Stage left entrance, the lights are dim. A young man, his most striking feature a pair of sad, soft eyes, nervously shuffles to a small red dot at the front of a stage. A few dozen people watch him closely, some with their mouths slightly ajar as they anticipate what will come of the next forty-five minutes of their lives, others nervously fidget, and then there are those who stare through this young man having already made up their mind. For months this young man’s life has revolved around the very lines that are about to come out of his mouth. I say lines knowing full well that they have developed into so much more than that.
They’ve become his identity, his entire meaning and to release them into the atmosphere is releasing the part of his being that he is kept pent up internally. To have one person listen to the words that have become his soul is enough. If the men and women who look right through him to the other side don’t hear him, at least that one person might accept that portion of his soul that he has released. Then the revelations, the vulnerability, the fear, the anguish, the shattered nerves and the broken heart will all be worth it, if only for the minutes following the performance before the search for a connection with the lines continues on and on and on.
Just before he opens his mouth to reveal himself, he ponders what he has learnt in the past few months. His heart has been aching underneath all of the pressure he has placed on himself. After the eight weeks of performances, he has promised himself a break to refresh himself but he knows this won’t be the case. He’ll launch himself into another period of fleshing out his tender soul to find some sort of meaning and vindication for all of his hard work. The thought strikes him as he peers across the darkened chairs where the mannequins sit with gaping mouths that acting is a most selfish pursuit for something completely intangible. Of course, sure, the money can be great for a select few, and the drugs, pussy and dick lusting after you, but the real search is for an unattainable mark of perfection. And you’ll never know if you can even reach it. Does it even matter, he thinks? Everybody does things for themselves, everybody is inherently selfish, and just as acting is squarely subjective to the audience, so too is selfishness.
And then it stops. He reaches the red dot, he pushes the residual thought out of his mind and onto the bearded, angular face of the man in the front row.
‘Unrequited love at first sight.’
‘The memory of her flashes before my eyes. My puppy dog eyes flapping in front of her face, waiting to be loved.’
‘My friends told me that love is a fickle thing, there are plenty of fish in the sea and the grass is always greener on the other side, but all I see are dark, brown eyes, all I feel are her gentle fingers that skimmed across my skin, all I taste is the two day old coffee in her mouth. All my wants, all my needs, were wrapped up in this one human being. And then she left, without as much as a word.’
‘Was it something I said? Was it something I did? Was it how I breathed, how I spoke, how I walked, how quickly I told her my secrets? Did she know how I cared? Did she care how I care? I don’t know. I don’t know if I want to know. All I know is what I know, and what I know is that I wasn’t what she wanted.’
‘It hurts not to be wanted in such an intimate way. No, it doesn’t just hurt. It stings, it bleeds, it aches and it swells, until the ache consumes you and you eventually feel nothing. Maybe that nothingness will last for a day, maybe for a week. I hope she realises what she meant.’
‘And I hate her for coming along, for snatching away my lust, perhaps my love. Because you know when you know, as simple as that. You know when you know.’
‘And it’s not about what I say now, because what I say here is what we’ve heard a million times before. It’s about how I feel, because no one can quite capture the angle and degree of my longing to hold those slinky hands again, and hear her talk about her passions, her hopes and her fears. I want to scream, but how’s that going to help? It will just show that I’ve lost, and I’m sick of losing. I’ve run away for so long that when I realised it was time to come back, I was halfway to purgatory and as sad as a sack.’
‘Some of you might be rolling your eyes, thinking he’s just a young, naïve boy, and I understand that. We all protect ourselves, we shield away from the distinct and broad glumness that the world offers up. Around every corner of a success or a win, is another brick wall where we’ve all been. She didn’t like me, she got sick of me, she saw me as a burden, she found someone else, she was scared of getting attached, she hated Bruce Springsteen, she was repulsed by my scent, she thought I was there for a fuck and nothing else…. The voices in my head roll around and around, and I want them to stop. She didn’t want you, that’s it… full stop.’
‘It’s hard to accept. It’s so hard to accept. I was engulfed by her, and she spat me out whole, except for my heart that had a couple of tears, on the right side, that’s true. How can one have such an impact with just a knock on the door, a kiss and a hug, a hey, how are ya and a never see you again? Enough to make my heart pulse deeper and my heartstrings play a song, only to have the song morph into a funeral march she’ll never come back from.’
‘I’m a lover, I feel these things all the time… But it takes it toll. I’m feeling the strain of all this fucking pain, and I don’t know if I want to love again. For every time I put my soul out there, I’m pummelled and picked apart by the very souls that accepted my love. I don’t fucking know what I am, who I am, how I’ll survive. Do I grow thicker and do the same to the girls who look at me with the very eyes I flashed at her. The explicit vulnerability, where I stand above them as a symbol of what life is about, and then rip that poster apart and run off into the night.’
‘I can’t! I won’t! Or maybe I will. I hate myself for thinking such thoughts, but sometimes you want the pain of rejection to be spread across the river, down the stream and into the cups of every human being. I’m selfish, I’m a cunt, I’m depraved… But no, this side of me will not win…’
‘Fuck, stop treating it like a game. I’m not sure who is who anymore, am I a monster, am I saint? I would’ve been whatever for her, I would’ve changed. I would have, I swear. I swear I would have changed. I swear it. I swear it. Can you hear me? I swear it. I wouldn’t lust after the women beside me, I wouldn’t fuck them and then leave. I wouldn’t push away my feelings. I wouldn’t let the sea of approval that carries me through the storm and into the drainpipe where I follow the status and stick to the quo. I’d be who I am, who you want me to be. A decisive, heartfelt, magnificent, courageous, sympathetic, stern, flamboyant, perfect man.’
A pause. A realisation. A tear turns into a waterfall… fuck off Coldplay.
‘But I’m not that. I’m deeply flawed. And all this changing to be something else will just see me evolved into something you may love for a minute, maybe an hour, maybe a day, but in the end they’ll see through this veneer and say it’s just not working out. For it was love at first sight for me, but it was just an exploration, a hope, a shrug of the shoulders for you.’
‘Was it something I said? It doesn’t matter. It’s over now. You win.’
‘Win what? You treat being loved as a game where someone has to win. Like the winner has the other person at their feet, washing their pores until they move on when their thirst to claim another victory in the game of love becomes too strong.’
‘Was it something I did?’
The lights dim. The crowd pause. They begin to applaud. Just like the questions within the short story, the man doesn’t know what they truly feel, and he never will. But the weight is off his chest, off his neck and off his heart, and he is freed from the words that he learnt. He set them free. Maybe they’ll never reach their destination, but they are free to find some sort of meaning. In a few open hearts perhaps, who knows?
Written by William Balme