Decades passed before I thought about that index again. In 2008, now nearly fifty years old, I found myself in a police station in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. I was sitting in a hallway on a bench. My hands were cuffed and the handcuffs were hooked to the bench. All the cops were staring at me: the middle-aged lady, the former child star, who had just been busted at the airport for heroin possession. A low, low moment.
How had I gotten myself here? Was this happening? The best and worst moments of my life have always felt surreal, as if the events were just another entry in that foreign index someone else created. But the cuffs cut into my hands with the cold rigidity of reality. I'd been addicted to drugs before, and I'd overcome my addiction. That was fifteen years ago, so many long, mostly happy, entirely drug-free years. I never thought I would relapse. I'd been clean for so long that I thought I was fixed. But if the addiction was a cancer that had been carefully excised, well, I'd missed a spot. It had grown back, all the more fierce and malignant. Here I was again. Back at the bottom, caught in the arms of a bad-news lover I thought I had dumped for good. I could envision the new entry in the index, typed in the same font. Chronologically, it belonged right below "happy working mother." It would say, "second arrest on drug charges," a one-line condemnation that only hinted at everything that had led me to that bench.
All my life I've been a person who starts things and can't finish them. As a junkie, as an actress and musician, as a mother—it's been hard for me to complete even the simplest cycles of action. Like using one tube of toothpaste from beginning to end before buying the next. I'd inevitably leave it in a hotel, or lose track of it for long enough that I'd have to open another tube, then rediscover the original-half the time, at best. Sitting on that bench, looking ahead, I knew that in some way I had to go back. I had to go back fifteen years, to all the work I'd done when I got sober, to the surgery that had sent me into remission for so long. I had to see what was left unfinished.