A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early January, 1993
by Richard Grayson
Friday, January 1, 1993
7 PM. I shut off MTV at precisely a few minutes before midnight, as I wanted to ignore the hoopla from Times Square at the start of the new year.
The only difference a new year makes for me is that I inaugurate a new diary. I guess this is number 25.
I’ve been waiting till tomorrow, when Mom will be away at work, before taking down my banker’s box of diaries because I need the stepladder to do that.
But I probably won’t start browsing through old diaries when I put my 1992 journal away. When I get back to Gainesville I plan to look at my ’80s diary manuscript and see if I really want to submit it to the AWP Award Series in creative nonfiction.
The only nostalgia I indulged in today came a couple hours ago, when I took down the huge loose-leaf binder of my autographed Time covers that Mom made.
The folder included letters from politicians responding to requests for information or letters I wrote asking them about issues (Sen. Robert Kennedy on aid to starving Biafrans, Sen. Jack Javits on investigating the John Birch Society, Rep. John Murphy on air pollution, etc.).
Some of these letters date as far back as 1965, when I was only 14.
That was the year Malcolm X was assassinated, and this afternoon I went to the movie Malcolm X at the Pines multiplex.
Spike Lee did such a good job that the three hours and 20 minutes flew by, and Denzel Washington was brilliant as Malcolm.
I cried so much near the end that any discomfort caused by my contact lenses was washed away by my tears.
It’s odd to think I’m so old that I was able to hear Ossie Davis’ original eulogy at the funeral on TV. Now that’s part of history to people who weren’t born then – not just kids but their parents who are in their mid-twenties.
I’ve finished the first three chapters (about 175 pages) of the Derrick Bell text for Race and Race Relations Law. I’m really glad I’m going to get the chance to study and learn more about the struggles of African-Americans.
Exactly 20 years ago I took my only Afro-American Studies course at Brooklyn College – Professor Mayer teaching black American literature before 1920.
I think about the terrible racism that still exists and the homophobia now rampant, evident in gay-bashing and the Colorado amendment that denies gay people the right to sue for discrimination.
Forget about the dozens of wars all over this planet – just here in the U.S., sometimes it seems people would just as soon kill you as look at you.
I wish I could be optimistic, but I know people too well. This isn’t a very pretty thought to begin 1993, yet sometimes I can’t help feeling that people who die are the lucky ones.
Last night I was thinking about when I’ll die. I’m not so much afraid of dying as I am of suffering, and if I knew I’d go quickly – like in an accident where I’d die instantly – it wouldn’t bother me.
I’m afraid I couldn’t handle the pain endured by people dying of AIDS and other terminal illnesses.
But you know what? I know I could. Plenty of people do it every day.
Boy, this has gone from despair over the condition of humankind to unhealthy morbidity.
Or is it healthy to think about death? That’s got to be better than doing what my father does: the old ostrich syndrome.
Knowing the impermanence of life makes me appreciate today, this hour, this minute, this feeling more than I otherwise would.
Animals like China and the rabbits don’t know they’re going to die – or do they? And if not, is that a blessing or a curse?
Well, I’m resorting to the hoariest of clichés as I, a 42-year-old (almost) man talks like that 14-year-old boy who wrote U.S. Senators about air pollution.
Let’s get silly instead of ponderous. I’m grinning as I write this wearing a favorite T-shirt that’s mustard yellow and has a spiral definition of “Introspect” (“to examine one’s own mind or its contents; to look into oneself reflectively”).
See, it’s no accident Dad works for Introspect and gave me this shirt. On the other hand, if accidents exist, let’s hope for good ones in the coming year.
Saturday, January 2, 1993
It’s just Saturday, midnight. This Friday night may have been the start of a terrible tragedy – or the conclusion of one – or just farce, which would also be sad.
Mom came to me around 8 PM after Clarissa had called her. Marc was supposed to drop Jason off at the movies and then return. But he never returned; Clarissa called his house and found he was stoned.
She told Mom she loves Marc but can’t deal with a drug addict because her first husband was one. Marc does coke by himself, quietly, and in huge quantities.
Mom asked my advice – if she should take a hard line like Clarissa, who told Marc they were through.
My comments were probably stupid, and I got caught in the desire to shake up my parents and Jonathan, who responded by attacking me.
I told Mom that if she didn’t want to hear my answer, then she shouldn’t have asked my advice.
Later I could hear people sounding frantic. Jeff said Marc never brought China home, and someone else saw Marc leave his apartment without China.
Jonathan became hysterical, even though Marshall is here (for once, I appreciate Marshall’s laid-back, jokey manner), more worried about the dog than about Marc.
Dad drove over to the apartment complex, and Mom dialed his friends, none of whom have seen him or China.
So everyone is probably imagining the worst – that one or both, Marc and China, are dead somewhere.
I don’t know how often this happens, but apparently Marc’s counselor moved away months ago and he never resumed therapy, which seemed to have helped.
He fears the end of the flea market business and doesn’t think he can handle being the Introspect salesman.
My parents – our parents – never were able to let go. In making everything easy for us, they ended up making everything so much harder. Jonathan claims he’s so advanced spiritually, but he’s terrified of change.
Perhaps the worst outcome would be if Marc and China turn up okay and everyone goes back to ignoring the situation.
I can see why I’ve drifted through life, too, never feeling I was worthy of success, a good job, a good relationship – but at least my addictions won’t kill me.
It will be hard for anyone to sleep tonight, but I’m going to try.
10 AM. Marc walked in with China an hour ago. He never went home last night and this morning my parents and Jonathan were frantic.
I was worried and imagined the worst, but I also know this kind of binge and disappearance is typical of alcoholics and addicts.
I stayed in my room as I listened to my parents’ wailing words of relief and encouragement, like Dad’s usual homilies.
If the pain of this experience lessens to the point where they all write it off as an aberration, it will only happen again.
They need to understand that substance abuse is a family problem. I always thought Marc is the least “crazy” of all of them, the way I was the least “crazy” when I acted so crazily as a teenager.
Marc is lying down now.
I told Mom and Jonathan that they and Dad need to go to therapy, too. Back in Gainesville, I should also get therapy.
But I know how it is not to feel so bad that I can put it off till a day that never comes. Maybe I can speak about this to Billy or to Marty Peters.
I don’t have to deal with my family on a day-to-day basis, but I deal with them even when I’m alone and 350 miles away.
7:30 PM. I tried to exercise but couldn’t manage to get very far. My stomach was upset all day.
However, late in the afternoon, I took the Cougar, popped my Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway tape in the car’s cassette player, and drove along I-75 and south on the Turnpike Extension, the way I used to do when I taught at schools in South Dade.
I thought seeing the devastation of Hurricane Andrew would help me realize how good I have it compared to the people whose homes and businesses were destroyed.
There was a lot of destruction still evident along Quail Roost Drive and the side streets. Debris was piled up in front of many homes and I saw buildings that were completely destroyed.
Signs advertising construction workers and help finding missing persons and for turning on power stood along U.S. 1, where I found a McDonald’s to have lunch.
(One McDonald’s I used to pass when I taught at a junior high was totally demolished).
So many months after the hurricane struck, it was hard to imagine how bad things were in August.
On the other hand, I’d seen worse on TV, and sometimes seeing things in real life seems second-hand.
My stomach felt queasy and I wondered if I’d have a panic attack on my drive back to Broward, but I never did.
After spending an hour at the South Regional Library, I came home. Marc is still here, lying on the couch, obviously a bit drained, but basically everything’s back to “normal” (i.e., it’s the usual sick atmosphere).
I’m not hopeful my brothers and parents will make good on their resolutions to seek psychological help. The truth is my parents are too comfortable with the dysfunctional family to risk change.
Sadly, Marc (or China) would have had to fare worse because only then would the trauma be great enough for them to all seek therapy. They’ll deny and deny.
If Marc is lucky, Clarissa won’t take him back, and that might shock him into rehab or a twelve-step group or counseling.
But in 48 hours, Allah willing, I’ll be back in Gainesville, and out of this world of my ex-nuclear family.
Sunday, January 3, 1993
7 PM. Marc slept over last night, and although he spent much of the day resting, he seems better. In fact, he offered to drive me to Gainesville.
As much as I’d prefer not to drive up alone, I don’t like the idea of Marc having to drive back to South Florida by himself when he’s vulnerable.
He spoke to Clarissa today; the way I know is he told me Jason hung around the airport all morning, getting bumped from two flights (not to get free tickets but to avoid going back to school).
But Marc’s birthday is Thursday (I already mailed his card) and he shouldn’t have to drive from Gainesville to Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday.
Besides, I don’t really mind the long drive although today I found myself feeling some of the same heavy anxiety or dread I usually associate with long plane rides.
Once I get in the car, I’ll be fine, and once I’m in Gainesville, I’ll be busy.
Last night HBO ran Oliver Stone’s JFK, which put me to sleep after 2½ hours. I have no way of verifying any of the allegations about the assassination that Jim Garrison and others presented.
Oswald probably didn’t act alone, but not everyone from the CIA to Cubans to the Mafia to GE and LBJ could have been involved.
I slept soundly. Today was the umpteenth rainy day in a row. The first week I was here, the weather was beautiful, but the people who came on vacation this past week certainly didn’t see much sun.
I read the Sunday papers (the Times raised its price to $3.50) and used Jonathan’s weights in the garage and did laundry and packed and watched David Brinkley’s show on the coming to power of us baby boomers.
In the afternoon I got stuck on A1A in Fort Lauderdale, where the construction moved traffic into one lane – but I got a chance to stare at the ocean, which is what I’d gone there for.
On my way home, I had to pee badly, so I stopped off at the Main Library, and while I was parked for free, I decided to visit the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art (admission was $4 for students with ID).
The big exhibit was a collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s nineteenth-century French paintings (probably a lot they never show because very few of the Manets, Monets, Pisarros, Seurats, Renoirs, etc., looked familiar from New York). They had the same AcoustiGuide tapes Larry services at the Met.
Upstairs, I wandered among the rainy-Sunday crowd to look at paintings from their permanent collection, including their vast CoBrA holdings, whose jaunty vibrancy I appreciate.
There was also an exhibit of nineteenth-century French photography: mostly portraits (a great one of George Sand), landscapes and architecture. I especially liked a cyan process on a couple of them that resulted in a blue photo.
Back home, I found that Mom got me a pair of Reeboks at the flea market. They fit fine.
Monday, January 4, 1993
9 PM. I got back here to my apartment in Gainesville just three hours ago. Naturally, I’ve been busy catching up, and now I’m so tired I’ll probably fall asleep without having read most of today’s New York Times.
Oh well, if I have insomnia the way I did last night, I’ve got plenty to do.
Last evening I watched HBO’s presentation of Nora Ephron’s This Is My Life, based on This Is Your Life, the novel Meg Wolitzer worked on when we were at MacDowell together in 1987.
I enjoyed the film, as did Marc and our parents, and then I went to bed but not, alas, to sleep.
I slept just enough to avoid distress, and at 8 AM this morning, I worked out to Body Electric and then began getting ready to leave.
Dad drove me to the airport at 10 AM and I rented a Ford Tempo from Hertz, which gave me trouble because I couldn’t start the engine when I returned to the car after going to buy the paper. Dad, Marc and Jonathan tried to help, and somehow I got it started again.
But it was only later in the day, after stopping and starting the car, that I realized the key would work only if turned one way in the door and the other way in the ignition. Weird.
China seemed to look sorrowful about my leaving although I probably was projecting.
I said goodbye to my brothers, inviting them to visit me anytime, and I hugged my parents, who did feel bad I was leaving, and I drove off before noon.
This trip took me as long as the trip down – about 6½ hours – but I knew I could do it, and I didn’t take a Triavil and didn’t have a moment of anxiety, not even during a torrential downpour before the Fort Pierce service area.
Feeling it was better to be safe than sorry, I pulled over at nearly every rest stop to use the bathroom and I stopped at Fort Pierce along with many others to wait out the downpour.
It rained on and off after that, with sunny skies only around Orlando.
I stopped to eat the cheese sandwich and a banana I’d packed, and after I got off the Turnpike at the Wildwood terminus, I went to Wendy’s off I-75 for a baked potato, knowing I’d be back home in an hour.
I listened to NPR stations except from 1 to 3 PM, when I had my little TV tuned in to ABC’s soaps (first Channel 25 in West Palm and then I switched to Channel 9 in Orlando).
There were tons of UF students on the highway with me (I could tell by the parking decals), as well as FSU and FAMU students returning to Tallahassee.
My apartment looked okay, and my car started, and there were no important phone messages.
The mail included the same news that I’m a phony sweepstakes finalist that I got in Fort Lauderdale; bills from Household Visa, Gainesville Regional Utilities, and AmEx; Christmas cards from Libby and Grant, Bob and Estelle, Kevin Urick and others.
I need to save everyone’s address because I apparently did lose my address book. Reconstructing it will be a royal pain; I’d better put it on computer, too, so I don’t screw up again.
I have a lot of paperwork stuff to do over the next week – but I like keeping busy.
When I called Mom to let her know I’d arrived safely, she said Chase Manhattan sent word that my loan checks were at UF – but I expected that.
It’s been raining hard here, but it was 70° when I got into town. I’m ready to rock and roll.
Tuesday, January 5, 1993
3 PM. I feel sick. My chest is all congested, as if I’m starting to get a cold even though my colds usually start with a postnasal drip and sore throat.
I slept poorly again, getting up at 2:30 AM and not being able to get back to sleep except for an hour between 5 and 6 AM.
Part of me remembers how sick I got in January 1980, when I returned to Rockaway after spending Christmas with my family in Davie.
I know that separation anxiety was the reason I had a weak immune system then. But since that time, I’ve lived on my own a lot, so shouldn’t I be over that separation anxiety?
Come to think of it, when I lived with my parents for six months and went to Rockaway in May 1991, I almost immediately came down with a bad cold.
I often got sick when I traveled between New York and South Florida, as the stress of uprooting myself took its toll.
Well, I’ve taken a batch of vitamins, I’ve got two zinc lozenges in my mouth now, and I plan to rest.
I tried to do too much, and as usual, I wasn’t very efficient. In fact, I kept taking wrong turns with the rental car and even got lost going to the airport to return it.
When I drove the Bonneville, it felt awkward, but as with everything else, I’ve got to give myself time to adjust.
I did go shopping at Publix and Walmart, mailed out my requests for student loan deferments, bought the additional texts for Legal Drafting and Nunn’s classes, and started filling out a new address book. Unfortunately, some phone numbers, like Wesley Strick’s, are irreplaceable.
I forced myself to exercise, but I felt weak this morning. Now I realize I’m probably coming down with a virus.
Well, I guess it’s better to begin the term sick so it can only go uphill from here. Uphill? Is that the word I want? My mind is so foggy.
I went to Santa Fe to pick up my last paycheck; they took off $23 for missing one class.
God, I feel like a mess. It hurts every time I swallow – but in my chest, not my throat.
I can’t be upset about grades being posted in two hours, can I? That would be an easy explanation but it doesn’t make sense.
I can’t even remember my exam number: Was it 2084, 2184, 2048, 2148?
The only way I’ll be able to tell is to see if there’s a similar number registered for all my classes.
Slobogin, Smith and McGilvray-Saltzman posted assignments for the first class, but I don’t have Smith’s casebook yet, as it wasn’t at the two bookstores I went to.
At school, I spoke with Darin, Bob, Lori, Lawrence, Sharon and others.
Why do I feel so bad? Maybe I have a fever? Or am I just hysterical? I feel fidgety: even though I need to rest, I don’t want to sit still.
7 PM. I’m feeling slightly better although I’m not sure I can fight off this bug.
My grades were good – those that were posted, anyway. I went to school at 5:30 PM and had a hard time getting close enough to the bulletin board to see anything.
But the last number in Baldwin’s Political and Civil Rights class was 2184, and it had an A next to it. I found the same number in Seigel’s Evidence – a B – and I got an A in Family Law. Julin’s grades haven’t been posted yet.
Last May I had a similar situation when I had a high index that got knocked down by late C+’s, but I’ve got the grades for 10 of my 12 credits now, and even if I got a C in Natural Resources, my GPA wouldn’t go down.
I’m almost more pleased with the B in Evidence, a class I hated, than with my two A’s, although I feel I could have done that well in both classes.
In any case, my GPA is over 3.3, and if I get a B from Julin, this will be the first time that I get “very high honors” or whatever it is people get for going over 3.5.
Martin got an A from Baldwin, of course, but Marsha got a B.
Barbara Goldstein told me she’s teaching American Lit for Nova in Ocala (“It’s better than going to Jacksonville”) so maybe I’ll be able to teach the class in Gainesville in March.
I stood around schmoozing with Doug K, Ana, Kevin M and others, and then I went to UBS and bought my Estate and Trusts text, Gratuitous Transfers.
I managed to get all my texts on the MasterCard and Visa although I probably have no available credit left now.
When I told Mom about my grades, she said, “And you were working, too!”
But it’s sad how I have to check the board twice when I get an A. Is it that I feel I don’t deserve it?
I worked really hard last term, not for any hope of a brilliant and lucrative legal career, but because I enjoyed doing it and I felt pride in my work.