Everytime I spend any length of time somewhere, whether it be an apartment, a hotel room, a stage, anything, I have this strange ritual I have to do. When it gets to be time to say goodbye, I have to take a moment to resolve my time there. After I’ve packed everything into my car or the moving trucks, I have to make one last walk through the space, remembering the things that happened there, inhale the spiritual ether one last time, then mentally and often audibly say goodbye. It’s so strange, but it’s something I have to do. I’m moving on, and this space once held a time that doesn’t exist anymore, and I have to close that, hoping that somehow, my time there has left some sort of meaning or deeper mark on the place, other than the hole I punched in the wall, or the carpet that the cats ripped up (which I would have to pay for later).
This is especially true in theatre, as one space can house dozens of shows in one year, thousands of moments for very particular groups of people, then move to the next thing, as if the previous one had never happened. I remember after I had stage managed my last show at Calvin College, the set was torn down and put away in about an hour, and the space literally looked as if the play had never happened. I stood on the staircase looking at the empty stage, then slowly walked down the staircase to the stage, and walked around, briefly reliving the actions of the previous 3 months of my life. The patterns of fabric spinning across the stage. The way it felt when that really tough light cue came up just right. The friendships and/or crushes I had and lost in that brief time, and I knew it would never be the same again. Eventually, I ended up back at my starting position, when my friend Zach walked in behind me and put his arm around my shoulder. I turned to him and said “We had a good run, me and this place.” “Yeah, you did,” he said. And tears moistened my eyes as I said goodbye to that space.
Being in a play is an intense and unique experience that you can’t have any other way. This is fresh on my mind as I just recently finished up a play that I was in, and I was reminded of this. You basically set aside your entire social life to do weird excercises, learn to lose your inhibitions, make a lot of jokes, and gain a very unique connection with a very specific group of people. And then when you have the last performance, you strike the set, and you go on to the next thing. From then on you’ll bump into those people again, and you’ll laugh and reminisce about the time someone’s boob popped out of their dress, or someone forgot their line and you inadvertently jumped to a spot three pages later, or the time someone fell through the barrell, but it will never be the same again. You just cannot recreate the experience again. You may work with certain people again, which is always fun, but that show is over, and you have to move on. That’s when my post-show ritual happens. I have to walk around, relive the moments, and say goodbye to the time that is no more.
I’ve noticed recently that I think some people have this in them more than others. I chatted the other day with a friend of mine who’s the kind of person who can just pack up and leave at any time. It’s not that the place where she lives or the friends she currently has have no meaning to her, but I feel like she would be ready to drop those things and never look back if the chance came. In fact, I think she’s counting on that. We would say “Keep in touch!” but would stop emailing or calling after six months, and that would be it. I’d remember her down the road, and wonder how she’s doing and if she ever thinks of me, knowing that she’ll never be back, and we will never be what we once were.
Needless to say, I’m not that kind of person. Not because I’m scared, necessarily (though I am), but I just couldn’t suddenly leave everything that has meant so much to me. Now it can go to both extremes, where I’m so attached to the things where I am that it paralyzes me from ever taking a chance, and the other extreme, where I’m so ready to leave, that I never really attach that much meaning to the things I encounter. I feel like both extremes are very sad.
I’ve mentioned before the idea of a “regretful malaise” where you don’t regret things you did wrong or anything like that, you just regret that a certain time and place are no longer like they once were, and they will never be the same again. I guess it’s just a human thing to want a certain experience in a certain space to have meant something that will last forever. Will the moments that were so meaningful to me have some sort of impact on whoever occupies the space next? I don’t know, but I’ll keep taking my last moments assuming they do.