Let me begin by saying this: I am an enormous fan of Jeff Bezos, the person I knew when I was 17. I believe that person still exists, though I haven’t gotten together with Jeff often enough over the past 40+ years to know for sure, and God knows, it’s impossible to find the “authentic” version of anyone in news articles or social media.
Quick summary of our relationship: Jeff Bezos and I dated from 1981 to 1984, from my senior year in high school to the summer before my senior year in college. He was, for me, the quintessential first “love of my life.” We spent countless hours, as teenagers do when they’re in love, listening to sappy love songs (think Air Supply and Abba) and making plans for our future (he thought in terms of huge homes with grand entertainment centers and sweeping views, I voted for cozy cottages on the beach). He loved Star Trek and science fiction and imagined mankind living on a space station someday. I loved Star Trek and science fiction too, but I had a softer spot for Virginia Woolf and Mary Oliver. I was also pretty sure that I’d hate living on a space station and hoped I’d be dead before it came to that.
This is what I loved about him: he was wicked smart and quick to laugh (by all accounts, that hasn’t changed), and when he loved you, he was all in and his love was creatively romantic. On my birthday one year, he sent two of my college friends over a hundred copies of flyers that he had made. My name was printed in bold letters at the top, and beneath it there were two columns, Assets and Liabilities. The Assets column had a list of adjectives that only someone blindly in love would have included. The Liabilities column was empty. He told my friends to post the flyers all around the university that I attended, and they happily did so. Mortified doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt as I ran around campus trying to tear them all down.
Jeff’s ambition was grand and expansive – as a young man, he wanted to build his way to outer space (because already, back in the 1980s, he feared we would eventually destroy our planet), and he knew he’d need lots of money to do that. If I wanted lessons in how to dream big and achieve my goals, I had the perfect guide right there.
Our lives took different paths. Today, Jeff is a multi-billionaire. My personal income last year was less than $90,000. Jeff is newly engaged to the lovely Lauren Sanchez, whose figurehead bravely breaks oncoming waves for him on his 417-foot yacht. Me? I’m saving up for a 14-foot Laser sailboat. Jeff stays up until the wee hours of the morning, partying with the likes of Jay Z and Beyoncé, Leo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. I go to bed at 9 p.m. (8:30 once Daylight Savings Time hits) with my dog Walter.
Don’t get me wrong, I love where I am. I have three strong, intelligent daughters, a close-knit family for whom I would lay down my life, two satisfying careers, and a husband who may really be (it’s taken me awhile to get this) my soulmate.
I spent my mid- to late-twenties battling anorexia and bulimia. I was diagnosed with acute clinical depression in my 30s. And in my 40s, I realized that I was an alcoholic. Big dreams and grand ambitions? How about just getting through one day without grabbing a razor blade or puking up a bag of potato chips in the toilet? How about raising three kids under the age of 6 while trying to be a top-notch lawyer and battling daily migraines from all the wine bottles hidden between towels and bedsheets in the linen closet? Dreams and ambitions get resized when disease comes into the picture.
Recently, I’ve kind of fallen in love with Mary Magdalene. I call her Magda. You might know her, erroneously, as the prostitute who followed Jesus Christ, and if that’s who you think she is, please read this: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/saints/07/22/st--mary-magdalene--disciple-of-the-lord-.html.
Magda knew something about suffering, having deeply loved a man and watched him die by crucifixion. She understood two important things about pain and hardship. First, walking through anguish or misfortune with your heart and eyes open (as opposed to trying to numb them with some kind of substance) can make you a stronger human being. Second, and more importantly, your own suffering, past or present, will allow you to empathize with others who are experiencing pain.
Being on the recovery side of all my diseases today, I spend a lot of time in church basements at 12-step meetings. (I wake up at 5 a.m. to get to my favorite meeting, hence the 9 p.m. bedtime.) Magda would feel totally at home, because there’s a lot of pain and suffering in those meetings. There’s also a lot of hope and laughter. And bad coffee.
What Magda would love about these rooms – and what took me a very long time to acknowledge, proud and self-important as I am – is the equality and tolerance within them. “You’re just another bozo on the bus,” people told me again and again. Reminding me that, on a fundamental level, I was just like them. In the beginning, I didn’t want to be just another bozo, I wanted to be The Bozo, the one that everyone admired, the one that was acknowledged as The Best. Because didn’t I have Degrees from Important Universities and Impressive Jobs on my resumé?
Recovery has taught me that my resumé doesn’t matter. What matters is being present for the people I love – babysitting one daughter’s puppy, sending another a care package, navigating a new health insurance plan for the third. What matters is spending time with the sponsee who’s been kicked out of her house because she can’t stop drinking, and who might otherwise die alone in a hotel room. What matters is taking time to run through Rock Creek Park, partly to keep my head on straight, partly to exercise my dog, and mostly to nourish my sense of wonder. Showing up, being grateful, simple bozo truths. Truths that Magda embraces.
Sometimes, not often, I wonder what would have happened if my life had stayed entwined with Jeff Bezos’ life. The Jeff Bezos I knew when I was 20 years old would have been loving and supportive of me in the challenges I faced, and I have no reason to believe that has changed. But his current world – the world of yachts and champagne and billionaires and bling – would not be good for me and my recovery. Everyone in that world is on an A-list somewhere. I can’t afford to be on an A-list, either literally or figuratively. The bozos are my people. I have to stick with them.
I have Magda to keep me company too, and to keep me honest. I’ve been writing about her for five years now, so she’s in my head. It’s a dark neighborhood, my head, but she can handle it. She brings her own light.