A Writer Written in the Stars

The West Coast seemed to exemplify the ’60s: San Francisco and Los Angeles had become gathering places for hippies. When I was living in New York and working as a fashion model, I’d only heard about this group of young people who were following the dictum of Timothy Leary by “turning on” and “dropping out” of high schools, universities and society in general. Now I was newly divorced and had come home to L.A. because that was where my family was. So I saw hippies in their natural habitat: grazing along the Sunset Strip, hitching rides from passing motorists and waving sticks of incense that trailed wisps of sandalwood- and patchouli-scented smoke. There were girls with waist-length hair and long dusty skirts and boys, long-haired and snake-hipped in their patched 501s, tie-dyed shirts and hand-stitched buckskin jackets. They were all very young. I found them colorful to look at but I wasn’t curious about what lurked beneath all that paisleyed finery.

I was working as Rudi Gernreich’s model and living with my daughter, Lisa, in one of those beautiful 1920s-built apartments in West Hollywood when I met Victory Rain. I’d become friendly with my neighbors, Glenn and Bill, and we often visited back and forth. Their place was furnished with collectors’ pieces, the hardwood floor gleamed and the air was filled with the cedar scent of Rigaud candles. It reminded me of New York, where everyone’s home, including ours, was awash in that fragrance. Glenn and Bill had another visitor one afternoon: a rather exotic woman who looked to be in her late 20s. She was seated, a penumbra of cigarette smoke around her head, in a nest of needlepoint pillows at one corner of a dark blue velvet sofa. On the wall above the sofa, a vintage Hermès scarf was displayed in a boxy Lucite frame.  This unsmiling, strangely attractive woman with her long black hair and falcon’s eyes, seemed quite out of place amid all the trappings of the uber-chic, and my initial thought was that she might be a gypsy. Then she smiled at me and patted the space next to her, and as we chatted I realized this was someone as intelligent as she was welcoming.

Her name, she told me, was Victory and she surprised me by saying she worked as chief bookkeeper at a production company that filmed commercials. She seemed not at all the type who would choose that kind of work. But her true passions, she said, were mysticism and astrology. I knew nothing about mysticism of any kind and I was profoundly ignorant of all things astrological. I knew I was an Aries (like my mother) and Lisa was a Leo. Full stop. Victory asked for the date, time, year and location of my birth. I noticed she wrote nothing down and we went on to talk about other things. She called a few days later to tell me she’d worked out my astrological chart and we made plans to get together. When I saw her, she told me things about my background she could not have known, stuff that neither Glenn nor Bill knew. She informed me that modeling wasn’t what I was meant to be doing — I was a writer, she said; it was right there in my chart: Jupiter in my ninth house. My response to this information was to tell her, with respect, that I thought she was nuts. I was doing pretty damn well with a modeling career; what did writing have to do with it? Victory smiled and changed the subject, the way people do when they realize the person on the other side of the conversation isn’t ready to take in information.

Within a month or so we were friends, speaking often on the phone, going out for meals and the occasional movie. I learned that Victory was a vegetarian — not because it was a popular thing to be in the late ’60s but because she’d made a moral decision not to eat meat when she was in her teens. She never tried to push it: I’d order steak at a restaurant and she’d have a salad or buttered pasta without comment or attitude. She didn’t push the writing, either, except to tell me my degree of Scorpio rising was similar to that of Charles Dickens. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought, and let it go at that. If I’d been a bit faster on the uptake, I might have saved myself some real time by taking her advice seriously. I have always been an avid reader and I was educated by Dominican nuns who hammered the correct use of language into my head. But it never occurred to me that I might become a writer (despite that astrological connection to Dickens). Maybe it just seemed like too much work. When I asked about her background, Victory told me about living with her foster mother in a trailer park on the outskirts of Chicago. The foster mother, Betty, resented the kid and assured her she would never escape trailer park life because she was too ugly, too stupid and too stubborn.

Two of these observations were patently untrue; the third was right on the money: Victory was stubborn. She loved school and when she was 9 years old, she walked into a used bookstore and told the owner she couldn’t buy any books, but was it okay if she just looked. When the owner said yes, the girl knew she had found a warming place. She sat on the floor and began to read — first a book on astrology, then she was drawn into studies of metaphysics. By the time she was 11, she had a paper route in the trailer park and the means to buy books. She was happy but unlucky. At 14 she was raped by a young guy who was AWOL from the Air Force. He spent time in the stockade and within two months of his release, Victory discovered that she was pregnant. Her son, Tom, was born six months after her 15th birthday, and his father, who’d barely seen the baby, demanded full custody, warning Victory about the people he knew who would swear to her inability to raise a child. She knew she was a good mother but she was frightened by the man’s threats. She was still a kid who didn’t know how to fight this guy, backed up by his wealthy family, and although she begged to be allowed to keep her baby, he took the child from her. It would be more than 30 years before she was able to reconcile with Tom, who now had other children of his own. She had moved to L.A., found her first job as a cocktail waitress in a jazz joint and enrolled in a city college where she learned accounting. She is retired now and has become close with her son and his kids. She doesn’t resent the man who fathered Tom and took him from her. “He thought he was doing the right thing in the only way he knew.” I wasn’t then and am not now able to be that forgiving. Victory says it’s because of my Scorpio ascendant.

She has never quenched her thirst for knowledge or her interest in astrology. She has never been in the business of making money from that knowledge; she will do only the charts of those people who have become her friends. When, at the tail end of the ’80s,
I told her I was beginning to write, she didn’t gloat, didn’t say she’d told me so. She simply smiled broadly — content that I was fulfilling the destiny she had seen so long ago in
my chart.