4:00 a.m., December 24th, 1957. With thundering horns
and a multitude of angels I was brought into the world as a
messiah, or a mess. Accounts differ.
I was born blind. (legally) A fact that terrified my mother. A
good deal of my time before kindergarten was spent in hospitals
with my eyes bandaged, waiting for someone to visit me.
My earliest memories are of the blue tiled walls of an operating
room and the smell of ether. During one stay I was given a toy car.
I remember tilting my head back to peer out
from under my bandages in order to see what I was holding.
Another visit brought a plastic deer which I would trot, stifflegged
across my bed. I’m certain that at some point the car
must have hit the deer. Those sorts of mishaps are unavoidable.
Through no fault of my own I was simultaneously pathetic
and adorable. Eventually the operations would stop and I
would be fitted with a pair of extremely thick glasses. Pictures
of myself from those days made me think that Dianne Arbus
might have been our family photographer.
Much later in my life my mother admitted to me that she
didn’t know if she could handle raising a blind child. She told
me that she was always afraid that I was going to die. I’ve
come to find that she was right. I knew it then.
I know it more now.
I came to understand the randomness of birth. The randomness
of everything. Life is play without a script and with far
too many directors and an even greater number of critics. In
childhood the lines are new and the orchestration is lively.
Every part is a good part. The bandaged child in the hospital
room doesn’t know that the audience pities him. He has a car
and a deer and a room and a meal. From the darkness of the
bandages every color is vibrant.
Slowly though the scene starts to change. There is a re-write
and the new language is less magical. Less optimistic. Adults.
Why do they write like that? Why is there so much rain? It’s a
wonder that we all don’t make umbrellas for a living.
You move on. The new sets are more muted and the lead is a
considerably older woman. You can smell the stench of rigor.
It smells like ether. Fucking adults, always trying to convince
you that order comes with some reward. It doesn’t. Life
is just slow death. In-between acts we catch on. Everyone has
a script. Some are trying to sell them to the studio, some are
reading ahead to see if they’re killed off and some just cut to
the chase and they’ve already begun casting. Ten bucks says
the blonde gets the part. Ten more says that this show won’t
be around next year.
Onward into the void. You keep telling yourself that you’ll
give it one more year. You’ve told yourself that twenty times
already and that’s not counting the years when you forgot to
say it. You think, “Maybe someday I should write a script.”
But why? There are already so many out there and it’s so
much easier to play someone else’s part. You’re a little long in
the tooth to start being ambitious.
Then it happens. Your year. Your decade. You’re center stage.
The house is full. It’s a party scene. You’re in Paris. Everyone
is costumed in ball gowns and tuxedos. The music swells. This
part was custom made for you. You’re glib and fancy. The
audience loves you. They laugh at all the right parts. They cry
at all the right parts. They listened. Nothing is better than
that. The after parties are legendary. Pure Page Six stuff. You
glide through rooms and lives. You pause occasionally to play
a tune on the piano, chat up a socialite or befriend a diplomat
and then it’s right back to the spotlight. You’re drunk on you
and the champagne is free.
Then one day you forget a line and it occurs to you that
you’ve been doing this for a very long time. What does any of
it mean anymore? What did any of it ever mean? Where did
the time go? Where did the parties go? Where did your family
go? The houses are smaller now. Never mind. The laughs are
perfunctory. Never mind. It all feels over rehearsed. Never
mind. You stand stage right in a small spotlight. You’re alone
on the stage leaning toward the wings and hoping that the
prompter notices your awkward pause, but the prompter has
gone. “Line?” you whisper. Nothing. “LINE?” Nothing. The
light begins to dim and half panicked you peer out into the
darkness to see that most of the audience has left. You think,
“Maybe someday I should write a script.” But why?