I cannot remember the last time I was carded. My friend Debbie reminds me that I don’t drink, so I am not often in bars. So my lack of recent experience with carding shouldn’t be a surprise.
But I am in a bar tonight –the night before Valentine’s Day. I have been “invited” for the final performance of “Solo in the Second City” – a live lit(erature) series about the nature of relationships. Artist Date 61.
I wish I would have known about this sooner, but I didn’t. And the only reason I know about it at all is because I participated in my first ever live lit event last week – Story Club, a monthly event featuring three invited storytellers, and three audience members whose names have been pulled from a hat. Except it’s not a hat, it’s a monkey carved out of a coconut with the words, “Have Fun” scrawled on it.
It is the winter of the Arctic Vortex in Chicago and only three people have put their names in the monkey. This is seemingly unheard of. I am one of them.
I climb up on to the stage, pull on my “cheaters” and read an extended version of my blog post “I Love You.” “Thank You.” About me and my divorce buddy. About walking through hell together. And learning to walk on my own. It is tender and raw and real. I feel like I have earned my place on this stage. It feels amazing.
I am followed by Carly Oishi, a featured writer. She weaves together three stories of love and loss. I am riveted. She is speaking my heart even though I do not recall her exact words.
At the end of the evening, I approach her and introduce myself. I tell her I like her piece. She tells me she likes mine and invites me to “Solo in the Second City.” I mention it to Debbie and we agree we will go.
And so I am here, at Beauty Bar, sitting on a low bench surrounded by 1950s hairdryer chairs, listening to stories of breakups and broken hearts.
One woman reads about watching relationships bloom and wither. But only watching. She has closed her heart off. Closed herself off. I know there is more because I am overwhelmed with feeling and identification, but I cannot access it.
Another reads, perhaps more accurately shouts, about when a man drops off the face of the earth without a word. Not a peep. A text. A fuck off. Nothing. She talks about body parts that are usually covered up meeting other body parts that are usually covered up. About giving someone VIP access to that place where her children were born from. She says it is a big deal.
It is a big deal. To give someone VIP access to that place. To literally let someone inside of you. For so many years I did not think so. There was no velvet rope. No line to enter. At least to my mind’s eye. And each and every one who came (no pun intended) was given an all access pass. Once upon a time. Now single again after 15 years coupled, and solo in the Second City, I can play it differently. I can have a different experience.
I am humbled by her cautionary tale of pain. For taking me back to how it was. And showing me how it still can be. How I can be.
Carly, the co-producer of the series, is the last to read. It is the story I heard last week. But this time I can hold on to the words. At least some of them. The part about love and how you will do anything for it. To taste it. To experience it. To feel it if only for a moment.
Yes. That is how I feel. How I have been ashamed to feel. The message I can discern from the noise and static surrounding me post-divorce is “You don’t need it.” “You shouldn’t want it.” “You need to learn to be alone.”
I know how to be alone.
I go to the opera alone. Dance performances alone. Art shows alone.
I live alone.
I work and dance and write. I have a large and diverse cast of characters I call friends.
I love my life.
And yes, I want love. That kind of love.
Hearing Carly’s words I feel somehow lighter. Less burdened by my desires. Free to let go of this misplaced shame.
I tell her so after the show. That I am grateful for permission to want love. She is visibly moved.
I remind her we have met and she admits she didn’t realize I live in Chicago. “So you ‘do this’?’ Write? Tell stories,” she asks.
“Yes,” I say.
She smiles and tell me she is putting together a story-telling series of all women, and asks if I would be interested in reading my work.
I smile back and give her the only appropriate answer – “I would love to.”