Last August, a year since first moving here. I walked by my old apartment on the way to Brigitte’s—she shot the poster for This Is Our Youth—who said she didn’t recognize me at first. I saw her exhibition in midtown, behind-the-scenes photos from films and plays in which the Other collapses to the human side of existence, which I am becoming able to see as equally beautiful, or beautiful in a different way.
I took the lip gloss I wore onstage off my shelf, smelled it, and immediately recognized the act as that of the boys in The Virgin Suicides: one of their only ways back to the girls they will never see again. I try to remember, too, how it felt to put on the clothes in these photos Petra took of me at the time around our old building, now tucked away in a desk drawer. I consider going so far as to put on my old costume, the plum lace dress on the top shelf of my closet, but that has Miss Havisham vibes.
Looking at those first few months in New York, removing the guy I learned was not right for me, and accepting the irretrievability of the 230 shows, what I have left is lots of work obligations, and friendships that have only grown deeper and more special. All that remains then is the sheen. Just the fact of newness. Streets I did not yet know offhand, outings which were not stimulating but which occurred in the company of people I had not gone to high school with, which was enough of a thrill at the time.
I am early to meet Danielle for Hedwig. I walk around, go to the Cort, but it’s unrecognizable against a yellow sky and with crowds out front. I realize this is because normally I would’ve been inside getting ready at this time of night.
Yitzchak makes an announcement before the show begins about turning off our phones: “Stop fetishizing the past and capturing the present, all because you’re afraid of having no future.”
Taye Diggs’s Hedwig is jaded in comparison to some of the younger actors I’d seen, and layered in ways I hadn’t known were possible. His Hedwig is world-weary, but this only makes the moments of renewed faith richer, deeper, more true. She’s lived so much, so long, with such difficulty, that plain sheen won’t cut it. I am surprised and moved every few minutes to witness a line or a lyric or a facial expression as so much more loaded than I’d ever thought before.
ME: Without the sheen, I might’ve seen how little value there was for me in the dinner parties and stilted breakfasts. I would’ve seen him for who he is. I just worry that I won’t get those feelings again.
DURGA: You’ll have to be more patient. More good things emerge, they just might not be as immediate as a song. But it’s sort of nice that you had to learn how to deal with endings just as quickly as these experiences took place. You moved to New York with your name on a marquee, which most people do only metaphorically. It was like A Perfect Storm.
ME: I don’t know that book, or film—
DURGA: It’s just a phrase. Normally it’s used negatively, but I think it applies here in a very positive way.
I am jolted awake by testing, out of curiosity, my memory of the key to my old apartment. Bronze and angular, with a smiley face sticker. I can recall suddenly the sweet and sticky smell of the hallway in the summer, in the beginning. I can’t remember its smell in the fall or winter because they were spent at Man’s. I don’t know that I would recover from digging deep into that one now. Is this a thing? Where you have to force yourself to relive something not because it was painful or traumatic but because it was just too beautiful? Whenever I wept to a friend at school about missing the last place I’d gotten to travel to, they would remind me how lucky I was to get to go at all, but that only put the experience higher up on a pedestal, and the sense of loss turned blacker. There is something else at work than just nostalgia, though, and that is the disparity between me and the girl these memories happened to. How disturbing that I can miss feelings that took place onstage, try to relive the slow dance the way I relive memories of Man, and were I ever to repeat them, they would not be my own: they would be framed by having been in a play, and by the circumstances of the emotion being constructed: I did not slow dance with Warren (even though I know I did). I can bridge the gap between who I was then and who I am now by writing down the same kinds of tedious details I catalogued in high school, squashing the dysphoria of change, but what about how it felt? This is a flat pursuit.
Again, again: It’s what I wanted. To know I was capable of leaving myself, of radical change, of connecting to Warren or to Man beyond the limitations of journaling-brain, my constant existential need to preserve, my depression. A friend who came to the first preview in New York said that when I argued with Warren, it sounded the same as when I’d vented to her about my high school boyfriend. By opening night, as we got deeper into the run, friends remarked at how strange it was to watch the behavior of a completely different person in someone who looked exactly like me.
I had another episode the other day where I was stoned and dissociated and had to retrace all my steps. People were over but I got out my diaries. I began hyperventilating when I came to the absence of one for the duration of the play and of Man. I write this at 5 A.M., unable to fall back asleep, where I dreamt that Man had disappeared, and that it was up to my friends to assess what I at this point cannot know about my relationship. Everyone seems to have a different idea of how happy I was at the time. It’s possible I was always performing.
It was unanimous among Kenny, Anna, Michael, Kieran, and me that Jessica would ultimately be OK. “She’s just very young,” Anna said. “It doesn’t mean she’s stupid. She just literally hasn’t been alive long enough to know what to do in this situation.”
To say that many things can be true at once feels like a cop-out in writing, but is shockingly difficult to accept in life. I have a song-and-dance of hilariously terrible shit that happened with him, and I have the memories I return to at night, sometimes out of loneliness, sometimes curiosity, sometimes because I don’t want to forget who he allowed me to be, like on the Saturday in December when he came to the theater between shows, and held me in my dressing room, and took my hand—for the first time—through the chaos of Times Square, among the crowds. Guiding me and letting me lead, in turn. We went to Cafe Edison because it was about to close forever, and in the lobby of the hotel, he pulled me in and gave me a kiss. I gave it back.
“There was a love story. But it was clear that Philippe had gone through an incredible moment in his life and he was starting something else, a new life. Strangely, I felt the same way. Our relationship was meant to end here, and it was beautiful that way.” —Annie Allix, girlfriend to Philippe Petit, on what followed his tightrope walk between the Twin Towers.
I think it takes courage to be so open in the interim. Frooz was telling me about the actors she directed as lovers who ended up leaving their spouses for one another. “Part of love is just being open to it, allowing yourself to feel it, not to get in your way. So when you have to act like you’re in love with someone, half the work of falling in love is done.” I did not fall in love with Michael, though I probably blush more than I realize when we see each other now and laugh too hard at his jokes. But living in the Other turned everything into a romantic co-star: New York, Man, hangovers. I dated them all.
It’s weird to miss being insecure. Since the breakup, my confidence has grown so much that I’ve become more articulate, with fewer likes and ums. A certain kind of friend will remark on how much cleaner my “energy” has gotten. I’m even comfortable making jokes! There’s something so eye-brimmingly stunning, though, about not having any words. Doing the play did not teach me confidence—clearly I was managing anxieties and insecurities throughout—but rather, to trust the emotional body to spin on its own axis, regardless of how confident or insecure I felt going onstage or knowing Man was in the audience or knocking on his apartment door. To believe in whatever was happening so much that confidence became irrelevant. After years as a Fangirl, always worshipping others, I was learning to have faith instead in myself, in the moment, in the person in front of me.
I worry that in my refusal to glorify ignorance, I might overlook the bravery it took to be wide-eyed, to put my heart so forcefully in other people’s hands. There is something heroic about the active nihilism of the narrator of 1989, and I don’t know that I miss her, but I have compassion for her, and appreciate the beauty of the situation: girl moves to New York to become someone new—a character in a play!—and tries to remain open to new experiences, onstage and in love, but can’t help occasionally remembering death, remembering who she is, drawing back to try and contain it all in anticipatory memory. That’s part of the human condition. I triumphed over it the best I could, at that time.
“New Romantics” is two conflicting human instincts taking place at once: living in the moment, while quietly memorializing it. Richard Maxwell in Theater for Beginners: “Maybe genuineness refers to the collection of our conscious and unconscious facts-the act of thinking and immediate impulses, both controlled and uncontrolled.”
Taking on all of someone else—a partner in love, a character in a play, a new identity in a new city—is an escape until it becomes a confrontation, and you find that you’ve run away only to yourself. Still, it’s something in you that made such transcendence possible in the first place. When Gogol visited Countess Sophia Sollogub, she told him of two dreams in which she was able to pray as she never had in waking life. Gogol told her, “They are signs of God’s mercy. Bring your soul to a state where you can pray in reality as you prayed in the dream, and your soul will surely tell you better than any wise men what these dreams mean and what God wants of you by them.” Although these dreamlike love affairs are not built to last, the moments of connection are true, and while the events themselves will never repeat, their spirit can be replicated. You’ve done it once before.
Freud wrote that “It is in fact never possible to be sure that a dream has been completely interpreted.” So I’ll never know who’s good and who’s evil, or how happy I was, anything, ever, it seems. But by doing my best to interpret these dreams, knowing there could be no clear end to these epiphanies or one correct narrative, I have made it so that at last, the decision to stop holding this one in particular on a pedestal feels purely intellectual and not oppressively out of my control. The ache is so tempting: I can put on any song I listened to back then to feel what I felt in the cab on the way over, going up in his building’s elevator, finally in this little vacuum together, which became my home too. But something inside me conquers this nostalgia, this desire to miss: The simple knowledge that these feelings will happen again. New feelings will happen, if I let them. As Kenny said of “doing the same thing onstage every night,” you actually never do, because you’ve never been alive today before, and the same goes for tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.
I think I’ve regained the sense of perspective that Jessica couldn’t have.
I start The Crucible in January.
Undated entry from one of Joseph Cornell’s dream diaries:
unusually… rewarding dream…
the little girl who followed me home on subway…
—was watching me work at table
she came out again + then I went into the city to take her home.
one saw the city through her eyes—freshly beautiful. at a point close to the river she got off + instead of an expected drab dwelling she lived in… a place all glass… overlooking the river…
next to her rooms a large gallery-like place the walls lined with filled bookshelves. I guessed + checked with the man in charge that it was a research service for artists. He said yes it was. ♦