1. in high school, i really wanted to be an actress. but back then i was painfully shy, so the auditions never went well. while onstage i was mostly focused on all the people watching me; to say that my line readings suffered as a result would be an understatement. i tried out for rumors and the best christmas pageant ever with no luck. this upset me a great deal, because i just knew that if i ever got the chance to be in a play i’d be awesome. eventually i was given a small part in this is a test. my performance was marginally awesome.
the part i played in this is a test, though small, was pivotal. i was one of three members of a small chorus of sorts, and our job was to recite this one bit in a round. “this is a test. a what? a test. a what? a test. oh, a test.” our lines varied a bit, though, and sometimes instead of tests we’d be talking about pencils or books or what-have-you. i was the middle person, so the first person would say “this is a test,” and i would say “a what?” and she and i would do the whole bit. then i’d turn to the third person and say, “this is a test,” and the third person would say “a what?” and we’d do it over again. but at the same time, the first person would move on to the next item and say to me, “this is a pencil.” so i’d have to face each person in turn and say, “this is a test. a what? a test. a what? a test. oh, a pencil.” it was hard to remember what item i was saying to the third person while paying attention to what item the first person was saying to me. as i recall, it took me a few tries to get it right, but i didn’t mess up at all during the performance.
this fall my friend jessica’s middle school theatre program did this is a test. even though she teaches middle school and i was a junior in high school when i was in the play, i felt really good when she told me she picked the smartest member of the chorus to play the middle part. suck it, seventh graders! i was marginally awesome!
2. also during my junior year, my church youth group held our second annual dinner theatre. our youth group leaders were in charge of the first annual one, but for the second one, they decided to delegate. this was how my sister came to be in charge of the dinner, and i was put in charge of the entertainment. though now that i think about it, i probably volunteered. i’d been going to that church since my parents brought me home from the hospital, so i knew i’d feel comfortable performing for an audience that had known me for sixteen years. while my sister organized the food and decorations and chose a theme, i picked out skits and sets and costumes.
i loved being in charge of the theatre stuff. i held auditions for the parts, went on thrifting and borrowing sprees for the sets and costumes, and organized and led rehearsals. i even made the programs myself. my day planner from that time (which i still have) was filled with ideas and to-do lists in bright orange ink. in retrospect i was probably a bit over-stressed: i remember calling one guy’s brother an asshole, and hanging up on someone’s mom when she informed me that her daughter wouldn’t be able to attend rehearsals that day. but i was on a mission!
i had only planned to be in one skit myself, but when one girl had to drop out in favor of band practice, i took over her part. to me, that was the most fun of all. that skit had a romeo and juliet plot, but the characters’ lines included their stage directions. for example, i played the princess, and one of my lines was, “the princess stands at her tower window,” or something. there was even a curtain character, who would walk to the middle of the stage at the end of every scene, say “the curtain falls,” and then fall over. everyone died at the end of the play, and my last line was, “the princess dies, and is beautiful even in death.” my pratfall at the end of that line got huge laughs. suck it, high school! i was awesome!
3. i had seizures when i was a baby. massive infantile spasms, they were called. as i was only a few months old, i don’t remember any of it, but my parents definitely do. according to them, i was in the hospital for awhile, and then my dad had to give me steroid shots at home. i can’t even imagine what it’s like to have to give a shot to your own baby. the way these infantile spasms went, the doctors were pretty sure i’d be mentally incapacitated in some way, so my parents had me take an IQ test a few years later. i also can’t imagine how you administer an IQ test to an infant, but the results of that test put my IQ at a genius level.
when i was thirteen, my mother took me to the hospital to get an EEG. they stuck all these suctiony things to my brain with glue and plugged me into some machines, and then they put me on a table in front of a big observation window and told me to fall asleep. there’s no way i’m going to fall asleep! i thought. i’m not tired and things are glued to my head and this table is uncomfortable and zzzz in retrospect, i wonder if they slipped me something.
after the EEG, my mom took me to lunch at the hospital mcdonalds (do they even have those anymore? it seems counterproductive), and showed me a letter she’d written to me when i was a baby. in the letter, she said that there was only one chance in two or three hundred that i’d end up normal. the word normal is a subjective one, but i suppose i am normal in medical terms.
i used to think that my beating the 0.5% odds and emerging from seizures with an infant-genius IQ meant that god had spared my brain so that i could achieve something specific. but i don’t think i believe in god anymore. and really, that’s way too much pressure.
4. in the last eight years i’ve had no trouble asking people out, but my first experience asking for a date was a terrible one. there was a sadie hawkins dance my sophomore year of high school, and i wanted to invite jeff tupper. he was in three or four of my classes that year, and i’d found him pretty easy to talk to. which was saying a lot, since i didn’t find anyone easy to talk to in high school. also, i liked his hair.
i’d told my friend jean about my crush on jeff tupper, and we’d decided i should ask him to the dance the next morning, which was a friday. i’d asked jean if she would go with me to ask him, since i didn’t want to do it by myself. we found him in the hall just before the first-period bell rang.
“hey, jeff,” i said. that part was easy.
“hey, guys,” he said to jean and me.
“uh, jeff,” i said, “i was wondering if you would, um, go to the sadie hawkins dance with me?”
he froze. a look of horror crossed his face, and i knew what he was going to say before he said it. “no,” he said.
i did not know he would be so abrupt. “ok,” i said, and took off running down the hall. jean followed.
of course i had to see him in classes all day. and i knew he’d told his friends, because i kept catching them staring at me. jean said that at least now i knew what would happen if i asked, but it was small consolation.
i spent that weekend moping around the house. when you’re fifteen and your parents live in your house too, it’s hard to mope around without telling them what happened. i was able to avoid talking about it until sunday afternoon when the phone rang. “it’s for you,” my mother said, handing me the phone. she had a strange look on her face, so i knew the call wasn’t from a girl.
“hello?” i said.
“alison, it’s jeff.”
he’s changed his mind! i thought. he does want to go to the dance! oh god, i’m so nervous. what am i going to wear? “hey,” i said.
“i’ve been calling everyone all weekend trying to find your phone number,” he said. “i wanted to tell you that i said no because i have a girlfriend.”
i suddenly recalled seeing him in the halls at school, always with this one girl. how could i have been so stupid? “oh,” i said. “i didn’t know.”
“i didn’t want you to think it was because of you, so that’s why i called.”
“ok,” i said.
“ok. see you tomorrow.” he hung up.
it didn’t make me feel any better at the time. i was still embarrassed, and of course i then had to answer my mother’s inevitable who-was-that-on-the-phone question. but now i think it was pretty brave of jeff tupper to call and tell me about his girlfriend. so thanks, jeff tupper, even though that’s not your real name. you should have just looked me up in the phone book; there weren’t that many headleys in there.
5. i think this is something i always knew, but i didn’t fully realize it until a friend and i discussed it this week. the television is always on in my apartment because the noise and picture and general distraction keep me from thinking about bad things. i’m afraid if i turn the tv off and try to work in silence, i won’t be able to keep the terrible thoughts at bay — the thoughts about my life and career and past and relationships that would derail my entire day if i let them take over. in my better moments i tell myself that there are just a lot of shows i like, and i watch them because i want to know what’s going to happen next. but that doesn’t explain all the reruns and old tapes and dvds. no, those are around for the bad thoughts.