It was my brother’s birthday in 1963 when I stepped cautiously into the old three-story Armory, located right on the beach in Santa Monica. Pacific Coast Highway ran above the beach, so you could look down and see the place from the highway. Dede Harvey, a Presbyterian minister whom I had met a few months earlier, convinced me to go into Synanon.
So before taking that huge step, I had parked along Pacific Coast Highway several times and just watched the activities. It didn’t seem intimidating. People walking around in jeans and tee-shirts and flip-flops, for the most part. They walked back and forth, going about whatever their business was. Pretty ordinary, it seemed to me. A beach community.
I had given notice to vacate my rented duplex in Los Angeles, and my parents agreed to take care of my beloved dog, Borrow. I had been burning the candle at both ends, working all day and sitting around jazz clubs all night. I had debts I couldn’t pay. I’d also given two weeks’ notice and left early on my last day.
Admitting failure at age 26, moving in with a bunch of losers, and having quite literally no idea of where I was headed pointed to a bleak future and was frightening. It was stepping off a cliff. I had never fit in anywhere and didn’t imagine I would fit in here.
But I really did not want to be an addict. I sat down on a bench in the lobby, just inside the door, and could hear a jazz band rehearsing somewhere in the building. That, and Bill Lane, a guy about my age, clean-cut and friendly, sitting at the front desk, was encouraging. I remember I was wearing a blue dress. There were no dresses I could see walking around, but that’s what I had on, having come straight from work.
Two women finally came and led me upstairs into an office, where they interviewed me. Arline and Carmen, both a few but not many years older. Both were well-groomed, clean, wore jeans and a blouse and flip flops on their feet. They looked happy. They were kind. I was tearful. Tears at that point, and for years before and afterward, were my initial defense. I shared my frustrations, my fear of everything, my fear of being an addict all my life, and my fear of change. I must have convinced them I needed help because they accepted me. I’m sure there were drugs in me, but I wasn’t obviously loaded.
I went back to my duplex, packed my things, and donated everything I had to Synanon — including my old 1950 Cadillac that got eight or nine miles per gallon, my thrift shop furniture, and extra clothes, my 100 Peso Gold piece, and my concertina. I couldn’t bring my dog, borrow, and my mother said Borrow could stay with them. I was only allowed to keep a few of my clothes, as space was limited.