by Marie Scampini
High tide, low tide
That’s the wave she has to ride
and so do I
I worked as a publicist for a blip on the big screen of my daytime work schedule. I was able to use any and all of my writing skills to date, and my boss was a high-energy powerhouse named Isabel, who needed me to remain her executive assistant so I had two jobs in one – and essentially an eighteen hour day. But that’s typical in Entertainment PR so when the phone rang at eleven at night and Isabel’s panicked voice asked me to write a press release and send it to her by one AM, I stopped sleeping more than three hours consecutively which became my norm. I kept awake with espressos and Diet Coke chasers all day, shoveled fast food down my gullet and ran the calories off with my cocker spaniel while the moon was nodding off for the night.
The first time it happened was only two weeks into the job. I was already ordering her prescriptions for Lithium and other drugs that kept her stable. She called me into her office. I had just gotten a difficult client’s product in The Wall Street Journal.
“You didn’t follow procedure and never told me you were pitching him but luckily somehow it worked out this time. Don’t let it happen again!”
She went on spinning words nonsensically until I knew she was at a high tide of mania.
I was in tears while understanding she was in the middle of riding this high tide of something I barely understood. I felt powerless to help her so I waited as the words punched me in the stomach, the lungs, my eyes. My head and shoulders dropped in surrender.
I only had the “normal” kind of depression where I slept eighteen hours a day whenever I wasn’t working and prayed to die before I awoke; dreams so of self-loathing were kind compared to my waking hours. Empathy kept me standing in place. I wouldn’t abandon her when I had abandoned myself so many times.
No one wanted my tears and now they had a symbiotic purpose.
She seemed to be inspired by them.
I was crying the tears she couldn’t. She needed to get more out so I obliged. I had a lifetime of unshed tears stored somewhere and the floodgates opened wide. Niagara Falls fell onto the highly polished floors warping them, staining them. Acid tears. Simultaneously damaging and cleansing.
I spent a childhood being blamed, yelled at and beaten by a walking earthquake I called my father.
Floorboards. Ceilings shook. I shook. Ducked as family portraits flew, smashing, shattering past Mom’s ear.
He invented fear.
My worst crime was being awake at three AM doing homework. If he saw a light on that was it.
The door flew open, stench of blackberry wine and cigars suffocating me as I was lifted in the air to be beaten and if I was fast enough, I would outrun him down the stairs and to the last wall of the house and face my punishment teeth gritting, fists up.I finally yelled back “Kill me now but you will never put a hand on me again!”
Earthquake stunned, suddenly horrified, facing his reflection in my eyes, he turned and walked back upstairs.
He never hit me again. He couldn’t. I vanished.
At least now only words pummeled me and I got a paycheck and I liked my job. I loved seeing my clients in print and on TV and my words or B-roll part of the spin-doctoring of the famous and the wannabe famous. As I binged on Famous Amos cookies, perhaps putting the name “Famous” in your name would make all the difference. Words made the difference.
The morning after the Niagara Falls incident I swore I was going to quit or ask to be moved to another office. On my desk was a huge beautiful muffin basket and a gift certificate to a spa that the company repped.
I glimpsed her in her office and she appeared to have no memory of what happened. Her face was serene. My eyes were so bloated I saw everything through red-veined clouds.
I lifted the card that read “Good work” and said thank you. But for what? The spin-doctoring or the surrogate waterfall? Perhaps both. I sat down at my desk and continued working.
I learned a lot about public relations during my brief stint. One of the most respected and feared publicists would show up at the chairman’s desk if he didn’t return her calls in two hours. This was a man who was already an icon and had a reputation for always returning calls. But it wasn’t fast enough for Barbara. I sat in pitch sessions with her during Oscars season, her mind and body so fast and furious I thought she would run me over on her way out the door to her next meeting.
It was quite a shock so many years later I heard she was murdered in her Mercedes for no apparent reason. This woman assaulted me with her knowledge and expertise and now she was dead. I considered her a mentor as much as Isabel. I admired, even loved them both. I wanted to be that good at something. I needed a good push to become assertive and this job accomplished that. They both helped me access my inner chutzpah because I had to or else. I believe I can accomplish anything with relentless tenacity and sometimes bold brash belligerence if necessary. The grace of God and luck would always play their parts in deciding how I would get from there to here to tomorrow.
Ultimately, I learned I can only do what I can do and the
rest is out of my control.