Saturday, February 27, 2010

the unexpected gift from anne frank

I don't write often of my husband or my daughter here in this space. they are both very private people and the idea of their lives posted on the internet brings each of them some trepidation. (interestingly, they both flourish in real life with face-to-face connections.) sometimes I want to write about them and I'll do a draft with a fictional person standing in. it never comes out right. so I am left with the bits of love and memory here and there that feel safe to share. since this month is all about love, I couldn't let it go without a mention of the two humans that have loved and taught me the most.

I met ken when I was just past age thirty. I had been married before and was a single working mother. I was really focused on work and not on anything that resembled a life. I decided a year or so before that I didn't have time for dating or a relationship. in hindsight I know that my heart had been torn apart and then "healed" with a scab so hard there was no room for love.

mia asked me one day if she could audition for a play. since she'd expressed little interest in theatre before, I thought it was one of her whims (um, yeah the whole whimmy thing: like mother, like daughter). coincidentally, the agency I worked for was coproducing the diary of anne frank. since I had in my mind that it would be a laidback, amateur production, we decided to audition together. you know, mother-daughter fun!

when we arrived, we were both surprised to find real actors lining up to read lines for a real director. mia totally chickened out, but I was all "what the hell...", totally knowing I didn't have a shot at a role. weirdly, I was cast in the support role of miep.

I remember seeing him at the audition. he kind of stands out in a crowd because he resembles a handsome bill clinton with a little more nordic thrown in. our eyes briefly met across the table and he made me nervous because of the crystal blue eye contact. I had to turn away quickly and felt a blush rise in my cheeks (I'm thinking, seriously, you're blushing?!). but even if I was in the market for dating material, I knew he was a few years older than me and so not my type. still, there was something about that eye contact.

so I showed up at first read-through still thinking they made a mistake. I hadn't been on stage since high school and even then didn't take it very seriously. ken had been cast as mr. frank. ken worked in theatre and was a very gifted actor. I felt like an idiot and that my lack of theatre skill demanded too much on-stage help from him (he would gently walk me through a pivotal scene when the director had become frustrated at my lack of progress). we became friends at rehearsals in the only way a gregarious girl and a serious man can become friends...clumsily. but it felt so natural to talk and laugh with him, he with the weird "I can see your soul" eye contact.

as we got closer to opening night, I became very frightened that this was real. a real play with a soldout audience in a huge theatre. what the eff was I thinking?!

the play was beautifully produced. the stage was the attic. the opening began in complete darkness with images of real holocaust victims appearing and fading to the haunting music of dead can dance. the first scene was between miep and mr. frank, returning to the attic after the war.

the thing I remember most about the play is waiting in the wings with ken the moments before we stepped on the stage while the slides and music played. I remember being scared beyond scared and feeling like I couldn't breathe and had to fight the impulse to run away. his hand found mine in the darkness and I instantly knew that I was safe and that I could do anything. I couldn't see a damn thing but I turned to face him and felt those eyes peering at me, knowing and loving the soul they saw.