First loves often make all other loves pale in comparison. They tend to be very intense and passionate, thus setting unrealistic expectations for the rest of your relationships. Pondering that made me think of my first love and contemplate whether it has affected my relationship with my wife – or any other relationship I’ve had.
I first sat down and asked myself aloud, “Who was my first love?” Then I wondered why I was speaking aloud to myself. Was I incapable of hearing my inner voice? I realized that in fact, I could hear my inner voice because that question about my ability to hear my inner voice had been asked by my inner voice, so yes – I could. What I was talking about?
Ah, yes, my first love. Was she actually capable of affecting adversely all my other relationships because of our amazing time together? Was this dream relationship the yardstick by which all others would be measured? Also – who was she? I didn’t remember, but my mom did, and she filled in the details.
Her name was April. And she was bald. And bigger than I was.
Of course, she was only 6 months old at the time, but I had a head full of hair and I was only a month older. Would the hair difference or the age difference keep our relationship from blossoming? Apparently not, because 6 months after our chance meeting, we had our first date. But that’s for later. I want to talk about the first time we met.
We stayed at the same daycare. I don’t remember how we met or what happened when we first met, but I imagine it probably happened like so many daycare relationships. Our moms (or dads – but mom, in my case) put us down across the room and at some point our eyes locked. It was only a brief moment, but long enough for us to point at each other. I wasn’t much of a talker then, more of a smiler. So I smiled at her. She smiled back and called me what would become our pet name for each other . . . “Baby.”
From that point on, our relationship took off. We played together, or at least alongside one another. Ah, those days were so simple! At times, we would just stack and unstack blocks for hours, laughing the whole time. Then there were the snacks together. Juice and animal crackers, and I’m sure she shared hers with me. I wouldn’t have shared mine though. I wasn’t much of a sharer at that point. But even with that in mind, I was still her “baby.” I was even bothered when she called the other babies “baby.” I always moved past it, though, because we had something special. And that’s why I asked her out. Actually my mom asked did the asking.
It was to my birthday party. My first birthday. And that’s where the cracks in our relationship started to show.
Everything started well, and according to my mom, people started talking about how cute we were together. But no one could get over how much more hair I had than April, or the fact that she was twice my size. Then other babies started talking. The parents thought it was only cute baby talk, but April and I knew what they were saying. They were talking about how she looked more like the boy and I the girl. It didn’t help that my mom dressed me in a somewhat girlish onesie for my birthday party. That probably had something to do with the fact that she thought I was going to be her daughter Ginny Melissa until I came out . . . not her daughter Ginny Melissa. From that moment on at the party, April and I didn’t talk to each other.
Back at daycare, we tried to make it work. But not for each other. For the kids. In our daycare. To give them hope. But, alas, it was not to be and the final straw came a couple of weeks later. When I picked up something from her. A disease. Chicken pox. My mom angrily swooped in and pulled me from that daycare, and I never saw April again after that day.
Now happily married, with two amazing kids and a cat named Pants . . . you’re probably wondering, do I ever think about what would have happened if she hadn’t given me chicken pox on that fateful day? Or not been twice my size? Or not been bald? No, I don’t. I’ve moved on. And I hope that she has too. I hope she’s not waiting for me somewhere with a sippy cup and animal crackers. Because that would be another reason that we’re not together.
10 months ago this week, a possum came into my life. Specifically, he came to our yard to (spoiler alert) . . . die. But before that death, the possum and I went on a journey together. A journey that, for an entire morning, provided a diversion when I didn’t want to write. On that day, October 18th, I documented my journey with said possum, who (for a possum) was very “method” about playing dead. Some might say a little too method. Like Daniel Day Lewis.
What follows is my journaling of the events as recorded on Facebook during that fateful day. I’ve made small changes (some grammatical and some just because time helps paint a clearer picture), but the events are related here exactly as I experienced them. So, to honor the 10-month anniversary of our chance meeting, I pay homage to my fallen friend.
Oct 18 8:45 AM
Dear Possum playing dead in our front yard,
I clearly saw you blinking.
Oct 18 9:30 AM
Dear Possum I am now gently rolling pears at,
The pears were a Christmas gift. They came from a Harry and David gift basket, so we can assume they are expensive pears. Though I have found out that being expensive doesn’t make the pears better at rolling. After surrounding you with them while not actually hitting you, I finally managed to hit you on your possum buttocks. And your response to this pear on the buttocks suggests that you are drunk. In our front yard. Which I find embarrassing for you. Not much of a role model, I must say. Think about your kids and what the other possums are going to say to them at school today when news gets out about your public drunkenness.
Oct 18 10:15 AM
Dear Possum who is apparently now taking a nap in our front yard,
I am officially out of pears. I have tomatoes, but considering how poor my aim was with the pears, I am opting not to roll them at you. Plus, they're kind of squishy and gross and should be composted. Which I think I’ll go do right now.
Oct 18 11:30 AM
Dear Possum who is awake somewhat and who is now slowly moving in my front yard,
The police have been called. Yes, I know, you haven't committed a crime that we know of (besides the assumed public drunkenness). But apparently in Mt. Horeb, the police are responsible for possum removal. Which, by the way, I find incredibly fantastic. I did not tell them you were dangerous, so one would assume that this will be more of a negotiation to leave my yard.
Oct 18 12:23 PM
Dear Possum who has moved closer to our house and who was staring at me,
I'm sure you noticed that the police arrived and discussed with me the situation. Negotiating is clearly off the table. Here are the three options that the officer gave me:
1. He shoots you.
2. I take a hammer to you.
3. We wait for you to move on to somewhere else.
We have gone with the third option.
God speed to you,
Oct 19 8:43 AM
Dear was apparently dying all along and is now dead in our front yard possum,
It's unfortunate that you died. Not just because it was in our front yard right near our door and now I will have to dispose of you. But mainly, because we bonded yesterday. Not in your typical two strangers bonding over a shared experience way. But more in the way a person would bond with a possum that has come into his yard to die. What kind of bond is it? I have no idea, but it is a bond. Of some sort.
Your friend and the one hoping to find someone else to dispose of you because . . . gross,
Epilogue: I did find someone else to dispose of the possum. But the memory of that day remains. And sometimes, when our family is playing together in the front yard, I think “Hey, that’s the spot where the possum was when I started gently rolling pears at him, thinking he was playing dead.” I don’t verbalize that thought because that would be weird. Like writing about it on Facebook. Or using my Facebook musings to create a new blog post.
One final thought: When Daniel Day Lewis is cast as the possum in the independent film version of the day, will he be so deeply into character that he starts rolling the pears at himself?
Actually, I wasn’t. I was cast as one in a student one-act my sophomore year of college. I was used to getting major roles, and I got cast as a cricket player. Not even the cricket player who got to throw the ball through the window; I was the other one. The one who didn’t have any lines.
Except I wasn’t. I declined the part, which my non-acting roommate ended up taking. But this isn’t really about being a cricket player. It’s about something far more sinister.
Let me start at the beginning. (Of time? No, let’s go back a little more recent than that.)
I’ve been a male for as long as I can remember. When I started acting, I therefore became a male actor, which is one of the most blessed things to be in the world of high school or college acting. Why? Because there aren’t that many of us and we’re usually not as good as most of the female actors. At your typical high school auditions, there might be 726 girls auditioning for 11 parts and five guys auditioning . . . for five parts.
I went to my first audition in high school. There were about 25 people there, 20 of them female. Out of the five guys, one was in the wrong place and one was the custodian. That left three guys to audition for . . . well, I don't really remember but let’s say . . . three parts. Shockingly, I was cast, found out that I was pretty good, and thus began swimming in a little pond known as the “Teen Male Acting Pond.” Unfortunately, in my case, success led to a growing arrogance.
As I did more and more shows in high school, I often landed leading roles and got praised for my talent. If you hear something often enough, you'll start to believe it, whether or not it’s the truth. And I believed it . . . amazingly well. In college, the trend continued. I had a decent role in my first show (and bounced back from an unfortunate incident involving eyeliner on my eyebrows), and I was off. Then came more roles, and more praise, but as time went on, I was becoming the topic of conversation behind the curtain. This time it wasn't about my amazing talent. It was about something that led to my being cast . . . as Cricket Player #2.
There were six student-directed plays, and only four guys auditioned. Those six plays had many male speaking roles, and I was cast in exactly none of them. The other three guys were double, sometimes triple-cast, and I was cast solely in a role that required me to wear all white, remain silent, and hold a non-regulation cricket ball. Not that I knew the difference.
I was devastated. I was good, and the directors were friends of mine, but for some reason . . . they didn't want to direct me. I asked one director, a friend and someone whose opinion I valued, why. And she told me. Man, did she tell me.
She said that no one wanted to direct me because I never listened, I was cocky, I only thought about myself, and I couldn't take feedback.
I was going to disagree until I realized that she was completely right. And it stung. A lot.
Eventually though, I took what she said to heart and it turned out to be one of those moments in life that stays with you and changes you. It made me a better person and even, I imagine, a better actor. Turns out that once you take your ego out of the equation and the focus off of yourself, you can actually grow.
I tell this story to the young actors I work with so that they can learn the lesson earlier than I did. It’s not my favorite story to tell them (that’s the one where I challenged Pants to a staring contest, won by disqualification, and then had to go to the emergency room), but it’s one that I hope they remember as they keep getting told how talented they are.
Looking back, I wish I'd played that silent cricket player, but I was lame. The good news is that my lameness led to my roommate’s only stage appearance. And it was a smashing one. Because he got to throw the ball through the window after all.
Since this is my first blog post on the first day of having a website, I figured it was important to write about what led to this day happening. My birth played a vital role, but there is one event that was even more vital:
Claude A. Taylor Elementary School’s production of Hansel and Gretel during my 3rd grade year.
I remember very little about the actual production. I vaguely remember my teacher, Miss Richardson, holding auditions in the classroom. In auditions, we had to prove that we could a) read and b) show emotion, although b) was somewhat optional. My paternal side shone through, and I was cast in the role of Father. I don’t recall who was cast as Mother (which, looking back, probably meant I wasn’t invested too much in our relationship.)
I do, however, remember who was cast as Hansel and Gretel. Brennen, a nice boy with glasses, was Hansel. I clearly remember this because I wanted the role of Hansel and he got it. (This experience would be relived in college when I was cast as Frank Lubey, the neighbor in All My Sons, instead as one of the sons. My character’s overalls, though, were fantastic.) A girl named Kim was cast as Gretel. She was the first girl that I ever knew who wore panty hose to school. I remember that day as if it happened in 3rd grade. She walked in the room and every boy’s eyes went to her. We were mesmerized. Her legs were now darker than the rest of her, and apparently that was the key to true beauty in the 3rd grade. From that day on, until the end of the year, I had a crush on Kim. Not a crush like I had on Lisa in the second grade, but after all, Lisa and I had done a puppet show together. Puppet shows will always trump panty hose when it comes to true love.
Rehearsals started, and I gleefully embraced being the parents of fellow 8-year-olds alongside my unknown wife. The show was progressing nicely until that tragic day, a couple of days before the show, when Brennen got sick and threw up on stage. (Note: He may not have thrown up on stage. It may have been somewhere else in the school. Or even at home. But for the sake of this story, let’s say he threw up right smack on the stage.) It was decided that we had to have a new Hansel, so Miss Richardson had all the remaining boys who were not in the show try out for the role. It did not go well. Miss Richardson clearly was not pleased with any of the available options, so she started auditioning some girls. When that didn’t pan out, she got quiet. And that’s when I offered to be Hansel.
I, like all child actors, had already memorized everyone else’s lines and would mouth them on stage anyway. After my second (dare I say flawless?) audition, Miss Richardson cast me as Hansel.
In a near Oedipal twist, I would also be playing my own father.
The show went on and it was successful. We all did a great job, or at the very least, we were cute. And though I don’t remember any critical feedback on my performance or my ability to show the internal struggles going on in Hansel and the Father, nor the unspoken but clear strife they had between them, I did receive positive feedback on the sound my boots (bought just for this show) made as I ran behind the curtain as Father only to appear as Hansel on the other side of the stage. The climactic scene was a dance where Gretel danced with Mother (who I suppose was there), and Hansel danced with Father. And as I danced with . . . myself, I realized two things. One, I made a very awkward dancer. (A fact that remains true to this very day.)
My second realization, was that I really liked to act. I returned to that realization 6 years later, after getting cut from the baseball team in 9th grade (I was one of only 3 that got cut. I suppose it was for being lazy. Or actually not being good.)
Now, I am in Mt Horeb, Wisconsin. Still acting occasionally, teaching acting at Forte Studios, and writing plays full time. All because I was a father in the 3rd grade. And a Hansel. Because of vomit.
Here it is. Steven's blog, where his thoughts about things are revealed. Good luck.