The Sunday Rumpus Essay: Possession


I hated the one and only play I did during the years I called myself an actress. I hated the play so much that I would buy these little bottles of sake to drink before the rehearsals. I’d wrap the little glass pink glass bottles up in plastic bags and bury them under the take-out food containers and tissues in the trash can.

I wanted to quit the play from the beginning but something akin to guilt wouldn’t let me, which is odd, because I rarely finish things I start.

And yet and still. I stayed on.

Nothing good culminated from that play. Especially not the crashing of my car into the side of the freeway after closing night. That was the opposite of good, although there was this homeless man on the side of the road who helped me change my tire at 3 am (and yes, I was in a short skirt and heavy make-up and a sequined halter top, and yes, I know I am lucky I am that I’m still alive, and how I made it back to the director’s house driving only a wheel and no tire is beyond me). I had given the homeless man or drug addict or whoever he was some stuff that was in my trunk to thank him since I had no money on me. Some books and clothes which he took as hungrily as if I handed him burgers there on the dark corner.

I was desperate and had been drinking, yes. Proud of that? No.

I don’t know what I felt but I can tell you that it wasn’t pride or any recognizably human emotion I had ever known.

I was out of my body. I was in my body praying to my father or to anyone in the godamned heavens to help me as I sat weeping on the side of Venice Blvd at 3 am. I was out of body and floating in the telephone pole wires. I didn’t make it. I was killed by the man. I never crashed my car.

There are so many ways this story could have gone.

But here I am, writing it, so many years later, so let’s say it went this way: a man who was most likely blasted out of his mind helped me enough that I was able to get out of harm’s way and I gave him a blanket (I think) and some books and I drove on a wheel without a tire up Robertson Blvd in the dead of night to a director’s house who made me shake with disgust and I slept on a sofa with a Mexican blanket thrown over me until the morning when I called my step-father to tell him I crashed my Tracer. My Mercury Tracer. That little beast of a car that got me around for so many years held up well under the duress. Banged it right into the divider and it didn’t crumble like metal sometimes will. It didn’t fold into itself or flip over although I know somewhere deep inside the organs and heart of the car, I had broken something integral. Something that could never be repaired. I had driven backwards to get off the freeway.

Amazingly, not one car was on the road. How can you explain that? But this is a true story so maybe I don’t need to explain or justify, just tell the facts, and the facts were this: not a car besides mine on the freeway entrance. I drove backward onto Venice Blvd where the homeless man or drug addict or angel, or whoever he was, helped me.

Then I drove tireless, on only a back wheel, back to the place it all started.

It’s funny because now I can’t even remember his name. This guy who I thought I had fallen in love with. It began with a “J.” That’s all I can remember now.

Isn’t it funny how other people can feel so important, so earth-rattling and vital to us that we crash our cars and yet, years later, their voices elude us. His name: a mystery. Anyway, I thought I had fallen in love with “J” even though I hardly knew him. He had maybe played football with my cousin who isn’t really my cousin in Pennsylvania and that small coincidence was enough to make him familiar and that familiarity was what I was always on the hunt for. So, he became “it”.

We spent so many hours a week rehearsing this ridiculous play that I confused hours spent together with intimacy.

This happens. Why do you think people fall in love so much in Hollywood, while they are off making movies? You spend all these late night hours together, all these long days eating food off paper plates and going over lines, pretending to love or hate that person, and what do you know? You start to feel that old tug at your heart of I think I like him. I think I love her. He belongs to me.

So in my mind, this guy “J” belonged to me. I concocted a life together with him in my imagination. It was familiar.

The truth of the matter is, I don’t even know if I liked him. Yet, he was mine.

This other actress, one with whom I was alternating roles, would flirt with him. I would drink my sake and hide it in the trash and retreat into the corner until it was my turn to go up onstage.

She is better than me, I thought. Her flirting, her acting.

I couldn’t flirt. I could only be angry and upset. I didn’t understand how to show vulnerability. I only knew how to pull hair, or ignore, to suggest I like you. These don’t work as well when you are an adult.

That’s what jealousy did to me.

It didn’t make me cute or talented. It made me sit in the dark, in the back row, with my feet up on the seat in front of me and say things like, Like I care. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Fuck them both.

It made me a monster. It made me hate myself.

The thing is, I don’t even think I really liked this “J” guy. I mean, he was nice enough, and he was good looking, but if I met him now I wouldn’t be interested. I probably wouldn’t have coffee with him.

It was circumstantial. Then it was possessiveness. He became mine and the thought of anyone else having him made me territorial. I became a sake drinking lion who sat in the back of a dark theatre in Hollywood and bit her nails before she spit them onto the floor. Well, fuck them then.

I don’t even know why I was so angry.

The play ended. We couldn’t get anyone to come see it except maybe ten people a night and those ten people were the cast members’ friends. The play was also over three hours long. It was a dark few months in my life and although I’d like to say that I have no regrets, I have a few small ones. This play is up there with a few others.

The play ended and we all went to party at the director’s apartment. The director who used tactics such as yelling at me or insulting me in order to make me cry or get me upset so that I would give a good performance. His house.

We all went there and started drinking. In my short skirt and sequined top, I remember trying to get the attention of “J.” “J” had been sitting on the couch next to the actress who also played his wife when I wasn’t.

He had his head resting on his (other) wife’s shoulder, which was enough to make me feel wild and undomesticated. I am a goddamn boar, a wild pig, a feral animal and give me another drink.

My husband’s shoulder. Another’s woman’s head on it!

Well, fuck them both.

Give me another drink.

I don’t need this shit.

I didnt even say goodbye to these people I had spent more hours with than I care to admit, over many months, before I slammed the door and walked to my Mercury Tracer.

I remember letting the windows down and getting onto the freeway before a wall made its way into my car.

So this guy who helped me, the crackhead, or homeless man, or whoever we decided he was–this guy, he didn’t kill me. He could have. Easily. He could have killed me and taken my car and all that would be left would be dirty sequins. That could have happened.

In some version of this story somewhere, he did kill her.

But not me.

I lived.

Eventually, I sold that car for $300 to a mechanic from Honduras who had helped me with some repairs and needed a car.

I didn’t want to let it go even though it was old and dirty and broken in places that, for all I know, had no names. I think the heart of the car was broken.

I was sad to see it go.

So much had happened in that little car that when the buyer pressed three one hundred dollars bills into my palm I almost gave them back. Thanks, but no thanks. I’d like to let it just sit here in my garage. Forever. I don’t want anyone else to have it.

I don’t want anyone else to have it.

Oh, the trouble that gets us in.

Here. Have it.

None of it is mine anyway.

In some story, in some version, maybe it is all mine. And maybe I have long fingers and I don’t bite my nails and maybe the play was a huge success and maybe I remember “J”’s name and maybe jealousy isn’t a thing in the world but rather an idea like the words never and always. Maybe jealously crashed that night on the freeway and went up in flames and no one in the world could find its heritage anywhere. Maybe that man on the side of the road at 3 am wasn’t a drug addict. Maybe he read the books I gave him, whatever they were, and maybe in his mind, I was his. I was part of his story and he tells it over and over. My girl.

She was mine and I saved her.

Jen is a writer living mostly on an airplane. She leads her signature Manifestation Yoga Retreats/Workshops all over the world. Jen and Emily Rapp are leading a writing retreat in Vermont in October as well as a "Writing + The Body" Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch in Ojai winter 2015 as well as her annual invite only Italy retreat. Jen will also be joining Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp, Rob Roberge & Stacy Berlein at "Other Voices Querétaro" in Mexico May 2015. She is the founder of the The Manifest-Station website. She is currently finishing her first book Beauty Hunting. More from this author →