Month: May 2015

teeter totter (6)

The first call from Renee went something like this:

“You have reached the voice mail box of 818-555-6277.  Please leave a detailed message at the tone.”


“This is Renee Basio … ” She hung up mid-message.


“You have reached the voice mail box of 818-555-6277.  Please leave a detailed message at the tone.”

>same tone<

“Answer your phone…chicken shit.”

When the phone buzzed in my hand for a third time, I answered and said:

“Hi Renee.”

“What are you doing right now?” she asked.

I was a little taken aback by the familiarity in her tone so I stuttered out my answer “I was writing in my journal.”  About you.

“Do you do that often?”

“No.” I lied “It’s something new I’m trying.” I have been filling journals for three decades now.  But I’m not going to tell her that, in case she wants to read them.

“Lets go get coffee.” she suggested.

“I’m not much of a coffee drinker….”

“Stop it.  I think we should sit down and talk.”

“It’s just that I don’t actually like coffee…”

“Forget coffee. Name a place. I don’t care.”

“Well, maybe some other time but I -”

“I googled you.” she said shortly.

“Oh.” was how I responded.  What else could I say?  She’s well informed now.

Google retrieves 1.6 million results for my name alone.

48 million for Jared’s.

The murder/suicide was reported in 219 countries all with online newspapers and facebook pages and twitters and so on and on connected to the world wide web.  If she read even just the headlines, she knows all there is to know about me by now.

The internet is quite the proving ground for my backstory.

Because I didn’t know what else to say and because I figured I owed her as much, I agreed to meet her at the Gratitude Cafe for platitudes, pressed juice and a muffin the next morning.  She was itching to meet that same afternoon but I had to draw the line somewhere.  Tomorrow was soon enough.  This way I can shower and prep myself.  Change my clothes. Brush my teeth.  All the things I generally neglect as habit these days.

At a wobbly white table positioned randomly on the sidewalk between the window to the interior dinning space and some wild ground-level planters, Renee and I shared an awkward informal reintroduction to one another where our menu screamed “I AM…” in front of us and we both filled in the blank with such lovely descriptors as dead inside, misunderstood, nosey and the one that gave life to a new friendship: sick of being alone all the time.

“I understand now why you came to my meeting.” she said when we were sipping our savory green smoothies and nibbling blueberry scones.  “It really was very kind of you to reach out to me.  I’m sorry I was such a bitch about it.”

I picked a rogue blueberry off my plate and tossed it in my mouth.  And then I chewed it slowly to buy myself time to gather my thoughts.  Then I said “There’s no nobility here. I just witnessed conversation you should most definitely be made aware of and I set out to, I don’t know, enlighten you.” I swished around my neon green fresh pressed veggie-filled concoction and took a big sip.  When half a garden’s worth of slop settled in my gut I continued “Because I’d want to know if I was the talk of the town.  Still.”

“I know.” she said softly.

“Frankly speaking and if I were you, I’d tell everyone to fuck right off.”

“Oh you would, would you?  You have a piece of something that looks like spinach in your teeth.”

“Kale.” I said and I used my knife as a mirror to help me locate the rogue veg.  “Tell those bastards to mind their own business.  Such busy bodies.”

“Sure.  So tell me more about what you’d say if you were me?”

“Well more than likely I’d apologize profusely for my inability to play the game properly and beg for forgiveness with a promise to never ever mention my dead family ever again as long as they promised to still cut me the check from the gofundme account.  But that’s just me.  And well, since you’ve googled me, you probably already know all about the gofundme campaign someone set up for me.”

I slurped the foam off the top of my cup while Renee gathered her thoughts.  She didn’t acknowledge the elephant I just dragged in to the room kicking and screaming. Or is that hooting and hollering?  Roaring and stomping?  Fucking elephants.

“They raised $67,000 with mine.” she confessed.

“Two-hundred sixty seven.”

“Thousand?” Renee asked.


“Wow.  I’m impressed.”

“I donated it to Faith’s preschool.”

Renee raised an eyebrow. So I continued “We had life insurance and well…the inheritance was…it was….enough.”  I could feel my face blushing.  The gofundme thing was really strange to me.  But I guess people needed something to do while I was recovering.  It made his fans feel better to donate $25 towards medical bills or whatever.  And that was very important to me – how they felt.  Thats why I’ve kept my mouth shut all this time. To protect him. That was one day in his life.  One lousy hour.  It should not be his legacy.  Everything good he did before that moment is still valid.  One day shouldn’t redefine a lifetime.

Jared, long ago, arranged everything so that I would never need the charity of others.  He was a smart investor and a generous husband.  But then again, he shot me, so maybe people thought he’d done away with all that.  And in that case, a gofundme is appropriate.

“Oh, right.” she said.

“So what are you going to do? You know, now that you know what people are saying about you?” I asked a few minutes later.

“I guess I’m going to make a few appearances at Pepper’s and then I’m going to move on with my life.  As stupid as this all is, it is in a twisted sort of way, the exact kick in the pants I need to pack all of this crap up and get out of my own head.”

“Where will you go?”

“Who knows? But for now, I need out from under this microscope at the very least.”

Renee and I chatted for about two hours more that morning.  About everything but Tom and Jared.  It was nice for a change.  We had zero expectations or judgements for one another.  And it was really really…nice.  Just to be in the company of another human and not be wearing our separate tragedies like neon signs above our heads.  For a few hours we were just Renee and AnnaLynn – out to brunch.  And it was really nice.

teeter totter (5)

For several days after the encounter in the parking lot, I beat myself up for telling Renee my secret. How could I be so stupid?  I moved to the hills for anonymity and here I am blabbing to the first warm body I encounter my entire backstory.  I’m an idiot.  And I don’t think being that vulnerable helped any.  She hasn’t come out of her house again.  Not from what I’ve heard at least.

Being a busy body is never a good idea.

What the hell was I thinking?

I know better than to try and fix someone else’s life.  Especially when mine is such a fucking mess.

Who do I think I am?

It’s like I haven’t learned a thing in the past year.  I still make really bad spur of the moment choices.

When will I learn?

Apparently this affinity I have for flirting with trouble isn’t going anywhere no matter how many pills the doctor prescribes.

Speaking of pills, I totally blame that medication for my risky behavior.  If not for all this numbness, I’d be elbow deep in paint instead of all up in Renee’s business.  Gossip is for the mindless and that’s just who I am anymore.  A drone living on Wonderland Avenue but acting like it’s Wisteria Lane.  Yay me.  From artist to gossip.  What a climb!

I have to learn to deal with this numb feeling sooner or later because I’m not going off the medication any time soon.  We all know how I am when I’m off my medication. Creative, sure.  Crazy? Hell yeah!  It aint pretty.  And I learned the hard way how my moods and actions and words can make someone else feel.  It’s not good.  In fact, it’s deadly.

I needled the man I love.  The father of my child.  To the point where he was so raw that the only way he could make the pain stop, was to end all of our lives.  Imagine that?  The only way out, so he thought, was for us all to die.  Clearly, my sickness became his sickness and it destroyed us all.

And I don’t ever want to go there again.  I don’t even want to talk about it, really.  Though I probably should talk about it.  I probably should have therapy sessions four or five hours a day, where all I do is talk about it, instead of twice a week.

In fact, I probably should be in a padded room with no visitors allowed since I’m the one who made all of this happen anyway.  I’m not a victim.  It’s my fault. My disease destroyed him.  It destroyed our child.  And there’s nothing I can do about any of it now.  I just have to live like this, with this, forever.

Renee has the right idea.  Lock the doors.  Draw the blinds.  Don’t let anyone in.  Never go out.  Let them come.  What they’ve got for her could never be as bad as what she does to herself day in and day out. This I know to be true.

No 51-50 will cure her of what ails her.  This thing, that Renee and I share, is a life sentence.  With no room for appeal.  It’s armageddon for your soul.  Death of not just our loved ones, but of everything.  Every single thing we ever wanted or dreamed or worked towards.  Poof.  Gone in an instant.  And all that remains is the grief.

But I’ll tell you a little secret.  The grief: it aint all bad.  When your heart is aching, when the tears fall, you can tell you’re alive for a moment.  The numbness gives way to aches and pains that are, believe it or not, comforting.  We welcome it.  Aches and pains are a connection to them. It’s a tether.  A lifeline.  If I can mourn you.  You are still a you.  Somebody. In a way at least.  More than just a loss. You’re not yet a memory.  You’re current.  A current.  An emotion that I can feel. Something to connect to.  Electricity.

Can you see why I should have just stayed away from Renee?  Not said a word?  I felt bad listening to the gossip from people who don’t have a fucking clue.  But I think, maybe, butting my nose in was a mistake.  At least at this stage.

Believe it or not my cell phone is ringing.  And you’ll never guess who’s on the line.  Why she’d be calling me, and how she got my phone number, is a mystery.  I’m afraid to answer it.  What should I say?  What can I say?


teeter totter (4)

Renee sucked in her breath and walked back towards me.  “I thought you looked familiar.”

“I’m sorry about earlier. I didn’t mean to intrude on your group.  I know these meetings can be really important.”

“It’s rather obnoxious of you.”

“I know. I just … I didn’t know how else to meet you.”

“You could have rang my doorbell.”

“Would you have answered?  Invited me in?”


We were silent for a moment.  Standing face to face on the pavement in a rain soaked parking lot.  And then she said.  “Jared shot you.”


“And obviously you survived…but how?” Renee asked.

“Yes. Four surgeries and a lot of prayers.”

“Wow. What happened?”

I sat down on the hood of the strangers car next to Renee.  “He lost his mind.” I say softly.  I’m not here to tell my story, but I think if I open up, maybe she will too.

“I guess we do have something in common then.”

“I’m worried about you.”  I say.  Finally broaching the reason I followed her in the first place.

“About me?” Renee stood up.  Defensive again.  “I don’t understand.”

“You’re the talk of the town.”

“Oh that?  Who cares?”

“It’s not positive talk.”

“To be honest, I don’t give a shit about any of that.  Let the girls gossip.”

“It’s more than that.  Renee, they want to institutionalize you.”

Renee’s face showed a flash of concern but then she responded stoically “Well, that’s a bit dramatic.  Don’t you think?”

“Yes but do you think … do you think you might need that level of help?”

“No.  I have my group.  And I’m doing a hell of a lot better than most of the idiots in there.” She motions back towards the library.  “That’s quite ballsy of everybody to pass judgment.”

“I figured they were taking it too far.”

“Who’s they?  Who do you know that I know?”


“Oh … her.” Renee said dismissively.

I was surprised by that. I thought they were close – best friends even.

“She talks like you’re best friends.” I said.

“I’ve known her forever.  But I don’t know if we’ve ever really been friends.” Renee paces a little in front of me.  I stand up too.  The rain was starting to gather around my bum.  “She’s been stabbing me in the back right and left for years.”

“Some friend.”

“Yes.  But it was never anything big so I always just let it roll off my back.  Took a break from her but then, I don’t know, she’s always been so easy to talk to and available that I … well I guess I misjudged how far she would go with that mouth.  She never could keep a secret.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.  Another one bites the dust.”

“What are you going to do about the gossip?”

“I’m not going to do a thing.  Let them come for me.”

“But – ”

“I mean, come on … come and get me! I lost my whole family in one fucking afternoon!”

“I know.  I know.”

“I have to go home…AnnaLynn? It was nice to meet you officially but… I gotta go.  I just have to.”

“I’m sorry!” I offered as she scurried away.

As I climbed in to my car and slipped the keys in to the ignition, I thought to myself well, now she knows. And what she does with that information is up to her.  She at least wont be shocked if the men in the white coats come knocking on her door.  What else can I do?

teeter totter (3)

After the meeting I tried my very best to scurry out of the classroom and to my car but Renee caught up with me by a bike rack.  Unable to chicken out now, I turned around and let her have at me.

“Who are you really?” she asked when she was a few steps behind me. “And what do you want?”

I knew coming out here to her meeting in a town neither of us live in was violating some kind of code.  This is most definitely her safe place.  Chosen for anonymity.  Obviously.  And under the cloak of that anonymity she could be honest and heal. But after hearing all that crap from Pepper, I felt like I had to do something.  And I thought here would be the right place to talk to her. The only place she might hear me out.

I’m quite the asshole tonight, but I’m an asshole with good intentions.

“I’m sorry to tread on your turf Renee. My name is AnnaLynn and I live near – ”

She cut me off mid-sentence. “I recognize you … from somewhere. Did you follow me here?”

“Yes.  Sort of.”

Renee’s face lit up with fury. “Why the hell would you do that?”

“Because I -”

“Are you spying on me?”

I tried to respond with a friendly tone.  Take the intensity down a notch. “God no. It’s actually pretty embarrassing but I think we need to talk.”


“Can we talk?

“About what?”  she’s agitated and I don’t blame her.

I didn’t know where to start so I said “I think you need a friend.”  sheepishly.

“I have plenty of those, thank you.”  She started rustling through her purse for her keys. I’m losing her quickly and I know its only a matter of seconds before she walks away for good.

“I know what you’re going through and why you drive all the way out here for these meetings every week. I think if we talked you’d see that I can relate because – ”

“No you can’t.  You couldn’t possibly know a thing about -”

“I know exactly how you feel Renee because – ”

This isn’t going well and we keep cutting each other off.  It’s awkward and it’s starting to rain again and I’m beginning to doubt that I made the right decision to come here tonight.  She’s right. Who the hell am I?

“Oh yeah?  You know how it feels to go to sleep one night, with your head on your husband’s shoulder and wake up a widow?! I highly doubt you can relate to that!?” Renee growls.

Apparently I’m an arrogant busy body who doesn’t know the first thing about anything. She’s partially right about that, I am an arrogant busy body.  But hopefully I’m an arrogant busy body with a past that gives me a pass tonight.

I mean well, I promise. I’m just not sure how to convey that to Renee.  So far all I’ve been able to get across is that I am all sorts of up in her business.  Uninvited.

“Yes.  I understand what you’re going through.”

Renee shakes her head and plants her open palm on her hip bone. “Oh please.” she says.

“I know how it feels to lose everything.” I plead.

“Oh you do now?” Renee snorts “Give me a break. You couldn’t possibly know what I’m going through.”  Renee starts to walk away yet again, the parking lot now coated in fresh rain.  “I think you’re a real jerk.” she says to me over my shoulder.

I just look down at the pavement.  I can’t argue with that. Only a jerk would invite themselves inside someone else’s nightmare.  But I know I’m not wrong about her.  Renee needs a friend now more than ever.  And none of those people who pass through her front door qualify as such.

“My name is AnnaLynn Leto.” I shouted after her. Renee stopped walking. The name pinging in her brain. “My husband shot me, then our daughter and then himself two years ago.” I said.

Recognition settled in her shoulders, I could tell my last name meant something to her, the details of my tragedy were familiar somehow, but the full story eluded her.

She turned around as I said “Jared Leto was my husband.”

“Jared Leto?  The actor?”


“He…He played The Joker in all those movies?  He won an Oscar?” she stuttered.


“Oh my God.” she gasped. And it all clicked in to place for Renee.


teeter totter (2)

“Why don’t you tell the group what you’re feeling today?”  The counselor, a kid with fresh ink on his degree, asks my recovery group.

“I’m feeling fine …. today.”  Renee responds.

“Fucked-up Insecure Neurotic and Emotional” some one to her left teases.

“Precisely.” Renee mumbles.  Then she continues in a louder voice “I’m feeling ok. More ok than I’ve been in quite some time … I think I’m over some hump in the grieving continuum.  Today might be the first day since … that I can honestly say, I feel like I’m alive.  I didn’t die.  And that part doesn’t hurt today.”

“That’s fantastic Renee…anyone else have anything to contribute?”

“I wasn’t done speaking.” Renee interjects.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” the kid-counselor stutters. “Continue…”

“I forget what I was going to say.”

“I …” the counselor is at a loss for words so he flips his notes as if looking for the answer to what to do when you fuck up progress in mid-stream.

“I know what you were going to say…” I throw out there.  “That you can feel the weight of your own body again and you can breathe easier.  Everything isn’t so heavy for once.”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“That’s a great way to describe it.” someone else in the circle of folding chairs remarks.

“What’s your name again?” Renee asks me.

“Faith.” I lie.  My name is AnnaLynn.  My daughter’s name is … was … Faith.  Until my husband shot her.  Then me.  And an hour after, when he thought we were most definitely beyond all hope, himself.  In an incomplete murder-suicide.

“And why are you here?” she asks, admittedly sounding a bit suspicious of me for some reason.

“I’m here because … well … I thought I had it all figured out.  That I was doing ok and then you … what happened to your family …. happened and I’m right back to day one of my journey again.”

“Your journey.  What exactly are you ….”

“Ok ladies – lets make this a little less personal and broaden the scope to include all members of the group. Martin, why don’t you tell us how you’re feeling today.”

“Well.  I don’t think I know.  I don’t have any of that weight they were talking about.  I think I don’t feel anything.  At all.  I’m just one big air filled sack of nothing.”

“And is that a good thing or a…” the counselor asks.

Martin, and the rest of us to be honest, give the counselor major side eye for his stupid comment.  All of us except Renee.  She is fixated on me.  Something about me is familiar.  I think.  Totally wasn’t expecting that.  How does she know my face?


teeter totter

Renee isn’t afraid of the night, it’s the day that bothers her. The sunlight is too bright and it’s already Spring.  She can’t hide behind winter’s gifts, snow drifts and early sunsets, anymore. People have expectations. And she must yield to those demands or she’s breaking some unwritten human code that she was bound to at birth.

One must not grieve too long!

You can take a few weeks reprieve and then it’s time to give up the ghost. For the loss of a child … maybe six months.  The loss of two?  Not a day more.  Your entire family?  Ok … we’ll give you a year but you’re really pushing it at the 8 month mark. Which is exactly where Renee is today.  8 months without them. And now this tight-knit community expects something from her again.  A contribution. Doctors. Therapists. The Priest. The world is waiting for her and it’s exhausting.  Breathing is exhausting.

But at night, when everyone else has gone back to their own lives, their families, the quiet comforts of a normal life, Renee feels safe to surface for a little while.  It’s ok to shuffle around the house in the dark. Have a meal. Water the hanging plants on the front porch. She feels ok in the shadows.  Almost human, though she takes her comfort from the night like some kind of vampire.

Don’t feel sorry for her, not for that reason at least. Renee prefers it this way because Renee doesn’t like feeling judged.  And everyone is judging her lately. For her unwashed hair. Unmowed lawn. Piles of newspapers on the driveway.

It should come as no surprise she has succumbed to this, not after what happened thats for sure.  And it’s not like she doesn’t see the same things everyone else sees. She’s quite aware of the state of things in her life.

Seriously, what do you expect life to look like when someone simply doesn’t give a shit any more?  What should it look like for a person who has every right to not give a shit or two ever again? A fresh trimmed lawn really doesn’t matter a damn in the grand scheme of things. Neither does taking a shower.  You’re just going to get dirty again anyway.  What’s the point?

Unfortunately, the same people who brought Renee casseroles and cookie trays and elaborate floral arrangements are fed up now and they twitter about town whispering behind her back like she doesn’t know how bad she looks from the outside.  And they say her grief is no longer romantic, like a broken heart can often be. It’s psychotic and has gone on far too long according to them.  And these people, with their opinions, have power.  A power that Renee doesn’t want to unleash.  They have the power to put Renee in a padded room.  They’ve threatened her with as much.

This is not healthy.
You are not living.
You need to talk to someone.
You need to get out more.
Come to breakfast with the girls … brunch …. lunch …. drinks… supper…dinner…a nightcap.

But who are they really to say a word about any of it? They’re not the one left behind. They’re not the one left holding all that is left of a family of four in the palm of their hand.  No one understands this kind of pain and Renee prays they never have to. Something like this changes your core.


But I guess I also understand that people are nagging her the way they do because they genuinely care.  They’re worried about her. And there’s no handbook for any of this.  People think all she has to do is put one foot in front of the other and voila…fixed.  It doesn’t work that way.  But I only know this from experience myself.  I used to be just as blissfully unaware as the rest of this town.  I’d give anything to be that naive again.

My advice:  If Renee wants to get everyone off her back for a little while, she should at least make it look like she’s making progress.  She can start by doing something about the house.  Their house, her house now, is one of the bigger models.  The one with his and her master bathrooms.  His and her closets too.  She needs to start taking care of it again.  Maybe just the outside to start. Then work her way into emptying out the garage.  Put big boxes by the curb. Call a charity to do a collection. Sweep it up and put it out.  That will make everyone happy.  No one needs to know what she does with the kids things.  They’re unmentionable.

Start with the house Renee.  Open the windows.  Shake out the cobwebs.  Let in the light.

Pepper Giles, Renee’s BFFE, will tell anyone who asks, all about the shrines Renee has all over the house. Made up of items that you cannot and will not touch. Like John’s closet. John’s suit jackets all face the same way and are color coordinated now.  Obsessive compulsive organization. His t-shirts are folded perfectly on a shelf above, like in a store.  His socks are in neat bundles in a drawer next to Renee’s panties.  Everything is as it never was: perfect.  And never will be again.  In fact, it’s like everyone still lives there.  The kids shoes are in a neat line by the front door just waiting to be slipped on on the way out.  Pepper says it’s as if the kids are off somewhere where they don’t need their shoes instead of six feet under ground. Renee’s shoes are lined up too. Because this time, when they leave, she’s going with them.  There are toys everywhere. Unfinished games.  Half built Lego sets.  A sheet fort.  Sacred spaces.  Shrines.  Vignettes.  Three lifetimes.

No one ever mentions the kids.  Just their things.  Their very visible things. Their backpacks in the den. Their pictures on every surface. Bikes in the garage.  They are still very present inside that house while being so painfully absent every where else.  Renee’s friends need to tuck their memories away while Renee needs everything on display.  It’s her home.  She should be able to live how she wants without people talking about every detail.

I wish everyone would just leave her alone.  Pepper especially.  Keep what you see to yourself. Let the woman grieve.  It seems to me, as an outsider looking in, that what Renee does with her days and her space makes an awful lot of sense. If she’s stuck on yesterday, she doesn’t have to open her eyes to today.  And that’s a comfort in a twisted way. Mourning is the only thing left for this mother to do for her children.  We should let her have that. But what do I know?  I’m new here.  And Renee and I aren’t friends.