To My Could Have Been,
This is a letter I wrote and read at the Women of Letters literary salon in New York City. Each month Women of Letters invites five women to present letters to a theme. This months theme was a letter to my could have been. I interpreted it as the person I could have been.
To My Could Have Been,
I remember that day we, you and I, who once were the same person sat, rocking in our seat. The room was practically empty only 5 comics had shown and us, making 6 people there. At that moment we were one. I could feel your practical nature pulling me to the door. “You aren’t funny enough. You’re just going to embarrass yourself. Don’t you think thirty-one is a bit old to be starting stand-up?” Your negatively welling inside us.
I tried to smother you as I took the stage pushing you down into the pit of my stomach, where you churned. I weakly took the mic and held it so very, very far from my mouth. “I’m going to start with a nice light topic…death” My voice dropping in and out from nerves and I could feel you cringing with each word. Timidly, I continued to read from my paper. “I’m not scared of dying. I’m more scared of how I’ll die.” streaks of red now emerging in my cheeks as I worked further into the joke “We are gathered here today to remember Meg. She tragically was taken before her time by … toxic shock syndrome.” You were cowering in embarrassment but I went on “I think about it a lot, at least once a month. I mean it’s going to be really distracting. You can’t go through a whole death by toxic shock syndrome eulogy and not think… should I change my tampon?”
On that day I learned the importance of knowing your audience. The subtleties of death by menstruation are lost on some men in their twenties.
Was it a perfect joke? No. Was it long? Painfully. Was it funny? I don’t know. Did I do it? Yes. And that was the only thing that mattered.
That was the moment we split in two.
Remember when we were ten our oldest brother Matt, a man of 15 asked us “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and we, a towheaded tomboy, consisting on a diet of G.I. Joe, Garbage Pail Kids and toy guns replied “A boy.” Laughing it off he said, “That’s impossible. Pick again.” “Fine. An animal.”
That was who we were.
Remember the childhood picture of our siblings and us? Five kids perched on the steps of Baltimore Harbor. The three boys dressed in button ups, our sister in that stupid unicorn sweater and then us just in the corner, wearing full head to toe camouflage?
That was who we were bold, distinct and free. We hugged indiscriminately and the only thing that out numbered our toy gun collection was our stuffed animal collection.
We were the kid that when everyone in the neighborhood got in their cars and headed to church, as good southerners do, we took to the cul-da-sac on our big wheel. Armed only in tidy-whities and our blanket tied around our neck like a cape.
We didn’t understand how the world worked or what our limits were and we didn’t care to understand either.
But then we were taught so many things by the world.
Our peers taught us that all the things we loved fatigues, Air Jordans, Jams and Adidas tracksuits were for boys. Our mom and stepdad taught us to plan, work hard, save and establish credit. All the things you need to support five kids who are all within five years of each other. And our dad taught us that love between a parent and a child is not unconditional, it’s complicated.
We paid attention so closely to all the lessons trying to please everyone and suddenly the world became full of threats instead of thrills.
We became obsessed with protecting ourselves.
We approached love with an ever optimistic bed half full view as it kept us from having to invest all four chambers of our heart into one person. It seemed safer to only commit to ourselves.
We signed up for renter’s insurance in college when I should note we only owned a hand me down mattress, a Home Depot cinder block and plywood entertainment center and the quintessential black light wall tapestry. I’m not sure if there actually exists a criminal with a palate for crap, but we were prepared for them.
We stayed for a decade at a good job scared to risk it for the chance at a great job.
And then frustrated with the perfectly safe life we had created we found ourselves at a poorly attended open mic sweating profusely. Waiting to tell five men a joke about Toxic Shock Syndrome.
Sometimes I think that if you shut yourself off from the potential of pain you also shut yourself off from the potential of pleasure. One feeds the other — it’s a spectrum, they need each other to exist in the same world. Think about good and evil, love and hate, YOLO and FML.
For all the things we were taught when we were young the one thing I wish someone had taught us was to keep us open to being vulnerable, open to life.
The moments that I’ve felt most vulnerable are the moments I remember. These are the moments I keep with me in the library stacks of my mind. These are the moments I close my eyes and revisit. These are the moments you never had.
The moment I told my first joke.
The moment after five years together I asked my very patient wife to spend our lives together.
The moment when I heard my son’s heartbeat for the first time.
The moment when I tried humus at the age of 32 for the first time. It’s a delicious Mediterranean spread. What did we think where the grave repercussions of indulging in a triangle piece of pita slathered with humus?
My Could Have Been, I know what you think, that dreams are things that are made to be out of reach but I’ll let you into an industry secret. The most talented people aren’t necessarily the ones who make it. It’s the ones who show up each day with passion and have the patience to wait out the rejection, the bad luck, the near misses and the time it takes to become really and truly great at something. This is true on and off the stage. It’s the one’s who choose this adventure that make it.
Until we meet as one,
Me, formerly you.
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