By the time I arrived in Los Angeles at noon that Sunday, the report that Dominique had been strangled outside her home by her former boyfriend and was in a coma at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center was on all the news channels and stations. Mart Crowley, the author of The Boys in the Band, the film version of which I had produced, met me at the airport and filled me in with what little information he had got from Lenny. Lenny's house on Crescent Drive was full of people when we got there. (It would stay that way from early morning until late at night for the next seven or eight days, during which relay teams of friends manned the telephones, screened the calls, handled the coffee detail, accepted the endless deliveries of flowers, made all the arrangements for our day-to-day living.) All the television sets and radios were on for news bulletins. In the midst of this confusion sat Lenny in her wheelchair. She was very calm. "The news is not good," she said to me. And within minutes I heard the words "brain damage" being whispered around the house.
Lenny's mother, who had heard the news on the radio, was on her way from San Diego. Griffin and Alex's plane would be in in a few hours. My relatives in Hartford called, and, as the news spread, so did friends in New York and London. A doctor at the hospital telephoned for my permission to insert a bolt into Dominique's skull to relieve the pressure on her brain. Was it absolutely necessary? I asked. Yes, he replied. All right, I said. I asked him when we could go and see her. Not yet, he said.
The boys arrived, ashen-faced. When the time came to go to the hospital, we were full of dreadful apprehension. Some friends said to Lenny, "You mustn't go. It would be a terrible mistake to look at her this way. You must remember her as she was." They were, of course, thinking of Lenny's health; stress is the worst thing for multiple sclerosis victims. She replied, "The mistake would be if I didn't see her. That is what I would have to live with."
The four of us proceeded in silence through the maze of corridors leading to the intensive care unit on the fifth floor of Cedars-Sinai. One of us, I don't remember which, pushed Lenny's wheelchair, and the other two flanked her--a formation we would automatically fall into many times in the year that followed. Outside the double doors of the unit are printed instructions telling you to buzz and announce yourself. I did so: "The family of Dominique Dunne is here." We were told to wait, that someone would come out and get us.
Several people were standing there, among them the actor George Hamilton. We exchanged greetings. George said his brother was also in the ICU, and that he had been there the night before when Dominique was brought in. Another man introduced himself to us as Ken Johnson, the director of the pilot Dominique was working on. Waiting nearby was a young actor in the same film named David Packer, his eyes red from crying. Packer, we learned, had been in Dominique's house at the time of the attack and had called in the police, albeit too late. Later we also learned that Packer became so frightened by the struggle he heard outside on the lawn that he left a message on a friend's answering machine saying, "If I die tonight, it was by John Sweeney."
A nurse appeared and told us that after we had seen Dominique the doctors would want to talk with us. She said that no one but immediate family would be allowed in, and asked us to show identification. They were afraid the press would try to pass themselves off as members of the family. She warned us that it would be a shock to look at her, that we should be prepared.
I worried about Lenny and looked over at her. She closed her eyes, bowed her head, and took a deep breath. I watched her will strength into herself, through some inner spiritual force, in a moment so intensely private that I dared not, even later, question her about it. Of the four of us, she was the strongest when we entered the room.
Copyright 2001 by Dominick Dunne Used by permission of Crown Publishing.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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