There is a sound peculiar to a stage when the curtain is drawn and you are on one side and the audience is on the other. A fiddling orchestra and a murmuring crowd are dampened by yards of heavy and weighted velvet. Performers and stage managers mill about, some talking to each other, some warming up bodies or voices. There aren’t acoustics yet. You can speak loudly and your sound goes nowhere. But when a grand curtain parts or a scrim flies up, the air changes, the sound changes, the temperature changes. It is instant and magic from both angles.
When I joined the cast of “Peter Pan” on tour in Buffalo, my fellow cast-mates would say, “Time to go to work,” and it never ceased to strike me as absurd. There was no way for me to call it work. It could be grueling for sure; an almost ten-minute non-stop aerobic dance and drum number performed in ultrasuede and fur required stamina. But three hours a day of pretending to be a nose-picking child while singing and dancing and inside-joking with a traveling slumber party and being paid $2,000 a week to do it hardly seemed to qualify as work.
While I was in a show as a kid, a movie of the musical had been cast. I’d been called back a few times and I think I made it down to the last eight girls considered for the part. One that I knew from my hometown won the title role, a girl I’d sometimes commuted with to auditions on New Jersey Transit. She traveled with a professional child audition escort and I traveled with my mom. When she landed the part she rubbed my nose in it and was unkind as any child who is made to be serious enough about show business at that age probably would be. I always got to go to McDonalds when I didn’t get a role and they’d just started selling Chicken McNuggets at the one on 9th Avenue and 50th Street so I didn’t mind so much about Annie, though I was disappointed to not be counted as a friend by this star-to-be.
When I auditioned for “Peter Pan” almost twenty years later that same little girl, all grown up, got the part that I was pretty sure I’d almost booked. I watched her perform “Never Grow Up” on the Rosie O’Donnell Show from my Upper West Side studio apartment while my husband, Tom, was at work and I had to concede that she was a charming Tootles. But when she did not renew her contract after a Christmas sit-down at the Marriott Marquis I was called in to replace her and flown to Buffalo, confirming my faith that I’d been close.
The absence of this child-now-woman-from-my-past provided me with an inordinately warm welcome. She had been an eccentric and had such a dissimilar work ethic that by just showing up I got to amaze people. My dancing partner in our epic tribal dance, upon seeing me kick my leg higher than my shoulder, did a double take and whispered, “You’re dancing, New Girl!” When I looked at him like, “Duh,” he said, “The last one didn’t bother.”
The guys who helped us fly to Neverland by strapping us in harnesses and pulling us up with ropes were surprised that I was not bothered by the harness between my legs, as apparently my predecessor had a self described “oversized clitorus” that made this kind of flight uncomfortable. Or too comfortable. I was told she used maxi pads to mitigate.
The women with whom I shared a dressing room were relieved to not always walk in on me drying my pubes with a hairdryer.
My producers were the only hard sell, one of whom also happened to be the star of our show. The previous Tootles track included a second role as Jane, Wendy’s daughter in future London, as well as the understudy to Wendy. When the show’s casting director made me an offer it was for Tootles and “possibly Jane and the Wendy cover.” When I went in for my wig fitting with two dear old queens who were our Hair and Makeup, they confided in me that our producers worried I wasn’t pretty enough to play Jane or Wendy. In the end I was given the trinity of roles and fitted for a dwarfingly voluminous nightgown and a black helmet of a wig, neither of which helped prove my good looks to anyone.
I ate sweet potato fries dipped in honey and drank bottles of beer in Buffalo. I learned that Wendy had been with a Pirate/Indian and that she would kill me if I so much as was sweet to him. I learned that the Twins were both lesbians and didn’t like each other at all. I learned that everyone liked Tiger Lily except for Nana/The Crocodile’s wife. I was told that with all the drama, my settled married self was a breath of fresh air. I thought that an unusual amount of conversation in the dressing room was about poop.
There was a Turkish Pirate/Indian with a weightless switch kick. He was that partner in “Ugg-a-Wugg” who called me New Girl and said I made a face at him like a monkey. He was bookish and sharp-witted and everyone’s younger brother. He was twenty-two. I was twenty-seven. He taught me to play pool and I taught him to drink Tanqueray and Tonics and smoke Camel Lights. He smoked them like someone who did not smoke. When I filed taxes for that year I had a stack of hotel bar receipts for Shrimp Cocktail and Premium Gin.
He wore my tiny Calvin Klein puffy jacket walking down the street in Buffalo and gave me a piggyback ride “to work” in Springfield. The cast remarked on how cute it was that he’d found a buddy, someone else with guile, someone else who knew what the word meant. We did laundry together in Springfield and had a long spontaneous hug at the dryer. We watched Tiger Lily gamble like an aggressive little old lady at the casino in Davenport and got our own table at dinner in between shows right next to the one for twenty that the rest of our cast was sharing. We flew from city to city but took a chartered bus from Davenport to St. Paul. We sat together. We held hands. When I checked into my corner suite at the Radisson I know I would have burst into tears anyway but there was a bouquet of flowers on the table from Tom and so I certainly did.
I’d gotten a Qualcomm cell phone before leaving New York City. It was the cheapest you could buy in 1999 and I hadn’t received a paycheck yet. The kids in the cast used to call it a suitcase it was so big next to their sexier Nokias. I used it to call Tom and he had come to Buffalo for my opening. But phone conversations became stilted. He had no reference for anyone to whom I was talking nor for anything I was doing. I was fast becoming the person I’d wanted to be, one with a career and and new panties; one who danced and drank and graciously signed autographs and had a company of players to call home. The guilt was deep but the confusion over how to reconcile what was happening muffled the guilt with cushions of hope for clarity. The clearest thing to me was the most disconcerting: I did not miss Tom.
Will spent our first night in St. Paul in my bed. We were clothed and we held each other and kissed and slept. We stayed there as long as we could the next day, until we could ignore knocks no longer from our friends who were waiting for us to go the The Mall of America. Until I could no longer ignore a ringing suitcase. We did the crossword together on the bus to the mall but by the time we sat down in the movie theater to see “Payback” Will had become sullen and sat far away and I spent some of the movie in the bathroom crying.
We went to work. We danced together. No one knew.
There was not a second of that day that I did not know exactly where he was, that I had not calculated his distance from me. And for seconds and minutes and days and weeks to come.
One night in St. Paul we did what it seemed important not to do.
I was so strangely sure and without regret. I was not without remorse. I just knew that I loved him, Will, and that real love was never to be turned away. I thought that there must have been a reason that I did not miss Tom and that I was not torn. I thought that I was a good person so there must have been a reason.
In Buffalo we ate sweet potato fries. In Springfield we did laundry. In Davenport we watched people gamble. Buffalo, Springfield, Davenport, St. Paul. Four weeks.
A reasonable person would wonder if another reasonable person could fall in love with someone in four weeks. If they could fall out of love with someone with whom they’d been entwined for seven years. A reasonable person would conclude that they couldn’t, that there are all sorts of emotional weaknesses that account for such behavior, all kinds of issues that only an observer could divine, that this person is clearly too emotional and irrational to see in themselves.
His grace. His calm. His pirouettes. His other guy face. His obdurateness. His vocabulary. His love for his family. His love of games. His independent insularness.
After St. Paul we flew to New Orleans. New Orleans was so humid it turned our fog to goo on the stage and made us all slip. New Orleans was so profligate our dressers couldn’t make it through the show they were so high. New Orleans was so sultry my curls doubled in size and the frizz seemed to betray my propriety. New Orleans was so fun that I went on as Wendy when the fun had taken the Real Wendy’s voice. New Orleans was so different I don’t remember it being daytime there. I only remember sitting in the dark at the Cafe du Monde with uneaten beignets while he held my hand and told me that we couldn’t anymore.
While sitting at the bar at Lafitte’s Blacksmith shop after a performance, one of the women in our show sidled up to me and said quietly, “I know what you are going through. I went through it too.” She said she saw it in my face but I was sure she saw it in my curls. I opened up to her, hungry to own him to someone. I wanted to own him to everyone. I knew that we were different that way, he and I, and I wished to be like him like that. But I wasn’t. So I told her.
She shared details of her affair, the man at home, the lover on the road. But she seemed confident that her experience was a symptom of of our existence in theaters and hotel rooms and not the result of two people who share something deep having the misfortune of finding that connection in such un-credible rooms. He was her lover, not her love.
I cried through our last performance on this five week leg. Tomorrow we’d fly home to New York City and after that we’d begin rehearsals at the Gershwin Theater for a seven month Broadway engagement. I wasn’t only crying about Will. I knew that when the plane landed we’d all sleep in different buildings. Have dinner at home and not at a table for thirty.
On the plane I was cold and Will gave me his coat.
One of my best friends drove Tom to the airport to pick me up. We gave Will and Twin a ride to Manhattan. I sat in the back seat in between Tom and Will, staring at each of my hands on each of my knees. When we dropped Will off on 9th Avenue I got out of the car and said, “I have your coat.” He looked at me with a sadness he’d never let me see again and said, “I don’t need it.”
I soon told Tom that something was wrong. He knew from our phone calls that it was and soon he’d tell me of my whimpering in my sleep. I was waiting to see if it was true that it was just “tour” and if I’d really “come to my senses” and begin to regret. I told my mom and she said I would. I wanted to know for sure and tell Tom before anyone else knew. It seemed a degree of better that no one else know before he did. But after a few days back in New York I arrived at the theater to find that my New Orleans confidante had told my secret to a room of my colleagues and that those colleagues had told everyone else.
So I felt worse. I did not regret the attenuated hugs nor the eager kisses nor anything else that followed. But I regretted hurting a noble heart. I did not love Tom in the way I was meant to and I regretted that I was not grown up enough to understand that before being disloyal. Before being cruel.
Will told me that every day he looked in the mirror he made himself sick because he was so ashamed. He thought he’d ruined a marriage. Ruined a family. By the time I understood that it wasn’t right before he came along he would no longer listen to me. He told me he would not touch me again unless I was divorced. He was twenty-two. I was twenty-seven. He got another part in another show and left ours.
Both shows were nominated for Tony Awards. I got the notion that somehow that was so special that we’d reunite at the China Club viewing party. I wore my very favorite dress, a canary yellow beaded flapper dress from the 1920s. I attached vintage yellow velvet flowers to barrettes and satin shoes. I forgot to eat. I took my brother as my date, never even being decent enough to tell Tom that I was going and that I wasn’t taking him but was taking my brother instead.
Will showed up with a date and she was not his sister. It had never even occurred to me as a possibility. I assumed we were both abstaining during our time apart. I was spinning. I was downing gin and tonics. When we lost to Will’s new show my brother bought our cast a round of shots. Just as mine warmed my esophagus I remembered not eating. I remembered that I forgot to remember that I could get drunk and sick. I was soon vomiting and heavy as bricks on the marble floor of the China Club Ladies Room. My brother carried me out like a baby as Tiger Lily tried in vain to clean up the mascara that was streaked down my cheeks. As we made our way through the lobby I was conscious enough to be relieved that everyone was still watching the awards. That no one was there to see me. And then two people walked past us and of course they were Will and his date.
I vomited again in the cab and we were kicked out of it. My brother gave me his suit jacket to hurl into and tried to find another cab. Some citizens on the street fought with a driver to get him to help us. My brother had to ring my buzzer and carry me into my apartment and put me into Tom’s and my bed while Tom watched. I don’t think an explanation was needed. Everyone knew that I was a mess, leaking self-centered confusion everywhere and soiling the shoulders of everyone’s jackets. That moment right there, doing that to Tom, doing that to my brother, I hope will remain one of my worst moments.
I had abandoned Tom and he had accepted it with dignity.
I left him. I told him that I had feelings for someone else. He named him. He’d heard it in my voice. I packed two suitcases and rolled them to Aribe Aribe in hopes that one of a host of girlfriends drinking mango margaritas there would offer me shelter. But Wendy and Tiger Lily and Twin were each wrapped tightly in their own tragedies. No one was much compelled by my unwieldy bags, awkwardly piled at my feet in a bar. I wondered if this was the moment when the predicted regret would find me. I wished Will would find me instead. A friend of Wendy’s was indefinitely sleeping at her boyfriend’s and I could indefinitely sleep in her vacant bed. I rolled my suitcases there.
We closed on Broadway. We were wistful again. We’d go on tour again. Again, it would never be the same as it was before.
Tom and I had semi-regular dinners to touch base and make sure that we were ready to file for separation which we had to do for a year before we could file for a no-contest divorce. We met at a steakhouse one night and drank a lot very quickly. We were both drunk, both amicable, and I was never going to have a better opportunity. So I went to the bathroom, pinched my cheeks, walked back to our table and said to him, “I had sex with Will.” Without blinking Tom said to me, “I had sex with your best friend. And that other girl when I went away that time.”
The world spun. The world spun at erratic speeds causing me to fall backwards and fly forwards all in the span of a second.
I had abandoned Tom and he had accepted it with dignity.
Had so many people been waiting for me to confront them? So that they could move on? Was my lack of curiosity, my lack of vitriol robbing others of a springboard? The windows of my New Orleans confidant’s glass house were never broken by my rocks. But what motivated her to do it? And didn’t she worry I’d reciprocate? Did she want to be found out? And did Tom actually feel the pain that I would have felt if I had known of his infidelities when they happened? Would they have made me feel I loved him even more for losing him? And should I just be gleeful that I am absolved? Am I absolved? Should I show up at Will’s stage door AGAIN and make him listen to this news?
I let Tom pay for our steaks.
I walked with this new important information. Up 7th Avenue. There was no one to tell. The friends who had told me off and written me off because I’d hurt Tom? It wouldn’t have made me feel better to tell them. My brother who wouldn’t speak to me for a year for what I did to Tom? He wouldn’t want to know. I wouldn’t want him to know. My mother who was trying to accept my decision but without faith that I was not being juvenile? This was not a way to prove it. I’d still cheated. I’d still abandoned. I’d still cried on stage and been unprofessional in a job that I loved. I’d still humiliated myself in front of my peers when I was incapable of having a conversation about anything interesting, anything worldly, about anything but my broken heart. This did not help.
Things had become so sloppy with Will. This could not fix it. I had lost my dignity. I had cried, I had thrown up, I had shown up unannounced, I had done everything but be alone and quiet and patient - the things that may have fixed it.
Tom and I separated and eventually divorced, though not soon enough for him to not postpone his second wedding, a fact that brought me as little joy as the other new information. I would have preferred to have not hurt Tom. I would have preferred to meet Will with clean hands and normal jewelry. I think we would have loved each other without the enhancement, though the enhancement would make me confuse angst with love in the future over and over again.
Two years later, when the World Trade Center towers came down on September 11th, I had just returned from England and from Numbers Seven and Eight. Nana/The Crocodile took a bus all the way from Los Angeles that week in order to marry Tiger Lily in a beautiful upstate wedding when all the airports were closed. I picked Will up from a train station to drive him to the half-empty wedding. We got lost and missed the ceremony. We made it to the reception where we danced in very fast circles, polka-ing so that my feet barely touched the floor. On the way there I had told him. “Before you and I met, Tom had cheated on me more than once. Once with my best friend. I wanted you to know that.” “That changes everything,” he told me.