There’s a subplot of my childhood that goes like this: my family and I would be traveling—we traveled a lot when I was a kid—and we’d be in the middle of a crowd of tourists climbing the road to Edinburgh Castle, or we’d be winding through the ancient bustling outdoor market in Athens, Greece--the Agora, I believe it’s called—and somehow my parents would lose me.
Was I holding someone’s hand and it slipped? Was my eye caught by a colorful tapestry and I fell behind? Was it neglect or accident? This many years later it doesn’t matter—what does matter and the reason I’m telling you this is that whenever it happened, I would make my way back to our hotel and be waiting in the lobby when my parents showed up sometime later, frantic, worried, terrified.
“Christopher,” my mother would cry in a tone that was half anger, half self-pity.
I like to picture myself sitting in a large velvet chair in front of a fire, or if it was summer, next to a trickling fountain, with a Shirley temple on the decorative table next to me, reading an Agatha Christie mystery, my feet dangling slowly above the tiled floor.
By then my mother would have burst into tears, my father would be trying to figure out what had happened while gently scolding me for getting lost.
“Oh, hello mother,” I would say, blithely over the cover of my paperback. “And hello father,” taking the Marischino cherry from the glass and popping it in my mouth, “What took you so long?”
The lore in my family is that I knew how to find my way, all by myself, back to a place of safety.
For someone so independent, it’s remarkable how needy of other people I have been. Throughout my life, my friends and community have always been extremely important to me, though my desire to go my own way has often caused me to betray those bonds.
When I say needy, I don’t mean in an approval seeking way, in that way that can be so irritating in people. Or do I? Maybe I have just learned to appear confident, capable.
I used to want to get away from it all and in early adulthood this led me to make many dramatic escapes, all alone, only to find once I got where I thought I wanted to be, that I missed everyone and everything about the life I had left behind. Having wanted to see myself as a loner, looking back now, what I see now is a child screaming, “I don’t need you! I don’t need any of you!”
Life for me is deeply personal—anger, hatred, pain, despair, ecstatic joy--extreme emotions have been my currency. No chill, none, whatsoever. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced indifference even once in my entire life. Whenever I hear the phrase, wears his heart on his sleeve I always think and my spleen on my lapel, my kidneys on my shoulder pads. I wear a coat with all of my internal organs showing.
Yesterday, before our daily gathering, 11 oclock my time, I had therapy. Obviously, we’re meeting on line these days. There was a mix up and at 5 after there was no therapist, 10 after, still no therapist, finally at quarter after I emailed her. Then, at 11:18—not that I was paying that close of attention—I got an email back saying, “Oh no! Our wires are crossed, I’ve been here waiting for you.”
To say that my morning was ruined would be an exaggeration—but for those long moments of waiting, having an expectation that, it soon became clear, would not be met—let’s just say, there’s a particular despair when someone doesn’t appear when you’ve expected them. If I wanted, I could probably recall every time I’ve waited for someone at a cafe, stood outside of a movie theater, the minutes after our agreed upon meeting time like a little hell. And they always showed eventually but I would already have gone to that place of—what? Not feeling attached to someone, adrift. It always takes me a few minutes to come back from that place, to get into the present. “Oh, right,” I’ll think at some point soon after, “everything’s fine, I’m fine, they’re here, we’re alive.”
I used to think I was weak because I needed people so much, now I just think there are different types of people. I seem to require other humans to reflect me. Some people don’t require this. Maybe there’s even a strength in those of us who need each other so deeply—we make connections, build community. It’s why I started doing theater, to find my people, and the work I do now is all about not being alone.
Ever since this shut down began, thinking of people I love who live by themselves, I have felt deep concern, “we’ve got to make sure they’re ok!”—I’m sure it’s projection: if I were alone right now, I don’t know what I’d be doing. How I’d be doing.
I’m sure I’d find my way and be waiting for the world to come back to find me, reading a book, swinging my feet from my chair. And who would ever guess at the terror I felt when I first realized I had gotten lost, the courage it took to find my way to safety.
It is not too much to ask that the world not forget us.