About Carrie Hayes
How I Became a Writer…
photo credit: Kimberly M Wang|dogear productions
When I was little, my father was an important guy, who believed in being early and rarely had time to waste. His work involved the news in three different time zones: events as they occurred, events which had yet to take place, and then a synthesis of the two in constructing a monthly magazine whose lead time was always three months out.
Consequently, he was obsessed with timeliness.
“Okay, gang,” he’d say and tap his watch, “Let’s go.”
If I dilly dallied, he’d make no bones about leaving (wherever we were) without me. “Let’s go! Let’s get the show on the road.” He had a generous smile and a playful, self-effacing wit. But there was no mistaking, he was the boss, the guy who told people what to do.
Sometimes, he’d look at me and say, “You will be a writer.” At Esquire, he had worked with some of the greats. He knew what he was about.
But this was anathema to me. I thought writers were boozy, brooding depressives. Besides, I had already decided what I would become. Like my mother and my grandmother before me, I would be an actress! Barring that, I would be a waitress.
“Learn to type,” my father said, “Then you can start as a secretary.”
“I will never be a secretary!” I shouted. “I will wait tables until I can find work as an actress.”
Eventually, my parents’ marriage reached its conclusion. My brother was in college and I went away to school (happily, I should add), to minimize the impact of their divorce as well as to broaden my horizons. During vacations, after a stay at my dad’s, we’d ride his motorcycle over to the Port Authority where I took the bus upstate to my mom’s. We often stopped at a restaurant that’s long gone now, called Artists and Writers. The food was impossibly hot, served in copper dishes, and I’d fret over whatever injustice I was enduring at the time.
“Now, Car.” He pronounced it like ‘care’. “You don’t have to be so hard on everybody all the time.” To which there wasn’t much to say. So, I’d just eat my lasagna, realizing that he probably was right.
My junior year in college, my dad and I would have lunch together, usually once a week. Most times it was something quick, followed by a stroll, as time was always pressing. There was just never enough of it. During our walks, he’d surprise me with his candor, musing how he might reinvent his career. He was no longer an editor. He’d done television for a spell, but that was behind him, too. He’d talk about people who had once thought he was important, but now, no longer did so. Then he’d joke about how that made him feel, and we’d laugh together, happy that our own camaraderie was invulnerable. What we had would never change. After all, he was my dad, and I was his number one girl.
However, that was the year I fell in love. When I decided to leave college, there wasn’t a scene, but the magnitude of my father’s dismay was palpable.
“It’s your life, Carrie. If you drop out now and ruin it, that’s up to you.” Neither of us wanted to argue, so we didn’t. But a cool restraint dampened the unending conversation. Then I announced, months later, I would be getting married. That late summer’s day, Dad gave me away in style and his chilly detachment evaporated in the sunshine.
Afterward, I had my daughter and I learnt to type, while the business of acting and the theater remained, if only peripherally, very much a part of my life.
When my daughter was two years old, my husband and I moved to Luxembourg, a country whose charm and elegance is so pervasive, it can almost suffocate a person. But days before our departure, my father was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He was now living in Los Angeles and had been working on a book. He was a youthful sixty-two years of age, tall and good looking, with a new wife, who, unlike my mother, he treated with enormous love and respect. My brother asked our father if the diagnosis made him afraid.
“No,” Dad said. “I’m just gonna ride this thing out. See what happens.”
As he grew increasingly ill, trips were made, back and forth. I was twenty-four years old and directing a production of The Boyfriend for the American School. During the day, my students learned to dance the Charleston, while at night, I considered the dispatches detailing how much time Dad had or did not have.
I took another plane to be with him. The Boyfriend was going to open in less than a week. My husband and little girl were in Luxembourg, and my father was dying in L.A. The school asked if I wanted to delay the show. I said I didn’t think so.
When Dad was settled in his room at the hospital, he tried to sit up and look at his watch, “Okay gang, let’s go.” It happened every twenty minutes or so, as though he were his own time piece. He wore a very simple one with a black wristband and a white face. “Okay, let’s go.”
In the hallway, outside his room, I said to his doctor, “I don’t know what to do.” The response was kind but to the point. “Your father is your past, your family is your future. Get back to your family.” My father had already slipped into the morphine induced twilight which precedes the very end.
The doctor left, and I studied this man whom time and illness were swiftly preparing for his departure from earth. I bent over and whispered in his ear, “I love you, Dad.”
“Okay, he murmured. “Let’s go.” I took the watch off his wrist and said my goodbyes. After all, the show must go on.
The cast knew where I had been and why. But life being what it is, no one said a word. Instead, I approached an awkward ninth grader whose character continued to elude him. It was the part of the ingénue’s father.
“Edward,” I put the watch on the boy’s wrist. “Wear this. This was my dad’s. He was obsessed with time. He was always looking at his watch. Why don’t you try that?”
The next morning, I received the call. It was all over. That night, The Boyfriend opened to a full house. Edward’s performance was flawless.
The loss of my father was so intense, that even now, decades later, it still packs a wallop. Sometimes, when I’m alone, I find myself wrestling with the ideas and conversations we had, passing magazines back and forth, chortling over pieces we found amusing, sometimes sitting silently, sometimes reading, sometimes not.
After his death, I finished college, but continued not writing. Instead, I worked in film and television. Life went one way, and then it went another. My marriage ended. I returned to the States, walking away from all things-entertainment. I married an architect and worked some in design. Time passed. Then my brother made a movie about our father. It made me roar with laughter and dissolve into tears. Ideas and snippets of memory began tumbling forward. It was all I could do to keep up, taking notes. The moments lingered, shaping themselves in such a way, that hopefully, transcribed with a bit of discernment, anyone might know them. My father’s prescience was a gift which came with the passage of time. For the writer in me, the material I am looking for might turn out to be my own.
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