By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
”She seemed to remain sober for some time after that. She got herself a job. She worked at a juice place in Santa Monica, where they served fresh-squeezed juices. I saw her there once. Her teeth were deteriorating -- they were really discolored, and she really should have done something about it. I tried to persuade her she should, but she wouldn‘t.“
He pauses, visibly discomfited by the next memory.
”Anyway, I remember she lost her job -- maybe they thought she was pilfering money from the cash register, that’s what she said -- but eventually she found another job, in a flower place. And then she fell off the wagon again.“
Which was over seven years ago, during which time Michael did not see her.
”Somebody called me several years back and said that she‘d been living on the beach, so I’d heard she‘d fallen back into the worst state she’d been in some time. It didn‘t really surprise me that something awful would happen. I had this feeling that something like this would happen to her.“
After receiving the phone call from her social worker, Michael visited Nancy at Harbor Convalescent.
”She was very proud of me when I went to visit her, you know, she obviously had been waiting for me, and our son, Alex. She immediately began introducing us to everybody in the hospital -- you know, she was just beaming with joy. ’See, I‘m not really like this,’ is what she was saying to all the people. ‘See, here’s my beautiful son and ex-husband who‘s successful.’ I‘m sure all the people in the hospital just thought she was telling them stories when she told them about us, so [us being there] was kind of a way of proving that what they saw wasn’t all of her. I‘m sure that’s what she was saying to them, because I‘m sure part of her wishes that she still was the person she was before. It’s not just us, it‘s her whole past, her parents, her family upbringing. It’s just . . . she‘s gone so far since then.
“You know, when she was a kid, her home sat on five acres, surrounded by woods, you couldn’t see the next house, it was just . . . To me, I had no interest in that, I was just glad when she managed to run away. Her parents wanted to cut her off. But I thought, I can look after her, she‘s mine. I felt guilty taking her away from that, in a way, at first, and I wished I could have made up for it . . . [But] she’s never been one to assume responsibility herself. When I first knew her, she had very high standards for everybody else. One of the things I found especially fascinating, why I thought she would be good for me, was because she seemed to have such high standards. I had this feeling that she was going to drive me to do great things, you know? But she wasn‘t doing anything herself. She never had self-discipline, she never did assume responsibility for her own actions, not ever. Strange, isn’t it? As long as we were together, she knew how people ought to do things, and knew the right thing to do, but she couldn‘t manage anything herself.
”I would have done anything if I could have somehow made it possible to restore her in some way, that she would be possible to live with. We were together 13 years, though we only ever had two glorious ones. The rest were all downhill. I stuck with her for 10 years, trying to put it together some way, desperately hoping against all odds that somehow I could do something. In the end, I only left because I realized I was part of the problem, that by supporting her the way I was that she was getting worse.
“For years after, even after I remarried, I felt really bad that I couldn’t do something. I felt guilty about the fact that she had become the way she was. She blamed me, too. She always insisted she was an alcoholic because I joined the Navy.”
When Michael stops speaking, one gets the impression he has held this story in for 20 years, and now that it‘s been told, he will not speak of it again. When asked how Alex has dealt with Nancy all these years, his answer is economical:
“Our son has done so much to isolate himself against his mother, because she’s caused him so much pain and angst.”
P.O.V.: The SON
“It‘s kind of interesting that you should be asking these questions, or someone is. No one really has,” says Alex Safonov. “No one really knows how to deal with it.”
Nancy’s son, Alex, is 27 years old. Tall and painfully thin, he wears skate-ratprep attire, a baggy plaid shirt and khakis. He left USC six units shy of getting his architectural degree, and works in commercial animation and experimental video. Drinking a beer in the bar beneath the mid-Wilshire hotelapartment where he lives, he appears wary, leaning so far back in the dimly lit booth it‘s as though he’s trying to disappear into it.