Most people look back fondly at their childhood, with thoughts of running in the park and tossing water balloons at elderly people as they drive by. Unfortunately, I am not one of those lucky people. My childhood was a hodge-podge of forced theatrics and thespianship. When other children jumped through the sprinkler, I was in my basement trying to get my lines right for the summer play that was put on in the park.
My earliest memories, in fact, revolve around the stage. By the time I was four years old, I was asked to appear as an extra in the local productions. Sometimes I was a Munchkin for the Wizard of Oz and other times I was some unwanted orphan in Annie. Even before I had lines, people from the area began to recognize my face.
Having grown up on the stage from such an early time does wonders to your brain. Bad wonders, that is. Sometimes I don’t remember which events really happened to me and which were just going on around me as part of the show. I am pretty sure that the part about being driven into the hills by Nazis was the Sound of Music rather than something I really experienced, though. At least I hope so.
This should be enough background for you to truly appreciate the point I am leading up to here, the story I really want to tell.
Things like this stay with you your entire life. Many girls take ballet lessons as a child or learn piano or any other number of things parents force upon them. But ballet and piano are things that only the parents ever see. My younger brother had piano lessons, actually, and the only people at the recitals were a handful of parents. Some of the parents didn’t even bother to show up. And I don’t mean like there was a mother but no father. I really mean neither parent showed up at all.
But you see, in theater, not only do your parents show up, and your grandparents, but the whole flipping town shows up. If you were raised in a small Midwestern town like me, chances are the mayor is going to show up and perhaps the police chief has a son who does the lighting and so on. Your small part with a handful of lines suddenly becomes a spectacle for the entirely community.
Now, as I was saying, this sticks with you throughout your entire life. Everyone who was there remembers you as the girl from the musical. And it even interferes with dating, believe me.
My first real boyfriend was when I was sixteen. This is later than most girls, and it isn’t because I’m ugly or anything. Again, it is the drama department impacting my daily life. Many of my male friends were also drama people, and the stereotype about guys in drama tends to be true more often than not. Also, their interests were too similar to my own which made them more like brothers or “just friends” than someone I would consider actually dating.
I finally met the right boy. A kid named Zachary, or just plain Zach. He was one of those cool kids who knew everybody but wasn’t really part of any group. Not a prep or a jock or a punk or any of those things. Just a cool kid with an ear for music. Based on his T-shirt collection, he seemed to prefer rock music from the early 1990s. Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, those sorts of things. Music before the wave of pop ear candy garbage we have been polluted with.
Zach was the type of guy who liked to treat the ladies, or at least treat me. I think I was his first girlfriend, though it’s hard to say as I never asked him. He offered to take me to a show, and I was so excited. I accepted, and he said he would pick up the tickets in a few days. I had never been to a concert before, so I was really looking forward to catching some celebrity in person and maybe even meeting them backstage. I knew the Green Day concert was coming up, and I thought that would be perfect – maybe even get to hang out backstage with Billie Joe or Tre. I was tingling in anticipation.
The day came and Zach picked me up in his LeSabre. He wouldn’t tell me what the tickets were for, but he said it was a show he wanted to see for many years. I was pretty convinced it was Green Day now, as I also have wanted to see them for many years and I was just sure we had similar tastes in music.
On the ride to Green Bay (which seems an appropriate place to see Green Day), we discussed all kinds of things you would expect to find in high school politics. Who was sleeping with who, and which teachers graded unfairly. There had been a rumor in the cafeteria that Mister Charleston was seeing Miss Piudzinski after hours, and when Zach told me he had heard the rumor as well, I was certain that it must be true. Why do teachers always feel the need to date other teachers? Obviously they haven’t taken to heart the expression about separating business and pleasure.
We parked behind a bus, which was probably the tour bus. Zach exited the vehicle, walked around the back and opened my door for me. Charming, handsome, a worthy conversationalist; this boy had it all. He held my hand palm in palm, which I always thought was more romantic than the interlocked fingers method. Palms to me imply romance while tight fingers seem to cry out someone was holding on for dear life, which in turn implies insecurity. Yeah, my mind wanders a little, but you know women and their non-linear logic. Our signals are so subtle you may as well just give up all hope of ever guessing our moods or thoughts correctly.
Being escorted into the building, past crowds of young people conversing in the lobby, he led me to our seats. I was hoping this would be one of those concerts without seats where everyone moshes and gets passed around, but a free concert is a free concert. The lights dimmed, the audience became very quiet. Then the curtain raised and I saw something I had hoped I would never see again. As Zach began to smile in anticipation, I grimaced in pain. As it turns out, Zach had read me the same way everyone else did.
Behind that curtain was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats”… and for the next two hours I dug my nails into the armrests and tried to feign enjoyment for Zach’s sake. We would have to have a little talk after the show, I think.
To this day I get queasy when I hear someone hum the opening chords of “Memory”. Why, mom, why did you have to ruin my life like this?