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My forehead was pressed into the beige wall-to-wall carpet, my right arm was pinned behind me and he pushed his knee into my back. I'd been an actress for two decades, but no one was calling "Cut!" because this was no movie.
How could this be happening? How did I get here? Thoughts pinged in my head as my body melted deeper into the carpet. What would people think if they saw this? Me? Buckling under a man? Me? Who cracked caustic jokes? Me? Who had moved from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast chockablock with bravado as I chased my acting career, and now here, on the floor of a Mount Washington apartment being squashed like a bug?
They say addicts have a chance of breaking free once they hit rock bottom. I wasn't addicted to drugs or alcohol, but I had a magnetic attraction to angry people. I confused on-screen drama with real life. My assailant was only the latest of the not-so-hotso men to whom I'd attached myself.
Abuse was familiar. Abuse was nurtured. Abuse was home — until that day when I found my rock bottom. This was the end of the line. I had to stand upright and gun it down the mountain. My acting career was no longer a good ride, my neediness was a danger, and here I was on the West Coast like some lost member of the Joad family trying to pluck an orange off someone else's tree. It was time to rewrite this California story.
I slithered out of his grasp and yelled, "Back off!" I packed a bag and gathered the cat, who'd seen it all and accepted being dropped at a kitty-sitter. I drove south. Along the coastline I rolled down the windows and sucked in sea air. In Encinitas, I checked into a silent-meditation retreat, where I stayed for three days. I gobbled up vegetables, studied rolling Pacific waves and reveled in the scent of California cypress. I made a plan.
Back to the therapist's office for a reboot. Find an apartment. Locate a life.
"Your next relationship will be with someone quieter, someone on an even keel, and he'll be the best person for you," my therapist said after a few months of rebooting.
Could I do that? Could I kick my craving for theatrics?
I found a studio apartment in Silver Lake. I needed a small space for my small budget and took comfort in seeing all the walls before I fell asleep and again when I awoke. The cat and I settled in. He adapted to an indoor life, and I adapted to a single life. I worked as a dialogue coach on film and television sets, and during days off wandered through the downtown flower market, ambled along the gardens of the Huntington and pumped iron at the gym. At work I spoke, but off the set I kept silent.
A year later, ready for a bedroom and a dining room, I moved into a light-filled apartment in Los Feliz. I could walk to House of Pies for ... pie. And Skylight Books for ... books. At a theater on Hillhurst Avenue, I could see two movies in an afternoon.
I got stronger. Alone. On my own.
Another year passed, and I was accepted into the American Film Institute's Directing Workshop for Women, where I discovered true confidence and toned down my acidic sense of humor. I crewed up to shoot my short film and met the man who would be my editor.
He was subtle, this editor, with a dry wit and a wholly undramatic demeanor, ensuring that he was not my type, no way, no how. We worked long hours in a tiny cutting room and unexpectedly grew close. He was amused by my dramatic flair. He said he suspected that I'd grown into someone from somewhere else, and he liked that about me. Maybe he was my type, some way, somehow.
On our first date, we savored pan-seared scallops and crisp flattened chicken at Campanile. On our second, we shared sushi and sake at Yamashiro, atop the Hollywood Hills. Back at my apartment, he mentioned he was allergic to cats. I worried, but after five kisses he was miraculously cured. The cat curled up in his arms on a regular basis. I took my cue from the cat and followed suit.
This editor was my even keel. The cat and I moved in with him and his dog in Mar Vista, closer to the Pacific, for the beginning of the end of the line. Singular, yet partnered. Vulnerable, yet secure. Raucous, yet serene. Like a wave slipping onto Venice Beach, where we ride our bikes laughing, because he's a funny guy, my best friend, my husband.
Mel Ryane is the author of "Teaching Will: What Shakespeare and 10 Kids Gave Me That Hollywood Couldn't"