Friday, January 28, 2011

Red, Green, Amber

There wasn't much of a crowd --maybe 25 people, a poor turnout no matter how you looked at it. With it being opening night, at least a third of the audience was probably related to someone in the production. A few others would be members of the theater group. They served on the board. They were volunteers and they'd come out as moral support.

Really, there were only a couple of truly die-hard theater fans: a scruffy, bent man sipping fizzy water flavored with a big olive and very little water; a pair of teenage lesbians who'd taken their waifish, pet boy out for the evening and one or two gray others who'd come alone.

For a second, I envied the guy who'd bought the tonic water with a splash of vodka (six bucks, what a rip off!), but at least he had some idea what he was doing here. Me, I had no clue. I didn't know the play, barely knew the actors and had no idea where I was going with the review.

Reviewing local theater can be kind of thorny. Musicians tend to develop thick skins by exercise, by simply watching how many people leave their seats during their show to go to the bathroom, go outside for a cigarette or head off to chat up the bartender, the waitress or the militant-looking girl with the nose ring, the black boots and the short skirt. Visual artists largely don't care what you think --if you hate it. They're creative cocoon is comfy enough for one and besides, they sold a piece last fall so fuck you --not that it's about the money because it's not.

Local theater groups are a culture unto themselves. They're tribal and when they decide they've been wounded, they can get bitchy. They won't call or write, but you'll hear them mumbling about it for weeks. Their displeasure will not show up in the comments section or on the vent line, but will be telegraphed along the various grape vines.

The best you can do is choose your words wisely, be honest, avoid unnecessary cruelty and look for what works. Getting up on stage is hard. It's brave, particularly when you know you're not GREAT. You're just a local actor doing a small play only a few people will see.

The play was about to start. A few stragglers came in late and grabbed seats in front. The actors took their places. One of them looked out over the shallow pond of faces and seemed to stare right at me. The jolt was immediate and powerful.

For a second, I didn't believe it was her.

In my life, people come and go. Often, they disappear suddenly. They call from the road, leave weird notes that make you think they've joined a cult or sometimes they just stop showing up for work. They utterly vanish.

A month or a year later, somebody tells you some little thing about them, how they ran into them while they were on vacation or how they got a card from them at Christmas, unexpectedly.

Each absence cuts deep into the heart of met. No loss is ever recovered, even if new people come into my life and start new conversations. The ache never goes away. I miss them forever.

Amber was one of those people I'd gotten attached to. She'd dropped out of my life suddenly, went off and got married. I thought she'd left town, left the state, left the solar system, but there she was. She smiled and winked.

I tried to make some sign that I knew it was her, that I was seeing her, too. I wasn't sure if she was getting that then I looked over. Sitting three or four seats over and a row back was her very proud, absolutely beaming husband waving back.

My heart sank. She hadn't recognized me.

It had been a couple of years. It was dark. I was older, though to me I look the same, but I didn't remember if she'd ever seen me with a beard --and honestly, maybe I hadn't meant so much to her. It sounds cynical, but you never never really know how much someone cares about you, regardless of what they say. The allotment of space in the human heart varies from person to person.

The theater darkened and I tried not to stare. I had a play to review, but it was hard not to focus all of my attention on her. We'd been friends. I'd missed her, but that didn't even mean she remembered me.

The play was fine, better than expected. I laughed. I groaned. I tried to keep a tally of what worked for me and what didn't. Mostly, it worked. The play ended. The actors took their bows and the lights came up. I shuffled on my coat. It was time to get back to the office.

At least, I knew her new last name. It was in the program. She seemed to be doing all right.

The actors wandered into the crowd, shook hands and accepted kind words from their friends and family. Amber spoke with a few people on the front row then pulled away and came up the steps.

She called my name.

"I knew it was you," she said. "I tried to let you know I saw you." She smiled. "Your face..."

She told me she didn't know if I'd recognized her. She'd had a child and gained weight. That seemed to pain her most of all. She didn't look exactly like she did four or five years ago.

"I wasn't sure if you'd know me," she said.

"I'd recognize you at a hundred yards," I told her. "I've missed you all along."

She wanted to talk. She wanted to know where I'd been in the last four years, what I was up to. She wanted everything right then, but there wasn't time to explain, though the short answer was, "nowhere." I've been here all along.

I wrote down my office number, the only reliable way to reach me.

"Give me a call," I said. "I'll buy you coffee. We can have lunch. I want to hear everything."

Before I left, she introduced me to her husband. We'd met before. I remembered him. He did not remember me, but that was fine. I didn't really miss him either.

I did the work I had to then while I was thinking about it, I looked her up on facebook. The damned thing has its uses. I threw out a line to her there --just in case she lost the number. I haven't heard back yet, but I'm hopeful.

People have left my life lately and it has been a heavier burden than I would have thought it to be. I thought I was used to the traffic by now. I keep blaming my age, this middle age, and maybe that's it, but also maybe it's a failure to see the people who've come back.

Seeing Amber again gave me some comfort. Not everything lost is gone forever. Sometimes they come back and sometimes they've missed you all along.

I needed to feel that again. I needed to believe that again.


Peregrinus said...

That was an AMAZING post. Outstanding. I can't say enough good things about its pace, its honesty, its palpable longing...just damn great stuff.

And you're one of the people I miss.

eclectic guy said...

This is a great post. I like it when you write from the heart, dude.

Trips down memory lane are a toss of the dice. So, so unpredictable. Glad she recognized you and maybe, just maybe, you guys can talk.

I find myself wanting to talk to people from my past just so that it confirms that all that stuff really did happen. To solidify my past, so to speak. That stuff is getting further and further away from me.

Why do we get so close to people and then drift apart? You fall desperately in love and then one day, you become invisible. It doesn't make sense. I am forever naive and imagine that people at leats think of us once in a great while with fondness. I hope it anyway.