By the time I was ten or so, my oldest sister was an actress, a struggling one, living in NYC. My parents love the theater. The youngest of four, they took me with them to everything -- bad community theater (which I personally love) and Broadway and everything in between. My father keeps every play he's ever seen written on an index card in his desk. He's got stacks of cards, held with rubber bands. One time, I shuffled through them to see if I had a chance of having seen TRUE WEST with Malkovich and Sinise. I remembered the show vividly. The actors were unknown to me. And turns out, timing wise, it was probably them. My family loved playwrights, and, honestly, the only time I've gotten really nervous meeting a writer was Wendy Wasserstein. I'd published a bunch of books by then, but she was a hero where I came from. Novelists? No. Poets? Nada. Playwrights were gods.
At around 13 or 16 -- it's blurry -- I was visiting my sister when she had an audition. She took me with her and I waited in a dark room with sofas while she went in through the door. It felt foreign, a little dirty. I was worried about her. I was nervous for her. There were other actors in the room. I hated the place.
My sister walked out and told me to get my coat. We walked down a long set of stairs out onto the street. She started crying. We walked fast. She said she was done. No more. I didn't say much. I trailed beside her. I didn't want her to quit, but I also did. I'd wanted to be an actress at one point, but I also hated the thought of it. It felt caged to me. I wanted her to get out.
She went on more auditions, got roles, and eventually managed a theater company there, an important one. She produced and directed. Names you'd recognize. (It was there I shook hands with Pacino and swapped fortune cookies with Shel Silverstein, writing some plays at that point.)
Years later, many, I cried on the streets of New York. I'd come out of a meeting with one of my former editors. It had gone badly. Things, in general, were. I felt blamed and pissed and caged.
My kids were waiting in the lobby. My husband must have been there too. I'd never leave them alone in a strange lobby. But I only remember walking back to our hotel. I was overdressed, holding one kid in my arms, gripping another's hand -- the way I do in New York with my kids not very used to cities. Now I remember. Dave was behind me, holding the hand of one of our other kids. And I can't explain how good and awful it felt to cry on those streets. The tears streamed down my face and I just marched on, people gliding past, the noise, the feeling of being so small. It was like getting out of a cage in a way -- though I didn't think I wanted out, there I was.
And it was cold. The kids were silent, and we pressed on, wordlessly -- until, eventually, we found some words.