*Judging Mason solely by his appearance would have been a mistake. An accident on Los Angeles’ treacherous 405 in the early ’70s may have left him mobility-challenged, but in 1985, the proud, stubborn and durable Louisiana-born Mason, 32, still had those striking looks: that strong jaw line and dimpled chin, distinctive hook nose, thick, jet black hair, dark, piercing eyes and flawless Cherokee skin. When his body was straightened out, Mason said he measured 5’7.
And it took every inch of him to deal with Anya. Los Angeles is riddled with the carcasses of the men who couldn’t.
A restless young woman with the innate, unenviable genius to always find the pariah in the room, Anya, at 27, had three children–two boys and a girl–all under age ten, by three different suitors.
I met her in ’85, at a private party on the old A&M Records Hollywood lot that she and a girlfriend crashed relying solely on Anya’s lean, stunning Algerian features. I wasn’t enough for her. After just one drama-filled dinner date, we opted for being dance partners.
That’s where Mason met Anya, in fact, somewhere on a dance floor, in a wicked Little Black Dress, brazenly shaking it up alone after being ditched mid-date by a man who was frustrated by her indiscriminate, disrespectful flirting with others.
Mason rolled up behind her, grinning and moving like Michael Jackson from the waist up, occasionally flicking a lever and spinning around. It was sheer compassion, Anya later told me, that kept her out there on the floor. By the night’s end, however, they’d made a date for the following week.
I couldn’t see the self-serving Anya with a man in a wheelchair, even if he was successful at selling luxury cars. But Mason’s stream-rolling humor and optimism Anya had never experienced. While I resisted asking as much as I wanted to know about it, she insisted that the sex was “amazing.” Mason adored Anya and her children who, fascinated by the chair, were on it the second Mason would vacate it for their couch.
For six months, there was fragile harmony. Mason insisted that she stop doing hair at the west L.A. salon and stay home with the kids. Then Anya started disappearing. He’d question her. Timelines wouldn’t compute; she’d curse him for caring.
Nearly any other man would have given up. But when Mason abandoned his wheelchair and his pride in the lobby of a Silverlake apartment building without an elevator, it was to torturously pull himself up three flights to knock on a stranger’s door at 3:00 a.m. and retrieve his woman. A partially dressed Anya stepped past her stunned and perplexed lover without explanation or goodbye, and into the view of Mason, sprawled in the hallway.
She positioned herself between his heavy, lifeless legs, holding them as if he were a human rickshaw, keeping the useless appendages out of his way as he used his powerful upper body strength to slowly work the rest of himself down two and three steps at a time, like an Olympic gymnast.
Neither said a word, Anya’s silent weeping more profound with each flight. By the time they reached the lobby, she was an emotional mess. Mason got back to his chair and into his black Mercedes. He headed home to relieve a hastily acquired babysitter, tailed by a silver BMW coupe, a changed woman behind the wheel.
“The man is like a dog,” Anya once declared to me, sincerely bewildered. “His love for me is unconditional.”
A year later I ran into them one Sunday afternoon at the Venice Pier looking like a real family, the children ambling ahead of Mason’s chair and, at his side, an Anya I never knew–sanguine, centered.
She chased after the kids while Mason gleefully treated me to caramel corn and news that Anya was pregnant. Everyone, it seemed, got what they wanted: Anya, a true and undivided love; the kids a doting father, and Mason, who, in a moment of alcohol-tempered pity once told me he came to appreciate the wheelchair because then he could never again be taunted as short, found a future bride and instant family that modern science helped him expand.
So, naturally, another year later, when he phoned me out of the blue, I had a million questions: How are the kids, what did you name the new one, how’s Anya and how dare you guys change your number without tellin’ nobody.
Cradling my enthusiasm, Mason began delicately: The kids were fine; he didn’t exactly change the number and Anya—pause–well, Anya passed away. She died while giving birth to a little girl that didn’t survive, either.
The words literally took my breath away.
He’d have called sooner, Mason said, but the past months had been pure,utter hell. Anya’s brother came from the U.K and took her back to Algeria. Phoning her parents with the news was the first time Mason had spoken to them. Anya’s folks didn’t want her children.
Nor did the biological dads. One was doing time, the wife of another immediately vetoed the idea and the third said he’d consider it, but demanded DNA proof. Their heartlessness was bittersweet music to Mason’s ears. The children, all he had left of Anya, were his, too. He didn’t want to give them up.
Mason was calling from his hometown, Shreveport, Louisiana, where they’d all relocated. His mother and the rest of his family embraced Anya’s children. He made a half hearted pass at small talk and said he’d call back when he had more time. Then he was gone.
I hung up the phone, both distraught and yet gratified that before she left here, a once pained, misguided Anya had the opportunity to experience a human being like Mason–who, in a wheelchair and 5’7, towers as the biggest man I know.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via[email protected]