I hardly knew who I was before I had my kid back in 1998. She was born the same year that one of her favorite movies won Best Picture. She shares the same name as a movie star. She now has blue hair and likes to cosplay. She is kind and funny and smart and sweet and I just said goodbye to her in Manhattan, near Union Square. She’s studying at NYU and I could not be more proud. The last time I saw NYU I was trying to make it as a chaotic young woman studying Dramatic Writing at Tisch. But I screwed up the financial aid and after a semester I would have to drop out and move back to California. I remembered NYU as being one of the most influential six months of my life and now I was leaving my daughter in its capable hands, among thousands of other cheerful students full of life and promise and hope for the future.
My daughter and I have had mostly only each other through the years. We have a family but our family is the two of us, a dog and three cats, so saying goodbye and putting a whole continent between us wasn’t easy. We’re both embarking on our new lives as individuals. She will be learning how to be an independent adult and I will be trying to remember how I felt before being a mother became my full time job. Dozens of friends have written to me from New York to assure me they would be there for Emma as part of the growing extended family we all are building online. It was through this fog of mild heartbreak but unimaginable pride that I left New York City, trying to quell the flow of tears — stupid, irrational, crybaby tears which would not stop no matter what I tried to do about it.
I was to fly back to Los Angeles on Tuesday evening and pick up my old friend Michael who would travel with me to Colorado since my daughter could not. She and her friend Emma — the two Emmas — have come with me to Telluride for the past few years. My dog Jack would be our other trusty travel companion, as he’s been ever since we picked him up as a foundling pup near the Four Corners two years ago.
Returning from NYC, thinking I might be back in Burbank at a reasonable time from LAX, around 4:30, was an ugly mistake. Watch La La Land if you want to see what traffic is like on the 405. Instead, I was home by around 7 p.m. after Michael called, worried that I’d crashed or something. “No, just LA traffic.”
We packed up the car and headed out immediately towards Needles, California, where I’d reserved two rooms in a lodge by the Colorado River. I barely remember the hotel we stayed in that first night, except that it reminded us of Breaking Bad and there was drops of blood on the stairs. Wild-eyed young women and men kept emerging from the shadows as I walked Jack at 1 a.m.. Jack, ever alert for lurking monsters and other potential dangers, crept along the rocky, dusty terrain next to the hotel and alongside the river. Needles turned out to be a casino town, the kind where you can plainly see one of the many ways big corporations take full advantage of those who live on the line.
In the morning, Michael and I hit the road en route to Flagstaff, Arizona, our second stopover. We would be getting into town around 1 p.m., which meant many hours to kill there Wednesday before heading on to Telluride the next day. I bought beer and sat in the dark watching the horror show on Fox News that was Donald Trump’s immigration speech in Phoenix. This was be the night when many Americans at last realized just what we were in for with Trump as our potential leader. For many other Americans, it was the night they decided that, yes, they wanted to “Make America Great Again” by kicking out 11 million immigrants — 11 million murderers, thieves, and rapists, to hear Trump tell it — as our “last chance” to restore law and order.
Somehow putting that nightmare out of our heads for the next leg our journey, we finally made it to Telluride the next night, checking into our rented condo, which we would be sharing with Mark Johnson from Awards Circuit. Mark kindly bought some beer and wine. We sat out on the balcony taking in the view of Telluride, with the melodies of an acoustic band spilling out into the small valley from one of the restaurants down below.
In Telluride the mountains stand guard over the building and houses nestled at their feet. Everyone here says hello and almost everyone has a dog. Roiling clusters of clouds move in by the hour, churn around each other before dropping rain, or else moving on to douse another valley, another paradise. Having just come from the dirty mean streets of New York, the sparkling clean, rain-washed Rocky Mountain high of Colorado feels like a trip to a different planet. Here it is quiet all of the time. It is pitch-black dark and you can see the stars. Billions of them. I don’t really remember what else happened that night except that there was a choice between going to a bar or hitting a soft bed. That wasn’t a hard decision, despite how it’s always nice to see great people face-to-face whom we usually only know through Twitter.
The next morning was the Patron’s Brunch, which I skipped on account of the rain. A few hours later, La La Land was the Patron’s secret screening at the Chuck Jones Theatre. Out of the blue, sometimes you end up in a gondola with a movie star. For me, this time around, it was Jennifer Garner with some friends who were eating some kind of Mexican food, apologizing for it the whole way. There is usually one person who does all the talking in the gondola. Most everyone else kind of just sits there, as if trapped in a surreal elevator. Since we had a famous person in our midst, there was no picture taking.
The problem I was having, though, was the tears. I had become so accustomed, in years past, to arriving back at the condo where teenagers would be waiting. During the day, the girls would wasted time in that wonderful way they have that drives parents mad. Laptops open, candy wrappers on the floor, lids of jars left on the counter with open jars next to them. So when I passed Lisa Taback in line to get into La La Land and she kindly asked after my daughter and what the drop off was like, my eyes started to well up. “I can’t talk about it or I’ll start crying.” Stupid, silly, girly tears that I could not stop.
My friend Tomris Laffly walked into the theater with me. I didn’t want to be this person. I wanted to be strong and resilient and reliably workmanlike. I didn’t want to be a soggy mess of self doubt and regrettable crying jags in front of hundreds of people. As it happens, the convenient thing about La La Land and Manchester by the Sea and the next morning, Sully, crying was perfectly fine, fully allowed. And cry I did. At all three films. Like a broken faucet bursting.
Later that day I got a text from my daughter that said, “Mom are you up?” I texted her immediately back, worrying something might be wrong. “Nothing,” she said. “I just wanted to call.” Probably nothing has ever surprised me more than my daughter wanting to call me but I guess this is how it goes when they grow up. They may actually miss their ubiquitous, annoying parent. We FaceTimed for a while. I held the phone to show her Jack sleeping next to me. I showed her the condo, room to room, and the view of Telluride. She was having fun, lots to do, a great roommate and had even bought her own groceries — ramen, eggs, pasta. But, she said, she couldn’t stop the tears. She was homesick, she missed me and the cats and Jack and her bedroom. “I know,” I told her. “Those are growing pains. Remember growing pains? Your legs would hurt for a long time but then one morning your legs would be longer?” I don’t think that’s actually scientifically accurate about growing pains but that’s what I told her because it sounded right.
We said good bye and that was that. It might get easier but right now I feel it will probably never again be as fun as it’s been for the last 18 years. The only three films I’ve seen so far have all been exceptional. Even if I’m a non-stop soggy wreck of girly tears, I also feel lucky. Lucky to be here. Lucky to be able to be here. Lucky to have raised such a great kid. Lucky to watch her go off to NYU. More luck than any one person deserves.
Tributes and screenings and parties it’s all there waiting for the partaking. That part of me that can’t let go has to grim up and get to it. Time is all we have.