As a girl, I’d get to go backstage to meet the dancers.
I’d look around in awe that they were actual, real people as they removed their make-up and changed into street clothes. Ordinary people who would take the subway home to fourth-floor walk-ups. People who had cats to feed or little brothers who needed help with their homework.
I would always have chosen a favorite. And sometimes, before we drove home, I’d walk on the stage, feeling the leftover heat and dust of their hearts and sweat, the stories they’d shown without words, my own body not so much ignited as ignition itself, longing to stay not behind the stage but on it, left, right, and center, hands on keys and barefeet on the floor, my voice filling the empty hall, imagining growing up and becoming one of them.
Backstage. It makes me a little nervous, just writing that word down. The butterflies, the waiting, the anticipation of stepping out in front of all those people, going over lines or lyrics in my head, hoping I don’t forget my cues or throw up, for that matter.
But if all the world’s a stage, where’s the back and what’s the curtain? Who’s the audience if we’re all merely players?
The lights go up and the curtain lifts; I take a deep breath and step out as if from a plane, sure to speak more slowly and loudly than feels natural, knowing I won’t remember any of this afterward but as a dream, as if performing under general anesthesia.
If I had it to do all over again, I’d skip rehearsals and sit on a bench by the square instead, making friends with those old men who play the same chess game for years on end.
Or maybe I’d raid the costume closet and play the part of a tramp or a despot, a queen or a tease, a woman wronged or the one who sets it all right and strips naked before the audience and asks spontaneous questions for a show of hands.
Who here gets stage fright every single day? How many of you are performing your own lives?
There would be no response. Some uncomfortable fidgeting. What kind of show is this, anyway?
Who has a mother?
It’s not a show at all, only one by one, a thousand hands rising, the space filling to its gilded ceiling with mother stories–the missing and the maternal, the never-met and the finally-forgiven.
And then I think I’d just stand there for a long while before getting down on my knees and touching my forehead to the wood floor. Not for applause but for silence. Not for the one but for the many. All of us players without scripts or directors.
All of us children, wanting to be loved. Making it up as we go. Here to stumble. Here to shine.
Image: Buwa Shete, “Mother & Child”