I’m addicted to the featured artists over at Button Poetry, and during my incessant boring drives to and from work, I’ve been composing my own performance in my head. I’m not sure why, because the last time I wrote something and ‘performed’ it, I was 18 and agreed to compete in the local pageant because my future-sister-in-law at the time was passionate about it and it was important back then that she liked me. I had no stage-worthy talent but I wrote something that I’m sure was highly motivational about the strength of the women competing in the Olympics that year, and I walked around on stage in god-awful noisy track pants and did my best to remember it.
Because of all the things I remember well, my own words never quite make the cut.
So I stumbled and my voice cracked in a few places, and I could feel the heat in my cheeks as I left the stage embarrassed. I heard another girl tell me she was so proud of me for going on, that I did so well… another girl was encouraging too, telling me that, for sure at least the judges could hear me. I was confused. Then I found out my mic cut out right as I started and no one in the audience heard a word I said….
So I’m not sure what makes me think I could get up and bare my soul on the other side of a lifetime in front of a bunch of strangers and friends who are hopefully all one drink in. But in my head it goes something like this:
I’d wear the spotlight like an evening gown, more naked than if I weren’t actually wearing clothes. I’d wait an extra awkward moment before beginning, abusing silence for the sake of effect. And if you were in the crowd, you might look at me and think I could shatter into a million pieces before I even get a word out.
You feel just the slightest blur of vicarious embarrassment, you know that feeling, right? And so you will me to entertain you, move you, make you laugh even just a little because we all know the very darkest souls tell the best jokes. And I want you to like me, so I start like the best Poets I’ve heard: with a really random thought that seems disconnected from the world around it.
“I went to this comedy show once. Three of the comics talked about their parents divorcing and made passive aggressive jokes about relationships. The fourth guy talked about his own…”
[Another awkward silence as I clear my throat.]
“And I bring that up because, when I told him that’s what I wanted, the words came out of my mouth like quiet, putrid vomit. Not the kind of vomit you have with the flu. No. This was like the kind of vomit you have when you get food poisoning. You know the feeling. Something rancid and offensive turns over and over in your stomach until your body tells your mind that something is way wrong. And your mind responds, it contracts every muscle in your body in an effort to expel that which you never should have swallowed… and your stomach wrenches into a knot and the vileness defies gravity and all of the self-control you can muster and then… it burns your throat and exits through your lips in the most disgusting act of self-preservation and healing possible.
[I’d change my posture, shift my weight, because I know you know what bile tastes like, and I made you remember that.]
Afterward there’s a moment, the moment when you feel infinitely better.
I looked at him, holding my invisible mess in his hands.
I know this look.
When my son was two, we were driving through the rolling hills of Little Rock when he became visibly nauseous. I was sitting next to him in the back seat, willing him to drink a little water from his sippy cup and rolling down the window so he could have some air. It didn’t help, though. He turned milky white and up came Chucky Cheese… right into my hands.”
[I’d cup my hands together here, so you have the mental image, and give you a second or two to think about that.]
“I guess I intended to minimize the mess, because all moms know you’d rather be holding half-digested lunch in your hands than scrubbing it out of the car seat and floor mats and upholstery. But now I’m like, Pull Over! And he stops, looks back at me but doesn’t immediately come to my aid. I’m trying to keep myself from gagging as I tell him what should be obvious, I need him to open the door… get the wipes out of the diaper bag… change the kid…
So my husband, he’s looking at me the same way I looked at him that day in Arkansas. What am I supposed to do with this? He’s willing me to take it back. He wants me to help him, now.
He never did like to get his hands dirty.
Still, I tried to minimize the mess.
And what it is, you know, is that I never cried wolf. I never used the word ‘divorce’ as way to manipulate his behavior. I didn’t use it as a door stop for disagreements or a hammer to nail home a point I was trying to make. I never left my home and my kids so he could get a taste of a world without me in it doing the things I do.
For a long time I believed I could love enough and do enough for the both of us. I believed that marriage was forever, even if you grew and he didn’t. Even if he broke his promises and you broke yours. Even if you were being erased line by line, year by year, and he had no idea he was holding the eraser.”
[I’d stop here, pause, mourn.]
Any stand-up comic worth even a chuckle can probably tell you that nothing lasts forever.”
[Then I’d tap the mic and say:]
“Hey, is this thing on?”