March 5, 2009

Narrate my life

A great deal of my life has been devoted to performing for the imaginary audience in my head.

From a very young age, I had a large number of household responsibilities. I would imagine that it was late at night after the bar had closed, and I was the last one cleaning up after everyone else had gone. I would pause in my sweeping, rest my chin on my hand atop the broom, and gaze sadly off into the distance. I would start to sing Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” in a soft voice:

“He says, ‘Bill I believe this is killing me,’
As the smile ran away from his face
‘Well I’m sure that I could be a movie star
if I could get out of this place…’”

I would imagine this scene as a flashback to my childhood—to the days when I was young and powerless over my life. The audience would know by that point that I’d already made it. While watching the flashback with me sweeping with a broom as tall as me, they’d think, “Look how far she came! It’s hard to believe there was ever a time when people didn’t want her autograph!”

I would perform long, dramatic monologues for imaginary lovers. Wearing a bathrobe and slamming a glass of watery ice cubes down on the table, I would run my hands through my hair with drunken anguish and cry, “But I don’t love you anymore! You’ve hurt me too many times!” He would beg me to stay, saying he couldn’t LIVE without me, but I held firm. “My bags are packed,” I sniffed unsympathetically. “I’m leaving and you’ll never hear from me again.” The audience would marvel at how strong I was being. Other girls might take that man back, but not their Amie!

The audience witnessed the darker times, too. The evil stepfather hated our cats, and liked to make up games to amuse himself.

“See all the cat food on the floor?” he would ask. “Pick it up.” I put on my best stiff upper lip for the audience and picked up the two pieces on the floor and threw them in the trash.

“Okay,” I answered. “I’m done.” (Whew! That was an easy one.)

“Don’t fuck with me,” he would snap. “Pick it up.”

The audience and I caught onto his game simultaneously. I went around, gathering up the rest of the invisible pieces. I would pick up a few and hunt around, certain there were more; then I’d have an “aha!” moment as I discovered some hidden in the corner. As I gather the imaginary pieces in my hands, the audience held their breath, and I carefully watched the stepfather’s face for a sign as to when I could stop pretending to pick up invisible cat foot.

He was tricky, though. Just when his face relaxed and I brushed off my hands to skip off to do something else, his eyes blazed. I backed slowly toward the audience. Through clenched teeth he said, “I told you to pick up the fucking cat food.”

“I did! I will, I will!” I cried.

The audience gasped as he grabbed a handful of my hair and pounded my head against the wall to punctuate each word: “Don’t! Stop! Until! I! Say! So!” He let go of my hair and stormed out of the house. I crumpled to the floor, crying quietly. After a sufficient time had passed to demonstrate my pain, I lifted my chin, and parted my hair from my face so they could see the tears rolling down my cheeks. I stepped into the role of the narrator: “And that’s when she knew she would leave forever,” I told the people in the hushed darkness.

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