You have something that your dad and I don't have- a love story about your parents to tell your own children someday. I wrote this last year when I was pregnant with you. It's the story of how I became your dad's wife and eventually your mother. It's a beautiful love story set in one of the most exciting summers of my life. I hope that someday you'll read it and someday even farther into the future you can share it with your children as a lovely part of their family history.
The hall was decorated like a circus. My mother was receiving an award that night among cardboard cutouts of dancing bears balancing on colorful balls and triumphant paper elephants, trunks held high. The sound of shuffling cards caught my attention. Two tarot card readers were set up at small tables dispensing advice and sage wisdom. I sat down in front of one of them. Her dark red hair was pulled loosely into a bun. Purple paisley glasses clung to the tip of her nose. She skillfully began flipping cards onto the table, alternating her gaze between me and the cards.
“You’re in a relationship right now aren’t you?”
“Yes I am.”
“He’s not the one. He has a hard time understanding how to love you. Soon you will find someone who won’t try to tame you. If you allow yourself some room to grow you will experience an abundance of blessings.”
As I stared at the images of kings and empresses I let her words hang in the air for a moment before fully absorbing them. Did I feel tamed?
I had spent the past three years of my life in a huge oversized sweater of safety and solitude. After studying theatre in college I convinced myself that I could always perform in plays for fun, and that maybe it was time for a real job and a real life; as if at 25 I had any clue of what a “real” existence looked like to me. The problem was, I had not acted in years. I had cut off that part of my life like a budding tree limb hoping that someday it would just grow back on its own. If you allow yourself some room to grow you will experience an abundance of blessings. Maybe it was time to reclaim some part of myself that I had unconsciously shut off to see what blessings would come my way.
The week after the party I did something that would ultimately change the entire course of my life.
I sent an email.
I wrote a letter to the volunteer coordinator of a local theatre asking to be put on a mailing list for upcoming auditions. Two weeks later I received a reply detailing opportunities for involvement. At the very bottom of the email was an audition notice for an outdoor summer production of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”. Anyone who walked past my tiny cubicle that day would wonder why I was grinning like a Cheshire cat at my computer screen. Since my first introduction to Shakespeare, I had always been drawn to the role of Kate the Shrew. She is brazen and pulls no punches. Most notable of all, she is able to hold her own against an equally feisty man named Petruchio. I spent the next few weeks pouring over monologues to prepare for my audition. I even started a kickboxing class to make sure I was in tip top shape. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that huge sweater that had become my life was slowly starting to unravel into a little pile of yarn at my feet.
The day of auditions came. I clutched my audition monologue and resume in my shaking hand as I made my way up the sidewalk to the park where auditions were held. “Breathe, just breathe,” I whispered. Auditioning felt like flying. All of the exhilarating feelings I had ever felt onstage came rushing back to me. I felt amazing when it was all over. I took a stroll to the amphitheatre where the play would be performed and just sat there listening to the leaves rustle in the wind. I smiled the entire way home.
Waiting for a cast list to be posted is quite possibly the worst sort of waiting game. But this time felt different, worse than other auditions. Somehow I knew the stakes were higher. Five days later, when the call finally came that I was to play Kate, the swarm of butterflies that had set up camp in my stomach fluttered away. I never thought I’d get the chance to play Kate.
On the first night of rehearsals I saw my leading man stroll up the sidewalk. He studied theatre in the same program I had, but we only met briefly before life took us in different directions. I stood on the deck outside of the rehearsal space waiting to greet him. He climbed the steps and smiled. There are landmark moments in life when you know nothing will ever be the same. This was one of them. In the same way that those butterflies flew away, the shadows of my old life vanished like vapors. There was the life that was and the life that would be; everything had changed. I no longer believe in the cliché of love at first sight. I now understand and delight in the very realness of it. Our first rehearsal was magical. The entire cast connected and the chemistry among the actors was palpable. As he walked me to my car at the end of rehearsal I knew a very uncomfortable conversation was going to have to take place immediately.
I will always believe that if I hadn’t been cast in that play during that particular summer, some other event sponsored by the universe would have revealed to me that our relationship had come to an end. Words came tumbling out, words aimed at providing comfort but that fell flat and lifeless the moment they escaped my lips: “You are a wonderful person…I appreciate everything you’ve done for me…We’ve grown apart.” And finally, the dreaded, loathed, despised, “can we still be friends?” As I lay in bed that night replaying the conversation in my head I felt a sort of peace come over me. And although I would never tell him that my first notice from the universe that something was wrong came from a psychic at a party, her words echoed in my head, He’s not the one. He has a hard time understanding how to love you. I shouldn’t have waited for a cosmic Post-it Note. I shouldn’t have waited for a man to come walking up a staircase smiling at me before I realized this, but when I reflect back on this time in my life I understand that it all had to happen in just this way. The last strand of the sweater had unraveled itself from its cocoon-like hold on me- just in time for summer.
June melted slowly into July and the summer progressed in a whirlwind of rehearsals and evenings spent bonding with the cast, laughing and connecting in ways that I had not connected with people in so long. And “he” was always there talking about our scenes, commenting on how strong he thought they were, how dedicated we both were to making the other person shine onstage. I smiled and nodded and silently wondered if he had any idea how much I loved him. I decided to relish the feeling and let him find it in his own time. I kept this for me like a shiny pearl buried beneath the hard exterior of an oyster. Having shed my sweater I felt alternating feelings of liberation and nakedness, joy and fear.
The show opened and closed to laughter, applause, and rave reviews from friends and family. The occasional inquiry into the identity of my handsome leading man was met with a vague reply: “friend.” In all honesty, he was my friend, my best friend; we had grown so close that summer that it became hard to remember a time when I was not aware of him. As we shed the skin of our theatrical personas and came to know each other offstage it became clear that we had each found our match. Two years later our wedding invitations carried a quote from that most beloved play, “Be it sun or moon or what you please, henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.”
I think back on that summer with fondness and awe. I think back to the party where it all began and the words of wisdom from that wonderful mystery woman who helped me find the path that was before me, Soon you will find someone who won’t try to tame you.
She used the word “tame”. Maybe that is the closest I’ll ever come to having God wink at me. In our version of “The Taming of the Shrew”, Kate and Petruchio exited the final scene as equals. In our marriage we continue the pursuit of making the other shine. As my hand drifts down to my stomach where a new part of us is starting to blossom I take comfort in the final words I received that night, so long ago now, If you allow yourself some room to grow you will experience an abundance of blessings. I never thought I’d experience those blessings so fully and richly.