Yesterday morning, right before I was to leave for the subway and the airport, I received an e-mail from a friend. Wait! Don’t go! was what it said.
I’m not good with goodbyes.
I used to be very concerned with them. I had to see everyone one last time before they left the party. And then, that never quite lived up. People forgot. I forgot. There was a lot of standing around, looking off. We had to get going before dark or traffic or dinner.
For almost twenty years, I was a performer and my life was a series of three months stretches where I’d meet a whole new bunch of people, spend every night with them, and then have to leave. I was a really little when I started, and it wasn’t my real mother I ran to when a boy wanted to kiss me; it was my mother in the play: fawn-colored hair and high heels and lined lips and a high laugh (last I heard, she was a cruise ship performer). An actor taught me to tie my shoes. An actor taught me to set the table.
A comedian taught me to tell jokes. I was eight and singing Susie Snowflake in the variety show. He would hold me upside down while I repeated his punch lines in the basement green room of the Renaissance as chorus girls buckled their tap shoes. They always laughed harder when I said them, though my parents hated to hear his jokes repeated by me at dinner.
The police department has had a series of toilet thefts. And they have nothing to go on.
From him I learned comic timing.
That’s really not appropriate, my mother said.
He was divorced; he didn’t have custody of his daughter; he was on the road a lot. I heard these whispers from older actors the same way I would hear about sex, cancer, love.
At strike—the long afternoon after the last matinee where the actors would help tear down the set; in essence, destroying what we’d spent months working for—I remember he said to me, you’re not leaving yet, right?
Right, I said. But I was. My mother was holding my hand and we were looking for my coat. I’m not sure why I lied. I think of him there on the edge of the stage holding a big ladder. The next day at school, a white box arrived for me: a china doll, Jo from Little Women.
Leave ‘em wanting more, he said.
Leave ‘em wanting more, I said.
The world was upside down: tap shoes on the ceiling, legs in fishnet hose, a tuba, a santa hat. I was learning how to be funny; it would come in handy.
Most of my California friends I’ll see again this fall, but a few of you are packing up and going to LA and Carolina. Still, I’ll see you again. I know it. We didn’t surf. Or drunken dance. Or form Croquet By-the-Bay, though none of us actually can play. I’ll find you again later and we’ll do those things. I’ll read your poems. I’ll look the same, only a little taller, more tan, more waves. I’ll hear your laughs and find you, seek you out. If I don’t say goodbye, that means I’ll see you again. I know. At eight, I worked it out.
So I won’t say goodbye. I packed up the rest of my things very quietly, and wrote a note, and left my keys, held my shoes in my hand and was out the door before my roommate even woke up. I put on my shoes in the hallway. And then I got on a plane and went.