I entered in and flopped on the comfy-fat beanbag so I didn’t collapse on the floor. Something was new. My body’s long-dormant furnace was boiling again for the first time in a while.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning. No Shame Theater had become the crux of my Friday evenings. There are three rules- and only three, as I often remind myself. Your submitted piece- skit, musical act, poem, episode, or blob of any combination- won’t last longer than 5 minutes. Your piece will be original. And your piece should not damage anything- physically, as the leaders often remind us.
Everyone was laughing and hollering and nearly falling out of their seats, as normal. The heartfelt songs and serious statements left an impact on us, but in no way would juxtapose, say, a skit with a wall of dildos immediately following. A poem or two was read. My friend’s skit crossed everybody’s expectations, and the final skit had two board members faithfully throwing around the same old shtick of a fake feud. That was how it looked until one said to the other (referring to ‘continuing the feud), “What would your dead grandpa think?”
I paraphrased there, but you get the idea. Problem was, the context of the skit they were preforming- the man finding a ‘tape’ of the other sleep-revealing embarrassing facts- was obviously suited for comedy. This was a rare skit where neither actor could hide behind scripts given to them fifteen minutes before the show.
The victim walked off our floor-stage, past the folded chairs, and out the door. The room had been silent before in preparation for skits, but never like this.
“Was that planned?”
He only answered the captured crowd and the brave voice with the smile still on his face, with a slyness plastered on his lips without them moving a muscle.
One of my friends, another board member, shouted “And that’s our show!”
I applauded first. Everyone else joined in soon after, with the hooting for a show well done loud, yet muffled. The other board members came in and went through the usual congratulations and announcements about upcoming shows.
I meet up with Friend One, Friend Two, Friend Three, and Girlfriend after we all picked up our shoes outside the brightly lit floor of the theater room. I hadn’t even arrived, and I was already out of the conversation.
“I have no idea where that came from.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.”
“What is it?” I asked, wedging myself between Friend Two and Girlfriend.
“You know that thing were that one guy talked about the other one’s grandpa?”
“Well, that wasn’t planned at all. We heard him yelling at people afterwards. Really hit a nerve.”
My vocal chords knotted against my stomach. “Huh.”
“I feel really bad now, for applauding. I should have known better.”
“It’s alright,” I was told once more.
We walked back. Friend Three and Girlfriend revealed that their grandpa had died nearly a year ago, that they too were hurt by how casually a memory turned into a weapon on that loose stage. I think I was beyond the point of relating. My grandpa died four years ago near exactly. I wept and mourned, but the feelings were too far down to say, “I understand how you feel,” to them and mean it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t try, however.
Instead of staying at my friend’s room for a while like we usually do, we all decided to head up for the night. I walked back with Girlfriend to her place. She was quiet. Small talk never helps, and there was no exception here.
“Listen,” I said after, and then I said something I’ve already forgotten. It really must have been that stupid. I remember it was related to how distant she seemed this entire day. It was an admission, a plea of some kind. Something off-topic. I remember her response, though: “I’m just upset about what happened, that’s all.” We spent the rest of the dead-air journey in silence. I hugged her goodnight at the door and walked back to my room.
So here I am again, back at the beginning. My roommate had not returned from wherever he was again. Something else had entered with me. My usual routine would be to hook up the computer and spend the rest of the night in its loving gaze. But that something else was there, and I wanted to catch it. I wanted to catch it and wrestle it until I understood what I was feeling. Maybe it was that: just feeling.
“Keep Calm and Party On,” repeated the bee-yellow poster of mine on the wall facing my back. The desk was filled with the toys of old men: stacks of paper, books for learning, books for escaping, a silver laptop, a black printer, rows of pencils forever flat. A scarlet creativity puzzle-trinket given by a friend sat in front, and I dismantled and reassembled it mindlessly as I pondered this new feeling.
I remember my grandfather’s funeral in bits in pieces, but my immediate reaction is still clear. How I was shaken too much to continue the play I was at with friends, how I read to my family a book full of humorous twists of prophet words to keep us in good spirits. Maybe it wasn’t like that, looking back with fresh eyes. It was a strangling. Something new was emerging then, and I tried to kill it.
I’ve spent enough time working on this puzzle. I’m not going to go anywhere new with it.