SUE: For a couple of years I was having these episodes where I felt like I was dying. I couldn’t breathe; my heart would race. I went to the hospital something like five times, a couple by ambulance. They’d check me out and tell me I was fine.
JEFF: I was in Canada shooting a documentary on hookers. I was lonely as hell, isolated, and I started drinking. I know I shouldn’t. I get out of control. I’m self-destructive. One night, I wrote drunken Facebook messages to people I’d done stand-up comedy with, comedians I hadn’t spoken to in years. I also wrote Sue. I’d always liked her. I was pulled to her the second I saw her. I’d never said even a hundred words to her. Hammered, I unleashed: “I fucking love you! You belong to me, bitch! You…Are…My…DESTINY.”
SUE: What the FUCK? I hadn’t heard from Jeff in almost seven years. We hadn’t been close friends or anything. We briefly talked when we did stand-up, but WHO IS THIS GUY? I mean I thought he was cute, but Jeff used to give me the creeps. I was sure he was the kind of guy who had people chained in his basement.
I’d been sitting in my apartment that night, watching a teen love story on Netflix and crying, when I decided to take a bath. I lit candles, looked up at the stucco ceiling and asked, “Do I have a destiny when it comes to love?”
JEFF: Several comedians freaked over my drunken Facebook messages. Here’s an excerpt: “Listen up, Glenn, I’m coming to your comedy show with a suitcase full of cocaine and I’m hijacking the stage. I’m going up there the second I enter the room. I don’t give a fuck who’s on stage. Christian Bale and I just bought John DeLorean’s coke car and we’re going to kill someone in front of you and put the body in the trunk and joyride. Every second forty people die by my hand.”
The next day the FBI called me in Canada. I missed their call. My voicemail was full, so they emailed. Their email went to SPAM. “My name’s Ron Bonner. I’m a Special Agent with the FBI. I’d like to speak to you about a serious matter unrelated to your recently published book. Please call me.”
SUE: I didn’t hear from Jeff for a week. I thought he was blowing me off. He finally told me about the FBI (Um, THE FBI?) and the Facebook messages. I thought they were dark and disturbing, but also funny as shit.
I realized I wasn’t scared of Jeff, or his coke car. I’d get off the phone and feel empty. I’d miss him. But, who the hell was I talking to, really? And what was goin’ on up there in Canada?
JEFF: I had to drink six beers my first call with Sue. I didn’t think I was good enough for her. She’d starred on sitcoms. She actually had a life. I’ve been insecure my entire life. I’ve sabotaged many opportunities.
SUE: After a few months, the long distance thing began taking its toll. I told Jeff as much. He sent me a passage from American Desperado, a book about a “drug lord” of all people. Jeff said the passage was tragically sad. A man wanted his ashes mixed with his wife’s after he died, and spread over the Atlantic. I said, “Sad? I don’t find this sad, I find it beautiful.” Jeff said he hated that we die and part from our loved ones. He said we should all live to be a thousand, not seventy-five.
This pissed me off. I told him I could think of nothing closer to the equivalent of living to a thousand years old than a couple becoming one with the sea.
JEFF: Sue and I began talking about me moving to LA. I wanted to, but wasn’t in a position. I was flat broke. She said I could stay at her place, to see how things went. I was scared. I only really knew her from the phone. Hadn’t seen her in years.
SUE: I was working as a waitress in LA. My plan was to pay off some debt, gain some stability, and break back into film and television. Truth be told, to quote an aunt of mine with regard to my life: I “owned nothing.”
JEFF: I was thinking this’ll never work with Sue because I’ll most likely get arrested. I thought the FBI was waiting for me to set foot on American soil, then nab me for terrorist threats to those comedians. They’d been vigorously investigating me. I had another project going. People from all over the world—people I didn’t know—would call me. I posted a flyer with my phone number on the internet. It said, “Call and let’s talk about anything.” Thousands of people called and revealed to me their most intimate secrets. I was collecting these conversations for a project. The FBI—after reading all those insane, drunk Facebook messages—wanted to make sure I wasn’t a serial killer luring vulnerable people in with my world-famous internet number. They tapped my phone (I’d hear clicking sounds). They hacked my email. I had undercover agents profiling me to see if I was a pedo. One such text was the FBI posing as a young girl: “hey jeff. saw u on inside edition. i want to know u. you got a dick pic? im very impressionable. only 14. Lets hook up.” I should’ve texted back: “Sorry, I don’t send dick pics to FBI agents anymore.”
SUE: I asked myself a thousand times if I’d really lost it this time, or if I was just one of those desperate women who can’t resist getting involved with “bad men.” I’d continually come to the conclusion that one or the other had to be true, and then, Jeff and I would speak, and, my arguments supporting each would be obliterated by how great I felt just by hearing his voice.
JEFF: I left Canada for Sue’s in Los Angeles by bus. I spoke with my brother for the first time in years. I wanted to reconnect with Jason. He lives in Washington state, which was on the way. Jason and I have been at each other’s throats our entire lives. The last time we got together it ended in a drunken melee.
SUE: Jeff would call me and put Jason on the phone. Jason’s job was to “validate” Jeff. To show me that he was “normal.” Once Jason’s girlfriend called and said, “Jeff told me he’s gonna marry you.” My response was, “Yeah, that’s probably exactly what’s gonna happen.”
JEFF: My brother and I had a great week. We were really able to talk to each other for the first time, granted we were wasted. I asked him if I could stay and work for his construction company for a while. I didn’t want to show up at Sue’s with next to nothing. He had no work. I was being pulled to Sue.
SUE: I knew that Jeff was on a bender at his brother’s, and it scared me to death. I’ve struggled with several of my own addictions. I’m in recovery for bulimia and I know exactly what it looks like to want to flush your life away.
JEFF: I called my aunt who lives in Oregon. I wanted to visit more relatives on my way. Really, I wanted to prolong meeting up with Sue.
SUE: I felt calmer when Jeff got to his aunt’s. I went to the Dollar Store and bought us matching coffee mugs . I wanted to jazz up the apartment in a last ditch effort to make us a home. I had a panic attack in the store, thinking, this is either the best or the worst thing I’ve ever done.
JEFF: I got to learn about my mom for really the first time at my aunt’s. I had hated my parents. I saw them a little differently after this visit. My parents were deeply flawed people.
I got to see many relatives in Oregon. They asked me innumerable questions. They said they were envious of me. I had a book out, had been on TV, had a reality show in the works. I was envious of them. They had families, roots, stability.
SUE: Family and relationships are hard for me. In many ways, I do much better on my own. A year earlier another guy had professed his love for me in the middle of the night. The next day he claimed it never happened.
JEFF: My aunt dropped me off at the bus station. I told her that my mom would be proud of her. My mom had raised my aunt. She drove off, came back, rolled her window down and said: “Jeff, your mom would be proud of you.”
SUE: I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of mothers. I’ve wanted to be one—to look into my child’s eyes and have us recognize each other.
I was told that, like me, my biological mother had moved to Los Angeles to become an actress.
The first two times I lived in LA, I secretly looked for my mother in the eyes of every older woman who crossed my path.
Sometimes I’d stop random women and ask them where they were from.
JEFF: I didn’t want to meet Sue after a long sweaty Greyhound ride. I’d show up with no sleep. You can’t sleep on a bus. Constipated? Have you ever seen a bus bathroom?
SUE: Jeff texted: “On bus. leaving oregon. 16 hrs away.” I called my best friend, Sam. He’s a Mormon, six kids, awesome wife. I told him I wanted to back out. He said, “Well, Sue, I’m glad you called. Ya can’t. Talk to ya later.”
JEFF: Thirty miles outside LA, there was a massive wildfire, hundred-foot flames. I thought to myself, is this what I’m heading into?
In the LA bus station, I brushed my teeth, changed clothes, combed my hair.
SUE: I got a text from Jeff. “in cab. see u in 20. good morning!” Oh, shit.
JEFF: I didn’t get a text back from Sue. I called, no answer. I got to the apartment complex and knocked on door 430. A man answered. I asked for Sue. He said no Sue lived there. I began panicking, thinking that maybe I’ve been punked by Sue and those comedians I sent those Facebook messages to? Is this comedic vengeance?
I frantically called Sue again. She answered. Her apartment was 430½. I went around the corner. She looked stunning on the steps, prettier than I’d remembered.
SUE: I was scared. He may not think I’m attractive? Maybe I’m too old for him.
JEFF: I couldn’t keep my hands off her. I felt at home instantly. A week into living with Sue I told her I could be happy with her in this small one bedroom apartment for the rest of my life.
SUE: After a few weeks of domestic bliss, without warning, we had to move. It totally sucked.
I knew Jeff was an alcoholic, but I was admittedly in an amount of denial about what that could mean. When he drank, he was irritable and controlling. He wasn’t the guy I’d been speaking with.
JEFF: I began drinking daily. I’ve been running from myself my entire life. I’ve jumped into basketball, books, writing, alcohol—anything to escape me.
SUE: I remember standing in the shower at the new place, looking out the window, thinking how the hell did I get here? I was beginning to doubt Jeff’s love for me.
I wondered about some of his past relationships and friendships. I wondered what the fuck he had really been doing in Canada. I began wondering about everything. I wondered if I’d made a huge mistake.
JEFF: I went on a two-day bender. I was in and out of blackouts. Our roommates said they were surprised to see this side of me: “Angry, aggressive.” One of them told me that I had actually attempted to “police our driveway,” whatever that means.
Sue was freaked by my behavior. She packed up her shit and said she was moving out. She said that we both needed help. She left, and then came back.
That night Sue was in bed and I was on the deck. My smartphone kept freezing and wouldn’t play music. I punched my phone, shattering the screen. I came into the bedroom (I don’t remember any of this) and began punching myself in the chest and face. Sue yelled for our live-in landlord, Morty, whose room was down the hall.
SUE: The night before I finally left, Jeff came to me in bed. I was half asleep. Jeff was beyond drunk. He was crying. He began rubbing my back and telling me how he knew he fucked up. He said that he was going to tell the producers of a reality show he was working on to give me “all the money.” He said I was the most beautiful girl in the world.
Earlier, he went to the store to get me some Advil. He came back with the Advil and a half gallon of vodka. He slammed the vodka down and laughed, saying he just grabbed it off the shelf and forgot to pay. He picked up a glass and threw if off the deck and taunted: “Go tell the bed and breakfast inn keeper.”
I heard him breaking his phone on the deck. He came in. He began spitting all over the room. He began punching himself in the face and chest. I went to the landlord’s room and told him I needed help. Jeff called out the doorway, “You’re dead, bitch.”
JEFF: I came home from a reality show shoot and Sue was gone. I drank more. Next morning, I began sobering up.
I wrote Sue emails: “I love you, and will quit drinking.”
Her replies were cold: “Trying to sort through this … I don’t see any easy solutions at this point.”
SUE: I was contemplating moving out of California. I didn’t know what Jeff was capable of. Years ago I was in an abusive relationship, and I moved out in the middle of the night.
JEFF: I remember trying to fall asleep without Sue. It was impossible. I’d try to focus on TV. During the day I couldn’t leave that tiny room. I was ashamed to see anyone. I was ashamed to look in the mirror.
SUE: I stayed at a co-worker’s house. She’s twenty years younger than me and lives with her parents. It was awkward, but I was too embarrassed to tell anyone else what was really going on. My life was in shopping bags in the back of her car.
JEFF: A homeless couple was sitting next to me on an LA city bus. The woman had bags of laundry blocking the aisle. She began yelling at her guy, “What, am I supposed to be grateful that you took me to do laundry! Big fucking deal!” He’d lower his head, lean in, and whisper something in her ear, she’d fire back, “Oh, what? Am I embarrassing you! Well, fuck you, ‘cause you ain’t nobody! And when you were somebody, did you give a fuck about me? NO! NO, YA DIDN’T!!” Finally, she got up, dragging her laundry to the bus door. We were still a few blocks from the next stop. He looked at her and waved, “Ain’t you even gonna say goodbye?” She stared straight ahead. I could see that she was crying. The bus stopped, I watched her wipe her eyes with the back of her hand. He knew to give her a second. I watched them walk off together.
Sue Ball is an American actress best known for her film and television work including her starring role in the sitcom Leo and Liz in Beverly Hills, created by Steve Martin. She recently directed and starred in a music video for the song “Albino Raindrops” (an “80′s new wave hit that never was”) which was an official selection at The Los Angeles Music Video Festival in 2011.
Jeff Ragsdale is an American author, documentary filmmaker, actor, stand-up comedian, and national game show winner. His body of work is interdisciplinary in scope and includes film, fiction, monologue, digital media presentations, stand-up comedy, conceptual art, street theater, and live performance art. He is best known for his 2012 book Jeff, One Lonely Guy, which was selected by Dave Eggers for inclusion in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012, and it was a GQ 2012 “Book of the Year”.