The Empty Bowl

The Listen to your Mother Show: Backstage and Inside

As I waited backstage at the Listen to Your Mother show, my anxiety took shape as the certainty that my period just started three different times. Three different times, I was wrong.

In between those nervous trips to the bathroom, I applied and then re-applied my make-up at one of the many Green Room dressing tables. At a certain point, one must admit, another layer of make-up makes no difference.

I was second-to-last: a long time to wait. The television that was transmitting the live video feed of the show was blurred and staticky, so no distraction there. My feet hurt. I took my heels off. I should get used to wearing these shoes.  I put them back on again.

One by one, my fellow readers left the room with nervous calm, and returned with jubilant relief.

My inevitable turn finally came: time to leave the safety of the Green Room and wait in the wings, where I could see the reader on the stage, but nobody could see me. Nobody.

I dropped to my knees in that hidden No Man’s Land.

On all fours, on a ragged carpet that had been trodden upon by the dirty shoes of countless semi-famous people, I stretched my back. Cat. Cow. I wiggled my hips, and gloried in the fact that nobody could see me.

Or hear me. And just like the yogi in Kelli’s piece, my spirit lightened its load. Hopefully nobody could hear me. For real. Jeez. But so much better that it ripped out here than on stage. What a relief!

Sue, the previous reader, was approaching the end of her piece. Time to stand. Adjust my fancy purple dress. Quietly smile and hug my congratulations to her as she passed me the baton.

There was no turning back.

I climbed the stage. Did not trip. Spotted a friend–a very new friend–in the front row, shared a centering gaze. I read my piece. Looked for other familiar faces. Husband? Mother? The theater laughed at the right points, and only at one wrong one. They were silent during the sad parts. The look on my friend’s face almost made me break, cry.

I finished my piece. They applauded.

I had poured my soul out into that theater.

My friend was there; her cup caught some of it. And then I walked away.

Now I got to share in the jubilant relief, spending a last few moments in that Green Room, struggling to hear Michelle’s hilarious words over the decrepit monitor. Then it was all over–a blur of lining up, bowing, flowers, applause, photos.

We walked down the stairs, off the stage, to find our people.

I searched the crowd, seeing nobody. No familiar faces. No circle of friends came to surround me with hugs and love. My exhilarated smile turned into a brave one.

A familiar one: the one I wore, along with my cheerleading uniform, after games in cold parking lots while I begged rides home from other kids’ parents, no place to go but home. The one I wore at the reception after my first wedding, dancing with my two college friends, while my new husband was off smoking pot with his friends. The one I wore on the street corner outside City Hall while the rest of the campaign team went off for a celebration lunch that I was not invited to, leaving me to drive around aimlessly for hours trying to process the victory and stress of the previous five weeks. The one I wore while my family held a baby shower without me, while I sat in the NICU with my premature baby hooked up to tubes and monitors. The one I wore while dancing with someone else’s dad at the Father-Daughter dance in 8th grade.

The one I’ve worn after so many plays, performances, graduation speeches and awards ceremonies, when exhilaration and pride were met with nothing. Just nothing.

The mouth smiles–everything is fine–but the eyes don’t.

I left my soul dripping on that theater floor, no bowl of loved ones to collect it, and went back to the Green Room to take some deep breaths and hide my shame.

I gathered up my things, and walked with the last of the thinning crowd to the entrance of the theater. There, around a bar table, were my husband, mother, my cousin and her friend. Finally. My people.

But by that time the joy and excitement were gone. A fake smile was all I had left, trying to convince the world that everything was fine.

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Part of the solution since 1973.

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