It was 1988 or ’89. A small group of us, family and friends of Tim, had gathered in a vacant room upstairs and across the street from his apartment in Little Tokyo (downtown Los Angeles). We were seated in a circle around an empty chair, nervously clutching the scripts we had written and rehearsed, waiting for the unsuspecting lamb to be led in.
Footsteps on the stairs. Tim’s voice talking to someone. We all turned as the door opened and he stepped inside, saw us, registered that this was a trap. The friend who had tricked him into coming waved him toward the seat in the center of the room. We could see Tim considering his options. He chose to stay and, greeting people in the circle as he came through it, sat down and waited. Guarded. Mildly curious.
The lady from rehab at Presbyterian Hospital started the ritual slaughter. “Tim, you are an alcoholic. Your mother is concerned about you and asked me to organize this intervention. Everyone here cares about you and has been hurt by your drinking. They each want to tell you how they have seen your drinking affect you and how it has affected them.”
One at a time, we read our scripts. I was in an agony of embarrassment. My mother had set this up but it seemed so personally violating, so demeaning. Tim listened, impassive.
It was quite a list. “You did this and the police came and you spent a night in jail.” “You got angry and smashed my things.” “You drove the car onto my lawn and passed out.” I read aloud, “Five years ago you came to my birthday party and were so crude and loud and obnoxious I was humiliated in front of my friends. We said you were no longer welcome in our home until you changed. You blamed my husband [my first husband] for kicking you out and you called him names. You still don’t see that your own behavior was what caused the problem.” Each one of us ended with “Tim, you are an alcoholic and we urge you to get help–now!”
When we had gone around the circle, the lady from the hospital said, “You have heard your friends and family share how your alcoholism has interfered in your own life and has damaged your relationships. These people who love you are asking you to get help.”
“I’m touched,” said Tim.
“I head up the rehab program at Presbyterian Hospital. I am prepared to take you there right now. Are you willing to come with me?”
He gave a hoarse laugh. “Not a chance.” And walked out.
Tim had flown all the way back from Florence or London–whichever Great City he was living in at the time–to re-connect with family. He hitched his way cross-country to Dad’s house, up a narrow twisting road in the redwoods near Santa Cruz. To give him courage Tim had a drink or two at a bar at the bottom of the hill first.
Dad opened the door, took in his condition at a glance, and said with disgust, “You’re drunk. I had to put up with alcoholism at one end of my life. I don’t have to put up with it at the other.” (Maude was an alcoholic.)
He closed the door in his son’s face.
Devastated, Tim made his way down the coast and settled in with Mum. Family has to take you in. . .
Then she had rejected him, too. She got angry and shook his poetry at him and called it “drunken garbage.”
Everyone had rejected him. He went in for a physical and the doctor called him (with his little sister) into her office afterwards. From behind her desk she told him firmly, “Tim, there is no question in my mind that you are an alcoholic. It shows up in the tests on your liver. See, here–and here–and here.”
Tim left acknowledging the fact. By the time we got on the elevator he was saying, “I don’t drink any more every day than the average Frenchman.” By the time we got off he was saying, “It’s just because things aren’t settled, d—- it. I’m depressed. When things settle down I won’t have to drink.” Before we reached the car he was eviscerating the doctor. “Who does she think she is, with her mid-western morality!”
I pointed out that Dr. Greta Wanyik was Transylvanian and a graduate of Warsaw University. That didn’t faze him. We were all against him. He was being picked on and the one thing he knew was that it wasn’t his fault!
The intervention, this betrayal by his own mother, was the last straw.
(To be continued)