Under a bright winter’s moon, they sparkle, reflecting the stars shining in the night’s sky above. In the distance, tropical waves roll against a sandy shore, creeping ever closer toward them. Soon, the warm water will rise, wrapping its omnipresent hands around them, pulling them closer, deeper—swallowing them into the sea. Like the Alpha and the Omega, there is no beginning, no end. Like the sun, they will never burn out, not for a million years.
Upon their pile on the sandy beach they lay, indestructible, yet capable of destroying everything. Brought to virgin lands by working hands, they are no longer wanted elsewhere. Here’s where they’ll live—forever—never decaying. Until, that is, they slowly, silently find their way back into your lives. They won’t look the way you had first seen them underneath the Christmas tree, bright and shiny—whole. They’ll be tiny, microscopic, filling every inch of your lungs and gut, slowly dragging your body into the depths of the ocean from which they came.
Eventually, they will become part of you.
Eventually, they will own you. Control you.
Perhaps they already have.
It was your choice, after all. You wanted a perfect Christmas. Next year, you’ll want the same. Birthdays are no different. Self-care Saturdays are to blame.
When you step inside Target, they wink at you from the shelves. It’s modern life, stacked carefully, hung tidily, looking like they belong. But once they fill every inch of your house and your garage, you dump them in the trash. They’re taken away, and as long as they’re out of sight, they’re out of mind.
But they’ll come back. They’ll seek vengeance. They already have.
It’s what we want, though. We all do it too. We buy the things and wrap the things and give the things and toss the things and eventually, we drink and eat and are the things.
They’re underneath your tree right now. And one day they’ll suffocate each other on a landfill heap.
But they’ll be back.
And they’ll survive to enjoy many more Christmases than you ever will.
“What? Why are you staring at me?”
“I’m not staring at you.”
“You’re staring. Actually, I think the term is ‘looking sideways’ at me. Why?”
“No, you’re right. I am. I guess I’m just wondering why you’re smiling.”
“Why I’m smiling? Do I have to have a reason to smile?”
“Yeah, actually. I think you do.”
“I have to have a reason to smile, a reason to be happy?”
“Let me ask you this: is everything in your life going the way you’d hope it would?”
“Is everything in my life going the way I hoped it would? Well, I mean, not everything.”
“What’s not going to plan?”
“Well… I guess I’d hoped to have gotten into that Ivy League grad program.”
“But you didn’t?”
“I didn’t get in… But that was years ago. I’m over that now.”
“What about your current job? Is it really the job you’ve always dreamed about?”
“Of course not. My dream job was to be a heart surgeon. But, come on! That’s a tall order.”
“Not really. There are plenty of people who are heart surgeons. A lot, actually. They were able to get their dream jobs. Maybe they worked harder than you. Maybe they’re better than you. Maybe life has better to them.”
“Where are you going with this?”
“I’m saying, you’re not in your dream job, you never got into that Ivy League grad school you applied to, and are you even making the amount of money you were hoping to make by thirty?”
“Hopes are dreams are not reality. But I’m still making pretty good money.”
“So, you’re just going to stop reaching for the stars? You’re just going to be complacent?”
“I’m grateful for what I have, even if my whole ‘dream’ career didn’t work out.”
“But didn’t you also want to have a family by now, too? How’s that going?”
“What are you trying to say?”
“Hey, I’m just repeating back to you what you’re telling me. What about those abs you always figured you’d have?”
“Oh, no one cares about abs anymore!”
“You do. I know you do. I see it when you look at your body. So tell me, do you really have anything to smile about?”
“Are you trying to tell me that I shouldn’t be happy?”
“Why should you be happy if you haven’t gotten what you wanted out of life? If you’re not the person you’d always hoped to be?”
“But all of those things are superficial. They’re not what make me me. It’s just stuff on paper.”
“Yeah, and your paper is a blank page, buddy.”
“So I shouldn’t be happy? I shouldn’t smile?”
“Do you have any reason to be happy?”
“What about the reason that it’s a beautiful day? The sun is shining?”
“Yeah, it’s shining because of global warming, and life’s gonna get real shitty real soon. You really should wipe that smile off your face.”
“I should just punish myself? Be miserable because life isn’t perfect? Because my life isn’t what I hoped it’d be? Because life has disappointed me?”
“And you’ve disappointed yourself.”
“Okay, really? You’re going there?”
“So unless I have a reason to be happy, I shouldn’t smile? Be carefree? Enjoy my life?”
“Now you’re catching on!”
“And one reason isn’t enough? I can only be happy if 100% of my life is great?”
“Finally, you’re learning.”
“Feeling pretty miserable now, aren’t you?”
“You’re welcome. Have a nice day!”
He looks at his reflection in the mirror, watches his smile turn to a frown. Goddamn these internal monologues with his reflection. They always end in tears.
My husband is a theatre nerd. His ability to memorize a five page monologue in five hours and his lack of stage fright astounds me. He is devoid of self-consciousness: without hesitation, he risks awkwardness by being friendly and open to strangers. He speaks in silly accents and tries new games whenever possible. His positive attitude about everything makes him look naive, but he is almost always in a happy mood. He includes everyone in everything—he has even accidentally invited people on dates with us (seriously). And he is the master of controlling his reactions to negative emotions. He learned this mostly because he has amazing parents, but also because he spent his young adult life acting.
I lack the qualities that I love about my husband. This year, I was able to teach his lovable qualities—which are the most important aspects of theatre—to two classes of students. Here’s what my husband and theatre have taught me about life: