Part One: Step on a Crack
(True story. Wish it wasn’t. Then again…)
There were signs early on, but I was too young to know what they meant. When I was in primary school I heard the phrase, “Step on a crack and break your mother’s back.” I laughed. Then started avoiding cracks. But I didn’t like how obsessive that felt, so I started stepping on cracks to prove that I wasn’t obsessive. Then I felt guilty about breaking my mother’s back, so I returned to avoiding cracks.
Nevertheless, I was a fearless high schooler, running for student body president against our hunky heartthrob football quarterback, starring in school plays, and happily stuffing myself on Purina ego-chow. I told my best friend Marc, “I’ll don’t think I’ll ever be happier than I am now!”
I was right.
My ego took a hit freshman year in college. Jonnie, a bruised reed of a beauty, refused to date me because I was “shallow.” “Oh, you’re fun to hang out with,” she said, “but you’re all jokes and laughs. You need to suffer a little, or you’ll never be deep.”
Jonnie and all of the other non-gay theatre girls were hot for Darren, the department’s broody 19 year old Mr. Darcy. Darren told me at a cast party one night, “I don’t care whether I live or die.” And I thought, Catch 22: being depressed would get me Jonnie, but then I wouldn’t care.
A year after college, my girlfriend dumped me. Then I lost my job. Then my father died. I started listening to blues music and drinking whiskey while typing angry stream-of-consciousness poetry. And I thought bitterly, Jonnie would go out with me now.
I bounced back. For a while. But the storm that had been brewing ever since I’d avoided that first crack was about to break, and I didn’t see it coming.
After a failed attempt at running a school of the arts, I went back to college. As a theatre major I was expected to perform in plays. One of which was an odd little one-act by some depressed European existentialist. I was obligated, but my heart wasn’t in it.
So I applied this patently stupid solution: I only half-memorized my lines. The result? On opening night, as I plowed into the first of several long abstract monologues, my mind went wiped-hard-drive blank. When my thoughts reemerged from wherever they’d been, I saw an audience of 250 nervously coughing at me.
I couldn’t even remember what the play was. It was the classic actor’s nightmare, only it was actually happening. And then, instead of improvising something, I began to meditate on the absurdity of pretending to be someone I wasn’t for people who’d paid to sit in the dark and watch me do it.
I finally laid hold of a tattered strand of memory, barked out some vague approximation of the monologue, and wandered offstage. In a haze of fear, I made my way through the rest of the show with the words “What do I say next?” running around screaming inside my brain.
I guzzled a gallon of whiskey at the cast party, trying to drown the voice in my head, while distractedly dialoguing with a Jonnie-like beauty named Diane.
Then I stumbled home to my cave of an apartment and disappeared down the sleep drain.
But at three o’clock in the morning, I sat up, instantly sober, my mouth full of cotton wool, and whispered, “What if I go insane?”
The storm had broken.
To read Part Two: Into the Darkness, click here.
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