We’re actors, right? So let’s try it again, from the top.
We’ll start again on that same morning, after the part where I’d forgotten my lines and missed my cues and lost all the confidence you had built up in me all semester long. We’ll start with you waiting outside the theatre doors, leaning against the tall red walls in your brown bomber jacket, your schoolboy backpack slung over your right shoulder. And in the middle of the idling crowd you’ll reach out your hand to take mine as I try to slip by unnoticed, just like before, pulling me back, needing to tell me something urgent. Something that, at nineteen, I can’t possibly hear.
But this time, when you smile and your eyes are pleading and I feel the pang in my gut that something is off, that your eyes look removed, that there’s something wrong with your skin—and not just because of the Band-Aid on your left cheek, or the one on the back of your neck. It’s that your warm, boyish face has turned weirdly clinical, as if all those vitamins you’re always flying off to Paris for, always popping in the middle of rehearsals, have turned you rubbery, turned your skin into just a sallow organ stretched over bones. This time, when this dear, glowing smile of yours—yes, that one right there—that I constantly pursue, that I work my ass off for, when it makes my insides wince because it looks waxy and unnatural, as if you’ve turned to silly putty, as if I could press a newspaper into your other cheek and leave an impression, and I could read that impression off the side of your face, the biggest story in The New York Times that year: how all the boys are dying.
And at that moment when you, instead, impress upon me to stop wasting my time—on doubt, on useless perfectionism. On thinking I’m not good enough. When you squeeze my hand as we walk down the four flights of stairs, and you seem slightly winded along the way, and we pass your own graduation picture, and you tap your knuckle a little too hard on the face of the boy my age whose cheeks are soft and plump and blissfully oblivious, and you say, Don’t let twenty years pass and realize you’ve pissed away your gifts.
That part. Can we do something different there? I don’t know what. Maybe I could meet your gaze instead of giggling at the floor. Maybe I could wrap my arms around your waist instead of my own. Or maybe I could just, I don’t know, be brave. Take you in. Sit in the moment with you, out of my own head, letting all of my intentions/objectives, all that Meisner and Stanislavski and Hagen technique stuff that’s failing me now, just let it all go. And listen to my scene partner the way you taught me. Maybe then I could give back whatever it is you need so that we could change the course of the scene. Not sure yet what that would be. Hopefully it’ll come to me when we get there. We’ll riff, improv, see if we can change the ending. The part where I’ve outlived you by ten years, still nothing but doubt. The part where you’re a square patch of a quilt laid out each fall on the White House lawn.
Wendy Chirikos lives in Boulder, CO, with her husband and two young children. Her writing has appeared most recently in Cabinet of Heed, Lunate, Bending Genres and Homestead Review, and she is a past recipient of UCLA’s James Kirkwood Award in Creative Writing.