Let’s give space to our stories
I was eight years old. My dad, at the time, was involved with a lot of community theatre. We used to make fun of all his hobbies back then- the theatre, the fly fishing, the motorcycle and kayak and everything else I can’t remember now. These days, he is older and more tired and looks less hopeful, and spends most of his days playing chess on his iPad in front of CNN, and I miss that old version of who he was.
I was eight years old, and he was cast in Lost in Yonkers at the theatre down the road. I quickly knew the script by heart, cover to cover. I attended four of the play’s rehearsals and four of its actual productions, and I think it pleased my dad that I was taking such an interest in theatre, in the story, and in him. In reality, my only interest was in the actress who played Bella. I remember very little about her now, except her real first name and that she had red, curly hair, like me. I remember thinking she was beautiful and kind and special and wanting to be in her presence all the time. I felt nervous being in the same room with her, but always hoped she would pay attention to me. Even a smile in my direction was enough to get my heart racing. Once I convinced my mom to let us attend a run of the play on a night that we hadn’t planned on going. Before dinner that evening, my dad cranked up the Dixie Chicks and he and my sister and I danced around the living room to Goodbye Earl and There’s Your Trouble, jumping from the couch to the coffee table to the floor, laughing and laughing. I was a neurotic and anxious kid most of the time, but I remember that moment as really carefree and happy. I was so excited to go do the thing that made me feel so nervous and excited and confused and brand new one more time.
Bella wore two bows in her hair during the play, one pink and one blue, and when the last show was over, the actress gave one to my sister and one to me. I used to come home from school every day, press that silky pink bow to my nose and inhale deeply. To anyone else, it would have smelled like the musty backstage of an old auditorium, but to me it smelled like a feeling I was just discovering, one that reminded me I was alive. I didn’t understand what I felt for this actress. I was 8 and she was forty-something and we were both girls. Back then I thought having feelings for someone was a choice you made, like when I told my friends in first grade that I thought Spencer seemed nice and normal and not totally ugly, and so we all agreed he would be my crush. But I do remember that when I would silently say my prayers every night (something I’ve long since abandoned)- for the health of my family, for my nana and papa up in heaven- I would also pray for this woman. And I remember it feeling like a secret, my unusual interest in this person’s wellbeing. Like it was not something anyone else would understand if I told them.
It would take another 8 years before I would come out as a lesbian to myself, another 10 before I would start coming out to others, another 14 before I would fully live openly. After the final show, I never saw the actress again. I still have that pink bow in my childhood bedroom, and sometimes I open the drawer it lives in and lift it to my nose, and it still smells like that auditorium and the beginning of everything. That actress was the first woman to ever make me feel the way she did (and the first older woman- the beginning of what may be a lifelong pattern, a story for another time), but she wouldn’t be the last. Since her, I’ve fallen in and out of love and had my heart shattered to pieces. I’ve fallen for people who haven’t fallen for me back, and had to disappoint some people for whom the situation was reversed. I’ve gotten over things I thought I never would and held onto others that I hadn’t suspected would mean so much. As I write this letter, I might be sitting here hoping for a text back from a woman who I know is no good for me, but who feels magical and makes me want to drop everything. These days it’s nice to remember that that kind of feeling is still possible.
That play marked the beginning of a world for me that has, at times, been incredibly messy and wonderful and brutal and beautiful, full of experiences that almost always seem necessary and important in retrospect. Right now, that world mostly feels paused, but I know that there will be more moments of exhilaration and aliveness when all of this passes, that life is eagerly awaiting my return.
Wherever you are right now, I know that is true for you, too.
👭 Boston, MA, USA
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