The workshop did not turn out the way my therapist and I had envisioned it. Of course, by then, my mood was changing. Anybody’s mood would have been changing.
Here I was, standing before a group of fifty or a hundred people, inside a hotel meeting room, holding a mike, mumbling to myself.
I had thought this was going to be about hugs and support. That dear woman in the blue sweats was supposed to nurture me, take me to her breast the same way she did little Leanne, make me a human being again, bring all that beingness right to the surface.
And here she was, dressed in a spiffy navy suit, trotting around with her own, bigger microphone, ordering me to “Be fucking honest with this group!”
“I am being honest.”
She looked at the floor, paced a few steps, while the audience waited for the great and almighty group facilitator to speak.
“We’ve got to go on,” she said. “You’re holding us back. We go on with you, or without you. Handled, or not handled.”
“So I’m supposed to say that I need a hundred dollars because I’m worth it?” I say.
“It’s not what you’re supposed to say!” she said. Her voice was deep as shit. “There’s no supposed to it. This is about being real, not being right.”
Long, long pause.
With my free hand, I fumbled with my pant pocket. I squirmed, there, standing on stage. I wanted to sit down.
“Then I need a hundred dollars,” I said. “Is that right?”
“Fucking Christ!” screams my new therapist. “You’re wasting our time here! Do you see that? A hundred dollars is nothing. Nothing! Everybody in this room throws a dollar bill in the air — that’s a hundred dollars. This has nothing to do with money.” She takes a deep breath, pauses, then speaks slowly, mocking. “Do. You. See?”
“I guess so.”
“But I still don’t have the money. When’s lunch?”
“Lunch! There is no lunch for you. Never has been, never will be until you get honest with this group. Look around! This is the universe you’ve been lying to for, how many years?”
“Thirty fucking seven years! Still auditioning! Haven’t even gotten a bit part yet! Sit down!”
A few others in the audience agreed with her. They told me to sit down too. I did.
When we broke for lunch, I went to speak with her. She stood in the back, behind the chairs, as others grabbed their stuff, broke into lunch groups, headed for the door. She no longer offered me that friendly smile, that lovely face I had grown so accustomed to. She was hurt. She was mean. She snarled. She refused to look at me.
“What,” she said.
The others were scattered now, most of them out; it was a one hour break.
“I guess I’m out, huh?”
“I’m asking you.”
“Your mom was hard on you, wasn’t she?”
“I guess she was. My dad was too.”
“But you can’t share it with the world?”
“You know it is.”
She looked up at me, then back down at her notes.
“I can’t talk now. I’m busy,” she said.
“But do I come back after lunch?”
“That’s the damn question of the hour.”
“I, I, I…”
“I I I! Me me me! Go ask them! There’s your life, right there, going out the door. They’re almost gone. Again.” She pointed at the other workshop participants – the few stragglers left in the room. “Better hurry. There they go.”
“Fuck them,” I said. “Thanks for nothing.”
“You know, my father committed suicide. He hung himself in the basement. That’s the kind of shit I’m dealing with.”
“Interesting,” she said. “Tell them after lunch. Listen, I’m busy now.”
“I’m leaving this workshop,” I said.
“You were never in it.”
I went to one of the hotel restaurants. It was buzzing with workshop participants. They were pulling tables together, swapping seats, grabbing chairs from other tables, flirting with each other, giving the wait staff a hell of a time.
I got a seat at the bar. Got a beer. Drank it. Got another one.
An intelligent looking guy in a gray wool sweater, mostly bald, a little beard, a little moustache, came up to me.
“Boy, she was rough,” he said.
“Ah,” I said. “No big deal.” I took a big gulp.
“I just wanted to tell you that you’ll be fine. We’re here for you. When we go back in there, just go for it. I went through the same kind of thing in my first workshop. You should have seen me. But it’s like that. The first breakthrough is the biggest. Then you know what it’s about, and there’s another breakthrough, and another, and another. That’s what growth is.”
This guy was latching onto me, had his eyes fixed like lasers on my head. I felt the heat, wanted to break the goddamn spell.
“No kidding. Hey, have a beer,” I said.
“Listen,” he said. “The ground rules specify no drinking. I’m afraid you’re going to jeopardize your –”
“Fuck off,” I said.
“I felt sorry for you up there,” he said. “I’d like to see you make a breakthrough.”
“I’m not going back in.”
“This isn’t the way to leave. I’ve seen people blow out of these weekends before, and they never come back. I’d rather see you make it clean. Make it honest. Then you’d be free. This way, you’ll always have this business over you, which is probably the way you run your life anyway. That’s probably the reason your here. It’s what you came to do.”
“Leave me alone,” I said.
The barman brought me another draft, took my empty glass away.
“That’s not what I’m in this workshop for,” he said. “I’m here to work on my life, which doesn’t involve leaving people alone. As a matter of fact, reaching out is my breakthrough. This is actually a stretch for me, coming up to you this way, because I run my life by leaving people alone when they need me to be there for them.”
I hated to waste a full beer, so I took a giant swig before I threw the rest of it on this guy’s neck.
I said, “Here, you can have the glass too,” and I jerked the neck of his sweater back and stuffed the glass onto his chest. I almost knocked his moustache into his nostrils with my elbow, but I’m not a violent person.
I’m not a brave man, but I knew I was safe. I knew he wasn’t in the mood to knock the shit out of me, which he could have done. He wasn’t in the mood. It wouldn’t have fit the aura of the weekend. So he grabbed me by the shoulders, hard, holding me there. “Hey,” he said. “Hey, you’re not okay, are you?”
He had me tight, but I twisted hard. He let up, and I got loose, walked out of that place, all those workshoppers watching.
I went out, got to the Washington Monument, and spent the rest of the day there, sulking, shuffling around the thing in a daze, freezing my toes off. Got back to Glenn’s place just after dusk. He had some friends over, fixing shrimp.
“I didn’t think you’d be back until tonight,” he said.
“I’m not,” I said. “Pretend I’m not here. Mind if I take a nap?”
I went back into that room he let me use, sat on the bed. I could hear them out there, Glenn and his friends. They were having a good time. Things were light. They were laughing, having conversation. Too bad I couldn’t join-in that kind of shit. Somehow, I never figured quite how they did it. For me, things were heavy, or things were happy. When they were heavy, give me a good therapist, maybe, but fuck-off everybody else. When they were happy, let me be the star of the show. But just blending, you know, being a part of the group, just another pleasant guest at the dinner party – shit, I just didn’t do that stuff. Sounds easy enough, but, boring. It wasn’t me. So I sat on the bed for a long time, thinking, damn, how do they do it? All that pleasant good cheer. All these little sounds of taking turns in conversation, all this give and take, a laugh here, a joke there? What the fuck could be going through their heads? To be involved in something like that? I figured I’d go back and see Gracie some more, maybe see the shrink, if tomorrow ever got here.