What Saved Me Current mood: luminous Category: Life
I think quite literally, theater saved my life. I wish, in some way that I had found my way in earlier, but that "things happen for a reason" sometimes seems to apply.
When I was five, the first thing I knew was that I wanted to be an actress. I was absolutely fascinated with all things television and movies. Wow. I think I bravely voiced it outloud once to my family and was soundly ridiculed so I kept quiet about it. My mother confided to me that she had always wanted to be a performer, notably an opera singer, and that she took lessons for years and years but was never quite there.
She wrote stories and poetry quietly and then someone told her she was terrible (she isn't) but I think a part of her still believes it.
Maybe that's why she took the practical route and suffered silently, unfulfilled in so many ways, eeking out ways of expressing herself, taking to the stage once in while at a benefit. The woman has published five books and still doesn't consider herself a writer. They are only academic books, she says.
The women do a lot of that in my family. "It was only... it wasn't a big deal... I just got lucky..."
We are pink cheeked and embarrassed at our own naked ambition. But it blooms in us, nevertheless. At seven, I knew I was a writer and that it would be added to my dreams but that I had a better shot at that than anything else. Still, it was my mother's angst and my grandmother's bitterness that drove me. Dreams growing quiet with the years.
Every time I saw that far away look, that unshed tear, that quiet acceptance of "this is not for me", I rebelled further. I made a secret plan. To run away to California when I turned 18. It seemed only right that I go back to where I was born and pursue it. I was just waiting for the courage. But I was going to find it.
I was going to arrive with $200 in my pocket and luck on my side. Sounds absolutely crazy, but that was my plan at the age of seventeen. I didn't care about college or the smart way or the compromises people take. I had the stupidity of youth and a track record of calculated risk, and I was not afraid of it. I was more afraid of not doing it. I don't think I really fleshed out my plan to my then boyfriend. He was moderately supportive but mostly just an ass. He probably listened to some of it and dismissed it, and me.
Maybe I get it. I don't know. I hate that people ridicule and marginalize our dreams. I still hear it today.
"yeah... you know that is going to be quite difficult."
Really? Cause in my imagination it was going to be easy... you idiot. Shall I not do something because it presents a challenge? Am I not smart enough? Not lucky enough? Or is it YOU, naysayer, with the lack of imagination? Of course it will be difficult, I wouldn't want to do it if it did not give me a challenge. Anything worth having is worth working for.
But at 17 and 1/2, the stick turned blue and I knew I was now facing the biggest choice of my life. I think the easy one was having that baby. I turned 18 on a beautiful day in May, and I remember vividly sitting outside on the front steps of the apartment I shared with my boyfriend and breathing in the sweet spring air and wondering what was going to become of me. I was still wearing regular clothes, that little baby bump, barely visible to the outside world, moving inside me. Me, knowing that the practical thing to do, the thing that made the most sense, the smart thing to do, the right thing to do would be to give him up for adoption.
But I have never taken the strictly practical route because I have always believed that I can do the impossible. Find a way. I can always find a way. So, I hit a bump in the road, I will find a way. I've done plenty of things for practical reasons and done the practical thing many times but I rarely argue with my heart when it tells me to love and give.
We never have children for practical reasons. Let's face it, the reason is never that. That beautiful day when the weather was a little chilly in the morning but the sun peaking at noon told me that it would warm up nicely, I knew that the best laid plans of mine were forever burned away. But maybe there would be another way.
Four years later, I drove to California with my good friend who had been pregnant at the same time as me and she gave her child up for adoption. She was moving there to be with her boyfriend. I cannot tell you how many things died inside me with jealousy on that trip. It was... my dream she was living... it was... the road not taken.
I was there for a week, that Saturday was my 22nd birthday and we went to Disneyland. It was a wonderful week, a magical week. My two kids were at the sitter and I was free for the first time to sleep and go places unencumbered. A thousand joys and a thousand deaths plagued me that week. I kept thinking, I belong here.
We went out to Santa Monica beach, where I was born and lived the first few years of my life. I don't remember much but being lulled to sleep by the sound of the ocean, and the salt air always seems to bring back in me a visceral, tangible memory of a time that was ripped from me.
My friend took a picture of me into the sun and all you can see is a shadow surrounding me. It's one of my favorite pictures. I am there but the shadow of my child self lingers over me.
For the next few years, all I talked about was getting back there and finding a way back there. I talked to everyone about it. Like I could finish school out there. My brother and his wife even kind of offered to take the kids so that I could find a place and get my crap together. Why did I not take him up on it? I think because his sole motivation was to get me out of my parent's house. And a solid plan was never made. It would have been hard to be away from the kids and to burden someone else with them.
Life intervened. I thought I would get there with the next boyfriend who promised me we would move there. He had lived out there for two years and we would go. But being black and blue dissuaded me from his promises.
Life intervened. I threw myself into school, determined to finish college and move out there with a degree. After two years of persistence, the slide began. The depression was overtaking me. Here it comes. I fought but it was like a wave, just when you thought you could breathe and swim, it takes you under again.So there I was in my twenties, sinking fast. I think I gave up on everything, gave up on myself. There was a period of time, years, when I didn't write a word. Not a letter to a friend. Not an email. Not a word. Dropped out of college again and began the slow process of drowning.
The dream was choking. The dream to do what I love. I think I would just turn on Oprah and watch all those people following their bliss and it was quite literally killing me because I could not imagine how to start. For me, every tiny little thing was potentially the last thing I would do. It was of utmost importance that if I got even a little of it, it was something that wouldn't last.
I had gotten cast in a play at Webster, my first, and I was quite literally convinced it would never happen again, that I should squeeze every ounce of joy from it as it would never happen again.
At the depth of my depression, I remember reaching through the darkness and touching something...a light that would be my daughter...a hope that would begin things anew. I did the practical thing when she was born and went to work for Cicero's to dig me out from that debt, and it was okay for a while but the spiral began again.
In that dark place, there is always a candle I keep burning. I never could quite give it up, the dream. It seemed impossible most of my life, it seemed improbable once I gave my life to those babies. After a series of fights with the owner and back and forth, I was moved to night shifts at work. Managing nights has it's own series of problems but I much preferred it to days.
There was a couple that came in that were regulars. I really liked them, but the wife was rather particular about how she liked her food so I saw a lot of them. They were pleasant. Fix the problem and they were done complaining. They were never unreasonable, just particular. As with many of the regulars, I grew fond of them and began to have long conversations with them. He taught high school theater and they were both very active in the theater community.
Recently, they had just joined a local community theater group and he was directing a play. They were a directing team, and they brought the whole cast in after the show. I looked on with happiness and angst.
"I always wished I could do that." I said.
"Why don't you?"
"Because... I...." There were no words... why didn't I? Because I didn't know how. Because I didn't know this existed, because I couldn't believe that any group would possibly want me.
The husband said to me later...
"You really want to do this? I'm directing To Kill a Mockingbird this summer. Come be my assistant director."
"I've never done anything like that before."
"I'll teach you."
And he did. That was seven years ago, and I was hooked. And it quite literally saved me and saved my dream. I didn't know what we had here. In one year consecutively, I was a writer, actress and director, and that is all I ever wanted to be.
I'm so glad I didn't give it up and do the practical thing.