dark brown hair and a menacing smile. Or maybe it was just a normal smile. That green light really made things look evil. She glared at me, gripping the door like her nails might puncture the wood. Yep, she was menacing. Its not so funny now, is it? Apparently she remembered me laughing at her. Under different circumstances, this would be an adorable meet-cute. Youre Natalie? Damons ex? I gasped. I was horrified. What was she doing here? Where was Damon? My second question was quickly answered when Natalie opened the door wider to reveal a half-naked Damon, passed out on the mattress with an empty bottle of vodka next to him. The blood drained from my face. I felt shaky and numb and every emotion at the same time. He cheated on me with her? He said, he PROMISED, she meant nothing to him. I muttered, Just let me pack my things and Ill leave. Make it quick, she said in a vengeful tone without skipping a beat. She let me in. I started to grab my things. She sat down on the mattress next to Damon, cuddled him close and started petting his messy hair while glaring at me, like an evil Bond villain petting his cat. Damon gurgled in his sleep. Ah yes, theres the prize we were battling over. I finished packing my clothes. Then I took one of the naked paintings of me off the wall and stuffed it in my bag as a memory of these wonderful, wonderful two months. I got it most of the way in, but not completely. My crudely rendered tits were hanging out of the top of my suitcase. I took a breath. My mind was racing as I tried to figure out where I was going to go next. Can I just use Damons phone? I need to find a place to stay. She just kept glaring at me. I took that as a yes, so I grabbed Damons phone, stepped into the hallway, and called Lavan in a panic. Lavan, Im in trouble and I need a place to gocan I stay with you? Im really scared. Yes, of course! Are you okay? Natalie yelled from the other room, HURRY THE FUCK UP! I lowered my voice. No, not really. Im not safe here anymore. Ill see you soon. I hung up. I went back inside the apartment and handed her the phone. She threw it aside. She was still petting Damons hair. Everything about this situation was so fucked up. I couldnt handle it. I had to do something, anything, to make it less fucked upand to hopefully make this deranged, controlling, and dangerous woman not kill me. That would be ideal. I looked up at her. Im sorry I laughed the other night. I really did feel sorry. I wasnt laughing at you, I just laugh at uncomfortable things. Damon was telling me to shut up, so . . . I trailed off. I didnt need to ramble at my mortal enemy right now. She stared at me for a minute, surprised. Her crazy rage softened a bit. She looked down at Damon. Its okay, she said. I know how Damon gets. We were supposed to be enemies, but I think my apology eased the tension just a bit. I was even a bit relieved that I was finally getting off this rickety roller coaster of a relationship without, like, dying. The craziness was finally over. I was out of Damons clutches. I felt a weight lifted. I smiled a bit. Yeah, he can get crazy, huh? She laughed. Tell me about it! Yup, Damons ex and I were bonding over what a psycho he was as he lay passed out, half-naked between us. She jumped into a story about him almost jumping off a bridge when she had to go on a trip to see her parents. How sweet and normal! I told her about him lying in the middle of the road, yelling at any friend I made, and smashing my phone earlier today. Oh, Damon! What a goofball. Our laughter got more and more raucous. So much so that it woke him up. His eyes popped open and he turned his head slowly from right to left, gradually realizing the severity of his situation. A terrifying, angry, psychotic look washed over his face. He shot up, grabbed Natalie, and started pushing her toward the door. I recognized that grip on her armsthat was going to bruise later. GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE! GO! he yelled. I quickly stood up and grabbed my suitcase. DONT PUSH HER AROUND! IM LEAVING! NOT HER! ME! He shoved me out of the way, then physically pushed Natalie out of the studio apartment. She screamed and resisted as much as she could. Damon, please! I love you! Please! But he was stronger, and he wanted her out. He locked the door. I was petrified. She pleaded from behind the door, once again. I wasnt laughing this time. I was appalled, thinking, HOW? How could she love someone so cruel?! Yet here I was, in the same situation as her. I grabbed my bag and attempted to leave. He looked at me with such rage in his eyes. Its hard to describe, even, but it made me sick to my stomach. He looked like all the humanity inside him had drained out. He was only anger and adrenaline now. I thought he was going to kill me. He grabbed me and threw me on the mattress with all his might. I was frozen with fear. He put his hands around my neck and he started crying. He gripped my throat, hard. Dont you ever leave me. I love you. I love you, he said while choking me. I didnt move a muscle. I focused on breathing. On staying alive. I knew if I fought back, he would win. Okay. I wont. I promise I wont, I said through tears and dwindling breaths. But even with my promises, he didnt let me get up. He didnt let me get up, and then went on to force himself on me. He didnt let me move. So I didnt move. I didnt want to die. I was afraid that if I resisted in any way, he would end up killing me. It would only be tightening his grip on my neck. I told myself I would get out tomorrow. I would get out tomorrow. When tomorrow rolled around, he apologized to me. Im sorry I invited Natalie over last night. Things got out of hand. Not the apology I was looking for and . . . excuse me . . . HE invited HER over??? If you hadnt gone off with Lavan, I wouldnt have invited her over, though. Just dont do that again, he warned. So . . . it was my fault. What the fuck? That night, I drank a lot before bed. And as the days passed on, I convinced myself it was a one-time thing. Im sorry to report that it took me much longer than one day to leave him. The beautiful chorus of angels singing Yiiiiiiiiiikkkkeeessssss! Get out of there, Lauraaaa! was getting quieter and quieter in the back of my mind. Remember how I had called Lavan that night, saying I was in danger and begging for a place to stay? Well of course I never showed up after Damon pushed Natalie out of the apartment. And I didnt have a phone to safely contact him again. Sometimes I laugh, thinking about how worried he must have been. Not because I think its funny, but becausewell you guys know how I deal with uncomfortable situations. While I was off in my own world with Damon again, Lavan was worrying. But well come back to that. Remember how Damon paid for everything in cash? #notsuspiciousatall. Welland this was an exciting development for me too!this included apartments. He did not have his name on the lease for the apartment. The apartment was in Natalies name. He obviously didnt want me running into Natalie, who obviously knew where he lived. Wed often stay out for hours and hours, and looking back I wonder if he was just trying to keep up the separation of his two girlfriends that would inevitably collapse. At this point, Damon hadnt told me outright that Natalie had ownership over the lease. I found out the good ol hard way. There was a hard knock at the door. Damon opened the door to see a hulking six-foot-six man standing there, fists clenched. He looked intimidating, like it was his job. Turns out, it was his job! He worked for the landlord. Youre being evicted. We can be quieter! I exclaimed, thinking it was for sure because of our dramatic AF late-night fights. The man glared at us. You are trespassing in Natalie Reeders apartment. You must leave at once or else face consequences. I could have sworn I heard his knuckles crack at this point. Turns out, Damon had convinced this poor girl to put the apartment under her name when they moved in together. And then he kicked her out and moved me in. He was paying the rent, but still. How shitty. It was in her name, so she kicked us the fuck out. I was scared and frustrated, but part of me was definitely like, You go, Natalie. Kick us the fuck out of your place! I dont blame her at all. Im surprised she let us live there for HALF a day after the horrific way he treated her. Needless to say, we were now out on the street with three suitcases and nowhere to go. Damon had a plan, though. We went straight to the airport and took the next flight out to LA, where Damon was from. Wow, I was finally heading back to LA! Exactly what I wanted! The universe works in mysterious ways. Ultra-mysterious. So mysterious, it possibly makes no fucking sense at all! During the flight over, my acting dreams knocked quietly on the back window of my mind. But unfortunately, it was going to be a bit of time before I started acting again. From the airport, we went straight to Damons parents house in Orange County. It was a very modest, single-story home in a suburban neighborhood that looked like it hadnt changed since the seventies. Damon knocked on the front door. I thought it was weird he didnt just . . . enter. I mean, he grew up here. It was his home. Right? But he looked strange. Smaller. He was shaking a little, and not just like an addict who needed a hit of something. I take that back, actually he did look like he could use a hit of something. His mother answered the door, smoking a cigarette and brushing her huge blond hair out of her face. She seemed to be clenching on to her youth for dear life with her long pink nails. The first thing she did when she saw Damon was frown as best she could through her Botox. Oh. So you failed in New York? Damon cleared his throat, ignoring this. This is my girlfriend, Laura. She smiled this wide, veneer smile. Pretty. She leaned in to press her very hard fake boobs against me in a hug. I swear to God I wasnt staring at them, its just . . . When we hugged, I still felt like I was three feet away from her. She led us inside. Damons dad and little brother were sitting in the living room. His dad looked greasy and mad. And greasy. And did I say mad? I would honestly use more adjectives if I could. When he saw Damon walk in, he only looked angrier. I thought you were in New York making money. What happened with that? I found out that Damon wasnt an independent rebellious artist-slashdrug dealer. His father had been putting major pressure on him to make money. His dad stood up and started toward Damon aggressively. I took a step back, but Damon pulled me in between the two of them. Thanks, dude. This is Laura, my girlfriend. Damons dad took one look at me and then looked back at Damon. Bedroom. Now. Damon glanced at me. It was a look I had never seen from him before. Apologetic? Worried? I couldnt tell at the time. But looking back, I think it was fear. Lauren! Come sit. His mother patted the floral couch she was sitting on. She picked up a nail file and started on her pinky. Its Laura. I sat on the couch next to Damons brother, who was staring into his Nintendo DS, glasses on, knees pulled up to his chest. His body language screamed, Why am I in this family? Lauren, tell me something. I nodded. Sure. Damons mothers face contorted in disgust. Why are you with him? Hes no good. I didnt know what to say. I heard the voices in the other room get louder. Damon and his dad were fighting now. Then I heard a WHAP. Repeatedly. Damon was quiet now. I was so uncomfortable, way past laughter. I stood up and took a lap around the house. On the wall there were some pictures of Damon as a kid, decked out in snowboarding gear. (Which Im surprised stayed on the wall at all, seeing how much his mother seemed to loathe him.) When he was a kid, maybe twelve years old, he was a snowboarding prodigy, competing across the country. He was a sweet-looking little kid. It was hard to be mad, looking at him like that. Damon was not a good person. But in a way, I could finally see why he was the way he was. Why he would be physically and verbally abusive. It all made sense. It didnt make it right or make it okay, but it made sense. We stayed with his parents for a week. A week of his dad hurting him, his mother asking me in front of him why I would ever be with him, and his little brother trying his hardest to disappear. After a week, we headed to the Beverly Hills apartment that Damon owned. Wait. Excuse me? Why did we stay with his horrible family for AN ENTIRE WEEK if he had an apartment in Beverly Hills?? CHAPTER 5 The Damon Inside The point of this book is to articulate that people have the capacity to change. As youve seen from my stories, Ive been dangerously impulsive, selfish, and erractic. You might be wondering when you were going to see the change part happen. The answer is: not yet! Damon and I had one good week in his tiny, trashy, Beverly Hills apartment. I thought that living in Beverly Hills guaranteed that your apartment wouldnt be a dump, but it turns out that horrible apartments are inevitable when youre with an unsuccessful drug dealer. I didnt mind, though. I was so happy to be back in LA. LA was like freedom to me, and nothing was going to mess that up. I also didnt understand why we ever stayed in that trash dump, tiny New York studio when freaking Beverly Hills was an option! Like, are you kidding me? Also, I know I promised myself that I would leave him after that night in New York. But I didnt know how. I didnt realize how horrible my situation was, or what a healthy relationship looked like. To me, Damon and I had a great relationship on the days that he wasnt screaming at me. My perception of happiness and love was so warped by now. We were enabling each other more than ever these days. He would steadily supply my increasing drug habits. Smoking a lot of weed and a bit of cocaine quickly turned into a lot of cocaine and a . . . lot of weed, as well. Wed go out almost every night and meet the most interesting people. Hey! I was networking again. I bypassed the agents and managers with cocaine problems this time, though, and instead met Leo and Andre, two fabulously femme gay partygoers in West Hollywood. They did something or other in entertainment, at least I thought they did. We exchanged numbers. That counts as networking, right? Life was finally peacefulUNTIL IT WASNT. It was the end of our first week staying at Damons Beverly Hills apartment. We had smoked a bunch of weed that morning, and lain out to nap on the couch a few hours later. (Weed for breakfast! A great way to start the day.) See? Super peaceful. Until I heard the front door slam open. Hard. Someone outside had unlocked every lock, but had only gotten the door open three inches because of the chain lock that Damon had randomly remembered to put on. How convenient! Its like he almost knew this was going to happen. Damon? Let me in! a high-pitched, angry voice yelled from outside the door. Damons eyes popped open. Oh shit, oh shit In his alarmed flailing, he had accidentally pushed me off the couch. Or maybe it was on purpose. He wasnt the sweetest guy in the world. I looked at the door and saw one mascara-laden eye peeking in. Of course. Another woman. Damon, who is that?? Why does she have a key?? I whispered. Shes my girlfriend. Laura, you have to run; shes gonna kill you! SLAM! The woman outside, whose name I found out was Olivia, was trying to slam the door open with all her might. She saw me, and she was just as mad as I was. Except she probably didnt have the extra bit of terror layered on top of it. SLAM! The chain lock was quivering against her force. My momentary appreciation for her crazy-strength was cut short by her yelling, Im gonna fucking kill you both! That was my cue to get out. Go go go! Damon yelled to me. I ran out the back door as fast as I could, as a screaming match started between them. I looked back at the apartment complex to see my suitcase and belongings being thrown out the window onto the front lawn. I kept running for a couple blocks. Having just woken up, and still reeling from my morning blunt, I was especially disoriented and freaked out. Holy shit. At least it all made sense now. That was why we hadnt gone straight to the Beverly Hills apartment when we got into LA. Thats why we spent a week at Damons parents place. Damon had calculated the moment when he thought Olivia would be out of town and took us there, hoping that he would figure it out from there. As great as this clarity was, it did nothing to save me right then. Think, Laura, think. What was I supposed to do? Where was I supposed to go? Lavan had always protected me in New York, but he wasnt here. I didnt know anyone here anymore, but I did have a cell phone. Youll be happy to know that this was one of the fleeting moments in between Damons cell phonesmashing rages. He had actually gotten me this one as an apology for smashing the last one. Sweet! Only one problem. The phone was completely new. Even if I had some long-lost contact in LA who could come to my rescue right now, I didnt have their number saved. I didnt have any numbers saved. I pulled it out anyway, hoping someones name and number would just come to me. And then I saw it. One phone number in my contacts listed as: LEO AND ANDRE GOOD-TIME BITCHESSSSS Oh my God. The two guys I met in West Hollywood a few nights ago. We were all super high and drunk at the time . . . they probably didnt remember me at all. No, they definitely didnt remember me at all. I distinctly remember them talking to me sparingly in between making out with each other. But I had no choice. I was shaking and scared. I had no money, no place to go, and no one to help me. I called them and got an answer on the second ring. Hey! Um . . . You probably dont remember me, but this is Laura. We met at that launch party a couple nights ago. Im really tall and blonde and did a weird impression of Christina Aguilera? Oh yes! Beautiful noodle girl! What up, bitch?? Um . . . I kind of got kicked out of my apartment by my boyfriends . . . other girlfriend. And I kind of think shes going to kill me if I go back there. So I was wondering if I could maybe come over while I figure out where to go. There was a pause. Oh no. I asked too much. I started to blabber on, Im sorry, its really okay GIRL. We got you, honey. Dont move. I nearly cried tears of relief. I stood on that street corner for thirty more minutes until I heard loud EDM music PUMPING from a beat-up twenty-year-old Toyota Camry in broad daylight. There they were, loud enough to be a club on wheels and slowly pulling up on Hollywood Blvd, definitely out of place among the BMWs and Porsches that were swerving to speed around them. Leo manually rolled the passenger-side window down and then yelled, GET IN, BITCH! I hopped in the backseat. Where to? they asked. First we went back to Damon and HIS GIRLFRIENDs apartment to pick my belongings off the front lawn. Leo and Andre didnt even bat an eye at this. At any of it, I was a random girl they met once. They had no reason in the world to trust me! I could have just killed someone! I could have been running from the law! But they didnt ask questions. They were just generous, and I appreciated it so much. We headed back to their apartment to figure out my next steps. As I was sitting in their cluttered backseat, I tried to focus my brain in spite of the loud bass literally shaking the seat. I still didnt know what to do, though. There was no way I was going home again. Besides the very important fact that I didnt have money for a plane ticket, I had finally made it back to LA! Leaving would be giving up. Id live on the street before I left LA again. Then something magical happened. We walked into Leo and Andres West Hollywood apartment. Their roommate was standing there with her suitcase packed. She was crying and looked surprised to see us, like she was trying to avoid us. She wiped her eyes. Im moving back home to Oklahoma. I cant do it anymore. I cant make it in this city! Andre gasped. Leo put his hands on his hips. Excuse me? Girl, you did not give me ANY notice. What am I supposed to do? Conjure a roommate out of thin air? The roommate sniffled. I just have to leave. I have to. Im sorry. She walked past us and slammed the door. Ill move in. Today, I said. Now. Ill move in now. They looked at me for a minute. Then Leo raised an eyebrow. Welcome home, bitch. I moved right into the other room. It was as simple as that. I slept on the disgusting, stained carpet that night. The room was completely empty except for me and my suitcase. The only bad news was that things werent over with Damon yet. He came over and explained the situation. Oli and I were together for like eight years, but were not together anymore. I dont love her like I love you. We just live together, but were not together anymore. I told her youre my number one. She knows. Oh cool, that checks out. He also added that he couldnt kick her out or get another apartment because he cant have his name on the lease. It was her name on the apartment. Those tricky paper trail challenges sure required him to have a ton of girlfriends. Hed come over some nights to sleep over or hang out. And I continued to let him. I kept convincing myself that all the bad things he did to me were one-time things, even when they repeated. I stayed with him. Living with Leo and Andre did give me breathing room from Damons crazy mania. I had fun with them and soon fell into an easy rhythm. They were both very immersed in the gay party culture of West Hollywood, so life there was a constant party. Id come home in the afternoon to find them in my dresses dancing aggressively to Lady Gaga. You guys went through my stuff?! Leo and Andre looked down. Well you both look amazing. Carry on. They were hard drug users, too, and just like Damon, they didnt judge me for my ways. Quite the opposite, actually. The apartment was always fully stocked with hard drugs. But as much as we enabled one another, we protected and took care of one another. They liked Damon, too, a lot. But in their defense, I dont think they quite knew how crazy he was. They just thought he was a wacky, super-cute bi dude that they both loved to flirt with. We all got on pretty well when Damon wasnt being terrifying. Outside of partying, dressing fabulously, and doing drugs, I never was entirely sure what Leo and Andre did beyond believing they were in the industry. But somehow they were both incredibly, unapologetically themselves. Even though I was living in constant fear of Damons episodes, I was happier now that I was living with Leo and Andre. But then I got a call from my parents. Laura . . . Honey . . . Grandmas sick. You need to come home to say good-bye to her. I told Damon through tears that my grandma was dying and that I had to leave. Even though he hated letting me out of his sight, he let me go. I mean, what could he do? I flew home immediately and burst through the front door of my house. Wheres Grandma? Is she okay? And whats fatally progressive death syndrome? My mom sat me down on the couch. Laura . . . What? What is it? Is she dead? Did she die already?? Oh my God, I never said good-bye! Grandmas fine. I looked at my mom, stunned. She . . . pulled through? Even though its called death syndrome? Sweetie, I made up death syndrome. We just . . . we heard you were in trouble, sweetie. We heard you needed a way out from Damon. I stood up. Excuse me? Why did you lie to me? And I dont need a way out from anything. Im FINE. Sweetie, we didnt know how else to help! Your friend Lavan called us in such a panic, we were worried You dont have to worry about me! Im an adult, fully capable of making my own decisions. Then I stomped off to my childhood bedroom and slammed the door. How dare they try to control my life right now! I was happy with Damon. He had changed; he was better now. We had a ton of fun when he wasnt being crazy and I wasnt completely terrified of him. By had a ton of fun I of course mean did a ton of drugs. Heres how my parents found out about the whole situation: Remember my photographer friend Lavan? Me neither, apparently! As you might recall, I had called Lavan to basically save me from Damons clutches when we were in New York . . . and then I never showed up. I didnt have a phone at the time to let him know I was okay, and when I got a new one, I didnt have his number. Well, it turns out that was very alarming for him. He had no idea what happened to me and he knew the full scope of how scary and dangerous Damon was. He had no way of contacting me, but he had my parents phone number. Id often call them on his phone when we would shoot, because of Damons issue with me having contact with the outside world. He called my parents and let them know I was in danger, that I needed a way out of an abusive relationship. My parents tried to figure out the most delicate way possible for me to come home. They knew Damon wouldnt let me leave any other way. They were scared he would overhear and hurt me. So they came up with this brilliant, very shitty plan. And as soon as I called them from my new number in Los Angeles, they put their plan into action. I just felt manipulated and betrayed. It didnt help that I was in this rebellious phase of my life where whatever they wanted me to do, I would do the opposite. I pushed them away and flew straight back to LA. But first I went to visit my grandma, just to make sure she was okay. She had just finished running a 5K. . . . Just kidding. . . . But she def wasnt dead. Im telling you guys, my eighteen-year-old brain was not fully formed at all. Going back to Damon was not a rational choice! But between my lack of understanding at what a healthy relationship looked like and his manipulation and control over me, I went back without question. I resumed my life in LA at Leo and Andres house. There, I received two very important things: 1. A slight amount of distance from Damon. 2. The longest amount of time so far that Damon let me have a cell phone without breaking it. Either I was getting better at living in the complete isolation that he found acceptable, or he had forgotten that I had a phone he could smash. Judging by the fact that he was still screaming at me pretty often, I think he had totally forgotten that I had a phone. Since I had some alone time, living away from Damon, I could sometimes make calls without worrying about him hearing me. Which meant . . . Rinnnng rinnnng . . . Colleen: Hello? Me: Hey dude. Damons being fucking crazy again today. Colleen: Shit. Whats he doing? Me: He just lost it and was screaming at me because I didnt let him into the apartment immediately after he knocked. I was in the shower! Like, what the fuck? Colleen: Wow. Sounds like that was really your fault, though. Did you have to shower? Me: Ha-ha, dude! I dont know what to do. Im scared. Colleen: Okay, well . . . Do you feel like the side character in the horror movie or the lead? Because the side character dies really early, but the lead usually at least makes it to the end. Me: Hmmmm. I think Im still the lead. Only Colleen could make me laugh about shit this fucked up. We started to talk every day. Shed listen without judging me, or preaching to me, or telling me what to do. So I felt comfortable enough to tell her everything. I told her about how Damon would lose his mind if I said the wrong thing or talked to anyone on the street. I told her about how he would grab me so hard that I would bruise. About how he thought he owned me. Only she knew the full extent of Damons bullshit. One time, Damon was pissed off at me, so he stole my phone. Hey, at least he didnt smash it! He just erased all my contacts and changed the name on my voice mail recording. To Satan. Everyone who called me heard this: You have reached the voice mailbox of SATAN. Colleen and I had a pretty good laugh at that one. Dont get me wrong, she really was scared for me. She really wanted to get me out of this relationship, and she saw how dangerous Damon was. By this time, I think I was the only person who didnt want me to leave Damon. But Colleen was fucking smart and understood me better than anyone. She knew that if she told me to get the fuck away from that horrible person, then I would probably ice her out or rebel by getting closer to Damon. I wasnt taking anyones advice. So my sweet, sweet sister just fucking listened. I started to get a little bolder with my phone calls. Id call Colleen to talk while Damon was passed out in the other room. I mean, when Damon passed out, this was not a light nap. This was Is he dead? I cant tell, but lets wait another hour before calling an ambulance. I could scream into his ear without him waking up, so it was fine. One time Damon was sleeping in the living room. I was making lunch in the kitchen area while talking to Colleen. I dont know, I really think hes losing it. He doesnt seem sane anymore. I feel like hes going to murder me. Damons eyes popped open. He turned to me. He had heard everything. Oh shit. His face contorted into a rageful, icy, inhumane glare. His eyes were bulging from their sockets. A vein I never saw before looked like it was about to burst from his neck. In one swift movement, he grabbed a size 11 high-heel boot that Leo had worn out last night and CHUCKED IT AT MY HEAD WITH ALL HIS MIGHT. What is it about being absolutely insane that makes a persons aim impeccable? He stood up, fists clenched and head jerking around with rage. I ran out the front door and down the long hallway. Oh my God, Colleen, he threw a shoe at me! He threw a shoe at me! Oh God, okay, are you running? Run!! Yeah, yeah Im running! I panted. Is he following you? I turned back to see Damon following behind me in a slow and steady pace. As if he knew that once he got his hands on me, taking me out would be no problem. It was horrifying. Yeah. Is he running or is it the slow serial-killer walk? Slow serial-killer walk! Slow serial-killer walk! FUCKING RUN! I ran out of the apartment complex and hid out for a couple hours at a nearby caf? until Damon had calmed down. Another day in paradise. Nothing about my life in LA was sustainable, and things began to get more and more chaotic for me. I started to have trouble eating for a couple reasons. The first was that I was too stressed out when I was with Damon to eat anything. It was like my body was constantly in fight-or-flight mode. Did you guys know that when your body feels like youre in life-threatening danger, it slows down your digestion and pumps your body with adrenaline so that you can survive running for your life for a few extra days or have the strength to lift a car off your baby? Thats the truth. Id be so scared, Id go days at a time without feeling any hunger. The only times Id feel like I could eat were when Damon wasnt around. For some reason my body knew I was in danger, but my brain . . . couldnt quite place its source! The second problem was that when Damon wasnt around and I finally felt like I could eat, I didnt have any money to buy food. I was financially dependent on him. Because of my addiction, I was in no state to hold down a job. Im sure he didnt mind having the control over my life. Id sometimes be so hungry that Id go out on the street and find a random stranger, ask them if they wanted to get a bite to eat, and then eat a meal with them just so that Id have a way to get food. I never had an eating disorder or anything, but I was losing weight quickly. I looked like I was wasting away. A few days after the shoe incident, Colleen gave me another call. Im thinking of moving out to LA. Really? Since when? Um. Since forever. That was my dream before it was yours. I scoffed. Ive literally never heard you say that before. Okay fine. I just decided yesterday. But come on! Help me get out of Mom and Dads house. Can I move in with you? I think she knew that I wasnt going to be able to leave Damon on my own. I think she thought that if she came, she could help me get out. So thats what she did. She picked up her entire life, quit her job, and moved into Leo and Andres apartment with me. I mean, she did also want to get out of our parents house. And LA was not the worst place to do so. We were going to have fun together. On the day she arrived, she took one look at me and breathed, Whoa. I looked down. Did I have something on my shirt? No, it was just my body. I was scary thin, had bruises all up and down my arms, and had dark circles under my eyes. But at least my baggy T-shirt looked sort of shabby-chic, right? No? FINE. And then . . . Colleen met Damon. Damon hated Colleen because he knew that she was the one opening my eyes to the abuse I was enduring. And Colleen hated Damon because . . . well, you know, everything. But something you need to know about Colleen is that she is very levelheaded. And thinks before she acts. (What a concept!) When she met him, she was not about to jump down his throat. She was strategic. But so was Damon. He put on his best behavior. Shook her hand and acted civil and everything. Why are you so skinny? she said, pulling my arm out for her to examine. I just got really pissed at Damon today and I was upset and I couldnt eat, I dont know. She raised an eyebrow. So you lost like twenty pounds from missing just one meal, only today? Damon even chimed in, She just wont eat! I tell her to eat and she doesnt eat. Theres something wrong with you, Laura. If you wouldnt be such an asshole, then Id be able to eat! I immediately flinched, expecting Damon to come back at me with an even LOUDER, more-aggressive response. . . . But instead I saw a flash across Damons face that I hadnt seen since we were at his parents house in Long Beach. He looked . . . intimidated by Colleen. It was such a quietly intense moment. I could almost hear the whistling-standoff music. No one was saying what they were thinking. Except Leo, who walked into the living room right at that moment. Can you bitches take your shoes off? Like, what the fuck, the carpet used to be beige and now it is off-beige. Oh my God, are you Colleen? Youre beautiful! Colleen and Damon maintained threatening eye contact as we all slipped our shoes off. There werent any fistfights or yelling matches. Colleen really was kind of brilliant at being tolerant of him, while letting me figure out what I needed for myself. It felt so good to have my sister around. I could finally eat with her, and food is awesome. Colleen slept in my room with me, on the dirty carpet. I still didnt have a bed. There was one night where we were laying there, and I couldnt fall asleep. I kept tossing and turning. Falling asleep gave me nightmares, and being awake was a nightmare. I just lay there in limbo. I think I woke her up. Hey, she whispered to me. Oh, sorry. Did I wake you up? No, no . . . She trailed off. And then said, gently, You know this isnt good, right? This isnt good. I was quiet. I know. A few weeks passed and Colleen remained civil toward Damon. But in her own way, she convinced me that I was strong enough to leave him. I finally felt like I wouldnt be so alone in the world if I didnt have Damon with me. Colleen kind of held her arms open and said, Im here, dude. Youre not on your own if you leave him. I mustered up all the courage I had and called Damon. We were sitting in Leo and Andres living room. I was so nervous. I picked up the phone. Nope, too hard. Lets smoke some weed. We smoked a blunt. Now I was ready. I called Damon and told him it was over, that I couldnt do this anymore. I think he was stunned, because he didnt say much in response. Im sure he very much regretted not smashing this cell phone. For a couple days after, I was just scared. I was scared of what he would do. But I didnt hear from him for one day . . . then two . . . then three. I was safe. I had forgotten what it felt like to feel safe. You guys, feeling safe is awesome. I fully recommend it. It was finally just me and Colleen living it up in the big city. We were having a blast. Wed go out at night and drink and dance and do whatever the fuck we wanted. I even could talk to random people on the street if I wanted to without getting yelled at! We had absolutely no money except a bit that Colleen had saved up, but it was all okay. Everything was okay. A few days after I broke up with Damon, Colleen met a very cheesy model dude. She didnt know he was cheesy yet, although I thought that the bleached tips and shell necklace were an immediate giveaway. Later on, he drove her up Mulholland Drive in a vintage car, blasted Frank Sinatra, pulled her out of the car and said, Lets DANCE! To which she responded, I . . . have to go. He was the cheesiest kind of cheese. But she was very into him in the beginning, when her view of his bleached tips was blinded by her view of his abs. They were good abs. She started spending the night at his house some nights, leaving me alone in the room. I said goodnight to Leo and Andreor rather, I yelled goodnight to them over the Lady Gaga they were pumping, and they incorporated a goodnight wave into their dancing. With the room to myself, I drifted off to sleep. Finally the Lady Gaga had quieted down and Leo and Andre had gone to bed in the other room. Im having this great dream. And then all of a sudden I cant breathe. I open my eyes. Im awake now, but I still cant breathe. I feel this enormous pressure on my body. Theres something on my mouth. Its Damon. His hand is over my mouth. Hes looming over me. I cant scream. I cant move. But Im not asleep. Shhhhhhhh. I tried to move my arms, they were clamped down by Damons legs. I stared up at him, shaking. He was staring at me with an animal rage. Like he could kill me without a second thought. Like I deserved it. I tried to push him off with my legs and his grip just got tighter. I took short breaths. Just trying to stay alive. His voice came out in a rageful, shaking whisper. Why did you leave me? Why did you leave me? Why did you leave me? I couldnt speak because his hand was over my mouth. Tears streamed down my face. Dont move. Dont move. Just breathe. You know what? He asked me a question. I was going to answer. I said my answer through my shaking and sobbing even though it was completely muffled by his hand. Maybe he was curious about what I said. He moved his hand slightly to hear me. Once he did, I screamed at the top of my lungs. HELP ME HELP ME HELP!!!!! Damon became enraged again. He quickly covered my mouth. WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON? GET THE FUCK OFF HER!!! Leo and Andre ran in. Andre was full-on wielding a broom for protection. They pulled Damon off me. Damon scrambled to his feet. It was three against one now. I tried to stand up, still catching my breath. Leo kept screaming, GET THE FUCK OUT OF OUR HOUSE! GET THE FUCK OUT! Damon tried to take on Leo, but Andre stepped in front of him with the broom and yelled, IM CALLING THE POLICE! Andre pulled out his phone. That was Damons kryptonite. I had suspicions that he had been evading the police for years. God knows they had more than enough reasons to lock him up. He backed away, looking angry yet nervous. His face reddened, he was breathing heavily. An animal backed into a corner. He shot one last glare at me as if to say this wasnt over. My blood ran cold. And then he ran. I was shaking on the floor. I pulled my knees up to my chest. Shivering. Leo and Andre asked if I was okay, if I needed anything, if I wanted to sleep in their room, if I . . . if I . . . I couldnt hear any of it. I couldnt respond. I was reeling. It happened the one night my sister wasnt there. Its like he knew. Its like he was watching and waiting for the night that she wouldnt be home. I was starting to feel paranoid. There was no trace of him for a while after that, but I couldnt shake the feeling that he was watching me. I felt unsafe everywhere. But even then, I felt way safer than I did when we were together. Colleen wasnt going to spend the night anywhere else for a while, unless I was coming with her and sleeping in between her and her cheesy boyfriend. Together, we found ways to protect ourselves. I started sleeping with a knife next to me like I used to as a teen. But this time, the knife was not for me, bitches! If we went out at night, we would leave little traps so that if Damon broke in while we were gone, we would know that he was in the house. One night, Colleen decided that I needed to blow off some steam. Leo and Andre were out of town, so we were trying to just watch movies in the living room . . . but Colleen was getting cabin fever. Lets go out. No. Not in a million years, dude! Ill buy you two drinks. Okay lets go. We set a new plan in motion. We strategically placed our trash can directly inside of our front door. This way, if he did break in, we would see the trash can moved out of the way and wed be able to call the police. Genius! We went out to a club, stayed out way way way too late and got back to the apartment at about four a.m. We both searched for our keys in our purses. She pulled hers out as I pulled out a glass from the bar. What the fuck? she said. I had drunkenly put one of the glasses at the bar into my purse and carried it home. Colleen gave me a look. I thought you dont steal anymore? Im gonna return it! I said. Just open the door! You open it! Im scared, she replied. Youve lived more years than me; Im not ready to die. I pushed her in front of the door. Colleen sighed and put her key in the door, turned it, and pushed the door open. IT DIDNT HIT THE TRASH CAN. Someone moved it! Someones been inside, she whispered. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. I yelled into the pitch-black apartment, IF YOURE IN THERE, DAMON, WERE CALLING THE COPS. Then Colleen flipped the light on. Oh . . . my . . . God, she breathed. I dropped my stolen glass. The apartment was trashed. Paintings torn off the wall. Plates smashed on the floor. The TV was thrown off its stand. We stood for a moment, mouths agape. Colleen patted me on the shoulder. Well, I guess we didnt need to do the trash can thing, huh? I started laughing. Guess not. In our bedroom, the suitcases had been completely torn through, our clothing had been torn up. Looking around the room, I could feel his rage. I didnt want to think about what would have happened if we had been home. We needed some goddamn new locks, like five of them. What the fuck. And then we went into the bathroom . . . and found the creepiest part. Before she moved out to LA, when my phone availability was a bit sporadic, Colleen had written me this long letter saying how worried about me she was, that she wanted to help. It was long and sweet and I kept it throughout all my moves. Well apparently Damon had found it in my suitcase. He put it in the toilet. And he pissed on it. We looked down into the toilet bowl. Just kind of . . . disappointed. Aw, man. He pissed on the note. Dang. At least he put it in the toilet to piss on it. And not in your suitcase. Right. Thats right. Thanks, Damon. Sometimes you have to laugh through the most horrendous moments you experience. Or at least, we did. My psychotic ex-boyfriend with major rage issues was stalking me and breaking into my apartment, and now my sister was involved. He knew where we lived. He had easily broken in twice now. I felt like the light at the end of the tunnel was being pulled farther and farther away. If we didnt laugh at how twisted the whole thing was, we wouldnt have made it through. A few days later I got a phone call. It was an automated voice. You are receiving a call from the LA County Jail fromDAMON. To accept this call, press one. I gasped. Damon was in jail. He was finally locked up. I could have cried tears of relief. I didnt press one to accept the call. I dont even know what he went down for. After I got the call, it was time to celebrate. Jail time was truly the only way that he would have stopped chasing us. It was either that, or me being dead. I was finally truly free. I only saw Damon one more time in my life. It was a few years later, when my addiction had spiraled even further out of control. On this particular day, I needed some weed, yo. My usual drug dealers werent answering their phones, so I texted Damon. I told my boyfriend at the time that I needed to go pick up weed from my drug dealer ex, to which he replied, Okay, be back soon! My then-current boyfriend didnt know how extreme my past with Damon had been. I walked inside Damons Beverly Hills apartment. The place was a dumpthe result of years of decline. He couldnt handle taking care of it anymore, or of himself. There were empty bottles and cigarette butts everywhere. Paintings and pictures all over the floor. Shadows of what his life used to be. There was no Olivia anymore. There was nobody except Damon. He was slumped over on the floor in the corner of the living room. There were track marks all over his arms from heroin. He wasnt scary anymore. He almost wasnt a person. Heroin takes the life out of you. He was so weak that he could barely sit up. I didnt feel scared or paranoidI knew he couldnt hurt me even if he wanted to. He looked lifeless. So obviously, I pointed to the heroin and said, Ooooh, that looks fun. Can I try some? He said over and over again, Dont ever do this. Dont ever do this. Just let me try some! Im not letting you shoot up. Damon, the terrorizing maniac who manipulated me, isolated me, and assaulted me, THIS TERRIBLE PERSON who never truly cared about my well-beinghe wouldnt let me shoot heroin. Thats how devastating it is. Thats how much it kills you. I dont think that fact settled in with me at the time. Then can I at least smoke it? I was not learning any lessons on this day, apparently. Okay. He handed it to me. I tried it, but I didnt even like it. I vomited right after. I dont remember feeling good at all. Thank God. I left that apartment as I had found it, with weed in hand. I left Damon there. I dont even know if hes alive today. In spite of everything, I dont hate him. He was sick. I saw his parents; I saw where he came from; I saw who he was. It was like the sickness creeped down onto him and overcame him. Its what happened to Leo and Andre. Sometimes I think thats what was happening to me, too. Years later, when I was sober, I saw Leo in a recovery meeting. He was emaciated, shockingly skinny. He looked like a different person. He spoke about the moment he was brought to his knees. A girl had overdosed and died in his arms. That was the moment where his will to get out of his addiction became stronger than one of the most powerful drugs in existence. I dont know where Andre is today. Unless you can climb out of it, it doesnt end well. After Damon went to jail, Colleen and I finally got to relax FOR REAL. Things calmed down. In the absence of Damons chaotic presence, we could see how crazy our current lives really were, especially with Leo and Andre. Early on, I really loved that nothing ever fazed those two. No matter what I did or what Damon did, it was just another day in the life. When I had called them to come pick me up after meeting them one time, they didnt say, Wait, what? Who are you? They just accepted it and came the fuck over to save me. They even loved Damon at first. They probably loved Damon more than I did. They didnt realize how dangerous he was until the night that he broke in. By then, they were fucking pissed. Damons pretty face couldnt get him past that with them. And I think in the same way, I hadnt realized how crazy and out of hand Leo and Andre had gotten until after Damon was gone. I mean, I knew they were using way too many drugs, as was I. But Leo and Andre had taken things a step further, unbeknownst to me. It was not a normal apartment and that worked for me. Wed party all the time and go out together and have fun. There was always EDM bumping through the walls and drugs sprawled across our dining room table. One night, they had left some cocaine out on the dining room table. THANKS GUYS, DONT MIND IF I DO! They were so generous! I snorted it and then tried to go on my merry way but . . . My brain went into overdrive. Fuck. Oh fuckohfuckohfuck What noise was that? Should I try painting? Should I clean my room or should I paint my walls??? I should paint my walls! How come I cant play guitar? I need to play guitar! What can I sell in order to buy a guitar? AM I SWEATY? Im not sweaty; Im beautiful. I NEED TO SHOWER RIGHT NOW. THE FUCK? Then I took a six-hour shower. The white powder on the table was not cocaine. It was meth. That night, I stayed up until like seven in the morning. Remember when I said good sleep is better than sex? Well its also better than meth. #DONTDOMETH Leo and Andre had gotten into crystal meth at this point, and their meth-head friends were over all the time. Now that our apartment was crystal methland, Colleen and I realized that we should probably leave. We needed to start over. One night out, Colleen and I met Paul, a sweet gay artist who was living in Marilyn Monroes old houseit was her house when she was still Norma Jean. Thats kind of like me, right, Colleen? Im in my Norma Jean phase right now, but eventually Ill reach Marilyn status. Right? Why are you rolling your eyes at me? Hey come back Paul had an extra room that we could move into, and he seemed much less crazy than Leo and Andre. Those were our only two qualifications! Perfect! We went home and Leo and Andre were sitting in the living room hanging out with their meth-head friends on the couch. Now was the time to let them know. Hey guys. Colleen and I are gonna move out. Andre was on something and feeling it. He squeezed us into a three-way hug. Oh, my babies. My beautiful babies. Im gonna fucking miss you. Are you touching my butt? Im going to miss this butt. One of their very-high-on-meth friends looked at us, very wide eyed. YOU GUYS ARE MOVING OUT? OH WOW. DO YOU NEED HELP PACKING? ILL PACK YOUR STUFF FOR YOU Youll pack our stuff? I LOVE PACKING STUFF. SO ID LOVE TO PACK YOUR STUFF FOR YOU. GO HAVE FUN KIDS GO OUT ILL PACK. Colleen and I looked at each other. Okay . . . a meth-head wants to pack our stuff. Meth-heads are notorious for stealing shit to fund their habits. She wouldnt do that to us, though! That is so nice. Are you sure? I asked. YES YES YES YES YES Wow, that is so nice! Thank you! I said as Colleen and I went out. You know, that Midwestern na?vet? dies hard. Even after all the bullshit I had gone through in New York and LA . . . I still trusted people. Hey, dont judge me! Its a beautiful way to live, trusting the world around you, not seeing ulterior motives. At least, until all your shit gets stolen. Colleen and I went out for the night and came back to our stuff smashed into half-zipped suitcases. Well. A quarter of our stuff smashed into half-zipped suitcases. The rest was gone. We were going to get the freshest start ever. CHAPTER 6 A Spoonful of Sugar Colleen and I moved into a room in Marilyn Monroes old house with Paul the kind artist, and we tried to get into a new rhythm together. Yes, a junkie had just stolen all of our stuff and we were still reeling from Damons abuse, but this was our chance to have some peace of mind! Things did calm down for a while, at least in comparison to what they used to be. And no matter what happened, Colleen and I were together. We kept each other safe. At the house, Paul started bringing over his new best friend, Adam, who was also Leonardo DiCaprios completely wild brother. I guess these were the types of famous people we were rubbing shoulders with now. Side note: What kind of parents name one kid Leonardo and the other Adam? Like, Id have a complex, too, if my sister was named something really cool like Cleopatra and I was just Laura. Now, remember when my parents had told me that my grandma was dying in order to save me from my abusive relationship with Damon? Well around this time, she really did die. I was pretty skeptical of my parents at first, but after Colleen started crying, I realized it was the truth. We were devastated. We had to fly home for the funeral. But first we had to get wasted at the Mondrian in order to not deal with our emotions. While we were back in Chicago with our family, we got a call from Paul. Heyyyyy girls. Um. Hows it going? Hows your grandma? Shes dead, Paul. Right. Im sorry. I just wanted to let you know that Adam offered me more money for the room youre staying in. . . . So Im going to pack up your stuff and rent it out to him. But Im going to pack your stuff really nicely, though. Im so sorry, bye! Wait, what?? *Click* He hung up. Fucking Paul. And why was everyone always packing our stuff for us? We flew back to LA after the funeral with no plan and no place to stay. We got our stuff from Pauls house, neatly packed up in the living room. It was very organized, he did a great job with it. He didnt even steal anything! What a guy. Soon enough we were out on the street with no place to go. We floated around Los Angeles, staying with random people wed meet while we were out. We slept on a futon at a house with a bunch of frat guys in Long Beach. We met this weird Canadian writer that let us stay in his garden room. We just drifted around. As chaotic as this was, nothing shitty ever happened to us. We protected each other. Looking back, it feels insane that we ever did that. Today, I would walk through fire to avoid sleeping over at someone elses house. After a few weeks on the Canadian writers couch, he told us that his ex-girlfriend, Cheyenne, was looking for roommates. We met up with her and hit it off immediately. Colleen and I moved right into Cheyennes extra room and we were soon as close as the three musketeers. Thats when life really started to calm down for us. Turns out having a home where you werent afraid of being assaulted or having your shit stolen was pretty fucking cool. Cheyenne was this brilliant actress, model, and painter who was so funny and outspoken and smart. She knew her way around the city in a much more legitimate way than I ever had. Soon enough we were going with her to tons of upscale parties and events. I saw her as an inspiration: her career was proof that it could be done. People could move to LA and support themselves with their art. But then I found out that she had a side hustle. Everyones gotta have a side hustle, right? Some people make extra money bartending, or waitressing, or nannying. Cheyennes side job was to dabble in escorting. How does one dabble in escorting? Let me explain! One night she was out at a bar and a woman came up to her and said, Hello, Im here with this man, Mr. Peters She pointed to an old man sitting in a private booth. He was in probably the most expensive suit ever made, and had one disfigured arm, but the suit was tailored to fit it. The woman continued. He would like you to sit and have a drink with him. How weird to have a woman come up and talk to her for him. Was she his wife? Cheyenne responded, Oh, no thanks. Im here with my friends. The woman pulled out a crisp bill. Hell give you one hundred dollars. Cheyenne took the bill. I guess I was going to have a drink anyway! After the drink, the woman came up to Cheyenne again. He would like to have lunch with you tomorrow. Hell pay five hundred dollars. I guess I was going to eat lunch anyway! Turns out she was dating a sleazy billionaire with sixteen other girlfriends. Lunch turned into dinner. Two thousand dollars. And then: Mr. Peters would like you to get tested for STDs and spend the night with him. Five thousand dollars. It kind of just happened. And thats how you dabble in escorting. Shed come home from a date, and Id mock her a little. Hey Cheyenne, how was your date? Did you run into the ten other girls on your way out? Shut the fuck up! Unless you want to give me back that purse I got you. Touch?, Cheyenne. Touch?. Cheyenne had gotten so many gifts from Mr. Peters that I got by on her hand-me-downs. He even started paying her rent. He would fly her and her family around wherever they wanted to go. Jewelry. Vacations. Cars. And all she had to do was . . . well, you know! Eventually, she fell in love with an English stuntman who lived upstairs from us. This development compelled her to leave the business. LA is a town full of rich, old, sleazy dudes that take advantage of beautiful women with dreams. I love LA, but damn. It can be dark here. Sometimes I couldnt believe she did that. But most of the time I couldnt believe that no rich guys had asked their madams to approach Colleen and me when we were out at night. We were VERY OFFENDED. But its fine. At least we got Cheyennes hand-me-downs. One night, the three of us went to a huge party at Shane Blacks househes the director of all the Lethal Weapon movies. He has this crazy gaudy mansion that has like six floors, a huge dance floor, and an elevator. We walked in the front door and were so confused when it seemed empty. We asked someone (his butler?) where the party was, and he answered, Up the elevator, of course. Oh, of course. At this particular party, I saw this man across the room. He was tall and handsome, and he was holding the tiniest black Chihuahua I had ever seen. I had to talk to him. The dog, of course. I went up to him and introduced myself. His name was Rudolf and he had a slight German accent and a formal, upright demeanor. The man, I mean. The dogs name was Comet. This is Comet. He likes to go to parties. He also had a Germanic knack for describing things with complete, literal accuracy. Later on in our relationship: Me: How was your flight? Rudolf: It was efficient. His favorite joke was: Rudolf: You know what they say about German sense of humor? Me: No, what? Him: It is no laughing matter. He would then leave the room straight-faced, but I would hear him chuckling from the other room. At the party, he asked me out on a date. We went out a few nights later, and as I got ready, I suddenly became overcome with nerves. I mean, he was seventeen years older than me. I was eighteen at the time so . . . there was almost a whole ME in between our ages! I assumed this meant that he just knew everything better than I did, that he was just better than me at life. This is all to say that I simply didnt know what to wear to this date. What do older people wear? Jewelry and stuff? I opened my jewelry box and pulled out every piece of jewelry I had and slipped them all on. Fourteen bracelets and four necklaces. The more bracelets I had on, the older I would look. When he arrived, I jingle-jangled over to his car and got inside. He saw me and said very matter-of-factly, That is a lot of bracelets. I cleared my throat awkwardly. Thank you. That was the gist of our relationship. I tried to ignore things, cover things up, and pretend to be something I wasnt. He called things out for what they were. He didnt let anything slide. I loved him very much and I quickly moved in with him. He was the sweetest man, with a genuinely kind heart. You can imagine how huge of a departure this was from Damon. I think Rudolf could easily see that I was living an immensely chaotic life and he did his best to help me step away from it. He wanted the best for me, and for the first time I had some structure in my life. After my drug-and-alcohol-filled insanity with Damon, I ate up all the structure Rudolf could give me. For the previous six months in LA, I had gotten so far away from what I had originally come to LA to do. I wanted to act, but I had gotten so distracted. Rudolf helped me focus again. He was against drugs. He loved to have a glass of wine with dinner, but he was in no way an alcoholic like I was. It was amazing to witness. I slowed down on my partying ways and started getting up early every day. He would swing the curtains open in the morning and pull me out of bed in order to get some morning sun, as he called it. I would squint angrily at him. Dude. Its seven a.m. You are correct and we are late for the sunrise. Get up, get up, get up! No! We need our ten minutes of vitamin D. No, I would not do anything for the D. Sorry Rudolf. He literally dragged me out of the house, while I engaged in passive resistance. I was not a morning person at the time. But slowly I started to change. I started to like the stupid early morning sun. It felt kind of . . . good. Damn it. He taught me how to cook and eat right, and that healthy eating didnt mean binge eating a bunch of carrots after binge eating a bunch of Cheetos. (Orange foods cancel out, right?) Go to yoga. Its good for your head. He handed me two dollars. Two dollars? He continued, Yoga at the Jewish Senior Center is only two dollars. Also, it is wonderful. So I did it. I took his yoga mat and my two dollars and walked over to Plummer Park in West Hollywood, where I took yoga three times a week with Jewish seniors. Rudolf was right again. I was obsessed with this class and I became one of the regulars with Bending Norma and Angry Mildred. Everyone but me was eighty-five years old. The only bad thing about this class was that sometimes youd get there and ask, Hey, wheres Jerome? And then everyone in the class would look down sadly. Oh . . . Yeah. Jerome . . . you know, he had a good life. Damn, they were dropping like flies. But other than that, these people were amazing. They were doing headstands and handstands and downward dog. They would do it all. Im actually kind of surprised they let me, a young gentile, in the room. The instructor at the Jewish Senior Center was an ex-con named Ralph. He was covered in tattoos and had this brash New York accent that cut through the typical soothing yoga effect quite a bit. His teaching method was to bark orders at us. ALL RIGHT, EVERYONE, WERE GETTING IN SHAVASANA, CALM DOWN. CALM DOWN. He would get into arguments with all the old people, too, especially Betty. You know, Ralph, you shouldnt have all those tattoos, she would nag. You know what, Betty, there are no judgments in yoga class, so I dont want to hear another word from you! Ralph, dont you talk to me like that. I could be your mother! Well youre not! My mother is dead! Shavasana now! One of the ladies there even knitted a little sweater for Comet. It was like I was part of a weird little elderly community. It was the greatest. I just . . . started to feel good. All of these things have since become such important aspects of my sobriety today: eating right, getting up early, doing yoga. I owe it to Rudolf for giving me those tools. With Rudolfs encouragement, I also started working again. A model friend insisted I meet her agent, and I agreedbecause I had such a great history with it. Might as well take another shot . . . Today, when people ask me if Ive modeled or if Im a model, I usually respond with, Oh, I could never. Doing something based completely on my looks just sounds so superficial and shallow. I could never. Now, this has a grain of truth. I love doing work that I think is meaningful, where I get to be creative. But also its because I tried modeling when people told me to and it did not work out. For whatever reason, my life is peppered with failed modeling endeavors, bookended with me wondering why I even tried to do something that I dont care about. When I was fifteen, this model came up to me, stunned by my height and perhaps by my bony elbows. I really dont know. But she told me to go downtown to meet with Wilhelmina in Chicago. I sat down across from Wilhelmina for thirty seconds before she said, You need to lose ten pounds and grow your eyebrows out. I distinctly remember thinking, Oh, fuck this lady. Fuck everything here. Admittedly, my eyebrows did need some help. I tweezed a bit too hard that summer. But ten pounds? Asking someone to lose ten pounds who was already very thin was ridiculous. Dont tell anyone to change their physical appearance. Im more than that, and thats how I grew up. It was always about who we were on the inside. One of my neighbors was this beautiful, arrogant Israeli model. She would say things like, You know what is so annoying to me? I am trying to take a bad selfie and I cannot! I just cannot for some reason, it is like I dont have a bad angle. Like I am trying so hard and I cannot. On this particular day, Rudolf was out of town shooting a movie and I was hanging out by the pool. She had a model friend over and they both saw me and said, Oh you haaave to be a model; you are fabulous. I didnt have a lot going on otherwise. So I said sure. I let her drag me along to different agencies that they had connections toand I kept getting rejected. For a split second, I wondered if they were just doing a long-form prank on me with the intention of making me feel bad about my appearance. BECAUSE IT WASNT WORKING. OKAY? IT WASNT! Finally, we got to this small agency called Photogenics. The people at Photogenics said to me, Okay . . . okay . . . we like your look. But we want you to cut your hair off and dye it dark. I had long blond hair at the time. Oh . . . kay. Were going to send you to our hair stylist and hell do it all. Okay. And then well do a spec photoshoot and well go from there. Okay. So I went along with it. I showed up to the salon and they dyed my hair black, cut it just below my ears and gave me blunt bangs. It wasnt bad! It was a drastic change, but I like to think I pulled it off. We did the photos and I worked all the angles that I saw my Israeli model friend working in her selfies. Photogenics took a look at the photos . . . and then they said no. So. At the end of the day there was no modeling agency that wanted me. But saying instead, Oh Im a comedienne; I would NEVER model. How could anyone do a job where theyre judged solely on their physical appearance? sounds a lot cooler than the truth. A week later Rudolf came back from shooting his movie in Germany and was stunned when he saw me. Your hair! What did you do? Well . . . this modeling agency cut it off. Oh great! So you signed with them. No. Rudolf stared at me and sighed. Jesus Christ, Laura, I leave you for two weeks and this is what you do. That was the last time I ever even attempted modeling. Years later I would go on to play models all the time on TV and in movies. One of my favorite characters that I do now is a dumb model. Because I went on all those auditions and shoots, I know all the ridiculous intricacies of the career and industry. Maybe all those failed attempts were like research for my future acting, right? Whatever helps me sleep at night! One day Rudolf sat me down and asked me what I wanted out of life. What I really, really wanted. I want to be an actress. Well, where is your agent? What are you doing to achieve that? I didnt have an answer. So he pushed me to find one. He helped me get my first commercial agent. Rudolf was also an actor. A great one. He had this strong jawline and weathered but stern look, but because of his accent he was always cast as the villain. Always. He made a career out of playing terrorists and murderers and coldhearted people who were the complete opposite of who he was. After getting my first commercial agent, I booked the very first commercial audition I went out for. It was a Spanish cell phone commercial. I couldnt understand a word that was said, but my job was to dance around with a cell phone in my hand. So I fucking nailed that shit. I actually never saw it, but one of my friends was studying abroad in Spain and called me to tell me she had seen me on TV. Pretty cool. I mean, I got lucky booking the first audition I ever went on. In an instant, I was making money and became SAG eligible. My first thought was WOW! THIS IS EASY. I would come to realize that making it as an actor was far from easy. But having my foot in the door felt amazing. Rudolf was this huge positive influence in my life. With his help, I had stopped using hard drugs, stopped partying like I used to, and started to get healthy. There was really only one bad thing about dating Rudolf. It was Comets mother. Rudolf had adopted Comet with his ex-girlfriend as a last-ditch effort to save their relationship, Im sure. It didnt work, but it did successfully keep her in the picture. After Rudolf and I had moved in together, he told me, Laura. Today at ten a.m., my ex-girlfriend will be coming over to pick up Comet. She would like to meet you if you are comfortable with that. This was so weird. I didnt want to meet his ex-girlfriend. I didnt get why I had to. You do not have to if you do not want to, he repeated. But she wanted to meet me? Whats her name? I asked. Sugar. Stop it. Rudolf and Sugar? Were they gonna go save Christmas? I said yes, partly because I didnt know how to say no to things and partly because I wanted to see if she was prettier than me. I sat on the couch nervously, holding Comet like a hostage. At ten a.m. she walked in. She was tall, but not as tall as me, with long brown hair and crazy eyes. Her eyes looked like she was trying to move things with her mind at all times. She walked straight past me. I hung on to Comet like I was an insecure adoptive mother, prepping him to meet his birth mother. I raised you! I cared for you when she didnt want you! I told myself, Laura, calm down, this is your house. You live here now. She wanted to meet you. Shes going to be nice. Rudolf, dear, make me some tea. She stalked back into the living room and sat directly across from me, still frozen on the couch. She targeted her crazy eyes at my soul. So, Laura. Will I ever get to see what Rudolf sees in you? What? I didnt know how to respond to that. I didnt know how to do this! I composed myself and willed myself to answer the question. Show her whos boss, Laura. Probably not. Damn it! Not a great answer. She looked smug as she decided I was an idiot. Rudolf walked in with the tea. I gave him a look that said spill that fucking tea on her. Then he handed her the tea. Come on, Rudolf. Whose team are you on? She sipped some tea, pinky out, ready to jab someone in the eye with all that class. Its hot, she complained. Its tea. I laughed. Because I laugh when Im uncomfortable out of my mind. She glared at me, as if I had just laughed at her funeral and she was deciding the best way to haunt me for the rest of my life. I clarified, Tea is supposed to be hot. She put her cup down. Laura, are you accusing me of not knowing what tea is? The crazy eyes looked like they were trying to telepathically slam my body against a wall. Do you THINK I dont know what TEA is? she repeated. I . . . I looked at Rudolf. He was sweating, speechless, not expecting this to have gone so badly. Poor Rudolf expected the best from both of us. But really, WHO WOULD HAVE EXPECTED that a current girlfriend meeting an ex-girlfriend could have been tense? *millions of hands raise* Laura knows you know what tea is, Sugar! Its dried leaves steeped in Rudolf stammered. I have to go. I stood up. I ran like I always do. I didnt know how to talk to her. I knew how to escape. I went straight to my sisters house. Oh God, Rudolf and Sugar were going to exchange Comet every two weeks. Two weeks later I was out at a caf? with my sister. Rudolf called to say that Sugar was coming over to get Comet again, and that I should stay out for thirty more minutes if I didnt want to run into her. I said okay, thanks for letting me know, and hung up the phone. My sister stared at me. Lets go. Why the hell would we ever do that? I want to meet the bitch who made my sister cry. And she was off walking toward my apartment. I followed her. We waited on the porch steps, and my anxiety was increasing. I didnt want this. Nope nope nope. Colleen, on the other hand, was psyching herself up like a boxer before a prizefight. Can we go, please? But it was too late. Sugar stalked up the walkway, glaring at me with the anger of a thousand rich white ladies demanding to speak to the manager. Hello, Laura. I ignored her. She got louder. Hello, LAURA Colleen popped up and said Hi, Im Colleen, in what Im sure she imagined to be a very menacing tone. To anyone else, she sounded friendly. Sugar smiled and shook her hand. Finally, someone with some class. Colleen looked at me and used her pants to wipe off the hand Sugar had touched. Rudolf was walking over to us from his car. When he saw all three of us on the porch, he moved his legs much faster. Sugar broke the silence. Rudolf, why did you invite me over when this stupid bitch was here? That was IT. NO ONE calls me a stupid bitch except me to myself in the mirror. You need to get the fuck out of my apartment now! I yelled. Rudolf was sprinting over at this point. She looked at me with her crazy eyes. Classic Sugar. However, she took classic Sugar to another level by hissing: Im gonna break your legs. What the fuck? I was terrified. I stepped back, and she quickly grabbed my head and yanked out a chunk of my hair. MY HAIR. She started to wave it back and forth, rhythmically chanting, Im gonna make sure you never walk again. At this point I was screaming, Youre the devil! Youre the devil! Rudolf finally found his words. Unfortunately, they werent very good ones. Sugar, NO. NO, Sugar. You give her back her hair. You cannot do that Sugar, give Laura back her hair. I swung open the door to the apartment and ran inside. I locked myself in the bathroom. Comet ran inside there with me at the last minute. I glared at him. Why did you do this, Comet? Make Sugar go away. Comet just stared at me with his little eyes and then slumped over to the side and licked his asshole. The messy and unsatisfying epilogue to this story is the following: Two weeks later, Sugar called Rudolf and told him she was going to kill herself, so he had better come over and pick up the dog. She was very unstable. Rudolf rushed over to find Sugar with a knife pressed to her own throat. He called the police, and she went to a mental institution for a while, until she got out and started breaking my car windows every so often. I never spoke to her directly again because obviously conflict avoidance always helps with everything. Right? *nervous laughter* I mostly tried not to think about her. But when I did, I wondered what Rudolf ever saw in someone so needy and unstable. Maybe he thought he could help her, kind of like . . . he was trying to help me. Life eventually settled down again, and when it did, so did Rudolf and I. We got into this lovely, positive . . . stifling rhythm. We got up early. We exercised. Rudolf was close with Colleen and we had these lovely dinner parties that were healthy and fun. Colleen moved into a studio apartment down the street from us. I was getting my career on track because of him. He was so brilliant and sweet and encouraging and everything was right. But it didnt feel right at all. He wanted kids and a family. He wanted us to start a life together because I was the one for him. But in reality, I didnt know who the fuck I was yet. I was nineteen, for Gods sake. He was thirty-seven. I was not having kids yet. The more he pushed for stability, the more Id pull away. I knew I wanted to break up with him. Unfortunately, my nineteen-year-old brain didnt know what words to use to break up with someone, or how to say them. So instead I avoided the problem, hoping he would break up with me eventually. My drinking worsened. My drug use worsened. My escapism worsened. As much as we wanted it to, addiction doesnt just go away by ignoring it. As much as he and I both wanted me to just be healthy, I was still an addict. And I was finding ways to hide it from him. It wasnt a conscious decision, but I knew that the part of me that Rudolf hated the most was the part of me stuck in my addiction. He tried every day to squash that, and he even got me to stop hard drugs. So if I were to amplify that deeply impulsive, unhealthy, toxic Laura . . . he would have no choice but to leave me. Deep down, that horrible part of my brain thought that this was what I deserved. I would stay out all night, and in the morning Rudolf would be upset, but he would quickly forgive me. He knew something was wrong and he wanted to help, but I felt myself being pulled away by the hand of my addiction. One night I came home at eight a.m. to him blasting (Youre the) Devil in Disguise by Elvis. He wasnt even home. He just had it on repeat, loud enough for all the neighbors to hear. I remember thinking this was way more embarrassing than the fact that I was coming home at eight a.m. multiple nights a week. That was his worst. Rudolf was a sweet, sweet man. I tried to zero in on a way to break up with him, but I couldnt think of one thing he did wrong. And thats the only way to break up, right? To be deeply betrayed by a horribly toxic person so theres nothing left to salvage between you two? Since Rudolf was not going to be that person, I would have to step up. What a cross to bear, what a sacrifice. Youre welcome, everyone. I was out one night on Sunset Boulevard and I met an Irish guy. His name was Kevin. Or Devin. We were both very drunk. Wanna go to Mexico? he asked after thirty minutes of talking to me. Ummmm. Yeah, I do. Lets go. I picked him up the next afternoon. In the cold light of day, I tried really hard not to regret everything Id ever done to lead me to this moment. He had an angry face, with eyebrows that looked perpetually mad. He sighed like everything took way too long for him. He had a weird scar next to his eyebrow that looked like he got a bad piercing, felt self-conscious about looking gay, and then took it out. Maybe I was projecting a lot of bad things onto him, but also he sucked. He was so condescending. On the way down, he found a bag of ecstasy in my glove compartment and became infuriated. Do you KNOW how much trouble we could get in for having this when we cross the border? Do you KNOW we could go to Mexican jail? Im throwing this out. Can we ignore for a second the fact that I forgot I had a bag of drugs in my glove box? Kevin was a prick. Of course I would pick the worst guy in the world to trek into another country with. I swerved my car, trying to grab the bag back from him. DONT THROW AWAY DRUGS. DONT! Ill put them up my vagina if I have to. He threw them away. I wanted to punch him in the face. We kept fighting about everything. Where to actually turn (MapQuest was not in business, you guys), what music to play on the radio (I wanted hip-hop like a sane adult and he wanted Nine Inch Nails), and whose soda got to be in the cup holder (my car, my drink). There were some red flags. But I kept driving. We stopped in San Diego for the night at some seedy motel near the beach. Id had enough of him at this point. I wasnt trying to get out of my near-marriage so that I could fight like a married couple with this random asshole. Ugh. He got some whiskey for us to drink in the room. It was becoming clear that we both had issues with alcoholism. But as much as I loved to drink, I hated being there with him more. Im taking a walk, I told him. Kevin didnt answer; he was either swigging some whiskey down or giving me the silent treatment. I slammed the door on my way out. The beach was cold and dark, so I couldnt even see how beautiful it was or reflect on my life or some shit. It was just pitch-black. I kept walking. A guy approached me. He was wearing a snapback with a muscle tee and boardshorts. Finally, the San Diego party I wanted. Um, hey. Me and my buddies are having some beers in the garage over there. Want to join? Okay, lets see here. A strange group of men in a garage . . . at two in the morning . . . near a pitch-black beach . . . with beer. Beer! Hell yeah, I do. He motioned his arm like SCORE as he led me over to the two other guys in the garage. Thats right, I WAS a score. I deserved to be hanging with guys more fun than fucking Kevin. I sat down with the two other guys, both of whom were also in muscle tees and boardshorts (come on, guys, the sun went down seven hours ago). Bro #1 handed me a beer. I sipped it. For the first time, it didnt feel good. It didnt put me at ease. It wasnt strong enough. I drank faster. I grabbed another, gulped it down, not realizing it was empty until I was shaking the bottle over my mouth. I lowered the bottle, embarrassed. I felt the guys looking at me. I looked around the garage. Zip ties. Pliers. Duct tape. These things are always in garages, right? Im being paranoid, right? Bro #3 was smiling at me and breathing through his mouth. What the hell am I doing? I looked down at my legs. I didnt have pockets. I didnt have a key to my motel room. I didnt have a phone. What the hell was I doing here? What time is it? I asked, feigning genuine curiosity rather than looking for a distraction to GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE. Its just three oclock, dude-brah, said Bro #1 or #2. The creeping, warm buzz was taking me over and the Bros were meshing together into one Super-bro. I needed to fight the buzz. As the world started becoming the round, warm, spinning place that I liked, I smiled at Bro #1, #2, and #3, and slowly placed my bottle next to me on the floor. No sudden movement. No sudden movement. Be subtle. So obviously, I fucking sprang up like a jack in the box and RAN. Bro #1 ran over to the garage door closer and smashed the button. The door started rolling shut. FUCK. My Liam Neeson senses kicked in and I fucking slid under the door before it closed. I kept running. One of the Bros slid after me just before the garage door shut. I prayed it was the mouth breather, because maybe he would keel over from an asthma attack. Wait, does mouth breathing correlate with asthma? FOCUS, LAURA! Something whizzed past my head and shattered on the concrete. He had hurled his beer bottle, just missing my head. I ran. I ran as fast as I could. I didnt look back to see if he was there. I didnt think. I made it back to the motel, so out of breath I could vomit. I was shaking. I hurriedly pushed the doorknob. Fuckthe key. Kevin had the only key. I banged on the door with all my might. I screamed. OPEN THE DOOR! OPEN THE DOOR NOW! No answer. I hit harder, over and over again. My knuckles were raw, my voice was hoarse. He wasnt answering. Where the fuck did he go? I leaned against the door, any semblance of hope drained from my body. Okay, lets assess the situation. I looked around. The Bro chasing me was nowhere to be found: he either gave up or got distracted by something shiny. There was no lobby or receptionist to talk to. So glad we chose the shittiest motel ever. Fuck. I looked across the street. There was another motel with the light on, a receptionist on duty. I wiped my fucking eyes and walked across the street. It was a sister motel to the one I was staying at. The receptionist got out a key, walked across the street, and unlocked my door for me. There was Kevin, laying on the bed. Pretending to be asleep. PRETENDING. TO BE. ASLEEP. I yanked him out of bed by the ear and smacked him. Im sure the motel receptionist backed out of the room, not wanting to have to yet again deal with two alcoholics having a domestic dispute at three a.m. I told him I wasnt going to Mexico anymore. I was not. I was DONE. I didnt tell him what happened. Kevin claimed he was really sleeping. He said he was sorry. He told me we had to go to Mexico, that it would be fun. I dont know what part of my brain believed him, but the next day in the morning, we were back in the car, driving to Mexico. Maybe I knew that crossing the border would be crossing the line for Rudolf. The worst part is that it wasnt even fun. I know what youre thinking. Oh, Laura, wasnt the worst part of this every other thing that happened? NO. The worst part was that it fucking sucked balls and I was with someone I didnt get along with and we fucking threw away my ecstasy. Kevin might have had fun, I dont even remember. I made my way to a payphone (because this was the 1800s) and called Rudolf. He answered on the first ring and didnt even ask who it was. Laura. Where are you? Im in Mexico. There was a long pause. We both sounded so tired. I dropped Kevin off at the airport and had to talk myself out of purchasing a flight to anywhere other than Rudolfs apartment. I went home. Rudolf opened the door and I got what I wanted. He told me to leave. Yay. After that, I did end up booking a flight somewhere else. But it wasnt to some far-off place to escape. I went home to Chicago. My mom had cookies waiting for me. I ate four cookies that I definitely did not deserve. Years later I found out that Sugar was from a town ten minutes from my own. We grew up next to each other. We probably passed each other at Target, picking up bath towels with our moms. I found out that she had moved home, too, after hitting rock bottom. She committed suicide in the house she grew up in. She was trying to escape, just like me. Everything felt precarious. I got lunch with my aunt Sheila: my aunt, my godmother, my biggest ally growing up. We went to our favorite Mexican restaurant. When I was little, wed talk there for hours. She would show up with a cigarette and too much Botox. I would try to swing my backpack onto the back of the chair like she swung down her fur coat. She would tell me that youre too young for sex, but when you have it, make sure that you achieve equality, as I nodded eagerly. This time, she sat down across from me, lifted her sunglasses above her expressionless eyebrows, and surveyed me. You look like shit. Your hair is a rats nest. She gave me a skeptical look and lit a cigarette. The waiter looked at us with disdain. Um, Miss Were on the fucking patio, give it a rest, Charlie, Aunt Sheila snapped, blowing smoke. The waiter backed away. Aunt Sheila had a real fierceness about her. And honestly, shes been smoking at lunch here for like twenty years. Charlie should know by now to back off. The best thing about her was that I didnt have to say anything for her to know. I didnt have to tell her about my trip, my fucked up choices, and the way it felt like I wasnt choosing them; how it felt like I couldnt think, how it felt like my body was moving forward without my mind You need help. She broke my endless chain of thoughts. Damn it, I was just getting to the good part where I contemplate the best way to kill myself. I tried to brush it off. Dont worry, I said, Im gonna go to the salon later. Maybe get some highlights Laura. Damn it, I could avoid everything in my life except her piercing look. I know, I said. It was the first time Id ever admitted it. My aunt Sheila is the only person in my family to have become sober. She told me what its like, what AA meetings look like, that its fucking hard, but if I didnt try I could die. She recounted the stories of when she almost did die. I promised I would try. I remember that night, sleeping in my childhood bedroom. My pink flowery wallpaper was peeling off and my mom had moved this infomercial stair climber next to my bed. But there was one thing that stayed the same: this photo of me, when I was about twelve, swimming underwater. I had it blown up really big because underwater cameras were a big deal at the time. I was smiling so big, trying to keep my eyes wide open even though chlorine was stinging them like crazy. My arms were above my head, trying to keep me underwater as my body naturally tried to float. I looked so fucking happy. I flew back to LA and stayed on my sisters couch. I found an AA meeting to check out at a place called the Log Cabin Community Center. When I walked in, I saw people laughing. They were happy. What the fuck? I was expecting some depressing-ass dark room like I saw on TV, but this was light. Maybe everyone was high. I sat down with the group in one of their dinky chairs, wishing I was high, too. My first meeting couldnt go by fast enough. I listened to other peoples stories and prayed that I wouldnt have to talk. I wasnt ready. At the end of the meeting we all took one anothers hands and did something called the Serenity Prayer. We thanked God. What the fuck? I didnt sign up for church; I just wanted to get sober. I was freaked out. When the meeting ended, I tried to rush out. But someone walked next to me. A kind-looking woman. She asked me if it was my first time here. Yeah. It is. She stared at me, waiting for me to talk more about myself. What was I supposed to say? That I was a fucking failure? That I was a horrible person that hurts the people around me? That I got high because I couldnt deal with real life? That I was a fucking idiot? My names Laura. She smiled. My names Tricia. What do you do? Um. Im an actress. What have you been in? I really just wanted to sit back down. Um, have you seen any commercials in Spain? I was in a Spanish phone commercial. I havent. Great. I walked faster to try to leave her behind. But she kept up. I think youre very brave for coming today, Laura. Brave. I didnt feel brave at all. I felt scared out of my mind. But I suppose bravery is not being unafraid, its being shit-your-pants-scared-out-of-your-mind and doing the damn thing anyway. I was finally doing it. Sort of. I at least went to the meeting. I stopped walking for a second and looked at her. Thank you. She smiled back at me, then went on her own way. It would be years before I would finally become sustainably sober. It would be a roller coaster of ups and downs. I was trying to do the most difficult thing Id ever done. My addiction is a fatally progressive disease. It has a voice that used to speak loudly. I work every day to speak louder than it. This was just the beginning of a long road ahead. I wasnt unafraid, but for the first time, I was brave. CHAPTER 7 Look, Mom! Im on TV! Colleens couch was not the most comfortable bed, you guys. It wasnt even a futon. And Colleens roommate, Rebecca, was not too pleased to see the hot mess that I was sleeping in their living room every night. Colleen was so generous for letting me stay with her (I mean, it was also her sisterly duty), but I could tell that she was getting a little antsy. Wed come a long way from our couch-surfing days, and she had gotten used to having her own space. I was getting antsy, too! I was back in LA with a whole new mindset now. I was ready to get work as an actor. With a couple AA meetings under my belt, I was drinking and using drugs a lot less than before (its hard to quit cold turkey, okay? Dont judge me!) and I felt ready to work. The problem was that I was so terrified. What the fuck happened to me? I knew I could act. I used to have this unwavering faith that I was going to make it, but now it was clouded by fear. And now that I didnt have Rudolf . . . or Damon . . . or copious amounts of drugs to distract me . . . I came face-to-face with my goals in a way that I never had before. The time I had always been waiting for was NOW. I needed to get off Colleens couch. I went to Samuel French Bookshop on Sunset Boulevard and found a book that listed all the agents and managers in Los Angeles. I wrote out a cover letter, updated my r?sum? (not handwritten this time), and got a better headshot. I sent these out ten times a week to almost every name listed in that book, until someone wrote back. Anyone. Anyone? No one? After weeks of annoying everyone in both the film industry and the postal industry, I got a phone call. It was my mailman, asking that I stop harassing him. JUST KIDDING, IT WAS AN AGENCY! Progressive Artists Agency liked my headshot and was asking to see my reel! They represented Peg fucking Bundy from Married with Children! I had made it. At the time, my reel only consisted of one Spanish cell phone commercial, one experimental student film where I painted my face blue, and one student thesis film where I played a girl who had hit her head on a diving board and was in a COMA for the ENTIRE film. Although my coma face was spot-on, I was not about to send this reel to Progressive Artists. Side note: There was one scene in the diving board movie where the boyfriend had to pull my lifeless body out of the pool, and I could not stop laughing. Everyone on set was furious with me. After the sixteenth take, the twenty-year-old director looked like he wanted to put me in a real coma. I shall stick to comedy. Without a reel, the agency asked that I prepare a monologue to come in and perform for them. Okay! I could do that. The blue paint thing didnt let my true talent shine, anyway. I read monologue after monologue, searching for the one that would show off my comedic abilities, BUT NONE OF THEM WERE FUNNY TO ME. I was putting a bit too much pressure on myself. Its just . . . this seemed like it was my only shot. And I swear to God, I couldnt find one that felt like . . . me. It did not help at all that so many roles written for women are just plain one-dimensional. It wasnt the way I wanted to present myself. This was a problem. Now, I could drink and ignore it and not show up to my audition, or I could solve the fucking problem. This time, I decided to solve it. I wrote my own monologue. They wanted to see me do a professional work but . . . how would they know if it was professional or not? I wrote a scene that took place on a bus, where I played an eccentric girl talking to strangers. I went into the agency and performed it for two agents, a man and a woman. I had them in the palm of my hand. Laughing exactly when I wanted them to, silent and engaged when I wanted them to be. Wow, Laura, that was really good, said the woman. I felt so relieved, I couldnt stop smiling. Wheres my pen? Where do I sign the contract? The agent on the right, a tall man, wiped his eyes. What play is that from? Oh. Uhhhh . . . I hadnt thought of a title. I scanned the room for the answer. Okay there was a couch. Dont call it Couch, thats too obvious. The couch was teal. The pillow on the couch is white . . . and those are . . . Colors. Both agents looked a bit stumped. I havent heard of that. Who is it by? asked the woman. It cant be by me, right? That would seem unprofessional, right? Actors dont write. Actors act. Byby . . . Chris Blum. Chris Blum was one of my teachers in high school. I sent him an urgent email when I got home. If anyone ever asks, you wrote a play called Colors and its very good!! The agents looked at each other, confused. Oh! Ive never heard of that. Oh, its very new. Very new. New and hot. Looking back, Im like, Damn. Thats right, girl. Write your own shit. Im proud of myself. But in the moment, I thought they wouldnt have taken me seriously if I had told them the truth. I thought actors were just supposed to act. I thought it was good to stay in my lane. Original monologue or not, they signed me. #fuckyeah The first audition they got me was for a pilot presentation. Now, a pilot presentation is basically a pilot connected to a production company rather than a network. The production company will develop and shoot their own pilot and try to pitch that to networks to sell, rather than the traditional route of developing a script and shooting it through a network. Its a different way to get your TV show made. It was this hilarious script called Sex Ed about a group of weird freshmen college students taking a sexual education course. I auditioned for the role of a dumb model, which I had done a vast amount of research for in my past. Guess all those modeling rejections paid off, because I booked it! Suck it, Wilhelmina. When I got to set, there was a girl there who was surrounded by people. Her name was Stevie Ryan, and everyone wanted to talk to her. I remember wondering if she was some kind of celebrity I didnt recognize. I talked to her and found out she kind of was. Yeah, I make videos on YouTube, she said to me. You do what? How? This was about ten years ago, in the early days of YouTube. What the fuck was this? I had heard of YouTube before, but I didnt know people were doing things like this. And recording your own character sketches definitely wasnt cool or respected at all at the time. But she didnt care, she was just doing it. It was sort of punk. I had never seen a comedienne like her before! She was bold and brash and smart. She embraced her femininity in a way that I hadnt ever seen in the comedy world. She was acting and writing and creating shit that was edgy and authentic and original. Not only that, but Stevie and I were at the same management company. We were on the same pilot. It was strange to see someone so similar to me taking such command of her craft in this way. Could I do shit like this? Ehhhhhhhh, no. I quickly pushed that thought aside. Stay in your lane, Laura. I never thought in a million years Id have the courage to do all the things she was doing. To put myself out there like she was. Ill just keep performing other peoples words. Either way, I was now a big fan of hers and we became good friends on the show. It was such an exciting time. My first pilot! My first time working with real directors and producers for a project I actually wanted to do. And I was going to be on TV! Well, not quite. The show never got picked up. I was so upset and confused at the timeWhat the hell? This was fucking funny shit. Why would it not have gotten picked up? I had a lot to learn about the industry, like the fact that your show can be hilarious and still no network will take a chance on it. When youre an actor, youre very much a leaf blowing in the industry winds. Which can be frustrating, but right now it was exciting and amazing. I had loved working on this pilot, and it just served as confirmation that I had chosen the right career. I wanted more of this. One night, I was alone in Colleens apartment flipping channels on the TV, and I came across a show on MTV called Disaster Date. It was this reality show where guys think theyre being set up on a blind date by their friends, but its really an actress whos assigned to go on this date with them and be their worst nightmare. Something clicked when I saw it. Hold on a second. I LOVE being peoples worst nightmares. I loved fucking shit up in public. This was the job I was training for my entire life. This was just like the time that I ran into the gas station, sobbing, in order to get free cigarettes with Jack. Or the time that my friend Andy Junk and I pretended to be a southern married couple at an open house. When I was younger, during those two nice weeks a year in Chicago when we could actually drive our convertible with the top down, Id sing at the TOP of my lungs when wed stop at a red light. My family would get SO embarrassed. It was awesome. See? Being a disaster to the people around me was my area of expertise. I immediately called my agents and told them I HAD to be on this show. I sincerely feel that when you know exactly what you want in life, you can get it. If you can be specific and visualize it and fixate on it, it can happen for you. For so many years of my life, I didnt know exactly what I wanted. I just told myself I wanted to be an actor. But I also told myself I wanted to do drugs and get wasted. My visualizations couldnt have worked, because I was focused way too much on using. But now . . . things were a little different. I wasnt completely sober, but I was trying to smoke and drink less, to focus more. And whatever work I was putting in was starting to pay off. I auditioned and got on Disaster Date. TIME TO FUCK SOME SHIT UP!!! Actually, it was all very controlled. The producers and actors would find out all this information about the mark (the guy we were setting up). The marks friend or family member would tell us everything that annoys him, and I would become a character who could encompass all these things. Okay, I have to hate animals AND give out unsolicited life advice? Talk about a multidimensional character! On set, we would have a whole restaurant set up, complete with thirty extras lingering around eating dinner. On the show, wed see how long before they walked out on the date, and just as they were walking out, Id say, WAIT WAIT WAIT! I have one last thing to tell you . . . Im an actor, those are all actors, those are hidden cameras . . . and youre on MTVs Disaster Date! Usually accompanied by the dramatic removal of my wig. The marks friend would run out onto the set, and the two of them would drown each other out in a chorus of BROOO!!! and YOOOO! and Brooo, I got you so good! and Bro!! You got me! And then they would hug. It was so fun. As the episodes wore on with Disaster Date, I became more and more creative. In one preproduction meeting, the producer and I were chatting about a particular mark who didnt like people who were obsessed with their pets. The producer tapped his pen, thinking. So, Laura, we could give you a dog to pet the whole time . . . and then you could let the dog drink water from your cup . . . Thats cute. But not quite far enough. Right. Or . . . I could be an Australian primatologist. And I could have a monkey on my shoulder. I whipped out my Australian accent. Itll be SEW much fun, mate. The producer let me create my own character! That date was an amazing shitshow, as it was supposed to be. Although there was no money in the budget for a real monkey, so I had to make do by walking on my hands and feet in the restaurant and making ape noises. Hey, I could be my own monkey. It worked just fine. In Disaster Date, I got to be very creative because so much of it was improvised. I played a yoga instructor on one date and twenty minutes in, I was in a headstand in the restaurant. On another date, I played a life coach named Teresa and I gave the mark the worst life advice possible throughout the date. I told the producer to call me halfway through the date so that I could act like I was giving bad life advice to one of my clients. The guy was trying to relate to me when he said, My sisters bothering me a little lately. I latched on to that. You gotta cut her off. Just cut her off. I mean, all she did was eat my leftovers You call her up and sayWhats her name? Uh, Megan, but I shushed his lips. You say, Megan? Its over. You are a toxic, toxic, person, who is ruining my life, and I dont need you. Im never talking to you again. Repeat that after me. I looked deep into his eyes. Shes my sister, though. The mark started tapping his fingers on the table with discomfort. I had him right where I wanted. Then my phone rang. Perfect. I answered with such confidence. Believe and Youll Achieve It Incorporated, this is Laura. My eyes widened at what I said. Shit, I called myself Laura! I was supposed to be Teresa on this date. The mark looked at me, confusion in his eyes. If I fucked this up, the whole episode would be unusable. I glanced at the mark and continued: Laura is my middle name. You know I go by that sometimes. But yep this is Teresa Laura. He didnt figure it out. Whew. I once played a pill popper. (Again, a lifetime of research, paying off! Thanks, addiction!) Throughout the date, I popped Xanax into my mouth over casual conversation. The mark grew more and more worried, bless his heart. After he suggested I slow down, I pulled out a bottle of Adderall and started taking those. Finally I said that I had to be right back, put on a literal helmet, and pretended to pass out on the dinner table. He actually freaked out and poured water on me. Which was my cue to do the usual, thats a hidden camera and thats a hidden camera and these are all actors and YOURE ON DISASTER DATE! That guy asked me on a real date afterwardwhich was a bit odd, as Im sure I didnt make a great first impression. I loved the risk of Disaster Date. I loved the fact that if I fucked up the hoax, the whole episode would be unusable. I loved the pressure resting on my shoulders. I understood that pressureI thrived under that pressure. And here, I got to channel my longtime love of thrilling and shocking other people into something controlled and creative and positive. I mean, I wasnt curing cancer or saving children, but this was still positive! (As positive as embarrassing innocent strangers on TV can be.) I was never mean-spirited on the show. I have never found laughing at the expense of someone else funny, so when the producers would ask me to mock a dates appearance, I would refuse. On this show, I was the idiot. Not them, ME. And I could finally add making people uncomfortable to the special skills part of my r?sum?, after horseback riding. My dating life had always been disastrous, but now that I was working on Disaster Date? It . . . was still pretty bad. Sorry, guys. The show was an awful reflection of my real life, pursuing people that I was 100% wrong for. I just didnt know how to be alone. I was under the impression that I needed a man to take care of me. Even though I completely, entirely, did not. I was making enough money to afford my own place, and I had friends and a great social life. But I didnt know how to be alone. I thought I needed structure from a relationship, whether it was Damon with his drugs and isolation, or Rudolf with yoga and dinner parties. When I was alone, what the fuck was I even supposed to be doing? My solution to this crisis was to dig down into my psyche and reflect on where this pattern came from and how I could change it. JUST KIDDING! MY SOLUTION WAS TO FIND SOMEONE ELSE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. While out one night, I met an incredibly stoned ex-skateboarder named Brody. PERFECT! We were dancing to the loud club music, drinks in hand, and he said, Hey, you should something something! I couldnt really hear him. WHAT? ITS LOUD IN HERE, I yelled back at him over the music. YOU SHOULD MOVE IN WITH ME. OKAY! THANKS, CODY! ITS BRODY. WHAT? Soon enough, I was out of Colleens place and into Cody/Brodys. Ladies, this is the blueprint for what not to do in your twenties. Brody was a perfectly nice guy, but he started to bring out my addict tendencies again. You might be wondering whatever happened to the AA meetings I started going to. I stopped. Now that I was a goddamn MTV star, I had everything under control! I did everything in moderationa bit of weed, some cocaine, some mushrooms. It was all fine! This is possibly what people refer to as denial. Addiction doesnt let you do moderation. But now that my career was taking off a bit, it was easier to deny the bad things in my life. I was going to try my hardest to have it all. Wanna do mushrooms? Brody asked me one night, pulling a little baggie of dried beige turds out of his pocket. Do you just carry those around with you everywhere? Brody smiled. Wallet, keys, phone, shrooms. Hmmm. I had a table read in the morning for Disaster Date. But highs generally only last a few hours, right? It would all fade by the morning. The worst that could happen is that Id have some wild dreams that night. In the moment, I felt proud of myself for even considering the consequences of my decision for a few seconds. Im so responsible. Hand them over, dude. We were up all night, hallucinating. The walls were melting and so was the floor and SO WAS MY FACE. Have you ever thought about, like, pineapples? Like, why are they . . . like that? Brody said. I covered my ears. Dont make my brain explode. I dont want it to explode. The morning rolled around and I was still full-on tripping. I had thirty minutes until my table read, where all the producers, actors, and director would be present. I didnt know what to do. You know who would give me good advice on this situation? One of my addict friends, Robin. I called her and told her the dilemma. Do I go to my table read? Im tripping balls. Duuuuuuuuude, this is the age-old question: go to work high and risk your job or dont go to work and risk your job! I think Robin was also high. Dude, youre stressing me out! What do I do? My walls are lava and my houseplants are walking around my apartment. I glared at the potted palm that was currently laughing at me. You can definitely go to work. Fucking do it. Make your money, you fucking working woman. Im so proud of you. Okay, Ill do it. The little palm tree was walking toward me. Hey, stay in your pot! What? Robin asked. Nothing. I put on some pants and shoes, then said one last good-bye to my plants, Dont leave the apartment, okay? I love you guys. Bye Laura! Yep. This was a bad idea. I somehow got to the table read on time. The producers, writer, and director were all ready to go, sitting at the table. I flinched as I stepped into the room, onto the PINK LIQUID FLOOR. I cant walk on this! I took a step back into the doorway. The writer looked at me, confused. Hey, Laura. I waved back, not moving. The wall behind him was a blinding, flashing rainbow. Fuck. I shielded my eyes. Come take a seat? Sure sure sure sure. When I pulled my chair out it yelled, Dont sit on me! Oh my God, could anyone else hear that? I sat on it. Okay. I can do this. A nervous production assistant passed me a script. What a beautiful script. The pages were so white. Wow. I dont think I had ever seen a white this white before. What else have I been missing out on? Laura, are you okay? one of the producers asked me. Turns out I had been tearing up over the whiteness of the paper. It was becoming clear that I needed to get out of there before everyone figured me out. Okay, I can do this. I just have to be subtle. Be subtle, Laura. I GOTTA GO! I DONT FEEL GOOD! SORRY! I HAVE TO GO! There was a long silence as I looked around the room like a deer in headlights. Then I ran out of the room. Nailed it. I heard them call after me, Laura, what? Wait! But I could not be in there while I was tripping balls! I walked home muttering curses at Robin for encouraging me to do this. This was definitely her fault. Definitely. Back at home, I lay in bed waiting for the high to pass. The good thing was that any anxiety I might have had about recent events was subverted by the mushrooms. I had a bit of a laugh about it with Brody, knowing in the back of my mind Id have to deal with the consequences later. Honestly, doing mushrooms is pretty fun. It makes you laugh and see things and have revelations about life. Just . . . dont try to do it at work, kids. Then my phone rang. It was one of the producers. Damn, the consequences were coming quickly this time around. I cleared my throat, worked up my courage, and answered, Hello, this is Laura. Dont fire me, dont fire me, dont fire me Hey Laura. He didnt sound mad. He sounded . . . apologetic? I know that youre upset that you didnt get more dates this week. Um. What? The producer continued, Were going to give you two more. Okay? We just want you to know that youre amazing and were sorry we upset you. Youre getting two more dates: Zack and Daniel. Oh my God, is Zack the one who hates bees? Yes he is. Oh, damn. Thats gonna be a good one. It will be. Just please, Laura. Please come back so we can do the table read. THEY DIDNT KNOW I WAS HIGH. THEY THOUGHT I WAS BEING A DIVA. I took a deep breath, trying to stay calm and not laugh. I was still high, after all! I put on my most stern voice. Well thank you. Its about time. Will you come back now, Laura? I still cant come back. Sorry. Thank you. Okay, bye. Laura I hung up. Wow, I felt powerful. Nice job, Laura, my bedside table said. Thanks, little table! Not only did I get to keep my job, but I somehow got more work from being high? Was I . . . invincible? Unfortunately, I was not. I did thirty or forty episodes of that show before I became too recognizable to continue. I would sit down on a date and immediately get recognized by the mark. Okay fine, that last part never actually happened, BUT IT VERY WELL COULD HAVE. #lifeontheZlist Before that happened, the producers had to let me go. I had a great run, though! I would be onto my next project soon enough, I just knew it. During my time off, I had so much creative energy and I didnt know what to do with it. I had so many ideas. I thought about Stevies YouTube videos. I wasnt a YouTube star, but I had to put all my ideas SOMEWHERE. I came up with five original characters, wrote monologues for them, videotaped it, and sent it over to my agents. I did this dumb model character and this woman that explodes unexpectedly with repressed anger and then immediately calms downjust little ideas that I had. I expected them to love it! Or at least to respect my ideas, like they did back on Disaster Date. Spoiler alert: they didnt. They brushed it aside in a patronizing email. Looking back, I can see that those agents just didnt understand me. But at the time, I thought that this was a sign that I shouldnt createthat I wasnt good enough. To top it off, a few days later I got another email from my agents. In the gentlest way possible, they told me that now that I wasnt working, I wasnt making them enough money and they had to fire me. They added a friendly notice that I could pick up my things in the front lobby with the security guard. They werent the greatest ever. I picked up my headshots from the security guard and walked home, so bummed. I wont lie and say this didnt stingit did, A LOTbut I was immediately desperate to find more work. Nothing was going to stop me from acting. So when I met a very loud, frumpy manager at the Disaster Date wrap party, I quickly agreed to let him manage me. Please, PLEASE, let me manage you, Laura. I can get you some jobs! I swear to God I can! Um . . . If I didnt have doubts before, I did after that pitch. But what did I have to lose? He was as desperate for clients as I was for work. And . . . he actually saw something in me. At least he would be less likely to fire me like Progressive Artists did. I quickly signed with him. His name was David Rosenberg, he lived in a studio apartment with his mother, and what he had going on was this: NOT MUCH. He would call me and offer me auditions for the worst roles ever. Laura, I need you to go to this audition. I know its a small role, but theres no such thing as a small role! Only small actors! And youre very tall! David. Youre losing me. If you dont book this part theres a chance I will starve to death and it will be partially your fault. Jesus, David. Coming off Disaster Date, where I was given so much creative freedom and respect, it was strange to go back to completely scripted characters, especially ones who had almost no lines. Also, my ego had inflated a bit. Sorry, but come on! I was leading those episodes of Disaster Date! And now I was supposed to beg casting directors to let me be a glorified extra? No thank you. But then David begged. PLEASE, LAURA, I GOTTA PAY MY RENT. SO IF YOU COULD BOOK IT, IT WOULD BE GREAT. My mother and I thank you! Oh my God, fine. David sent me on an audition for a co-star role on a TV sitcom called Til Death on FOX. It was for the role of the daughters stoner best friend. Co-star was a bit of an exaggerationit was three lines. But you know what? I was going to make the most of it. I could nail a stoner girl character. More of my lifes training was becoming useful! I went in for the audition and killed it. With my three lines I had all the producers there laughing out loud. David later informed me that Id booked the role: YAY I CAN EAT! THANKS, LAURA! No problem, David. Til Death starred Brad Garrett, JB Smoove, and Joely Fisher. It had a great cast with amazing comedians and great writers. But . . . for some reason, this sitcom put the shit in shitshow. It also put the show in shitshow. It was just a . . . shitshow. It was no ones fault, really. Sometimes the magic just isnt there. The producers were always in a state of emergency trying to revive the show with new actors, new writers, new everything. I came on in the second season, where the actress who previously played the daughter was being replaced, and her best friend was being randomly added in. They were hoping these changes would help ratings. When I stepped on set for rehearsal for the first time, my bruised ego over being a glorified extra quickly faded away. I was on a real-life network sitcom! I was on a real set! There was a live audience! We were shooting in three days! This. Was. Incredible! We had our first table read with the entire cast, and I loved it. Again, I made everyone laugh with my three lines. Brad Garrett laughed! It was incredible. How the fuck was this my life? While I was there I wanted to soak up every bit of information that I possibly could. I watched the actress playing the daughter rehearse the dining room scene on set with Brad Garrett and Joely Fisher. I watched what she did, how she took her mark and went for the laughs. Eh, I would have done a few things differently. I would have emphasized a few different words. I looked down at the script as I watched her and noticed she missed a few jokes here and there. Did she not understand the script? Also, she didnt look like Brad Garrett at all. He is a giant, and she was like five feet. I shrugged: fine, it wasnt my place to judge. I hopped down from the studio audience seats and I was approached by the casting director. Laura. We want you to read for the role of the daughter. The network was not happy with the current daughters table read. WHAT? Wait. Wait. WHAT???? The daughter role is HUGE. Its a series regular role! Its a mile above the stoner best friend. This is the type of role that opens doors for an actor. I blurted out, Is it because Im tall? Um, no. We just loved you. But your height does work well with Brads. Heres the script. Take a look at scene two and youre going to read for it in fifteen minutes. Holy fucking shit. I took the script from her with shaking hands. Be cool, Laura. No problemo. Sorry? Nothing! Thanks! I opened the script and took a look at the scene I was supposed to fucking memorize in fifteen minutes. When I read the page, I put the script down and said a silent thank-you to the universe. It was the scene I had just been studying. The one that Brad and the daughter were doing a short while ago on the stage. I knew this scene already! Fifteen minutes later, I stepped onto the stage with Brad and Joely, in front of twenty angry-looking executives from the network and production company. They were probably stressed out of their minds about the fact that they were shooting a live sitcom in three days and had no clue who would fill one of the major roles. Ummm, can anyone get out here and warm up the crowd? No? All right. I could tell that none of them thought that I, this random, lanky nobody, was going to be the answer to their problems. Yeah, I did my three lines well, but this role was huge. How was I supposed to hold it up? I was NOBODY to them. We started the scene. I didnt make the rookie mistake of looking directly at any of the executives this time, but a minute or so in, I started to hear some laughs. I started to feel the room lighten. I felt their relief. The laughs got louder. I WAS KILLING IT. Holy fuck! Twenty minutes later, the casting director told me that I got the role. When David found out, he was as happy as Larry. (Also, who the fuck is Larry and why is he so damn happy?) HOLY SHIT, LAURA, I KNEW IT! I KNEW YOU WERE A STAR! IM TAKING YOU TO THE OLIVE GARDEN TO CELEBRATE! And thats how I went from being a side character to being a series regular in one day. It was an insane mix of random preparedness and lightning in a bottle and doing my job like I always knew I could. It was crazy, man. Its the kind of Hollywood story that you hear about but you never believe actually happens. After that, shit got even crazier. We shot the first episode on the Sony lot in front of a live audience and it went incredibly well. I was on a high. I drove off the lot afterward and this black Range Rover rolls up next to my car. The window rolled down and this bigshot woman in a fucking suit whipped off her sunglasses and leaned out the window a bit. Excuse me! she yelled. I rolled down my window, confused. Did I take your parking spot? Sorry, Im leaving now! I put my car in reverse. Dont leave, you amazing idiot! Im Lindsay Howard, an agent at APA. We love your work and we want to represent you. Take my card. She threw her business card into my car and it landed in my lap. Even her aim was badass. APA is one of the largest agencies in the US. Holy shit! It was an incredible time. Every big agency was calling me up, trying to make money off my success. They were wining and dining me, and it felt great! The best part was the call I got from my old agents at Progressive Artists, the assholes who fired me over email. Laura, we just wanted to say that we made a terrible mistake. We would love to have you back. You know, that is so sweet. I actually have meetings lined up with Gersh, APA, and WME, but if none of those work out, Ill call you, okay? It was the sweetest revenge. Out of all of those agencies, I knew I wanted to be signed with APA. They specialized in comedy, and I could feel that it was right. David and I went to meet with Lindsay, the agent at APA, and it was the first meeting I had where I had no reason to feel nervous at all. For the first time, the agency wanted me. I didnt have to beg or try to change myself to be what they wanted. I was a moneymaker to them and I was ready to utilize my power. I had a list of demands ready. I want to be signed literary AND theatrical. Im a creator. I want to do it all. It was the first time I had ever said it out loud. Lindsay wrote this down. Sure sure sure! I just need to see your writing, but we can make that happen for you. I shook her hand confidently. I will send something over in the next couple days. I quickly realized what I had just signed up for. They needed to see my writing? Um, I should write something, then. I went home that night, took out my laptop, and wrote. For the first time, I just wrote. I didnt think or judge myself or have any idea of what the fuck I was doing or where it was going, but I did it. I ended up with this dark comedy based on my relationship with Rudolf. I wrote it in a Word doc and tried to manually mimic script formatting rather than getting Final Draft script software. It looked like absolute shit. But I sent it over to Lindsay, and we met the next day. In her high-rise office, she looked at me over her glasses. The grammar is godawful. Your spelling is illegible. And get Final Draft for Gods sake, I could barely look at the formatting on these pages. But, this is one of the funniest scripts Ive ever read. Just like that, I got my literary agent. I had always been a creator, one way or another. But now, I finally felt like one. I felt all these ideas coming to me. It was incredible. I told my agent that I had a great idea for a feature and she told me to bring in the script. Again I went home to write it. But, you guys, features are really fucking long. Scripts are usually a minute per page, and when you think of writing a movie, which usually lasts 90120 minutes . . . thats a lot of pages. My agents cant wait that long! I decided to just bring in the first three pages. Id reel them in and then make them wait a little. I brought the three pages in, read through it with them, and had my agents laughing their asses off. They wanted to see the rest. Great! Now all I had to do . . . was write it and not fuck it up. And get the structure right. And not spell anything wrong. And not be a fucking failure. And not come up with a pile of trash. I stared at my computer screen for three hours without writing a word. More doubt and fear was creeping into my head by the minute. I couldnt write, why did I ever think I could? I was so disappointed in myself. I got a glass, poured myself a shot of vodka, and slammed it down. Days passed, then weeks. The weight of this script was bearing down on me. I knew by now my agents had completely forgotten about it. There was no point in finishing it. Whatever. I wasnt a writer, anyway. These were all the things I told myself so I wouldnt have to walk through my fear of failure. The voice in my head telling me to create and the voice in my head telling me I was a piece of shit were in an all-out battle. I started to drink and use more, in an effort to drown out both of them. I wanted to be in a steady, unfeeling, neutral state! Thats healthy, right? I kept up appearances at work for the most part, because I still took that job so seriously, but my lack of a creative outlet made me . . . a worse person. Especially to Brody. I became clingy. Failing to derive my lifes meaning from creating, I looked to Brody for meaning. You guys, no one should be searching for meaning in a guy named Brody. Unless you are a guy named Brodythen by all means, search within yourself. My clinginess and neediness became all too much for Brody. He could tell that this wasnt a good relationship and we werent right for each other. So he dumped me. And honestly, how DARE he? Just go, Laura. Just be independent, he sighed to me from across the dining room table. Excuse me?! I WAS independent. I had a job on a sitcom! I knew how to be on my own . . . I just didnt want to be! It was MY choice to jump from one man to the next. Right? Okay fine. Ugh, Brody was rightI was so afraid of being on my own. Even in the months that I was single, I had either Leo, Andre, or Colleen looking after me. I had never been independent before. I had no idea how to be. Looking back, being dumped was the best thing that ever could have happened to me. I should call up Brody and thank that dude. And possibly apologize for what I did next. Then-Laura did not share current-Lauras grateful attitude. Then-Laura was filled with rage and pulled a Damon: I trashed his apartment. I threw everything off our (or . . . his, I guess) dining room table. I pulled a framed painting off the wall and smashed it on the ground. Glass shattered everywhere. Brody watched me trash his house, quietly interjecting Duuuude and Bro, stop it a few times. But mostly he didnt do anything. Finally I tired myself out and paused, breathing heavily. Just leave, Laura. I grabbed my stuff and left. What the fuck am I supposed to do? I thought I was incapable of being on my own. It turns out, I wasnt. I had enough money from the show to get my own place. For the first time, I moved into an apartment by myself. You know what? Living alone is awesome! I went from wearing pants some of the time to wearing pants none of the time. We dont need pants! (Unless its cold, or your couch is made of leather.) I threw myself into decorating my place. I had a great job, and things were good. My life had always been chaotic. And now, suddenly, it was peaceful. Thanks, Brody! Til Death, a total shitshow, but MY total shitshow, was not doing well. The ratings were low and though they didnt express their doubt to us, executives had no idea how to fix it. So their solution was to fire everyone possible. They got rid of JB Smoove, all twenty-three writers, the showrunner, and me. They actually did this pretty often, both before and after my stint. The show had a ridiculously high turnover rate. Over the course of four seasons, Til Death had four different women play the daughter character, not including the girl who did the table read and got fired immediately. The script completely ignored this fact. First it was Krysten Ritter, then me, then Lindsey Broad, then Kate Micucci. Honestly, I dont know why they thought firing any of us would fix the show. These women are all amazing actresses and comediennes. I could easily justify being fired. I mean, they fired everyone! It wasnt my fault. I hadnt done a bad job. We were all just dealt a poor hand. But in the back of my mind . . . the very, very farthest back corners of it . . . I couldnt help but wonder if my addiction had anything to do with it. I hid it very well from everyone and never let it hinder my work, but I had the sneaking suspicion that people could tell I was an addict. I used to bring Brody to set sometimes, and he was not, by any means, hiding his drug use from the public. Brad Garrett wasnt a huge fan of him. I remember showing up to work late once because I was so sick from drinking all night. When I walked in, I just had this horrible feeling that everyone knew. Brad asked with a smug smile, Wheres skater boy? Brody was a good guy, but everyone could see that we were up to no good together. I tried to brush off the doubt, but I wondered if I would have been one of the people asked to stay if I . . . wasnt caught up in my addiction. After I got fired from Til Death, my agents at APA fired me as well. When it rains, it pours! It was the same deal as when I got fired from Progressive Artists: I wasnt making them enough money anymore, so I was useless to them. I was never a real person to them, I was a commodity. I never took my chance to write them that feature. I wondered if they might have kept me if I had finished it instead of drinking. Desperate for more work, I reached out to all the agencies that previously wanted me. I called WILLIAM MORRIS. Heyyyyy, remember when you guys said to reach out if I needed anything? Well if youre still accepting new clients, Id love to meet . . . Hello? They ghosted me. Pretty sure all those agencies started screening my calls. WHAT THE HELL, PEOPLE? I always had this unwavering faith that I was going to make it . . . but I was finally starting to see some cracks in that faith. Light was shining through puncture holes . . . and I was going to have to do something about them. I couldnt ignore my addiction anymore. CHAPTER 8 New Beginnings (But, like, for real) Sometimes its hard to figure out when you have a problem. Theres a very thin line between doing something you find enjoyable and destroying your life. Its thin, people! For example: hoarding. Sometimes you just want to hold on to your childhood blankie AND the locket you got at your baptism AND all the empty yogurt containers that youve ever used. And then all of a sudden you need an intervention. It was the same with me. Sometimes I just wanted to get a little high and drink a little, then do some cocaine, except things got fuzzy and my life was destroyed. How was I supposed to know that it was a problem? I could count all the times that I thought I was going to die from a drinking- or drug-related issue on . . . two hands and one foot. My aunt had told me I had a problem, Colleen had told me I had a problem, a random stranger at a NIGHTCLUB (where presumably everyone was drinking) told me I had a problem. It was that obvious, guys, but who knew if I really needed to change? Honestly, I was twenty-three years old! Wasnt I supposed to be going out every night and getting fucked up at this age? Wasnt I supposed to be in my party phase? I thought I was fine. Even after starting to attend AA meetings, I still didnt stop using. I would go and listen to other peoples stories, hearing some that were eerily similar to mine, but did I really have to change? I thought I was balancing everything well. I was booking jobs and auditioning every day. I was a working actor, able to support myself without a side hustle. I was dating and enjoying that sweet independence I got after being dumped. Things were going great. I had a great group of friends, and I was hiding my addiction well from all of them. None of them knew I had a problem; they thought I knew how to have a good time! But then I started to become more aware as the consequences crept up to me. I didnt have a typical come to Jesus moment as many other sober people describe. It was as if I started watching myself from afar. Laura-from-afar started judging me. I would go to an AA meeting and then pick up a bottle of wine on the way home. What the fuck are you doing, Laura? Then, I started buying cocaine during the day. This was a bad sign. You guys, picking up cocaine should not be on your to-do list. When youre choosing your grocery store and dry cleaner because theyre on the way to your drug dealers spot, you have a problem. I suddenly realized everything was escalating. I couldnt drink without buying drugs, and I couldnt do either of them without getting to the point where I didnt care if I woke up the next day. I had no control over this. Any semblance of balance I had in my life was totally false. I was completely at the whim of my addiction. I still had the first three pages of that feature script back at home taunting me, because I was always too high to work on it. How did getting high become more important than my career? Throughout my time in LA, I had still been keeping in touch with my old friends from home. Jack was still my best friend, even if we only talked over the phone and online. He was one of the only people who knew I had a problem and encouraged me to fix it. And just as I reached my breaking point with my addiction, Jacks boyfriend committed suicide. He was devastated. We both needed each other. During one of our phone calls I had an idea. Move to LA with me. Lets start over together. Are you serious? Why the fuck not, dude? Theres no snow here. People wear shorts in winter. There was a pause. I held my breath. I heard Jack sniffle. I do have a lot of shorts that need wearing. And just like that, Jack moved to LA to start a new life. With him near me, I tried to do the same. Its weirdI had realized I had a problem over and over again in the past, but this was the first time that I felt truly strong enough to be sober. Maybe it was having Jack around and Colleen nearby. Maybe it was the impending auditions I had to go on. Maybe it was my independence. Maybe it was all the AA meetings I had attended, accumulating in the back of my mindall the people I had watched become sober and successful. Whatever it was, I could really see that my addiction was getting in the way of my goals. I was finally ready to change. I walked to the Log Cabin Community Center, where my AA meetings were held, and stood outside for a moment. I could still go back home and light up . . . literally anything. Id smoke lawn clippings at this point if it could numb my dread. Unfortunately, California was in a drought and there were only succulents around. There were, however, about fifty twentysomething, punk-looking kids covered in tattoos, sitting around outside, smoking cigarettes. I had seen them before when I had gone to meetings, but never really took notice of them. They were laughing . . . and bright eyed. They looked clear and happy. Is this what sobriety looks like? Nah, they must be high! I must have been staring for too long, because this badass-looking, tattooed girl came over to me. She did a grand gesture with her arms. Welcome. Thanks, I muttered, but I didnt move. Are you going in? she continued. I hesistated. I wanted to get sober, of course, but I had been to meetings before. I knew that when I went inside, they would ask us to turn ourselves over to God, and then I would immediately check out like I had always done. I could still hear my dads voice in the back of my head: FUCK ORGANIZED RELIGION! Its bullshit. And eat another hot dog, Laura, youre too skinny! There was no way Id believe any of this. Okay, bye!!! Yet there was something about this tatted womans kind face. I told her everything on my mind. She just smiled at me. No, no, were not a religious program. God can be any higher power of your own understanding. It could be the sun or mother nature. It can be anything. Penguins? If you want. Okay, well, I am deeply fond of penguins. I took a deep breath and walked inside. And from there . . . I just did it. I was ready and open. I got on my knees and turned myself over to the penguins or whoever the fuck was looking out for me. I started to learn things that changed my life. I badly needed to find happiness, to let go of whatever horrible feelings about myself that I felt the urge to numb and ignore. The first thing I learned was the Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference. It sounds so simple, but it was huge for me. If I was unhappy with a situation, I either needed to truly accept it orif possibleto work through my fear in order to change it. I started to apply this to my acting. If I was unhappy with the work I was getting or the lack thereof, I couldnt drink and ignore it. I needed to have the courage to change the things I can by putting myself out there in a different way. After acceptance, I took on forgiveness. A huge principle of AA is forgiving everything and everyone. Resentments are our number-one offender. If you hold on to your anger, it will take you out. It will eventually lead you back to drinking and using. At the cabin, they asked me to figure out my part in the resentment. Where had I been selfish, self-seeking, dishonest, or afraid? You guys, I have a lot that I could look back and be angry about, such as what the abortion money guy did to me, or what Damon did to me, or what the producer at the W Hotel did to me. There was a lot that didnt feel like my fault at all. But the only thing in life that I had control over is myself and my reactions. I cant change my past. Im allowed to be mad about these things, but I can also work to let them go. I can release the resentment and forgive. Because, honestly, my life depended on itand I no longer wanted to die. I had purpose on this earth. It was freeing. I started to look at other people around me not as inherently bad or good, but rather as healthy or sick and doing the best they can. Everyone is doing their best. Sure, sometimes their best sucks, but thats okay. I learned from AA that selfishness and self-seeking are the roots of all of my problems. I started to shift my thinking from what I could get to what I could give. When I felt depressed or suicidal or wanted to drink, they told me to ask myself who Ive helped that day. Have I called my mom and asked how she was doing? Have I told a friend how much I appreciated them? I got really obsessed with buying homeless people sandwiches. Specifically, sandwiches. Thanks to the program, I had a new person to eat lunch with almost every day. This was my anti-depressant! Then I started to feel . . . weird. I was smiling a lot? My jokes were less self-deprecating and more . . . joyful? What the fuck was happening to me? Oh shit. This was happiness. I was happy. The fuck? Being sober was fun. Being single was fun. I didnt know that I could enjoy doing anything besides getting wasted. Holy fucking shit. When I opened myself up to sobriety, things started to fall into place for me in my career. Soon after this, I booked a pilot on NBC called A Manns World, written and directed by Michael Patrick King who wrote on Sex and the City. It was an amazing script. My character was supposed to be this vacant dumb model, but I took it a step further and gave her a really high, breathy, monotone voice and dead-eyed expression. Man, I really wasnt born to model, but I was beginning to think I was born to make fun of them. Then, the pilot didnt get picked up. But this time, I wasnt devastated. I was fine. This didnt feel like the end. I had met a bunch of amazing writers and actors through it. And I kept thinking about that character . . . who is she? What is she like when she goes to the grocery store? Sure, I didnt get to be on a pilot, but this was the inspiration for my Ivy character, who I still do all the time in my videos. This pilot led to Michael Patrick King hiring me to guest star on 2 Broke Girls. It was an incredible time in my life, when I felt like I was leading with faith instead of fear. I felt like the world was open to me. Every moment felt like an opportunity. There was one day that I got locked out of my apartment. It was eleven a.m., and Jack was going to be at work until five. Normally I would have just cursed the world for twenty minutes, then found some drugs and got high to pass the time. But I was sober now. So . . . uh, shit. What do sober people do? What was second best to drugs? Ah yes. Coffee. I walked down to the coffee shop on the corner of the street, ready to kill six hours until Jack got home to let me in. I got a coffee and sat down. I didnt have anything to read or work on or look at. GOD I WAS SO BORED. This would not do. Im going to talk to people. I sat down at a table across from an eighty-year-old man that was also staring off into the distance. I asked him if I could sit . . . and then went on to tell him my life story. Then he told me his: he was an army veteran turned hot-air-balloon driver turned farmer. When he had to leave, I bought another coffee and sat down across from a woman I found out was a dancer turned dance instructor turned detective turned stay-at-home mom. Im sure by my fourth hour of this, the introverts in the caf? were starting to be a bit afraid of me. Then I saw a guy who looked weirdly familiar to me. I was FEELING THE COFFEE BUZZ to say the least, and I sat right down at his table. HI. YOU LOOK FAMILIAR, I said. Do we know each other?? Uhhh. No. From his face you would have thought a wild monkey jumped down from the ceiling onto his table. Well anyway, Im Laura and I got locked out of my apartment until like five p.m. tonight so Im just here killing time I stopped, seeing his bewilderment. Oh, sorry. Are you meeting someone? Yeah, I am, he said, kind of annoyed. Oh. Sorry. Well I just thought you looked familiar! Bye! I awkwardly backed away from his table. At least it was almost five p.m.! I walked back to my apartment to be let in. A few weeks later I got a call from an unfamiliar number. Hey Laura, its Peter! Sorry . . . who? Peter! We met at Kings Road Caf? a while ago. You just sat down at my table and started talking? How did you get my number?? Well I figured out why I looked familiar to you. Im friends with your sisters fianc?. We met at one of their parties. Oh! Okay cool. Where was this going? Peter continued. Anyway, Im a director and Im casting this series for AMC. Id love for you to come in tomorrow and read for a role. Wow, Id love to! Whats the role? Her name is Cornelia and shes a certifiably insane actress. I think youd be perfect for it. I absolutely would be. The next day, I went downtown and read for the role of Cornelia, the crazy actress, and booked it. Suddenly I was acting in a scene across from Jeffrey Tambor and Adam Goldberg in AMCs first digital series. We did three episodes and they never moved forward with the series, but it was okay. I had the tools to accept the things I couldnt change and appreciate the positive things that had come from this. Like, damn, I should get locked out of my apartment more often. Id be lying if I said that sobriety was a walk in the park. It was hard. Some days felt like they lasted forever. It made me isolate myself from my friends, who still loved to go out most nights. If I went out, I was afraid that I would drink. I was getting more and more lonely. One night, I was tired of it. I was going to go on a date. I met this French guy at my yoga class a couple days before and he asked me out. It didnt hurt that he was very, very hot. I was compromising my form just to be able to sneak a peek at his downward dog, you guys. Im not proud. I called him to confirm our date. I was a little nervous about going out again, but I was sure Id be fine. I had two months of sobriety by now! I pretty much had it in the bag. Thats how that works, right? He took me to a really fancy restaurant, where the portions are the size of your thumb and waiters put your napkins on your lap for you. Weird touch, but okay. After we sat down and were napkined by the waiter, my date took one glance at the menu and immediately asked, May I have two glasses of your finest pinot noir? Oh shit. I cant drink wine. But also, damn what a sexy French accent. Focus, Laura. I opened my mouth to say something, but I was embarrassed. If I told him I was sober . . . what would he think? Hed see me as someone who cant control myself. Who cant handle alcohol like an adult. Hed see me as a child. The waiter brought the wine over. I took it in my hand. He sipped his. I chugged mine. Suddenly I was drunk and ordering more and more wine. I called the waiter over and slurred: One more glass of peenwah, please? Just one more peenor. Thanks. I had relapsed. By this point, the French guy was looking at me like I was crazy. But drunk-me took this look as bedroom eyes. We should probably go back to your house, shouldnt we? I asked. But this is the first date. Why are you so forward? I grabbed his shirt and yanked him toward me. Because I am. Solid reasoning, drunk-me. In addition to having a relapse, that date was a one-night stand. The next day, I felt so . . . gross. Its like waking up from a nightmare, only to realize that everything you thought you dreamed actually happened. I was so ashamed. The entire two months of sobriety were gone, right before my eyes. I needed to do better. It was in this moment that I started to understand that my addiction was a fatally progressive disease. Its not something that gets better with time. Its not something that I can beat. This would be something that I would have to tackle every single morning when I opened my eyes, and every night when I went to sleep. Well, there goes my dating life! There was no way I was going out for a while. I just . . . I couldnt risk it. But whatever. I didnt need a guy anyway! Dating was fun, but ultimately I was enjoying being single. I went back into my antisocial cave, trying to gain back my confidence and consecutive days sober. I slowly worked my way back up one day at a time. It was like training for the Olympics. I was exhausted, but I was doing it. The longer I went, the stronger I got. I dove into my work, and I barely even noticed the fact that I was . . . literally talking to no one. My friends had stopped trying to get me to come out with them. I was on their do not call list. The only person who still bothered to try was my sister Colleen. She really made it her mission to incorporate me back into her life. All my other friends were afraid to push me out into the world, but Colleen knew that if I was going to ever lead a normal life as a sober person, I couldnt stay isolated all the time. Just go on a fucking date! Go! shed push me. Fine. There was this entertainment lawyer named Ben who asked me out a few weeks ago. I could call him up and set up a date. So I didI started seeing him. It was nice. He was busy with work and so was I. It was the perfect dating scenario for two people who put work before anything else. Canceling at the last minute was no problem. Awesome! Canceling at the last minute is my favorite thing to do. The only bad thing was that he didnt really understand my sobriety. He would say things like, You cant just have ONE glass of wine with dinner? You cant just have ONE drink? Nope, I cant. I didnt mind that he didnt completely understand me. I kind of thought no one ever would. Sobriety was something I did on my own. Ben and I saw each other pretty consistentlyas consistently as two people in LA working in the industry can, but we werent exclusive by any means. I worked my way up to fifty-nine days sober again, seeing the lawyer on and off. And then Colleen called me. Laura. Stop being such a bummer. Im not a bummer! But I cant talk long, Im going to bed soon. Its seven thirty. Your point? There was a long pause. I could feel her judgment. I need my ten hours! Come out to my party tonight. Please. This isnt a request, its a friendly demand. Youre coming. Colleen had found this group of friends in Los Angeles who were all British. She is a total anglophile. After two weeks of hanging out with them, she started speaking in a British accent, Laura, would you like a spot of tea? To which I would reply, Colleen, youre from Chicago. Okay fine, Ill go. Let me see if Ben can come. Ben was in. We planned to meet about an hour later to go to the party together. But five minutes before I was supposed to leave, Ben called me to say that he got busy with work and had to stay late tonight. This was . . . perfect! I called Colleen back. Ben canceled, so I cant go tonight. Sorry! Laura. You are your own fucking person and you can go out tonight by yourself. But YOURE AN ADULT. Fine. I looked at Jack, who was currently passed out on the couch. He had one hand in a bag of Cheetos and the other down his pants, with a bong next to him. He was a messy gay stoner, but goddamn it, he was MY messy gay stoner. In a last-ditch effort, I pulled the pillow out from under his head to wake him up and took his bag of Cheetos away to use as leverage. Come with me to a party or the Cheetos go in the trash. Bitch, Im sleeping! He snatched the bag back, put a Cheeto in his mouth, and dozed off. I guessed I was going alone. I made a mental plan to stay for an hour and then go straight home before I ruined everything. I arrived at the party. It had a theme: Dress the Way Your Parents Did When You Were Born. You might think this theme is oddly specific, but the last party was themed: Wear an Outfit to Symbolize the Last Text You Sent; and the one before that was The Battle of 1812. I wanted to wear a hospital gown with my ass just completely out, because thats what my mom was wearing when I popped out . . . but I felt like the person with her ass out at the party cant also be the first person to leave. I was born in 86, so I found a pink-and-black-striped minidress, teased my hair, and slid on a bunch of bracelets. I called this look: Phoned-In Eighties. I parked my car outside her house and felt . . . stupid. I hate costume parties. Why would someone create an event where its mandatory that you look dumb? I was wearing a stupid dress and I was going to go to this stupid party and drink stupid water because thats all Im allowed to do. I walked into the garden area and I remember seeing this man standing with a group of friends. He was wearing this really beautiful vintage suit and laughing at something someone said. Like really, truly laughing. I remember thinking he had a great smile. I wanted to know what he was laughing about. I bet I could make him laugh. Then I saw he was holding a bottle of water. Hmmm, I do need water. And I wanted to talk to him. I decided Id ask him where he got that water. Smooth, right? I used to go up to guys all the time in clubs. Its easy to talk to people! But, I had always been drunk before in these situations. This time I had no false confidence, no liquid courage. What was I going to say? Okay, Laura, just say words. I had been standing in front of him and his group of friends, uncomfortably, for ten seconds already. Awkwardly, I interrupted his conversation. Where did you get your water? He cocked his head to the side, smiling. He looked confused by the question, so naturally I continued: BECAUSE I just love water. Its really important to stay hydrated, so I was just wondering where the water might be because water is my favorite beverage and I love it. He raised an eyebrow and said, Obviously you dont love water or else you would have brought some yourself. Are you accusing me of not loving water? I just wanted to sample the specific water at this house. I probably like water more than you. Im just saying, if you loved it as much as you say you did, you would have brought it like Ive brought mine, he said, grinning triumphantly. How did he get the upper hand here? All right. Whatever. Im going to go find some water. I turned around and walked into the house. Real smooth, Laura. Man, I needed a drink. Of water. I found my dumb water and sat down to socialize with all the party people. It was fun at first. But . . . then an hour or two passed and everyone had gotten progressively more drunk and high . . . this was my limit. I was a little annoyed, Ill admit. It was hard being the only sober person at a party. I didnt want to be a buzzkill, so I needed to get out of there. I said my good-byes, and then figured I would find the water guy to say good-bye and catch him up on the fact that I found water immediately. Im leaving! I said to him, one arm reached out for an awkward side hug. His smile dropped. Oh, why are you leaving? Because Im the only sober person here! I didnt mean to sound so annoyed. I looked at him apologetically. But he just looked excitedexuberant, in fact. Im sober. I was stunned. Sober sober? Because theres Im driving tonight sober and theres also if I have one drink Ill lose control and die sober. He smiled wide and nodded. Sober sober. Stop it. I hadnt told him anything about myself, but suddenly we exchanged a look and it was like we knew more about each other than . . . anyone else. We had both been through the same war. It was too long of a look. He cleared his throat. Do you know of any good AA meetings around here? I just moved here and I dont know a lot of people or where to . . . stay focused. Theres one at The Log Cabin. Its where I got sober. You should meet me there. Yeah. I will. Damn. How awesome! Although that conversation would have been a lot weirder had I gone to the party ass-out. As I drove home, I quietly thanked myself for not choosing that particular night to dress like an idiot. The next day, Stephen met me outside The Log Cabin for the 11:30 a.m. meeting. We sat together inside, and afterward he asked me to lunch. At this time, I had been vegan for about year. But I always hated telling people this fact when I first met them. Because, you know, people hate vegans. I was always pretty into vegetables and clean eating though, even during my addiction. At one point during my addiction I thought the more kale I consumed, the less cocaine I would crave. I realized that didnt work when I literally called my dealer from Veggie Grill. But back to Stephen, what if he wanted to get barbecue or something? As we walked to a restaurant of his choice, I slid my veganism into the conversation. I dont really eat meat, I said. Oh, me neither, he replied. Okay, maybe he didnt understand how serious I was about this. Ive been vegan for one year. Ive been vegan for two years, he replied. Are you kidding me? There were so many moments like this as we sat down and ate together. So many similarities between us. With Stephen I laughed more than I had in a long time. Suddenly three hours had passed. Oh shit, we were talking for three hours? I found out that he was a film composer, I heard about the town he was from, and I learned that his mom was a waitress and his dad worked in a furniture store. That night, I called Colleen. Youll never guess who I had lunch with today! Who? Stephen Hilton. Um. You cant date him. I wasnt even thinking about dating him. It wasnt a date. I was just excited to have made a new friend. I mean, I really wasnt looking for a relationship. I was enjoying dating and being single. I was enjoying seeing (and canceling on) Ben. Hanging with Stephen was just . . . really, really fun lunches. As friends. It wasnt a date. I paused. But also . . . why cant I date him? Hes married, Laura. Um . . . What? Now, I stand by the fact that I wasnt trying to date him. But . . . how had we talked for three hours with no mention of his wife? That was weird, right? A week passed, and then Stephen asked if I wanted to go to the meeting together again. I said yes, but was still feeling weird about what my sister had told me. I sat weirdly far away from him during the meeting, and then he asked me to lunch again. I decided to give him a chance to tell me about his wife. I planned to really subtly slide it into conversation. So, have you ever been married? I blurted out. Stephen laughed. Who told you that? Colleen. Im going through a divorce right now. He explained the whole situation to me. He married a woman in his early twenties and they had been separated for three years now. She lived across the world, back in London. He was completely honest. Come on, Colleen! You got me all worried over nothing. Stephen asked me on a real date after that, and I really liked him. But . . . I was so excited to be single and not serious about anyone. I was living with my best friend in the world, going on auditions, and I felt strong. Why did I need a guy? The answer was . . . I didnt! So I avoided Stephen for a bit. He kept calling to ask me out, and I would put him off, I was working so much and getting so close to my goals that I could taste it. I also knew that I really liked Stephen. If I went on a date with him . . . I was pretty sure I would want to keep dating him. Was I even ready for that? I kept putting him off, but Stephen was so kind and persistent. He called and asked if he could take me to dinner. I checked my calendar. . . . I was free, so I agreed to go. And then . . . my agent called. Laura, the producers scheduled a last-minute table read tomorrow for a pilot. Tomorrow? Yep. Eight a.m. Im having a production assistant bring by a new script for you. You should be getting it . . . about now. KNOCK KNOCK. I opened the front door to see a nineteen-year-old boy with a large manila envelope in hand. Damn, my agent was good. Its here, I said. Great. Study it, and Ill see you tomorrow. Youre going to do great! Shit. I looked at the script. It was forty pages. I needed to study this so that I would do well tomorrow. Dont forget, I know what happens when you dont do well at the table read. They fire your ass and hire a fucking extra. Being that extra was awesome, but Id rather not experience the other side of it. I called Stephen to cancel. I felt badI had already canceled on him twice. But this was important; this was my career. Hey Stephen, have you left yet? Yeah, Im on my way! Damn it. Okay, I wasnt going to cancel on him if he was already on the way to pick me up. Traffic in LA is no joke. I thought quickly. Okay well, I can only stay out for one hour. I have to study for this table read I have in the morning. I hope you understand. No problem, Laura! See you soon! Damn his good-natured flexibility. A few years later he confessed to me that he hadnt actually left yet. He was standing in his kitchen during the call. He just knew I was going to cancel again so he lied. Sneaky, but also effective. He took me to a sushi restaurant where they have a really good vegan roll. They sat us next to the bar, so the two vegans on a date got to watch fish get butchered while we ate. Then I spilled sauce all over the waitress. I was nervous! Not only was this a date, but I was so anxious about the table read. I think it was getting to me. I got kind of quiet. Are you all right? Stephen asked me. I dont feel great. Will you tell me some funny stories? So he did. He rattled off one about the single day he worked in a furniture store before getting fired, and one about a local convenience store he used to frequent in London where when hed check out, the guy behind the counter would always, no matter what, ask if he wanted anything else? For some reason, Stephen and his friends were determined to get this guy to stop saying anything else? After every purchase. So the next time Stephen bought a banana, he said sternly, Ill get this banana and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING else. There was a long stare-off between Stephen and the guy behind the counter. Then . . . Anything else? the guy behind the counter replied. He told me story after story, each more hilarious than the next. I was laughing my ass off, then I had a scary thought: Is he funnier than me? Oh shit, Im supposed to be the funny one in my relationships. I was so worried about it that later on I called my mom, all butthurt. Mom . . . I think hes funnier than me. To which she replied, Oh no, Laura, is he sweet and sensitive, too? How terrible for you. Im the funny one, Mom! Im the funny one! She didnt have any sympathy for me regarding this amazing guy I had met. Early on, I would even try to suppress my laughter when he told a funny joke. Like seriously, comedy is my job! Hes the music personits not like I ever got on the piano in front of him and told him I was a musical genius. Why did he have to be so good at everything? Fortunately, my silly jealousy was hard to keep up when I was laughing this hard. Also, his humor is one of the things I love most about him. Besides, I maintain that I am the funnier one in the relationship. We finished dinner and went outside, waiting for the valet to bring Stephens car around. I noticed he was shaking. He was so nervous. He looked at me and asked, Can I kiss you? Oh my God. No one had ever asked me that before. What the fuck do I say? I should be coy. No, I should be . . . flirtatious. I squinted my eyes halfway closed, which was my best attempt at a sensual expression. What do you think? I growled. Pretty dope, right? He leaned forward a bit, then stopped. Oh God, I had confused him. Um. Does thatuh . . . Stephen stuttered. Finally, he leaned in for a nice, soft kiss. From that moment on, I didnt see Ben again. Falling in love with Stephen was sweet and perfect. Since we were both sober, we decided to go caf? hopping instead of bar hopping. We walked along Ocean Avenue in the afternoon and went from one caf? to the next, getting coffees and juices and different pastries at each one. I told him about my parents; my sisters; and about the fact that ever since I was little, Ive woken up at three a.m. every night to eat a green apple. I still do that for some reason. At the end of one of these dates, he asked if I wanted to come back to his apartment to watch a movie. I narrowed my eyes at him. Yes, but do not try anything funny with me! I was a changed woman, you guys. With him, I didnt want to mess anything up. We had gone on several dates by now, and I wanted to take things slow. Super slow, like the tortoise who won that race or whatever? I just mean I wasnt fucking him yet. We got back to his apartment and he put on Dr. Strangelove. I think he was trying to impress me. No shade to Stanley Kubrick, but I was more in the mood for something like Happy Gilmore. Im sorry! Sometimes I have to turn off my brain. This was just really dry and really boring. I looked at him. This is terrible. Its really bad, isnt it? he replied. We put on another movie called Bad Timing. It still wasnt Adam Sandler, but it was good enough. When it ended, it was really late. You look tired, he said to me. Just spend the night. I dont want you driving all the way home this late. I thought about it. I felt so comfortable with him at this point, and I really was tired. Okay, I could do that. I went to sleep easily in his bed. At three a.m., I heard something in the kitchen. I got a little scared and drowsily scanned the room . . . I opened my eyes a bit and noticed Stephen wasnt in bed anymore. Then I saw his figure walk into the bedroom, out of breath . . . and he set down a green apple on my bedside table. I smiled and fell back asleep. In the morning I found out that he had driven to three different convenience stores at three in the morning, looking for an apple for me. (And absolutely nothing else.) They were all closed, but finally I found one that was still open and carried apples. Tough combination, it turns out! It was the sweetest thing. The apple, I mean. They were in season at that time. But yeah, obviously we had sex after that. Im not a monster. I was totally and completely in love. I started to feel more carefree than I ever had been since I got sober. It was like he was teaching me how to have fun and let loose. Before, letting loose meant risking my life. Time went on and I finally achieved six months completely sober. I felt like I could do this thing called life. I could do anything! I felt so loved and in love. Every week I would go to my meeting at The Log Cabin. Every morning I would get on my knees and ask God-as-I-know-it to keep me sober for the day. Every day I would talk to other sober people to stay grounded. I was working through the 12 Steps. I was on Step 8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Twas a very long list. . . . But yeah, eight out of twelve seemed pretty good. I felt like I was almost done. But being done doesnt ever happen with addiction. If I wasnt actively focused on recovery, my addiction would creep up and become my solution to lifes problems. They say in AA that anything you put before sobriety, youll lose. I heard them . . . but I didnt feel like losing anything was possible now. Slowly, I started putting Stephen first. I didnt really notice it. As time went on, I started thinking to myself, If I can go six months without picking up drugs or having a drink, then I can afford to miss my weekly meeting. I can stop getting on my knees in the morning and asking my higher power to keep me sober. I can stop talking to other sober people. I stopped for eight days, but those tools were what quieted down the voice of my addiction. By the eighth day of not applying those tools, the voice of my addiction started to get very loud. It wasnt even a particularly bad day. Stephen and I didnt have a fight; I didnt get a rejection; I didnt lose a job. I was at my apartment trying to write, but I had writers block. Jack was at work. Damn it, what do I write, what do I write? Then I figured out the solution. Oh, I know what will help. Some of Jacks weed. It was like an out-of-body experience. I went into Jacks dresser drawer, pulled out his stash of weed, and smoked it. I coughed heavily. It had been a while. Well, fuck. Now I had smoked weed and ruined six fucking months of sobriety. I might as well go buy some beer. I got some beer and drank it. Well, Im already drunk. I might as well buy some cocaine. I had deleted the numbers of every drug dealer I knew, but no one is unreachable in the age of Facebook! I found one of my old connects, hit him up via Facebook messenger, and picked some up. I snorted some cocaine. I might as well smoke it, too. Now I was finally cracked out of my mindjittery and shaking like the crackheads you see on the street. I didnt even feel good. The shame still seeped through the numbness. How the fuck was it doing that? The weight of my situation came crashing down on me. I lay in my bed, staring at the ceiling and feeling meaningless. I ruined my sobriety. I ruined my life. I might as well die. I went to the drug store and bought some sleeping pills. I took seven pills. I didnt care if I lived or died. If I didnt wake up, then I didnt wake up. Who fucking cares? I knew that the mix of uppers and downers had the capacity to stop my heart. Its very dangerous to take them together. Thats how Heath Ledger died. I knew this and I didnt care about the risk. But still, if I really wanted to die, wouldnt I have taken the whole bottle? Come on, Laura, commit for once! After I took the pills, I went from cracked out to knocked out. I was supposed to see Stephen that night for a date. When I didnt show up, he kept calling and calling me, with no answer. Immediately he knew I had relapsed. It wasnt like me to not show up to a date without calling. Jack got home from work, saw me passed out on my bed, and just assumed I had fallen asleep. The next day I woke up and my whole body hurt. I saw I had twenty missed calls from Stephen. I called him immediately. He answered, but there was only silence on the line. Eventually he spoke. You relapsed, didnt you? Yeah. I wished more than anything that I could have said no. I wished that I had just fucking lost my phone, or gotten a concussion, or gone into a coma. Anything but this. He sounded so disappointed. In the most gentle way possible, Stephen told me that he couldnt be with me if I wasnt sober. No matter how much he loved me and wanted to take care of me, his sobriety had to come first. I had to fight the voice that told me it was useless to go back to my sobriety. The voice said it was hopeless to try again. That it was pointless to want to live. I went back to Alcoholics Anonymous to try again. They say that you arent supposed to get sober for anyone else in your life besides yourself, but . . . I couldnt bear to lose Stephen. So I went back to The Log Cabin, even though I felt like I wasnt worth shit. As I entered, I saw this woman across the room. She had this huge presence. Even before I talked to her, I could tell she was a force of nature. She was this curvy girl in a tiny, tiny dress and she was glowing. I mean, her contour game was strong. I felt pulled toward her and sat down next to her. We started talking and I found out her name was Kristal. I dont know what it was about her, but I found myself telling her everything. Yeah, I relapsed but Im back now. Its fine. Im only twenty-three. Im young. She said, unflinchingly, If you dont take this seriously, youre going to die. She was facing me dead-on. She wasnt smiling. She didnt feel sorry for me. Youre not too young to die. I I held her gaze. Good morning to you too. She didnt laugh at my joke. Last week I buried a girl just like you. A funny, pretty blonde. She was twenty-three too. ODd in her bathtub. Youre not invincible. This will take you down just like it took her. When she said that, it hit me. Something about Kristal and the way she spoke to me got through. I believed everything she said. Im afraid of you. Will you sponsor me? I knew she wouldnt let me get away with anything. She nodded yes, and I was completely recommitted. I spoke to her in person or on the phone every single day. I started the steps over again. I gave it everything I had. I did it like my life depended on it, because now I truly knew that it did. Kristal helped me take inventory of everything in my life: every defect, every fear, every resentment. I wrote it all down in this thick yellow journal, thatby the end of the inventorywas as battered as I felt. Kristal made sure I was thorough: tackling, investigating, and dealing with everything inside myself. Kristal just gave and gave to me, without compensation or condition. Something shifted in my mind and changed how I perceived the world. I felt like I finally woke up, like I could see the world more clearly now as a place of love instead of a place of survival or of fear. I focused on living through serving others, rather than for myself. My new mantra was trust God, clean house, help others. Trust God meant that I needed to trust the power of the universe/penguins and stop trying to run the fucking show. Ultimately, I dont have control over everything in the world, or really much at all. Accepting that brings peace. Clean house meant that I needed to check in every day with myself to ask: Am I resentful? Do I owe amends? Have I been selfish, self-seeking, dishonest, or afraid? If so, whats a better way? It meant making sure that my side of the street is clean. Its also about recognizing the good in my life. Seeing what I can be grateful for around me. Help others . . . thats pretty self-explanatory, isnt it? Its so simple, but its a huge part of my sobriety. I started giving to others what was so freely given to me. Kristal, this force of nature in a tiny dress, gave hours and hours of her time to me to teach me how to live without drinking. So I did the same for others. In all parts of my life, I tried to focus outward rather than inward. This was a huge shift for me. I had been so self-obsessed. Completely consumed with what I could get rather than what I could give. Everything was about MY NEEDS. I needed scar cream. I needed to be successful. I needed the lead role in the pilot. This self-absorption led me to be completely riddled with fearI might not get what I needed, and I could even lose what I had. It made me miserable. When I made my day about being rigorously honest and giving, I felt happy. I feel blessed that I had the willingness to change. It doesnt happen unless youre willing, and there are so many people around me that succumbed to their illnesses. I dont know why Im still alive. I mean, you read the previous chaptersyou know what I was up to. But thanks to Kristal and a swift kick in the ass, I have a design for living now that works for me. If I dont do it every day, I get sicker. One of the many slogans in AA is: You cant get clean off yesterdays shower. One day with no shower: tolerable. Two days: yuck. Three days: youre just plain offensive. Trust God, clean house, help others. Every day. As I got more and more days sober under my belt, Stephen and I started seeing each other again. He was cautious, and I completely understood. He didnt know if I was going to stick with the program. I had proven myself to be unreliable. All I could do was keep going and keep proving to him that I could live a sober life. On my thirtieth day of sobriety, I got a call from Peter, the director I harassed at that coffee shop. Laura, Im doing a movie in New York with Jason Bateman and Olivia Wilde and I want you to be in it. I dont have complete say in casting, so you just need to make a self-tape audition, and make it good. I can get you the job. I sent in the self-tape . . . and booked it! But there were some conditions. We would love to have you on set. The only thing is that its an indie. Thats . . . fine? Right? Well. It means that we cant afford to fly you out here or put you up. If you can make it to New York and find a place to stay for a month, then you have the job. Okay, well, I had no money to do that. I had blown it all on drugs. So I figured that was that. I couldnt do it. I told Stephen, and he couldnt believe I was passing up an opportunity like this. But . . . you love Jason Bateman! I know! Can I give you some money to go? he offered. I frownedI really didnt want to make him give me money. You have to do this, Laura. Its your career. I hugged him. I didnt know what Id do without Stephenand I was only going to take the bare minimum, no more. My oldest sister Tracy, who I havent spoken enough about in this book, also lent me money to make sure I had enough to eat during the month of shooting. Tracy was always like a second mom to me growing up. As irritating as she found me, she was always there to help. No questions asked. Okay, now I had the money to buy a plane ticket and pay for food while in New York. There was no way in hell I could afford a hotel for a month. I posted a Facebook status: Who the hell do I know that lives in New York? I got one responsefrom Claire, a girl I havent talked to since we did speech together in high school. Yooooo, Claire! How have you been for the past eight years? By the way, Im going to be in New York for a month. Do you think I could uh . . . stay with you? No problem! Wow, this wasnt going to be weird at all! Cut to . . . my first night sleeping over in her apartment. Claires smiling face was one foot away from mine, as we lay together in her double bed in her tiny Manhattan studio apartment. It was the size of a closet. And it had no closet. Im pretty sure it was a closet. Hows your mom? I asked. I figured that if I was lying this close to someone elses face, then I should probably talk to them. Good, she replied. Remember how early we had to get up on Saturdays? That was fun. Totally. Yeah. Sure. To make things a bit more difficult, the first thing Claire offered me when I got in her apartment was weed. I politely said no. Okay, I cannot stay here for a whole month. As I was walking from Claires apartment to the set the next day, I was overcome with fear. New York City had been the place where my addiction had reared its ugly head for the first time. It was where I fell into Damons grasp. I had no fond memories here. How was I going to stay sober here alone? I didnt have The Log Cabin, I didnt have Kristal or Stephen or anyone. Plus it was a bit awkward to get on my knees in the morning and ask God to keep me sober for the day, with Claire five feet away making toast next to the toilet. A week passed in Claires closet apartment, and I remembered that Michael, a friend whose short film I acted in, had moved to New York the year before. I stepped into the hallway and hit him up immediately to ask if he had any extra space I could stay in. Totally, dude! You can stay on the couch in our basement. Thank God. I thanked Claire profusely for letting me stay with her, and then went to the other house in Brooklyn. I was nervous: this was going to be a whole group of new people Id have to meet and socialize with and live with for the next three weeks. If I was going to be uncomfortable, how would I be certain I wouldnt drink? I walked into the house and set my stuff down. Then Michaels roommate, Leslie, walked in and introduced herself. We talked for a moment, and then she said: Welp. Off to AA bishes. Wait, what!! Yeah, Ive been sober six months. Ive been sober almost two months! She smiled at me; she understood. Come with me! From then on, I went with her every day that I was in New York. It was inexplicable, like there was something watching over me. In AA, we call that a God shot. New York was a success. I played a dumb model named Bunny. What the fuck was up with the model thing? I did my Ivy character for it again. I came back to LA on a high, feeling stronger than ever. Stephen felt it, too. We got back together. Things were good again. Move in with me? he asked one day while we were laying on his couch, watching Millionaire Matchmaker. We had been dating for around five months. I smiled and kissed him. Aw, Id love to. But no. I didnt want to move in with another guy until I was married. Not because I was traditional or anything, I just really hate moving. I didnt want to change locations unless I knew I would be living with this person for the rest of my life. It wasnt a marriage ultimatum. Moving is just a real pain in the ass. Fair enough, he replied. A month later, he took me out to this beautiful restaurant called Inn of the Seventh Ray. Why? I asked. Why what? Why are you taking me to such a nice place on a Wednesday night? Because I love you and I just want to take you somewhere, okay? Okay, okay, sorry! The waiter seated us at a table, handed us menus, and then stepped away. Oh wait, I wanted sparkling water. I turned around to look for the waiter, couldnt find him, and turned back to Stephen, who was gone from his seat. Wait, where did he go? Oh shit. Stephen was down on one knee in front of me. He was shaking with nerves as he opened the ring box. Will you marry me? I love you. He stood up. Waityou cant stand up yet! Youve gotta wait until I answer. Right, right. Sorry. He knelt back down. YES! We got married one year after we met. The thought of either of us planning a wedding felt like the biggest joke in the world, so we just eloped and flew to Anacapri in Italy the next day. That was it. It felt easy, simple, and right.
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  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid /   (by Jeff Kinney, 2008) -   Diary of a Wimpy Kid /
  • Thumbelina /  (Disney, 2014)    Thumbelina /
  • Nemo in school /    (Disney, 2012)    Nemo in school /
  • Sycamore Row /   (by John Grisham, 2013) -   Sycamore Row /

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