It was as cold and miserably grey outside as I felt on the inside the day I was told I had to meet Elizabeth Grayson. I felt intense dislike for the woman although I had never met her. What I knew of her came through a videotape of a talk show. I was told to meet her or be fired. I had to keep my job, which meant I had to be civil to this person, no matter what. Everything I hated about life was thrown in my face that day.
The nightmare that centered on Elizabeth Grayson and her work began when my boss, Ed Wainwright, called me into his office and ordered me to sit down and pay very close attention to what he was going to say.
“Here’s a videotape I want you to watch with me, and then I’ll tell you what I need for you to do.”
We watched the tape. Elizabeth Grayson’s three children had appeared on the Leslie Wilder Show. They were obviously hurt and embittered by their mother’s material success and lack of interest in their lives. I didn’t miss the irony of it all. Elizabeth Grayson was being hailed as an innovator who had developed a psychological theory that seemed to be changing the way many counselors and clinicians were working with their patients. Grayson had written a self-help book that was on all the major best seller lists. People were coming out of the woodwork to give testimony to the wonders of Mrs. Grayson’s new idea. People were acting as if their lives had been saved by this new view of human psychology.
As I watched the tape, I felt loathing for Elizabeth Grayson. The children, all well into their forties, recalled with tears and sadness the cruelties of their childhoods with Elizabeth Grayson. So many of the things they complained about were very close to the terrors my own mother had inflicted on me. I had tried to forget I ever had a mother, but there she was, being talked about by three complete strangers. They weren’t really talking about Angela Howard but they could have been. I felt they were.
I fought a desire to rip the tape out of the recorder. Ed sat there watching me. He was a seasoned, hardened editor. I remember wondering how he could watch the tape without revulsion. Ed may have sensed my thoughts because he threw a smoldering look of anger at me. It was at this point I decided to watch the rest of the tape more closely. I figured he would probably test me on it when it finished. I tried to observe what the people were wearing, the words they said, everything he might ask me about. As I did this, my discomfort rose. Ed fast-forwarded through the commercials. To me, the tape seemed endless. By the time the credits rolled I was almost beside myself. I felt I would explode.
Ed got up from his chair, stopped the machine, rewound the tape and then ejected it. He handed it to me.
“I got this tape special delivery from Martha Bullock yesterday afternoon. She thinks we should do an article and a book on Elizabeth Grayson. She’s the boss and it’s not an idea I can afford to ignore.”
“Screw Martha Bullock,” I protested. “Why give any more ink to a bitch who did what this woman did to her children?”
“In my wildest dreams I wouldn’t screw Martha Bullock. She’s probably nice enough,” Ed chuckled, “but at my age, sexual energy needs to be carefully depleted with someone more suited to my tastes than the good Mrs. Bullock.”
The tape was still warm from the VCR. I felt repulsed by the heat, by Martha Bullock, and by Ed. Ed’s attempt at humor sickened me. We had many laughs together over the years. This was definitely not one of them. I looked at my old friend and tried to figure out why he had shown me the tape and was telling me about Martha Bullock’s request. My head ached. My stomach was turning. I think my gut knew before I did that something I wouldn’t like was on its way to me.
“Evan, I have to be honest with you. You’re on very thin ice with me and with this magazine. We’ve been friends most of our lives, but you’re becoming someone I don’t know. I don’t know what the problem is. What I do know is I can’t depend on you. You’re not the same Evan Howard I thought I knew. The last thing I want to do is fire you, but I have a responsibility to my publisher, to everyone else who works here, to myself, to our readers, and to you. You call in sick, don’t meet deadlines. I’ve asked you to get a medical checkup and you’ve refused. I’ve asked you to see our company counselor and you’ve refused.”
“Ed, there’s nothing wrong with me.”
“Evan, your clothes look like hell, your office looks like hell, you look like hell.”
I didn’t like what he was saying, but I became vaguely aware of the pain on my oldest friend’s face. I had a glimmer of understanding about the seriousness of his words. It would take me weeks to realize that I had destroyed years and years of trust that we had between us. Fortunately, I was able to play this conversation back in my mind later that day. As I thought about Ed’s words later, I had enough smarts remaining to realize that I had been given an ultimatum. I know that what mattered to me more on that day was the paycheck, not the friendship. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Ed told me I was to go out to Elizabeth Grayson’s home. She already knew I was coming. Martha Bullock had talked to her personally and requested a long interview. Ed decided to give me one last chance to keep my job.
“If you don’t put together a fair, honest piece on this woman, Evan, you will have your walking papers. The deadline is two weeks from today. That means you’ll have it to me in ten days so that you can reconnect with people you’ve interviewed for the article for any revisions. If it isn’t on my desk, fully edited and ready to go two weeks from tomorrow, clean out your desk. Don’t come to me with any excuses. There are a lot of people here carrying resentments because they’ve seen you get away with stuff they aren’t permitted to do. Your friend Ed is gone, Evan. I’m your boss now and that won’t last long if you don’t get your act together.”
“We just sat here and heard what a bitch this woman is. I don’t want to write a single word about Elizabeth Grayson. I know all about these selfish, self-centered career women. She probably never cooked a meal for her kids.”
“There was a time when you were one of the best journalists in this country, Evan. If you prejudged people or situations, you never let on and it never came across in your stories. Over the past couple of years I’ve seen your high-and-mighty self-righteousness pour out into this office and into your work. Get a hold of yourself, do this story right, or pick up your last check today.”
“That’s how it is?” I asked.
“That’s how it is, Evan. And I mean it. I’m not going to cover for you again. I’ve done it too many times, and frankly, our friendship is leaving me drained. I’ve read Elizabeth Grayson’s latest book. You better read it before you go out and interview her.” Ed picked a book out of his bookcase and handed it to me.
I snapped the book out of his hand and charged out the door, slamming it behind me. I looked back through the blinds of Ed’s office and saw him holding his head in his hands. I whispered something about an ungrateful bastard under my breath and walked to the hole I called my office. I looked at the book he gave me. The book was titled Spiritual Disconnection: The Root of Addiction and Domestic Violence.
“Oh, my God. What has become of Ed’s good sense? That son-of-a-bitch has gone insane even thinking of doing such a kiss-ass story,” I thought. My opinion of Ed hadn’t been very high for several years, but at that moment, I felt nothing but disgust and contempt for him. I knew I couldn’t read in my office. I needed to get home and get a good bottle of whiskey. That would be the only way I could bear reading anything written by a woman the likes of Elizabeth Grayson. So home I went.