Part 2: New Jersey to California and Back Again
East Orange, NJ: unfurnished studio apartment, spring 1963
I paint the ceiling black and the walls purple. I make dark blue covers for the foam rubber furniture and build a table out of used beer bottles. John and I have been seeing each other since Christmas, when I sent him a book of my sketches. John spends most nights with me, but can’t move in until his probation officer gives permission, which he does when we say we are getting married. I decide I don’t need school any more to be an artist.
East Orange, NJ: unfurnished one-bedroom apartment, fall 1963
A larger apartment becomes available upstairs and we move into that one. I paint the walls a bright peach and we have both sets of parents over for dinner now that we are married. I have a solo exhibit at the Paula Insel Gallery in New York in February, but John doesn’t make it to the opening. I ask him to move out when the nightmare of lies, bad checks, and desperation reach a crescendo. After a couple months he kicks the heroin and moves back.
Sherman Oaks, CA: tiny house, January 1965
We come to southern California with a black kitten, a few sticks of furniture, and John’s 650cc Norton motorcycle. It’s my idea because John’s father was bugging him about going to electrician’s school. You can be anything you want, I say, just like my mother used to say to me. I get an office job at a photo processing company. John hasn’t found one yet.
Topanga Canyon, CA: bungalow, February 1965
We are in love with Topanga Canyon, but it’s a long drive to my job in LA and the car keeps breaking down. My friend Anne comes to live with us after a failed relationship in Colorado. It takes her a long time to find a job, and when she does, we hitchhike to work together because the car is kaput. Her Siamese kitten and our black kitten bond. John’s parents come to visit and his father builds me a kitchen table in order to make my life easier. John hasn’t found a job yet.
North Hollywood, CA: furnished railroad apartment, February 1966
The rent is cheap and we’re on the bus line. My youngest sister, Mary, comes to live with us. She and Anne share a room. Anne is saving her money in order to get out, which she does after a few months. Mary gets a job right away and helps with expenses. I take classes part-time at UCLA. Our black cat has kittens. I get pregnant. Abortion is illegal. John still hasn’t found a job.
Van Nuys, CA: three-bedroom house, January 1967
John’s parents lend us money to put down on this house. I buy used furniture from one of the bosses at work. John builds me an easel for the sunny porch. There is a little guesthouse he makes into a study for himself. Mary is supposed to move in with us but she moves to Pasadena with her boyfriend instead. My salary doesn’t cover our expenses after Blixy is born in March, but John keeps saying he will find a job this week for sure. He grows marijuana in the backyard, which I try to hack and burn down. Our black cat dies because we don’t have the money to take her to the vet.
Irvington, NJ: family home, December 1967
John refuses to come back to New Jersey with me, so I pick up my paycheck on a Friday, pick up Blixy at the sitter’s, stay at a friend’s house that night, and fly into Newark the next morning. Blixy sleeps in one bedroom, I sleep in another. No brothers or sisters left at home. Mom takes care of Blixy while I go to work. John and I exchange a couple of letters and then we never hear from him again.
(to be continued)