I don’t want to talk about it. So, I’ve turned off the television and Twitter. I am cocooned in the mountains: Working. This means I am minding a house and some animals not my own. Sleeping in a bed not my own.
When I am home, that place I use as my official address, I sleep in the center of my bed. Yet, for some reason, when I am in beds not my own, in other people’s homes, I sleep on the left side and to my right I pile my lounge clothes — most important of which is the souvenir T-shirt from Signature Theatre’s production of SideShow — the books I am reading, the Moleskin in which I am currently note-taking, Post-It stickers I use to mark passages of interest in books, and my reading glasses. In these beds, not my own, which are usually occupied by a couple, I fill in the empty half with things I pack and carry, my comforts, my loves.
Paris. I don’t want to talk about it. Echoes. When 9/11 happened, I was needed. I was needed to comfort people.
When 9/11 happened, I was running a performing arts studio where young people aged three to eighteen came, ostensibly to learn to dance and sing and act. Most were once-a-week, sixty minute visitors whose parents were making sure to help check off the list another of the required, middle-class, suburban stops along the way like soccer, horseback riding, sneaking liquor from one’s parents’ basement bar, and — for one out of five — a stint in teen rehab. Those many once-a-weekers shared the studio with the few, who for whatever reason, dreamed of a career in the performing arts and had been convinced that training like an olympian would insure that future, and so spent double-digit hours and quadruple-digit-dollars on multiple classes that they might triple-threat their way to fame and fortune.
Then, there were my kids — my special ones and my purpose — those who found me because they needed a place to belong, a place to feel they could fit in as themselves, a place safe and affirming, and they found such sanctuary in making theatre. We always had projects going on, one after another show, cabaret, class project. I was pretty much a one man band, a nearly talent-free combination of Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams, Hal Prince, John Waters; I wrote the shows, I built the sets, I did the lights, I found the costumes, I corralled volunteers, I paid for everything, and, all the while, I listened to them.
Paris happened. I don’t want to talk about it. What could I possibly add to the conversation? I am not one who talks in a crisis. I am one who listens. I wait. I hear. I let it be.
When 9/11 happened, during that period of my life, I nearly lived at the studio because in addition to the classes I taught and the shows I directed and stage managed and wrote and all those pesky practical requirements of running a physical plant — the business and the busy-ness of a place needing to be cleaned and maintained and populated and financed and all of that — I counseled.
My office, my theatre, my classroom, were never empty. I was never too busy. The Doctor Uncle was always in. My work was always being delayed by my serving the lost and the lonely and the disaffected and the outcasts and the lovelorn. I was known for comforting and encouraging the damaged. I had many, many students sent to me because they were — in one way or another — drowning in the outside world. Those being bullied, those questioning their sexuality, those with learning disabilities, those with Asperger’s, those with mood disorders, those with anger issues, those with speech impediments, those with crippling shyness, those with — you get the picture — they were sent to me. It was well known that I would take them in, that I would write for them, that I would embrace them — whoever they were — and hold their hands, attempt to walk them through the journey of learning to embrace themselves.
When 9/11 happened and that first plane ripped through the tower and tore the fabric of that hubristic American sense of inviolability, forever shaking its foundation, I was on my way in to the studio and was called, told what had happened, and I, being an expert at denial, insisted it was some sort of silly pilot error, nothing about which to worry. Not long later, when it became clear it was an intentional act and no one — from the government to the grocery stores — knew quite what to do or what was coming next, classes were canceled, the studio closed.
My phone started to ring. A number of parents of my special ones, and a few of my special ones, called me. While they knew the studio was closed, a show was on the way to happening — a few shows, in fact — and they assumed that even though the world as we knew it might be ending, I’d still be at the studio, getting things ready, the show must go on and what not. And, I was. The tower had fallen, life as they knew it was in danger of falling apart, and so, of course, they wanted to be with me, in the world we’d made together.
Of course I said yes. They came. I didn’t have time to worry about how I was feeling, about my fear, because I had to validate and assuage theirs. And, there were shows to do. But first, I sat there with them (and, in some cases, their parents too) and I held them, and I let them cry and imagine the worst (and suggested the best) and we kept on. Kept going. Tried to make sense of 9/11 in the same way we tried to make sense of shows, finding our own context and making use of what we had to tell our own stories, all of which — in my teaching and writing and producing and directing, for my special ones — were exercise in trying to make sense of our own lives, to understand and make art (sense, cope with) our own trials and pains and persecutions and fears and troubles and traumas. I didn’t have — have never had — a huge tool-bag of talent for the things at which I dreamed I would succeed, wanted to succeed [— I sang well enough, was committed unto insanity to the roles I played, and had some spark, as one teacher said to me early on (borrowing, I later discovered, from Ruth Gordon who’d said the same of Barbra Streisand), “You are great but not good.” And, as a writer, I am okay, but not brilliant] but I was very good at making other people feel loved, feel as if they were seen. I did love them. I did see them. I did bandage open wounds and offer transfusions. I did empathy until I was empty. Tool bag, depleted.
Paris has happened. I don’t want to talk about it. Already, the cruelty, the accusations, the blame.
When 9/11 happened, there followed weeks, I remember, in the aftermath of such a horror, during which time people became kinder — while driving, while waiting in lines, everywhere in general — the world having been riven by haters and joined in trauma united, became more loving.
Of course, that passed. We all went back to our lives. We all started focusing again on our differences rather than the places where we were alike, we again got busy marking territory and screaming, “Mine! Me!” And we hoarded our pain, gave up on sharing anything but our contempt for those with whom we did not agree.
Now. Paris. The latest atrocity. Another horror I cannot understand. Only, this time, no one came to me for comfort. And I, alone, went to no one else. Rather, I turned off the television, Twitter, my phone, and further cocooned.
I share my bed with these things that give me comfort, that keep me warm. My bed — if I am lucky — is NOT my bed, but, someone else’s. Not, mind you, in the sleeping around, have a lover/trick/one-night-stand sort of fun way, but, rather, in the thank-heavens I got a house/pet sitting gig because I am broke sort of way.
Paris happened. I feel as if something else is soon going to happen. I don’t want to talk about it. I am sleeping in a bed usually occupied by the parents of one of the (then) young, special ones I mentored and comforted during 9/11. This time, I had their dogs and cat on my lap. This time, I stayed in. I turned off. I tuned out.
The world — Paris. All the places where terror and hate reign. Hunger. Bigotry. All the awful -isms. All far more important than the mystery of how the bed I am in is so often not my own, how one side is undisturbed by anything but the things I carry, how completely and utterly alone I am, writing into the ether like this.
Confession: I am wondering, as I type this, alone, here, occupying half a bed and looking back from here, where I am, going, only to discover that I skipped (again) a page in my Moleskin — if that isn’t somehow metaphor, leaving a blank page so that I can — someday, one day, some time, look back, flip back, and fill in what it is that I am missing now — in the then. Because, looking back on 9/11 from here, I have confessed — for the first time in writing, out loud — that I was never really talented enough in theatre or writing to achieve my dreams, my wants — and perhaps, should I survive, years from now I will see what I am missing — oh dear — here, alone, that maybe, after all, I was not so good at the comforting and the loving and the mentoring. Because, look at where I am, who I am, and what I have not.
I am alone. Without anyone coming to me for comfort. Without anyone missing me, that I’ve turned off Twitter and my phone, and hidden away. Without. Without a song. Without words to fill in those pages I missed. Without.
I don’t want to talk about it. But, if I did, who — other than the things with which I’ve filled the other half of these beds I visit — would listen?
I don’t want to talk about it.
I don’t want to talk about.
I don’t want to talk.
I don’t want to.
I don’t want.