Thursday, February 10, 2011

And the Oscar Goes to ...

I'd never fancied myself the theatre type, but it turned out I was one of the best actresses on the planet.

Never had someone taken on the starring role of themselves and played it with more conviction and authority then me.

If I'd thought to film the last year of my life when I'd left my home the gold statute would be mine without a doubt. That smile that I pasted on my face had fooled everyone including the people closest to me. No one had looked at the cracks that were hiding under my stage make-up. The few people that I told about what was going on with me appeared shocked. Either I was as good as I believed I was or they were even better and nods for best supporting actor and actress in my life were theirs.

Never had my act been more convincing then the week that followed that first phone call I'd made for help. Four people in my life knew of my diagnosis. Not one of them would be around that next week when I headed out on vacation with my family to the Smokies. Somehow I was on top of my game. For an entire week I was on from almost the moment I woke to when I went to sleep at night. I was never alone. I couldn't break. It was the performance of a lifetime.

During the nights I'd wake and find some refuge in the hotel's bathroom, my dressing room of sorts. There I'd sit on the side of the tub and let the flood gates open. Quietly sobbing and alone with my thoughts. Funny thing is that as much as I can recall a lot of moments from that trip I can't tell you what I was thinking sitting there alone in the middle of the night, I know that I had thoughts but I can't recall a single one.

When I exhausted myself enough I'd splash my face with water, down some advil (because for that week I think all the inner pain that I couldn't show because of my extended performance times manifested itself in headaches) and then wander back to bed. I'd lay there staring at the wall until sleep overtook me knowing that the next time I'd open my eyes I'd have to wake up in character.

I admit that I did have times that week when I didn't need to act. There were moments when I was surrounded by the serenity of the mountains or by the laughter of my cousins that I didn't have to perform. There were genuine smiles and laughs. The hardest thing was knowing that even then, just below the surface was a very fragile person and the smallest of things could break her.

I had a few moments where I lost control of my performance. There were times when everything frazzled me so that I lashed out angrily at those around me using words as my weapon to protect myself. I almost ruined my performance on the last day when I overreacted to several things that didn't matter to me really in the least. I knew the cracks were showing and I was silently thankful that the curtain call was in sight.

The trip home was tense for a while. My anger seemed to be the only emotion that would keep the tears away. I barely spoke. And I ate pretzel sticks saying that I needed them to help me stay focused and awake as I drove, but really it was just something to focus on to keep me from thinking. It wasn't the first time that I'd used food to cope and I certainly wasn't going to tackle that demon that day.

About an hour into the drive I pulled myself together so that I could be the person that I was supposed to be again. Call it my intermission.

It felt as if I'd driven about a week before we arrived in Toledo. My concentration, which I could barely summon since even before the crash, left me and  I mistakenly exited the highway about six exits early - it was like forgetting my lines until someone cued me. And then in the shadow of the now-missing old Jeep plant rubble I couldn't figure out how to get back to the highway. I, the person that never gets lost and always gives other directions in the city, couldn't find the way a block. I was sure that it would be a tip-off but I'd played the role so long no one noticed that I was acting anymore thanks to my convincing dialogue.

When I'd dropped the last family member home and was finally alone in the safety of my car I navigated  home through a wall of tears.

I'd done it. The award for best performance by a leading actress was mine.

I made it through Friday at home, Saturday at work, Sunday at home, Monday at work camera-ready for all my close-ups.

I'd made it to Tuesday. I worked the morning and then took a long lunch for my appointment.  This time I was seeing the psychiatrist - the producer of the next small portion of my life.

The script she wrote for me was two pages long: page one a note saying that under her care I couldn't work because of a biological disorder and page two detailed the special effects that would be available me though the wonders of chemical enhancement.

I woke the next morning more refreshed then ever thinking that the day would not involve my acting skills. I went to therapy. I talked. I cried.

That afternoon I gave an unanticipated curtain call after a text came across my phone.
Mom: "Lunch?"
Me: "Yes, but pick me up at my house, I'm home."

She questioned this unanticipated plot twist. She hadn't anticipated where the story was going.  She'd bought my act. She'd been part of my target demographic.

For the first time in a very long time I didn't act in front of the most important person in my life.  As much as I wasn't acting anymore I really wasn't ready to give even a digest version of my script. And my mom, wonder woman that she is, didn't pry, she was content to wait for me outside the stage door.

She let me be what I needed that day - no longer an actress - just a woman, just a daughter, just a broken, mute soul.

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