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The Promised Land
Ten years ago, Grandpa died.
Today I stand in front of a newly-remodeled, smallish building just a few streets over from my little apartment and a mere two miles from the cemetery where Grandpa's slab is set in the often-cut, weed-free grass next to a grave that should have been Grandma's but isn't. A stranger is buried there, next to Grandpa Casey's spot, and I try not to look at the stranger's grave, because it reminds me of too much.
We knew years before that it would be just as well for Grandpa to sell that plot that was to be Grandma's, although for a time the question was not that so much as whether, and when, to use it. Then he decided, and somebody else is buried there now, and when I go to talk to Grandpa with my hand palm-down on the cool slab I try not to look at the engravings one spot over. All I see is the Casey name, on his own marker, and it helps me to talk to him.
I went to "see" him today, to get up the courage I will need, to see if his self might somehow reach me a little more easily if I approached the resting place of his Earthly body. Which is kind of a silly idea, if I think about it in a certain light, since Grandpa died in a body that wasn't his own to begin with, although he always said that SCABS didn't take away your body, just changed it; sometimes very, very dreadfully.
But Grandpa was pretty. Grandma, too, always was. And both of them loved me so much that even in my eternal shyness I began to be suffused with the strange notion that _I could do whatever I wanted_.
And what I wanted was to act.
To be a different lady, a man, anything, so long as it was different, and so long as there was an audience. I used to sing for my aunts and uncles when they came over, and sometimes Grandpa's card-player friends would listen, although they really came to play cards, as I was told when I got too boisterous. I used to sit in their laps and hum to myself, playing with the crackling, bright-plastic chips, smelling the beer and the men, and listening to the low-toned laughter.
Shy I was, and am, terribly so, but not around the men and aunts and uncles who would let me perform for them. Grandpa and Grandma, and then later just Grandpa, would tell me time and again that if what I truly wanted was to be an actress, then I could, and I should listen to no one who told me otherwise. I didn't even take a "back-up" major at college (a small place just across the state line in Ohio). I just _acted_, plus whatever else the syllabi required so I could graduate as an _actress_.
I was not the only SCAB at the college I went to, but I was not in any sort of majority, either, and sometimes it showed when I needed a part for credit and someone else, a Norm, got it even though they were only a year or two into their schedule. On the nights when I wasn't cleaning offices after hours or, joy of joys, doing a show, I used to curl up on my dorm bed and almost cry, just thinking of Grandpa and how far away he was, even if he said he would always be near, and the old house that had been sold upon his death... I always saw it as empty, even though I knew it must be refurnished and inhabited; I never could bring into my head any vision other than the last one I had of my and my grandparents' home: a deserted, sided box, polished wood floors coldly bare, mantelpiece dust-free and empty of any ornament, Uncle Sherman and Uncle Tad carrying the last piece of furniture out for me because I wanted it. They had not been going to keep it, even, assuming that I had no interest in it, but they did not know that Grandpa's feelings and mine were not the same, although I wonder even now whether I am disturbed, more so than he was, and should get on with things and get rid of the piece.
But here I am.
I came, from Uncle Tad and Aunt Cheryl's place, to college in Ohio, and then to Pennsylvania again, because all through my time at school I mourned how very far away my grandfather was, and here he is, just a couple of miles away.
I hope. I hope he is there, when I need him to be, when I plead for the support his clean blue eyes used to give me and the courage his quiet words used to instill in me. What, otherwise, is the point of clinging to a tiny apartment in this city, finding work no more than I would anywhere else, feeding my hunger for art when I can ignore the possible listening and ridicule of strangers at night in my small space. I own few music discs, but those I do own I have _become_, to the point of walking the streets to music unplayed.
Theatre is supposed to be a transient art, but I find myself almost guiltily playing and replaying every show from college and high school in my head, weeping for the loss of the worlds we closed down at the final curtain, sometimes almost more than I weep for my own relatives who have passed from me.
Sometimes, it is easier to mourn those shows, for I have begun, slowly, over the years, to understand Grandpa a little better than I ever had as a small child. Some of the other relatives thought they understood him, and although they felt sorry, there was nothing they could do that would not disrupt what they thought was a very deeply disturbed and grieving mind. I agreed with them because I was too young to understand what I alone, living with him, saw and heard and experienced.
I think now that Grandpa and I perhaps shared more emotion than I knew, and I have taken up where he left off. It is a hard duty to uphold, although there is really nothing to it, and whenever I can-- like at the graveyard, when it comes up in a rush of emotion-- I try to forget so I can keep on.
I hope Grandpa is there in that cemetery, because I need the touch of his soul, the touch I went in search of before I walked resolutely here.
I walked, not with eager anticipation, nor a springing step, but with a grim determination that I would _not_ flee at the threshold. For flee I have, on more than one occasion, after discovering what I knew all through school intellectually to be true: that the Theatre is not a welcoming family but a territorial beast, and no amount of training can show past the stern and harried faces and hands that turn a would-be willing actress away at the door, hungry as before, yet weaker than ever, without even having a chance to deliver her fervently worked audition pieces.
They hold open auditions, then someone decides they don't want to see any SCABS, or a part is filled and the producers are too involved in the next step of creation to withdraw the audition notices.
I knew I had hit rock-bottom in my pit of fading self-esteem when I saw a notice for open auditions and _did not even attend_.
When this new place advertised, I had to come. If I get turned away, at least I tried, and I may try again, and my resumes may go out in the mail again, and I may actually _believe_ I can get a _part_. If I get...
_If_? Of course I will. Of course I will be turned away... There is a sameness to my life now that extends even to the songs that run through my head in the mornings and the replayed fantasies I go to sleep on at night. I do not even know anymore whether this sameness is discouraging... Or comforting.
I remember Grandpa.
I remember his face and the way he used to smile lightly, and how I used to think his face was like a gentle smiling sun in one of my coloring books, making things below it smile and grow, and how sometimes he used to crumple about the edges of the eyes and press his forehead against the doorjamb of the kitchen and stand like that for a long, long time.
Sameness. Sameness without... _knowing_... Is not the sameness of comfort. It is a weight, a sorrow, a death.
The sign says, in small, clean, painted script, "Thim and Rosemary Kelly" and, in larger white paint on a fabric sign over the glass door, "THEATRE".
Thim and Rosemary Kelly Theatre, 4010 Riverside, is holding open auditions for a production of _Chess_. Men and women, SCABS and Norm, needed. Appear in person.
Here I am.
Complete with tail, whiskers, the whole bit.
I adjust that mottled dark-grey and cream tail and feel over the buttons of my black-brown silk shirt to make sure I did them up right. I am in such a state that I don't even remember getting dressed this morning.
My large yellow cat's eyes must be wide and scared as all Hell. Get a grip, November, get a grip.
You with me?
I square my shoulders.
I unsquare my shoulders.
I pause, I clear my throat on the empty street, I fear the arrival of the others who must any moment show up for this audition, I fear they will _not_ show up and no one will set a precedent by going through that shiny glass door _before_ me...
I take a step-- no, I don't.
I do. I take a step.
One step having been made, I am on a course for the door and know I will any moment now be reaching for it, pulling the handle with a carefully groomed paw, smelling the new-theatre air, going _in_.
You there, Grandpa?
Two more steps...
My reflection in the glass closes in on itself as paw touches reflected paw and I pull open the door on the unobtrusive building-front and Go Inside.
Women and Men, SCABS and Norms...
SCABS and Norms...
SCABS _and_ Norms...
My resume is under one arm.
Okay, I'm in, and... I _think_... I'm ready.