When I was younger, maybe 10 or so, my girlfriends and I had decided that we were going to be world-famous pop stars when we grew up. Either that or cheerleaders. Or possibly hairdressers. All of these future professions were easily practiced in the privacy of our childhood bedrooms; braiding hair, working on our herkies and kicks, and singing longingly into hairbrushes, locking eyes with the fifth-grade heartthrobs we imagined were sitting in the “audience,” swooning over our fabulousness. For me, that was the best, (and possibly the most telling), part of the fantasy. Eric, Trevor, Noel, Jody — they were all there for the show, ready to fight to the death for the opportunity to make out with me under the bleachers after school. First I would have to figure out what exactly “making out” entailed, but my friends and I were pretty sure it had something to do with making sure you didn’t bump noses, and then swapping gum. How hard could it be?
In high school, when my activities took on some reality, I still fantasized about who might be watching in the audience. Even though there was an actual living and breathing crowd present at my tennis matches, track meets, and school plays, I was always searching for my father’s face; hoping he’d made it this time, that he’d been able to leave work early, or drag himself away from the football game, or later, the bar. I would imagine him sitting there, proud of his talented daughter, getting ready to buy me ice cream afterwards and pat me on the back. More fantasy.
Once I got married, my need for an invisible audience faded — I’m not sure if it’s because my life had become a little less Walter Mitty and a lot more open and real. I’d still bust a move in the kitchen every so often and wave to the adoring crowd, but mostly I just found happiness in having someone who actually did share my life, and was there to cheer me on, even if only to compliment a lasagna or appreciate my skill for a swift diaper change. However, married life does require a shared mystery, even when all the facts are known. I guess, over time, we both started seeing less and less of the selves we wished we were famous for, and started re-instituting the inhibitions we had dispensed with when things were good.
Now that I’m alone again, and often alone, I find myself wandering back into that mental place where I wonder what people would think if they saw me now. Not on stage, not styling the locks of some movie star, not dancing in a spangled halter-top to We Will Rock You. What they would think if they saw me picking up kids for playgroup. Cheering on Calder during soccer games. Picking tomatoes in the garden and relocating stray snakes in the yard. Going to the dump. Hanging upside-down from the monkey bars just to make Calder laugh. Crying over the legal paperwork. Crying over nothing. All the little things that make up a day, and eventually, a life for me. It’s not very exciting, but it requires little in the way of a microphone and a fake audience.
The people I have been turning to the most in the past year, for company, friendship, love, advice, etc., have been wonderful. Helpful. Inspiring. And yet, these people I’ve chosen to lean on are the people whose lives are the most unlike mine. Despite not being immersed in marriage and divorce and child-rearing and small-town politics, they can relate to pain and stress and uncertainty. Perhaps they superintend all the things about me just by being alive and sharing ineluctable history. Perhaps they just fucking ROCK. Sometimes they physically become part of my life for a short while, sharing in my daily stuff, but mostly, we just meet in the middle, and in my fantasy life, they observe from my imaginary sidelines. I do the things I do each day wondering if they would be proud of me, or discouraged at my choices. Whether they would think I was funny, or cool, or dorky, or pretty. I remember reading something about how we do not really become adults until we suffer a good whacking loss, and our lives in a sense catch up with us, and wash over us like a wave. Well, I’m hangin’ ten in the barrel, and I can only hope my audience is up there on the beach, cheering me on. Maybe someone will even have gum.