We stood in the wet grass, in the grey drizzle. His green eyes were full of sympathy, the lowering clouds above a perfect counterpoint to the weight in my chest. I knew it was over, no reprieve. I begged, “Kiss me, one last time.” And he did. It was sweet and tragic, and I thought, “I hope you tasted the salt in that kiss. You have broken my heart.”
That kiss was 44 years ago, and I can still see it and feel it. All of I have left of him is two small photos, in an album that rests in the bottom of a box. I have searched for him on Facebook and online, but his is a common name, and it’s been too long. I will never see his face again. That moment together was the last time.
As I prepare to move out of New York City, my life is suffused with last times. I’m leaving my performance space, Stage Left Studio, where I have lived and worked for five years. Yesterday, I came home from K-Mart with a 12-pack of toilet tissue. “The last time,” I said to myself, “that I buy toilet tissue for my space in NYC.”
This week my dear friends Tom Gualtieri and Jen Peterman performed on my stage for the last time. It was a benefit performance, and bittersweet for us all. Tom told the audience how important I have been to him, and how he’ll miss this stage. Many of the audience members were old friends, making one final appearance in the house. This weekend four more shows, with treasured colleagues, all performing here for the last time.
Today’s writing workshop, with my dear friends Marlene and Elise, where I am writing this blog post, is the last one I will conduct from Stage Left. My next one will likely be from Atlanta, where I will be visiting my sister for a month. Today we laugh about how I will perhaps offer the workshop in the future from truck stops along the road – The Truck Stop Workshop. It’s got a nice ring to it.
I saved the fortune from my cookie yesterday, after I ate at Main Noodle House for the last time as a resident of New York City. I’ve been here for 26 years. As an Army brat, I grew up all over the world, and as an adult, the longest I ever lived anywhere was for 11 years. Twenty-six years in the same place – that’s a very long time. I’m 65 now, and probably will never live anywhere for 26 years in a row again. So it’s the last time for that too.
I remember my mother, in her last hours. Her kidneys had failed, and though the dialysis she’d been on for six months was keeping her alive, it was not something she was willing to continue. She called all her children, and informed us of her decision. We all went to her home in Kentucky to be with her while she died. Friends came by with home-grown tomatoes, which she loved, and which had been forbidden to her while she was in kidney failure. We watched her eating them with joy, and lumps in our throats. About eight days into our vigil, she put her fork down on her unfinished plate, and said, ‘Well, hon, I guess it’s the beginning of the end.” That was her last tomato. She died about 10 hours later.
I can still see the quality of light in the room, the color of the carpet, the red tomato on her plate. I can see the remains of the roast beef that was on my plate, that I could not finish after she gave me the news. It’s more than the loss that keeps it clear and solid in my memory. It’s because it was the last time.
Two weeks ago I sent my landlord the last rent check. “Last time for that,” I said, as I happily dropped it in the mailbox. And daily I remind myself I’ll no longer have to mop the stage, take the trash to the curb, or walk half a mile just to buy produce. Those last times are welcome. When I leave my space I’ll be going on the road, and my home will be my car, or the spare rooms of friends, for at least a year. I’ll have first times every day, with adventures around every corner. These prospects form a powerful counterbalance to the losses I am contemplating.
Last Sunday I performed my solo show Grapefruit on my stage for the last time. During our tech rehearsal I was so aware of that fact that I could not keep from what my mom used to call “tuning up to cry.” A bit panicked at the idea of horrifying the audience with misplaced and inappropriate tears, I suddenly came up with the idea of tricking myself. I said, “I have time to add another show before I go! This is not the last time – it’s the next-to-last time.” And that simple maneuver was enough to ease my angst and let me be present in the moment. Next-to-last times are not last times, after all.
My love affair with New York City will continue. I’ll be back on a regular basis, to do shows at other people’s theaters, and to maintain the continuity of my long-running show Forbidden Kiss LIVE, and to continue my latest project – Gender, with the new cast. We’ve only had one time to do it together, and I’m sure we are far from our last time.
But for now, I keep making to-do lists, making plans, packing boxes, and giving stuff away. Each moment is precious, the last time I’ll see the sun come through the canyon between those two buildings and shine through my orange parachute. The last time I’ll see a morning glory bloom in that perfect spot on my wrought-iron balcony railing.
In two weeks, I’ll do what I did when my siblings and I emptied my mother’s house and put it on the market. I’ll walk through the space, and touch the walls, memorizing the sun slices that cut through the window blinds, taking in the shapes and angles of the walls, the coolness of the tile on my bare feet. And then I’ll exit Stage Left, for the last time.