I remember many things from my childhood, don’t worry this isn’t going to be a long-winded litany of events so please don’t click away. There is one thing I recall that is kind of funny, perhaps a little tragic and has become the only real autobiographical fodder in my career thus far. This story is in my play Look After You but it’s at the beginning so not a spoiler.
I remember seeing E.T. My family watched it and somehow (as I do with most things in my life) I took it to heart. It was real to me, I believed it implicitly. I cheered and cried and rejoiced… and then I couldn’t let it go. The movie was over but I was sure, with every cell of my being, that E.T. was in my closet. I could imagine his sweet face peeking out from my shoes and spill-over stuffed animals. No matter how hard the other three members (Mom, Dad and Sister) tried to convince me of the alternative, I knew it. And my childish mind was going one step further. Not only was he in there but this information meant that I was about to have to live out the events I just witnessed, and the idea of going through his eventual sickness and the people trying to take him away from me, well it almost crippled me. I wept, as only an overly-imaginative and incredibly sensitive little girl can weep. As if the world is coming to an end. As if there is no possible chance for happiness.
My father, probably having about all he could handle of a hysterical child, said that he would go check my closet. I tried to compose myself while he was gone, wiping the tears away on my yellow t-shirt (Really, yellow? On a redhead? I must have liked it because I cannot imagine my mother getting me to wear anything I hated, but still). I don’t know what I expected him to say when he returned but he, of course, declared that E.T. was not in my closet. I was safe. But I fought back, deeply rooting in my seemingly unshakeable belief. I said that I know he’s in there, I know it, I know it. So my Dad, ever pragmatic and intuitive (ask me about the bedroom door incident sometime, it’s amazing) came over and sat next to me. He said, calmly and filled with the unfathomable love of a parent, that I was right. E.T. was in there but he asked him to leave and E.T. did.
Now I’m guessing that you think “Wonderful, that was the end of it” but no. Somehow in that moment, realizing that the fear of a white, see-through E.T. had disappeared, it registered deep inside me that I made a huge mistake. I had forgotten all about the great adventures and experiences that E.T. would have brought me. I had only thought about the sadness and neglected to remember the joy. And the opportunity was gone, vanished. I would never get to be drunk at school or ride a flying bike. Panic set in. I begged my father to fix it, to get E.T. to come back. We could make sure he wouldn’t get sick, we just saw the movie, and we know what to do!
I’m sure that it took all the restraint in the world to not laugh at me. But I was so deep in it and my parents seem to possess the amazing ability to both feed my dreams and keep me grounded in reality (I don’t know how they do it but I love them for it). My Dad responded to my desperate attempt to regain my lost playmate with the honest and beautiful lesson of “Honey, you can’t pick and choose. It’s all or nothing.” It taught me, in one moment as a small child, that you cannot separate the joy from the pain. Life is going to give you amazing opportunities along with crushing heartache. And there’s nothing you can do about it. If you want to live, to truly live, it’s going to be a constant blend of good and bad. I know that’s seemingly simplistic but sometimes it’s really that basic.
So, how did I handle this huge life lesson? Well clearly I never forgot it. I would say that it’s become a very important (dare I say) mantra in my life. There will be great happiness and horrific sadness, and living means finding a way to handle both. Often at the exact same time. And to live any other way would be cheating you out of the best of both. Because when we cry because of life’s beauty, the majesty possibility in humanity, we also choose to accept the tears of loss. It makes us who we are.
So I guess I will forever miss E.T. and regret the fact that I didn’t swing open my closet door myself and embrace him. Maybe I will always try to recapture it. Maybe all of my brave efforts, my desire to fight for every opportunity regardless of the ridicule or disappointment that might come, are a gift from that night. So thank you to my family for jumping on board with my wild fantasy (and continuing to do so even now). And as for E.T., I’m sorry you left. You can come back any time you want. I’m ready now.
Dream Role: Kelly in Johnna Adams‘ Sans Merci