I blame myself.
And I almost never do that.
I blame myself for not picking up the clues. Or rather, for ignoring them.
I mean, what paralegal wears a see-through dress to work?
That was a sign I ignored.
So was the time she visited me in Century City Hospital. My septum had been un-deviated and a hundred yards of gauze was crammed into each nostril. All I wanted was a vanilla malt. Instead, she brought me a bouquet of stargazer lilies because she was crazy about their scent.
I blame myself for not ending our relationship that first Saturday night when I picked up her 14-year old son at the West LA Police Station. I knew that a kid who spray paints 187, code marking someone for murder, underneath his English teacher's name, was crying out for help. But I convinced myself I could be a father to him.
I blame myself for not calling it quits that second Saturday night when I picked up her son at the West LA Police Station. For possession of stolen goods. Which included my laptop. And she said, "Please, all laptops look alike."
I knew we were done the first night after we made love. She reached for the Zelda Fitzgerald biography on her nightstand and read me the part where Zelda burns to death in a mental institution while awaiting electroshock therapy. Then looked at me and said, "Zelda Fitzgerald is my idol." And I thought, "Get out of her bed, get out of her life. Get out of her bed, get out of her life." But I didn't. Because she had bedroom skills.
I should have listened to that quiet voice in my head when one morning before dawn a Beverly Hills Marshall appeared on her doorstep holding a stack of legal papers. She crouched behind the front door and whispered, "Tell him I moved." When I followed her script, the Marshall asked, "Then why's her car parked in the driveway?" And before I could answer, he pointed to four-year old, red-headed Jack, and said, "And why is her son peeking through the curtains?"
There was the time before we had even kissed when we were sitting on the floor of my den talking, when she reached into the pocket of her white cardigan and pulled out what looked like a handful of Skittles or Jujubes. She rattled them around like dice, picked one, and popped it into her mouth. And when I asked for one she said, "Are you crazy? You can't take Prozac without a prescription."
I blame myself for covering the dozens of bad checks she wrote on our joint account after we married. And I blame myself for not catching the check she bounced to Gelson's for $74; the one that sent me to Bad Check Writing School, where a guy from the D.A.'s Office said, "This one's on us. But bounce another check, and you'll do time."
When she was diagnosed as manic-depressive, I said, "Here's the deal. I'll take care of the kids, but you need to quit work for a while and check into..."
And she said, "You can't take care of four kids."
I said, "That's what I've been doing since we married."
And that infuriated her and she said, "I can't leave Jack. He's four. He needs his mother."
There was no arguing with her. And no money to cover the ever growing debt.
I can still see her, sitting on the love seat in our Sherman Oaks rental home we could never really afford, looking too afraid to admit her problems and too afraid to ask for help.
That was the moment I knew.
I threw my clothes into the trunk of my Volvo.
She stood in the doorway in her work dress, a white sleeveless thing that was way too short for anything but Happy Hour, and said, "You'll regret this."
I sparked the engine and as I drove off she called, "You'll never have anyone like me again."
And I waved good-bye, knowing she was right.