Art by Cynthia Chang
Issue: Kalopsia (Spring 2017)
I stood staring at the stage, not taking any initiative of moving towards it. The stage was nothing special; it was brown and worn down from years of theatrics. Above it a few lights hung precariously, how anyone could stand underneath them was beyond me. I could use the safety issue to get out of this or say that I didn’t read over the script or something. Only the latter wasn’t true. Besides, I didn’t make excuses.
“C’mon, DiMeo,” Mr. Brewer yelled from the audience, “We don’t want to be here any longer than we have to be.” He wasn’t wrong. The only reason I was here was because of a dare. Stupid Sammy had to go and give me one that I couldn’t possibly refuse. That wasn’t all, he brought a bunch of people along with him. Well, if nothing else, this could be fun. If I utterly failed this, at least I’d leave the stage with a good story that would be worth a few laughs.
Slowly, I took my place at the center of the stage. I wiped my sweaty palms on the skirt of my yellow summer dress and took a breath. More like a gulp of air, really. The stage lights around me dimmed until the audience was reduced to twenty pairs of beady eyes. I had never done anything like this before but, you have to start somewhere, right?
“My only love sprung from my only hate!” I started. The acoustics of the room amplified my voice making it sound like a sublime nightingale. Here, captivated by the sound of a voice that couldn’t possibly be my own, I was transported to this other place. This sounds crazy but, there was no past, present or future here. Just me, my emotions, my actions and my voice. I swayed and crossed the stage, my hands and feet moving of their own accord.
Suddenly, I stopped. I had run out of lines. I stood there silently till the lights brightened and the people began to rise. The audience burst into applause. In a corner, I saw Sammy jumping up and down like an overexcited gerbil, hollering my name. Even Mr. Brewer, his eyes now wide, showed some interest in the incident. The whole thing was so uncharacteristic, I exploded with laughter.
I couldn’t stop laughing even after Sammy dragged me off the stage. He had noticed a certain play director’s extreme disapproval of my spectacle but, I couldn’t care less. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been a quite happy person but, that is nothing compared to this feeling of… bliss. Yes, that’s the word for it. Bliss. At that moment, I realized I wanted nothing more than a life full of lights, laughter and applause.
“That was an entertaining performance,” Mr Brewer’s voice cut in, “But I’m afraid I find you unsuitable for the part.”
“Wha–”Sammy intervened. I cut him off, still laughing. I met Mr. Brewer’s glare with confidence.
“That doesn’t matter, Mr. Brewer. I’ll get the part next time,” I said, meaning every word. I pulled Sammy with me and proceeded to make a dignified exit. Later I–the memory vanished, replaced by the rapid beeping of machinery.
I struggled to breathe. A piercing noise rang through my ears keeping me conscious. Forcing my eyes wide open, I looked around the room, searching. The fluorescent lights in the ceiling spun around, blurring, then straightening, then blurring. Again and again. I saw a silhouette run into the room followed by a mass of people. I think the figure was Dad’s. Suddenly the noise stopped; I was glad for that.
Everyone was murmuring or yelling; nevertheless, I couldn’t make out a single word that was said. I wanted to ask them to explain the situation. I wanted to shout, scream, shriek and yell but, none of that mattered because I couldn’t. They said something to Dad and his figure left the room. My hands jerked in an attempt to get him to stay. If this was the end, I wanted him here. If this was the end, I wanted him to hug me and tell me it’s okay. If this was the end, I wanted–
One of the mob pulled the mask over my mouth and nose. I felt light as the man lifted my head. Light as a bird. Something began to numb my senses and slowly darkness clouded my vision. Barely there, I tried to register what was going on as I slipped into the dark.
Dad was here a while ago and tried to lift my spirits by asking me if I had dreamed again. I said I had and added a smile to go with it. We talked a bit about his work and things at home, but soon ran out of words. When he left to get coffee, I let my smile drop and disappear.
“Over the past few hours, your white blood cells have multiplied rapidly,” my doctor had told me. His name was lost in the abyss of my brain like those of the countless others that have tried to prolong my life. Then began another speech that amounted to “the end is near.”
I had stopped listening to those for some time now. They had been wrong before, but sometimes I wish they hadn’t been. Cancer isn’t living, it’s barely surviving: a long raging battle, a faint heartbeat, countless blood transfusions, endless chemo, an ever growing lists of meds and knowing. Knowing is the worst. Knowing that your death is fast approaching gives a sense of utter hopelessness that even soldiers fighting a losing battle don’t feel. They have a fighting chance, something they have control over–manning the guns, when to fight, when to flee– whereas I do not. I can only let my body to do the fighting for me.
My footsteps echoed as I climbed the glass staircase. The stage lights glittered like stars. On the high platform, a young man had read a name from a card and it was not just any name. It was mine. I flashed a smile to the hundreds of cameras recording my every move–not to mention the millions of viewers behind them. I took a deep breath, reminiscent of the one I took before my first audition. How far I had come since then… from a bold and lively teen to a dazzling star whose name will be remembered for centuries. With determination and elegance, I made my way up the staircase, careful not to trip.
Seconds became days and hours, eternity before I reached the top of the stage. The man- -Parker, I think– grinned. I was about to smile back but, my eyes got caught on a flawless golden figurine. It represented everything I had worked and bled for. It was the reward for years of tears, sweat and pain. It was the sole proof that I had succeeded, against the odds of one in eleven thousand; I made it. Even as I took my place at Parker ‘s right, I couldn’t bring myself to look away from that gleaming scrap of metal. Just as he started to say something, a burning odor seared my nose. The platform vanished– the shimmering lights, the roaring audience, the lustrous award were all gone. In their place were bright, glaring walls, a stifling silence and a pale, sullen girl. In a blink, it was all gone and I was back on the stage, pretty and perfect as ever. Yet, something about the whole thing unnerved me.
“How does it feel to win your first Oscar?” the man asked, bringing my focus back to the glitzing prize in his hands. I sweeped away the creeping doubts and parted my lips to answer, but the dream faded before I had the chance.
“When you find yourself giving up, latch onto something. Anything. But it has to be strong –strong enough to pull you out of the chaos,” my father used to say during the years after my diagnosis. I would tether myself to my dreams and the various scenarios my heart and mind envisioned for me– an inspiring valedictorian speech, the set of my first movie, a rose-petalled wedding day, a first Oscar, a second, then a third. I filled most of the my teenage years disregarding my illness as one of those problems an actress pushed through to reach greatness.
My dreams were the little stars amidst the black to which I have held onto for as long as I can remember. But for a while now, I could see them slipping away as the naive child is slowly replaced by a sober adult resigning to her fate. The thing my mind conceived today? That was the last straw ripping away the illusions that blinded me for so long.
Finally, I see my dreams for what they really are: a hopeful absurdity distracting me from a cold reality. Dreams are the nightmares that have shredded my soul more than the cancer that plagues my existence. Why do I say something so harsh? Dreams are visions of your personal utopia and when they exist, so does an unending, unrelenting fight towards them. And I no longer have the strength nor the will to fight for an uncertain future with the constant certainty of death.
To put it easily, I am simply tired. Tired from the confines of my mind to the marrow in my bones. So very tired of it all.
He tossed me up in the sky and I soared. But gravity always pulled me down back into Daddy’s arms. I didn’t like gravity. Ms. Yang said it kept us from floating away to the stars but I want to float away–no, soar away.
“One more time, please, Daddy. Just once more!” I pouted as he bent down to put me back on the ground. I could never get enough of soaring. It was just too much fun. “Fine, Birdie. Just once more. Promise?” he sighed. That’s another new word I learned from Ms. Yang, she’s always teaching me these big words. I learned ‘pouted’ last week and this week I learned ‘sighed’.
I got closer and closer to the sky, the clouds and blue were just a breath away. I stretched my hands to touch them but, gravity dropped me again.
“That’s it for today, Birdie.” Daddy said as he put me on the ground.
“But I didn’t even touch the sky!” I argued. Just once more and I could do it.
“Never stop trying, Birdie, one day you’ll get there.” His expression changed. He was always saying stupid things like this with his weird expressions and weird voice, like it was important. Of course I won’t stop trying!
“So, one more time?”
His phone started to beep.
He started walking towards the house, answering his phone on the way, and said, “That day isn’t today, Birdie.”
“But it could be!” I protested one more time as I trudged back home.
In loving memory of
Beloved daughter, sister and friend
A dreamer till the very end