A week ago today I awoke anxious and aflutter knowing in a few hours I would be onstage reading at the Lehigh Valley Listen To Your Mother show. While my kids watched My Little Pony episodes and my husband frantically cleaned in preparation for his family, who was generously coming to babysit, I headed to the hair salon for a blow out. Something I had never done before.
Somehow, forty minutes later, I emerged with a head full of Shirley Temple ringlets. As I walked to my car, my hands tentatively tracing my springy curls, I started laughing. It should have made me more anxious, this odd (for me) hair style, but instead it released something. Years ago a moment like this might have derailed me. I might have cried in the car like I did in my early twenties when I expressly told the stylist NOT to give me the Rachel from Friends cut and left the salon with exactly that.
But this time, I giggled, only feeling a twinge of regret for the wasted fifty bucks. Nothing could take away the excitement, bubbling up along with nerves, of this day.
After all, I had been looking forward to this moment ever since I read my acceptance email on the phone in the early hour before dawn, tears of gratitude streaming down my face. I cried because I felt like I had been given a gift, a chance to tell the story of my mother’s death, devastating but also enormously powerful, not simply on paper, but to an audience.
Fortunately my hair settled down, thanks to time, gravity, and my cast mate Meghan’s comb. I slipped on the dress I wore to my mother’s funeral, the same as for my audition, this time adding her two red wooden bangles that clanked on my wrist the week leading up to her death.
I slid between my cast mates at the wall of mirrors in the bathroom/dressing room and started to apply make-up with shaking hands. My empty stomach made me lightheaded and dizzy, and I wobbled a bit on my high heels. My cast mate Christine made room for me at the mirror, smiling kindly. Then her eyebrows shot up. “Did you know your dress isn’t zipped?” I glanced at my side and realized she was right. “Whoops! I had no idea, thanks,” I said, and we both cracked up.
Soon after enjoying a champagne toast, during which I inhaled three scones made by our producer Kristina, it was time to file into the theatre. My hands were sweating and my heart slammed against my chest. I remembered reading my story at the first rehearsal, my heart beating so loudly I thought everyone in the room could hear it. I hoped that wouldn’t happen again. I hoped my voice wouldn’t crack or break like it did almost every time when I got to the second to last line of my story.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with crying while reading. Emotion has its own kind of power, and some of my favorite readers on the LTYM YouTube channel choked up a bit or even wept during their performances.
But I didn’t want anyone to miss that one line. The one about my mother’s heart. The one I had jumped out of bed to write the night before the audition, crossing out what I had in pencil, and writing in the words that would knit the whole piece together.
Words that my daughter would one day hear, if only I could get them out in one piece.
Well, I did it. I nailed that line and the whole damn thing.
Thank you to the Lehigh Valley producers, Kirsten, Kristina, and Lauren, and to Ann Imig, founder of LTYM, for giving me this opportunity, for making this dream I almost didn’t realize I had come true. And thank you to my talented and beautiful cast mates for sharing their stories with me and with the world.