Every Tuesday, Sandiegomomma posts a writing prompt to inspire the creativity of writers. Today's prompt:
What major decision(s) have you made in your life? What road did you take that led to something unexpected, or wonderful or not-so-wonderful-but-it-all-worked-out-in-the-end?
I was stale, I was stuck. I was in a rut. I had ambitions, but they weren't getting me anywhere. I was a freelance theatre technician, in the competitive world of New York City theatre, and each day I worked I worried about the next day without work.
And yes, I was sabotaging myself. I was indiscreet, I was impolitic. I drank with my coworkers and bosses. I slept with my co-workers and bosses. It was fun - like Edna St. Vincent Millay said, "my candle burned at both ends" - but I wasn't helping myself professionally.
I had just ended a doomed affair. He was a handsome older man - he had a brush with celebrity in his past that added to his cachet. He had a studio penthouse in a doorman building on lower Fifth Avenue - so unlike my life so far in New York, set in tenements and SoHo lofts, so each trip up the elevator to his rooftop terrace thrilled me. He admired my intelligence, he complimented my looks, he talked dirty about my body. He had long hair swept back from his noble forehead in a widow's peak, he had a neatly trimmed beard and strikingly turquoise eyes.
He was also a two-timing shithead.
After he'd left New York for the Pacific Northwest, I got a letter from him announcing his marriage to a woman whose name I'd seen autographed on photos at his desk. When I shared this with my friend Sophie over drinks in a SoHo pub she was sympathetic, but after the third round she confessed that he'd slept with her, too.
It had been one of those things, she said. She hadn't thought I was really serious about him.
Well - actually, I wasn't. When I look back at that time, that age, I realize that I deliberately chose to fall in love with men like that. Commitment-shirkers, wriggling out of my grasp, fleeing, eluding, betraying.
In a funny way, they were people just like me. I had done the same thing to nicer men, myself. I was just as afraid of commitment, just as duplicitous. That didn't stop me from feeling aggrieved. The ashes of my romance and the stall in my professional life depressed me and made me long for something different.
But I missed him anyway. I passed his door on Fifth Avenue. I could hear his voice among the drinkers at the White Horse Tavern on Greenwich Avenue. I could see his silhouette behind the glare of lights as I worked. I couldn't bear to be with Sophie anymore, and it was hard to know which loss hurt more.
I had a regular job at a theatrical lighting rental shop on Eleventh Avenue. I could work there by day and then run a show at night, when I had one. The bosses accommodated the shop crew's theatrical ambitions with a liberal policy about time off. Things were always slow on Wednesday afternoons, because so many of us would be off working matinees. You could always take a week off for a load-in, and then come back the following week. Some people left for months to do a tour, and then came back.
But the day to day work was dreary. We'd pull rental orders for traveling shows. We had to clean and test stage lights, bundle equipment, pack it in rolling crates, and then help load the trucks when they arrived to take it away.
When a rental order returned we'd have to count it in, check for damage. All the cable - thick black electrical cords - would be tangled in a giant mound, piled four feet high on the floor. It took all day to untangle the mess, coiling up each cable on a hand-wound crank, tying it neatly in two places with rough twine that smelled like burlap. The plugs on each end were marked with tape and magic marker and only harsh solvent could take that off. At the end of the day, I would be dirty, sweaty; hands black from the cable, the grimed adhesive from the tape, dessicated from the solvent.
After work, I sometimes went for a beer at the Landmark Tavern on Eleventh, just across the street from the shop's loading dock. Those who worked a show left in time to make a 7:30 half-hour call. Me, I took the subway home to my apartment, beery and dazed, wondering what he was doing in Seattle. One night I found a blinking light on the answering machine. Was it him?
No - It was a message from a designer I'd met once and sent my resume to. He'd worked with a friend of a friend. Would I be interested in a Master Electrician job? The show started in February, after a month of set-up. It would play the eastern half of the country the first six months, and then the western half. It was a good job - better money than I made now. Only I would have to leave New York.
And these New York streets. I would no longer see the phantom of my lost romance, lurking in every alley. I would no longer have to avoid Sophie.
I would have to give up my apartment, store my household belongings with my parents in New Jersey, fly to Florida for set-up. After that, I would spend a year on the road.
Living on a train. That's how the show traveled.
I decided to join the circus.