“Most of the successful people in Hollywood are failures as human beings.” ― Marlon Brando
Joan Didion said that we tell ourselves stories in order to live. Sometimes Avery Adaire imagined that everything that had happened was maybe just a story she had thought up. Perhaps that’s why she became a writer-- to deconstruct her personal history and re- imagine it as fiction. That strangely felt much safer to her.
Avery twisted one of the rings on her middle finger and stared blankly at an old Hollywood Reporter as she sat cross-legged in the waiting room of her therapist’s office. The palm trees outside the Beverly Hills window were a strong contrast to the frigid interior of the building.
Pulling on the frayed strings of her ripped jeans and slouching deeper into her dove grey cashmere sweater, she recalled her first meeting with Dr. Jagosian thirteen years ago. What had led her here was what she first perceived as nothing too out of the norm. She grew up with dozens of girls that she would like to think were much like her. Poor little producer’s daughters with self-esteem issues, bottled up hatred towards other women, and an overeager desire to please men hardly worth their time. They shopped at Barneys, rehabbed at Promises, and stared at their food at The Ivy until they were “simply stuffed.” On the outside she looked exactly like them, but on the inside she secretly surmised she was smarter, more resilient.
Thirteen years ago in this office Dr. Jagosian told her that she was different than these pretty little fuck ups-- and it wasn’t because of her intellect. In fact, it wasn’t because of anything pretty. Avery was quite properly fucked up.
I’ll tell you the whole pathetic sob story.
It began with her mother-- Beverly Brooks.
Beverly had been a lesser known actress and model in the 80’s. At her best she was all white teeth and blonde hair, prancing from party to party without a care in the world. At her worst, she was a vicious, slinky cloud of black smoke waiting to strike. She squandered her teen years looking for rich older men to occupy her time. Her twenties were spent traipsing through Studio 54, huddled over white dusted compact mirrors with vacant eyes. Her thirties were consumed realizing that life would not turn out to be all that she thought it would be and women do not stay young forever.
And then Avery came along.
As it turns out, motherhood isn’t for everyone.
I’ll tell you this because it’s important to the story, not just because it helps to provide a timeline.
Beverly’s third husband was Jim Manducci. Avery’s heart grew heavy when she thought of him. He was her favorite and he had surely been tricked the most. Jim was a good man who really had no clue how unhinged the woman he married was until it was too late. It wasn’t that he was ignorant; he just wasn’t around all that much.
Jim was a film producer who had blown through four wives before he met Beverly. He was 45 years her senior, with a bulbous, red face. He smoked cigars compulsively, wore Ferragamo loafers exclusively, and broke out into renditions of Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” every time he had a bit too much Balvenie 30. He proposed at the Rainbow Room on an impromptu trip to New York after they had been dating two and ahalf months.
Avery adored him, even if he wasn’t her real father. It was unfortunate to think of all of the trouble Beverly had put him through.
But that was then and that was a long time ago. Nearly twenty years, I think. Beverly had since slowly killed herself with a slew of mind numbing substances and Jim died of lung cancer. Avery was still here though, sulking around Los Angeles trying to hold it together.
Like many of us who’ve grown up here in this beautiful, lost place, Avery didn’t graduate from her adolescence unscathed by the claws of Hollywood. First there was a minor stint at Visions Rehab Center in Malibu. Then there were AA meetings with a red headed starlet who will remain unnamed, followed by hazy nights out at Le Deux. She felt as though she was drowning for a long time. That was until she left LA and escaped to the frigid, red brick expanse of Brown.
The funny thing about problems though is that they typically follow a person from place to place. But we’ll get to all of that later.
She’d been back in LA for a couple of years now. She’d written her first novel while finishing her senior year at College Alpin Beau Soleil in Switzerland and had called it “Ephemeral Joys.” Though she’d never admit it, she was terrified when it was published. An editor at The New Yorker took a liking to her “raw voice” and she suddenly found herself a part of the literary zeitgeist. The whole thing made her uncomfortable but she went along with it for lack of reason not to. She had nothing else to do.
She’d continued on to sell “Ephemeral Joys” to Paramount for what she was told was a “rich deal.” They had even asked her to write the screenplay, and though she didn’t much trust her strength as a screenwriter, the whole ordeal had turned out just fine. The reviews were relatively positive but now the pressure was on. Her next piece had to be good, really good, or else she’d be written off.
Because her personal history had always been the inherent core of her writing, her agents, manager, and close friends had urged her to write the story of her tumultuous relationship with her mother Beverly. Her team had set about pitching her newest endeavor as
WHITE OLEANDER meets BLACK SWAN. She had always felt removed from her own story but it frightened her when she pitched the story in rooms. She felt no connection to that little girl who had read her parent’s custody battle depositions while her mother was passed out drunk or who had scratched her face out of all of her baby photos with a nail. No connection to the girl who used to starve and cut herself to try and feel something at all.
Avery had set about writing what everyone hoped to be her magnum opus at the beginning of the summer. It was now October and seeing that she had relatively nothing to show for the last four months other than the resurgence of a crippling anxiety condition and purple circles under her eyes, she’d rented a room at Chateau Marmont for the month in hopes of clearing her head.
Loneliness feels warmer when you know there’s someone on the other side of a wall. And besides, the ceilings in her own home were making her feel claustrophobic. They were suffocating her. At least this was what she whispered to me one evening that Fall over nearly warm glasses of champagne.
She had slept fitfully and awoke in a feeling of panic this particular October morning. Adrenaline washed over her body immediately and she sprung out of bed. Warm water with lemon, followed by a green juice, then a strong coffee topped off with a newspaper-- preferably The New York Times. Her hands shook like small earthquakes, her brain in a battle with her body to prove that eminent doom would not befall her. She must move fast so that the anxiety wouldn’t overtake her.
She ambled into the hotel’s small valet area where she retrieved the silver 1957 Mercedes 300SL Roadster she had been driving. Memories were dancing wildly in her mind and a drive might help her put some distance between the past and present. Thankfully, the convertible’s top had been put down already.
“It’s a beautiful day Miss Adaire,” piped one of the valets, imploring her to smile.
She pressed her lips together in a halfhearted attempt and told them she’d be back soon.
Driving west on Sunset Boulevard, the landscape shifted from the faded sign of the Sunset Oil Gas Station and the grimy floors of the Whisky A Go Go. She squeezed her steering wheel and rolled down her windows. She didn’t register the music. She registered the speed of her heartbeat. Fast. And getting faster. She was nearly at the turn in the road where the sprawling mansions start and neon signs end. It would be better then. She could breath then.
As she continued speeding down Sunset, jerky with anxiety, she saw the rosy inviting walls of the Beverly Hills Hotel looming in the distance. It was hot so she thought she might go for a dip and have a Mojito. Collect herself.
She pulled up to the grand driveway and walked to the pool in a heavy-footed trance. These Indian summer days had long ago convinced her to wear a swimsuit under her clothes well into December. She worried very much about limiting herself and her activities.
Avery plopped down in a pool chair, signaled for a drink, and waved at a friend across the way with a sigh.
“Avery Adaire! I heard you had either run away with a French man or were at The Dunes. Are the trainers there as good as they say? You’re tiny! Ohmygod you have to tell me!” Tabitha had always been the more buoyant of the two and her stories oscillated between salacious whispers and booming exposition.
“Hello Tabs. There was no Frenchman and I was not in rehab. I’ve actually been here all summer, so not really sure where those stories came from,” she said a bit miffed.
“Oh well I heard that you got so drunk at Hannah Bronfman’s party last month that security had to escort you out,” she whispered. Her eyes twinkled with anticipation.
“I haven’t seen Hannah Bronfman since sophomore year of college, Tabs. Must have been someone else. Anyway, how are you?”
It wasn’t a long while until they ran out of things to talk about. Avery examined her drink, which was nearly gone and was sweating. The pool glistened like a gem and it was so hot that she nearly felt faint. She excused herself from Tabitha and dove into the pool.
Under water, she thought she might play a little game she used to play that she called Mermaids. Could she swim under water the entire length of the pool without taking a breath? The compression that grew in her chest when she held her breath made her feel in control. Calm.
She was about thirteen when she began to unravel herself. Beverly was off at a “Wellness Retreat”—aka The Betty Ford Clinic—and Jim was on location shooting something
Who could remember.
If the rumors buzzing about town were true, Beverly was having a not so secret affair with a younger actor out at Betty Ford. Though Beverly’s career may have waned when she had Avery, she still had her beauty and in her mind that was her only gift worth a damn. It didn’t matter that she had a little girl at home or a husband somewhere in Europe. To Beverly, this was just another vacation with an added opportunity to darken her tan and create a bit of mystique about her.
Avery was feeling a bit more grown up as she had just recently had her first kiss with a boy she’d known forever by the name of Dalton. Their parents had
summered together in Saint Barthes several times and they had all been members of the Brentwood Country Club for most of their lives. Of course this was all before Beverly had flown off the handle.
With both parents away, Avery managed to convince her nanny Cecelia that she didn’t need someone watching her day in and day out. She could stop by once a week or so and just make sure everything was okay. It was more practical that way.
I believe that was the wording she used.
Manipulation was one of the most critical skills that Avery had learned from Beverly. If she smiled and laughed, used pretty words she could sway people in her favor.
Since it was summer, Avery was staying in the family’s beach house on Carbon Beach. She padded into the kitchen and grabbed an orange bottle of Veuve. She had never opened a bottle herself but Jim had always given her sips here and there. Champagne wasn’t her favorite but she was told she’d learn to like it. She popped the bottle open, squeezing it in between her knees and grabbed a flute. The surfaces of the kitchen were all slick and metallic. She watched herself for a moment, and then bound up to her mother’s closet. Beverly had moved her things in for the summer but had never actually moved in herself, as a small intervention had ruined her plans.
I don’t even think she set foot in the Malibu house that summer.
Beverly may have been a catastrophe but she looked damn good while she fell apart. Avery walked into the meticulously organized closet and felt an intoxicating pull. She took a seat on the velvet chaise lounge and finished her drink. She twirled around a bit and toyed with the record player until it sprung to life. With libations and soundtrack spoken for, she set about picking out what she’d wear for her cusp of adulthood soiree for one. It was like picking out a costume for a character she’d play now. If she presented herself as too smart, mature, self destructive, then nothing could hurt her. She could withstand anything.
Then it wouldn’t matter that her first memories were so dark, that Beverly had a tendency to get a bit too drunk and torment her daughter, that she was well versed on all ways to make oneself stick thin—both healthy and not. It wouldn’t matter that she’d had to get her nose fixed because Beverly had broken it.
It was fucked up but that was okay. She could free herself of all of this with the costume she was about to create. It didn’t need to be too inventive.
A Brenton striped cotton dress, a red Chanel printed silk scarf, a black vintage Chanel tote and matching flats. After a couple moments of scrutiny she reminded herself that she was 13 and in Malibu not 52 and in the Hamptons. She flung the tote onto the chair and switched it out for a red classic flap bag with caviar leather. Avery kicked off the flats and pushed her feet into her ragged white Vans slip ons. Perfect.
A bit tipsy and thus singing all the while, Avery wandered into the bathroom and poured another glass of champagne. She opened the vanity drawer and pulled a cigarette out to smoke while she did her hair. Hair blow-dried in curlers she was reminded of her days as a pageant girl. Her stomach churned at the thought. That was before her mother had married up. Avery applied a bright coral lipstick and curled her eyelashes. She pushed her cigarette out with a dramatic flair and blinked mascara on to her long lashes, smudging it onto her bottom ones.
She poured another glass and stared at herself, shakily. She took her curlers out and started to toast, but abruptly stopped so she could tie the scarf around her head, tying at the nape of her neck. She tousled her hair and clinked her glass on the mirror. Holding her own glance for a long time.
She set about looking at all the products in Beverly’s cabinets. Apparently the intervention brigade hadn’t made its way to the bathroom, as there were many an orange RX bottle. Avery popped a Xanax in her purse, grabbed her new things and drifted out to the living room. She threw everything on the coffee table and stretched out, feet over the back of the couch. She sat up briskly and grabbed the little pill out of her purse, placing it on the table. Just in case.
After there were no more pages in her magazine and only a little bit of champagne left, she sprung up and skipped out the back door and onto the beach barefoot. She sat for a long while looking at the waves. They crashed and evened out before they crashed again. They hypnotized her. She blinked her eyes with resolve before heading back inside.
She turned off the music and threw the bottle in the trash, untying the scarf on her head. She methodically washed her face, brushed her teeth and put on her prettiest pj set. Before settling into bed, she walked back out to the living room to grab the pill and threw it in her purse. Just in case.
She got into bed and read some book that I can’t remember the name of. Whatever it was, it ended up being the gateway drug to Sylvia Plath and Fyodor Dosteyevsky.
She fell asleep holding her Beverly Hills Hotel bear tightly.
Avery snapped out of her reverie as Tabitha yelled goodbye to her. She was off to get a blow out and go to some mundane party that Avery, quite frankly, could not give less of a shit about. She didn’t know how long she had been swimming but judging from her how heavy her arms and legs felt, she figured that it must have been a long time.
Defeated, she pulled herself out of the pool. She’d go back to the hotel. She couldn’t be alone anymore.
Later, Avery threw her legs listlessly over the banister of the balcony of her room. Summer in Los Angeles was over, but that didn’t make much of a difference. It was something she both loved and hated about it here. The omnipresent sun made it seem as though time were irrelevant and stagnant.
Her tanned, freckled skin glistened through her thin white linen dress and she counted the
small constellation around her belly button as Dalton played the baby grand in the living room.
She squeezed her eyes shut and smiled at the colors that danced in front of her disoriented pupils. His presence had helped to sooth her anxiety and she was feeling quite good actually. She reached for the Pellegrino at her side and relished in the bubbles as they hit her tongue. Putting the bottle down, she stretched and shot her eyes open.
“Dalton, for fucks sake. Enough with the “Je te Veux: Je te Veux” Satie bull shit. I’m never going to be your darling Paulette Darty,” she chided
“Well someone has been brushing up on their 20th century avant-garde Parisian waltzes.”
“Is that honestly the only part of that statement you’d like to comment on? Thank god we’ve known each other so long. Otherwise I’d kick you out,” she said rolling her eyes.
She lightly tugged her sunglasses out of her golden waves and pressed them to her face. She stared down at the heads of the diners several floors down. They laughed, gushed, bristled at one another’s comments. They all had the same air about them—maybe not specifically the same, but nonetheless alike in different iterations. How inauthentic.
She rose from the balcony and padded into the en suite kitchen. Opening the mid-century fridge, she reached for a bottle of Garrus Rosé.
“Do you think that we’re in an ‘era’ right now?” she called. “I don’t think so,” he responded from the living room.
“But do you think that we would even know if we were? Do people know they’re living in a certain time period or is that something that’s coined after the thought?”
“That’s a fair question to raise. I’ve never really thought about it,” he mumbled as he continued to toy with the piano keys.
She walked into the living room just then and peered at him curiously as she sipped. The hazel eyes and tousled gold hair she knew came from his mother. The jawline was his father’s. The piercing stare was his alone. Not all of us pursue release through words.
She started again, “Sometimes I’ll be out at a party and I’ll just watch people and I get the strongest, overwhelming feeling that this has all happened before— all these mistakes and missteps and misunderstandings— and we haven’t learned. It’s very morose. Do people think about that? Do people think about era’s and cycles all the time?”
He eyed her cautiously and sighed, “No I think it’s just you.”
“Fantastic. I’m losing my fucking mind. Should we go get a drink or something?
Anything. I just don’t really feel like being here right now,” she exhaled as she finished her glass in a desperate gulp.
He leaned back off the piano, opening his mouth, as if to say something. He closed it quickly and instead pulled the cover over the piano keys.
They sauntered down Sunset to the cinema to see a Belgian film. She was almost embarrassed at how strongly the concierge suggested they take a car there. It was merely two or three blocks and her legs worked just fine. She just didn’t like people making a fuss over her. Dalton didn’t care either way. It was one of the things she liked best about him. He had always seemed to just float from place to place.
She cried her eyes out during the film. It was about death and love and beauty and the main thesis was that life is not generous. Nothing that beautiful can last.
It made her feel like a melon that had been hollowed out and refilled with a substance that didn’t match. It filled the same void but there was something off. She felt uneasy and fragile the entire rest of the evening and for days forth, just wanted to be left alone. She wanted to be in quiet to remember that feeling. The ice coldness crispness of the melon scooper.
Dalton walked her back to the Chateau after the film. Before he left her he rubbed the top of her head, messing up her hair a bit. She closed her eyes and he kissed her forehead lightly and squeezed her shoulders before he turned to leave.
She called to him as he walked down the hall. It was nauseating really, that at times people just need others to hold them. She felt like maybe she was being a coward, but there was nothing she could do to stop herself.
After another bottle of Garrus and a Klonopin, she laid awake listening to his breathing and looked out at the twinkling lights of the city. Pressed into the crook of his body and held close by his arm, she felt at least a bit safer.
A light breeze rippled the white drapes.
Thankfully no one tried to talk to her about what had happened anymore and that helped calm her a bit. Tomorrow she would go see Dr. Jagosian. Everything would be okay. It had to be.