I remember being 25. I remember Ryan sitting cross legged on the left side of the bed in his old brown plaid robe rolling a joint. It was early morning at our home on Anita Drive and I was dressed for my jazz dance class. My body was eager and alive with an electricity in every cell anticipating moving to joyful dance and music. Even the long drive on this bright Saturday morning to the class seemed thrilling in my new fast Radford Mini. I felt joy. But first I laid out the architectural plans of the new house I was designing for us at the beach. I was excited with the surprise I had for Ryan. With the architect, I had designed a racquet ball court for him. I got on my knees at the foot of the bed and spread the drawings out. I was immersed, happily pointing out the details in this new design, and Ryan suddenly said, “You aren’t going to want to live with me there.” I remember I looked up smiling. I could only register there must be something not quite right in the drawings and this was just an odd way of saying it. I digested his face. My whole body seemed to have a sudden intelligent awareness, and my energy began to drain into a slowing dullness. I was confused. I asked simply, “Why not?” I remember vaguely feeling that I was at the edge of an internal cliff and that I might suddenly and unexpectedly be pushed off. Time seemed slower. The light at the edges of the room were dimming. At the very same time, there was a narrowing focus and heightened awareness. All in a micro-instant.
“Because,” he said, “I have a mistress.”
My system froze. My heart rate took on a life of its own. Without any effort I was processing a worst terror come true. It was the oddest thing for even as my body went into a strange adaptation, I was taking in the one who I loved so deeply, who was part of the fabric of my heart and so familiar. Everything was so familiar but I knew that a surgery without anesthetic had just been performed, and now all was going to change. A stillness came upon me. It was a river of calm and it was warm and strong. Unexpected.
I said, “Would you tell me who it is?”
He paused, hesitant, “I don’t think so. It will blow your mind.”
“Well, I think my mind is already blown. I would be grateful to know.” I was aware my voice was not compromising my love for him. It was sweet and calm and open, with no judgement or reaction. You must keep your wits about you in a Tsunami.
“It’s Barbra Streisand.”
“Barbra Streisand?!!!!!!! WOW.” I said.
I adored her. She was the one and only Icon I allowed myself to adore. The conversation took on a new dimension. In this moment my Heart Self was stepping on a thin wire, high above vastly tall buildings in my ballet shoes, no net, delicately balancing myself so as not to fall. I focused my eyes on him to steady myself, the “him” that was the anchor of my affection, my loyalty, my “security’’. I saw now only a lost boy. Beyond my pain and my fear, my love and compassion for him rose up instinctively inside of me. I moved up onto the bed and came close into him. I reached out, cupped his cheek, looked into his eyes saying softly, “What are you doing, baby?”
He began to cry and said, “I don’t know.”
IN 2000, and 2001 I had very difficult years, actually they were devastating and in retrospect, utterly transformational to the good. At another time, I will fill in the events of this time that led to my being without money, no stable home base, ill, with limited strength and no seeming light at the end of any tunnel.
Five days after 9/11, I had a counseling with John Morton who is the spiritual director of my church, a wondrous man, counselor and my friend. I shared some of the conditions of my life and my confusion at how to handle my everyday responsibilities in order to survive with no job or health. I shared with him that I had been evicted from my home and through the grace of a good friend had been able to rent a small house that I loved and hoped to keep as a place to stabilize myself for more healing. The rent was due in a few days and I had no resources and was deeply confused and felt paralyzed as to what to do. John was thoughtful and suggested that I needed to ask for help. This idea was foreign to me. In fact, it was terrifying. He went on to say that “asking” was not my strong suit and needed to be developed. He said that there were people in my life who needed to give to me to balance their own imbalance with me, and if I did not ask them to help me, they could not fulfill their debt. I would be giving them an opportunity to come into greater balance with themselves. Wow, this was such a smart illumination in my awareness of another possible dynamic in “asking.” I listened to my beloved friend John and took the information he shared to heart.
As I was driving home thinking of the session, I was very aware of the rent being due in two days. Who could I possibly ask? I did not like this. There were no ideas in my conscious mind. I then heard in my right ear, “Ask Ryan O’Neal.” In shock, I reactively turned to the right and said loudly, “Absolutely not!” The “voice” was relentless, and patiently repetitive. “Ask Ryan O’Neal.” I did my best over the next two days to ignore the message. And the more I ignored it, the more disturbed I was becoming. It did not go away.
In the late afternoon of the day before my rent was due, I finally picked up the phone, my heart beating miserably loud, and I called Ryan. The relief I felt when I realized it was a machine, was quickly matched with panic about leaving a message at the sound of the tone. I sort of mumbled and barely alluded to what I would ask of him, then I hung up. Done. Relief. I was sure that was enough. It was embarrassing and it was done and I was letting go. Melting into my inevitable coming crisis, I felt like Scarlet O’Hara…tomorrow was another day. I went to bed early, immersing myself in pillows and comfort and my cats to be with God. I was more at ease asking something of God.
At 3am the phone rang. I answered and a voice said, “It’s Ryan.” Half asleep, I spilled the beans. I told him everything that had happened and what I needed and if… perhaps, would he possibly consider … assisting me? In answer to his few questions, I awkwardly shared my monthly nut and financial obligations, and told him that I had no money to pay them. There was a slight pause, and he said, “Go to my office tomorrow morning at 9am and there will be a check for you for all of your expenses.” I was shocked because it was a graceful experience with no sharp edges, no demand for when he wanted it back … in fact he told me to forget about that, and if I needed it again the next month, to call him. And then some Ryan humor I don’t remember, and a kind goodbye.
For almost one year, until my health was strong, Ryan helped me. At one point he said to me, “Thank you, Leigh, for asking me to help you…I owed you and did not know what to do about it.”
The healing of broken circles back to wholeness is what my inner life guides me to do. My experience with Ryan was just that, the healing of a life circle. My courage in asking for help, which in turn invited Ryan’s generosity, changed that moment of my life to greater good. What came from this greater good is a clean slate that is bright today in my friendship with Ryan. And he continues to extend his generosity to our two beautiful granddaughters.
I share this very personal story because I live my life aspiring to be grateful, to forgive, to love, to accept and to understand others even when situations or circumstances have sometimes hurt me. Back in 1970 when my heart felt as if it was broken, I was a young woman who really needed to move on in order to grow. Ryan’s choices became just the catalyst, and the blessing I needed to move on, leading me ever more profoundly into my Spiritual journey. I was already learning that loving is an inside job, and not based on whether someone else loves you, or not, the way you would like. These lessons are not always easy and I am still learning.
Oh, by the way, remember John Morton, that wondrous man, counselor, and friend I mentioned? I married him in 2013!