The “Tsk Tsk Tsk” of Destiny

This is not a love story. Let’s just get that out of the way.

But there’s a problem.

When I write about M. I tend to use romantic terms. This is out of character but it can’t be helped. Cliches are sometimes useful in expressing deeper truths, and it’s especially helpful for someone like me, who is sometimes the last to know what the hell is going on. In my own life. You need to talk to me about emotional stuff in very blunt terms. Say it twice. Make sure I get it.

I was 24 when we met. I was a wild child at the time. I was strolling around with an undiagnosed monster of a mental illness (diagnosis would come 20 years hence. See opening statement about how I am the last person to know what the hell is going on.). When I met M., my self was in pieces all over the floor due to all this shit I wasn’t even really conscious of. (Once again: See above. Ibid.) M. was 26, and a crazy wild spirit too. My perception at the time was he was WAY wilder than I was. (This was incorrect and I only figured it out late into the game. He was wild behavior-wise, but extremely stable inside. I was the opposite.) Despite his age, M. somehow had the maturity to sense what was going on with this new wild girl he met, and he picked up all those pieces on the floor. He did not try to fit the pieces together himself. He did not lay claim to said pieces. He did not judge the pieces and flee into the night. None of that. He handed the pieces over, like “I have no idea why these are scattered all over the floor, but I think they’re yours.”

I have written a lot about him. I even quoted him in one of the pieces I wrote for my Film Comment column. I laughed at myself as I was doing it, but it was appropriate to the subject, I swear, and I never forgot what he said. It seemed very profound at the time. We met in the thick of the improv scene in Chicago, which is why I brought him up in said column, and he’s extremely well-known in the field.

 
 
But I want to write today about how I picked him. Because I did pick him. This has been on my mind since we went into lockdown. It hasn’t been on my mind consistently, but in the first month and a half of lockdown, things got a little bit spooky around here, and the past was on my brain, and how the past connected to the present. This is usually a danger zone, and it was here too, but I lost control of being in control of my mind. So I have been thinking about my life, and where I’m at, where I’ve been, how I got here … and he kept coming up. I began to realize just how much I picked him, and … in my memory, it was so deliberate. It was like I KNEW.

There were two moments of picking. One: the first moment I saw him. Or, I had SEEN him but I’m talking about the first moment I really SAW him. The second moment of picking was the “Tsk tsk tsk” moment I will (eventually) describe. Not too many people would push through the “Tsk tsk”, especially someone with my temperament (afraid of rejection, of looking stupid, ready to vanish in a poof of smoke). But I did push through it, for reasons that weren’t all that clear at the time.

How could I have known how it would unfold over the coming years? Did I guess? M. would be a prophetic choice. Lust was so much a part of my reaction to him it was a whirlwind, but … how could I have guessed at the profundity of what would develop? It so often goes the other way. Lust leads to getting to know the person and the bubble bursts. This was the opposite.

In looking back on those first couple of years, the “Tsk tsk tsk” episode ballooned out in almost eerie importance. I am now fully cognizant of how much he meant in my life, but it goes deeper. I am trying to make language do what I want it to do, but language is inadequate (he actually expressed this to me at one point). Only time shows the real impact, which goes way beyond the comfort of a good memory.

You ain’t lyin’, lady.

It’s more accurate to just reiterate what I already said, because it’s closest to what I mean: M. saved things for me I had dropped along the way, and gave them back to me, and in so doing, protected these things for the future, when I would REALLY need them. This experience goes way WAY beyond language, and I am not sure how much of it was conscious on his part. Probably very little. It was just who he was. He was a listener like no other. I was going to say “he should give a course in listening” but he already does, with his improv workshops. Improv is all about listening. He heard shit I didn’t even know I was saying. I listened to him on a supersonic level too. So it wasn’t just him. It was who we were when we were together. It was unique.

All of this being said, as amazing as it seems, I never was in love with M. I never “fell” for him, not in the traditional way. And so I “discounted” him and the emotional impact he made for years.

He “got it” way WAY before I did.

Enough time has passed that now I can say he was the one. Not “the one” as in soulmate, because I don’t believe in soulmates, and also not “the one” as in the guy I was supposed to be with. There is no “supposed to be with” going on here, and I do not write from a place of regret. I’ve been in love and all that. Since I never felt “in love” with him, I put him in his own unique category, as opposed to … the genuine article. A friend of mine called M. a guardian angel, which is pretty close … but I must reiterate: we were two wild KIDS rampaging around in a muscle car and staying up all night playing pool. This is not a woo-woo Richard Bach narrative. My experience of him was pretty basic and I assumed the same was true for him. I had zero idea at the time that this guy was … standing guard over things I would need in the future.

Did M. know what he was doing? Did I?

When I met him, I was on the run from my former life. My first relationship was a stressful situation, and since it was my first I had no perspective on whether or not what was going on was normal. I also could not defend myself from the psychological stress. I completely “took on” his assessment of me: I was immature, I needed to grow up. (I was 20-23 years old. He was older.) He really didn’t want me to pursue acting. Or, he did in theory, but then when I auditioned for summer stock, he said, with the steady calm I learned to fear: “So … you’ll go away for a whole summer?” Yeah, dude. It’s summer stock. Acting isn’t a HOBBY, yo. Instead of saying, “Ya know what? I’m not ready to settle down. Peace out”, I stayed, and tried hard to please him. Since sex is part of this story, although I will spare you the details … you can imagine how this impacted how I felt about all of THAT. It was a catastrophe. In the final year of the relationship, I was in an almost completely dissociated state. I don’t remember much. It was a long time ago, and I have no nostalgia for him.

We were somehow unable to break up. Instead, we put ourselves through a protracted series of death throes. We sold off our stuff, bought a camper van, and drove around the country. Or, the continent, really. We drove up into Canada, we drove down through Minnesota, Wisconsin – we spent time in the Dakotas, in Nebraska – we went to Montana, to Wyoming, then down through the Southwest. We were on the road for months. This is pre-Internet. Pre-cell phone. We were way WAY off the grid.


Wow, you look like you’re having so much fun, Sheila.

Meanwhile, we were slowly and horribly breaking up. Why we didn’t cancel this trip is a mystery. Yeah, let’s live in a van for months on end when we can barely stand each other. I was so suicidal at Tetons National Park I shiver even now to think about it. I shouldn’t have been off the grid. I should have been in the hospital.


Here I am in the Badlands. Literally and metaphorically.

Eventually we reached California. He started his job at a corporate law firm in San Francisco, and I decided to move to Los Angeles. I knew nobody in Los Angeles. I lived in a bedroom in a random woman’s house in the Valley. I drove the camper van around. It kept breaking down. And STILL my boyfriend and I kept in contact. I’d fly up there for a weekend. For whatever reason, breaking up was this really hard thing to do. Eventually, in a fit of urgent claustrophobia, I moved to Chicago. In my memory it happened in a matter of days. My overall vibe was FUCK THIS. The life force – the ME of me – re-asserted itself. Two of my best friends – David and Jackie – already lived in Chicago! It would be a soft landing.

I arrived a frantic mess from the FIREBALL I escaped. I stayed with my college friend Jackie. My ex-boyfriend and I would have these long tearful phone conversations. Jesus, Lord, cut the cord. I look at photos from my time with him and I don’t recognize myself. He basically wished I was older, and ready to buy a summer house, take cooking classes, and think about getting married and having kids. I was 21 years old, I was a cashier in a grocery store, I took acting classes at night. He did ask me to marry him, by the way. I have no idea where I found the strength, but I turned him down. And we kept dating after that.

Since he was my only boyfriend-experience, I was unprepared for the male attention I got immediately upon arriving in Chicago. This makes it sound like men pounced on me at the baggage claim in O’Hare, and of course it’s an exaggeration but … not by much. I walked into the vibrant theatre world of Chicago, where men outnumbered women by 10 to 1. Everyone was in their 20s. And everyone was where I was at, or where I should have been at, which was: The now is what matters. Let’s wait tables, do plays, and hook up with each other up and down the Lake Shore. I felt intoxicated by freedom.

I made up for lost time. I was legit surprised men would be interested in me. Being “hit on” was a new experience. I freakin’ LOVED it. I took very little of it seriously. I wanted to have fun, enjoy the attention, sow some wild oats, catch up on everything I missed out on being in a thirtysomething relationship when I was an early twentysomething. I wreaked havoc. I hurt some people. Because, who knew?, sometimes people “hit on” other people because they actually want to pursue a relationship, or at least go out on proper dates, like going to the movies and having dinner and seeing where it all might go. I was opposed to all of that.

I am not a mixed-signals kind of person. I am the opposite of a tease. The only time I am good at flirting is when I mean business. Don’t flirt with me unless you are prepared to finish the job. (I actually said those exact words once to a guy hitting on me at some party in Chicago. Sheila! CHILL.) Forward-ness like this is sometimes misunderstood, mainly because it’s not expected. Sometimes being honest is just being an asshole. I made a lot of mistakes, but I grew up a lot. Those first months in Chicago were a whirlwind.

The weird thing is that I met M. my first night out in Chicago. It was brief, but he was there that first night. He noticed me, too. This adds to the eerie feeling that there was
1. something “meant to be” about the whole thing
2. something precarious about it too: it might not have happened at all.

Right after my arrival, Jackie and I both got horribly sick. It was the dead of winter. We nursed ourselves back to health. When we felt the slightest bit better we decided to go out and see some improv at Improv Olympic, where Jackie took classes. Improv Olympic, at the time, perched on the second floor of a bar called The Wrigleyside, right next to Wrigley Field. The guy this essay is about was heavily involved with Improv Olympic (IO, by the way, just shut down this year.)

Jackie knew everyone there, so it was a fun night. The improv shows were raucous. IO was a small space, crowded with chairs and little round tables, waitresses maneuvering through the crowd. This was in the good old days when you could smoke inside (I didn’t smoke), so it was always smoky up there. You’d come home and your clothes would reek. After the shows, the cast and audience would go downstairs and basically take over the bar. If you were a straight lady in mid-90s Chicago and wanted to get laid, you could just go to an improv show at Improv Olympic and hang out in the Wrigleyside bar downstairs. If you didn’t score, you needed to ask yourself what YOU were doing wrong. I’m sorry but these are the facts. Improv was a boy-heavy scene (the situation has since improved a little), and the Chicago theatre scene in general was filled with men. Men outnumbered women, one of the reasons why it was such a fruitful environment: women had the advantage.

Improv Olympic was a small scene, you saw the same people week after week, and so I was an unfamiliar face and therefore a magnet. A guy came right up to me and said, huge smile, “Who are you?” This was in the days before cellphones when you were forced to engage personally. He seemed so friendly (and it wasn’t a front: he IS friendly) – so I told him my name, he told me his, and we launched into a conversation. He was with a woman, a friend, and we were introduced, but then she went off to socialize. Now the weirdest thing is: these two people would become hugely important to me and we are all still friends. Phil and Ann Marie. I wouldn’t become friends with Ann Marie until 7 or 8 months later, after which we became inseparable. So it’s so weird I would meet her, however briefly, on my first night there. Same with Phil. I’m telling you, to use Ann Marie’s phrase, something was going ON that night, “cosmic tumblers clicking down.” I met three people – Phil, Ann Marie, and M., in one night, my first night out in Chicago.

As Phil was blatantly hitting on me, I became aware of a guy sitting at a table behind Phil. He was one of the performers (as was Phil). I knew his name because he was on the house team. M. made an impression on me when I watched him onstage. He was fearless. But Phil got to me first, and he was so nice, I was all about Phil. Meanwhile, though, M. started to … basically … poke Phil in the back. Or nudge him. Trying to interrupt Phil’s flow with “the new girl.” Phil would laugh and say, “Please go away.” “No.” Poke, poke. I understood they were jostling for my attention. As I hope I have established, this was an entirely new situation for me. I was in heaven. M. was razzing Phil mid-pick-up, but also – for sure – trying to get MY attention.

It was all in good fun, with everyone openly acknowledged what was going on. They turned it into a bit – they were both improvisers after all. “Yes?” “Oh nothing.” “Why are you poking me.” Poke poke. “Go away.” “No.” And I would laugh and they would both be happy because I found them funny and wasn’t uptight about it. Making girls laugh was, like, their raison d’etre. As I left, Phil chased after me and reached me, just when I touched the door. He asked for my phone number. I gave it to him, and he wrote it down on a scrap of paper. Those were the days.

There’s a sequel to the Phil story, and our subsequent date. For our date, Phil took me to see … this guy perform … and … well. Nothing would be the same again. Time has revealed that M. was more significant, in terms of … well, everything, including how I feel about my own past. Guardian angel, you see. He kept things safe I would need later. Little things like … hope. And self-esteem. The important thing is: On my first night out in Chicago, I literally met the four people who would mean the most. I mean, a couple years back, I wrote a post in honor of Phil’s birthday. We are still friends.

Soon afterwards, I had a brief fling with a guy, 6 weeks tops, someone I met in my acting class. Unfortunately for him, I realized pretty soon I wanted nothing to do with monogamy or one man or anything. I was not ready. I had no business hanging out with him so much. He wanted a girlfriend. He was so much fun though! I was like, “why do you have to ruin it by getting all SERIOUS?” He took me to all kinds of wild events, introducing me to the pleasures of Chicago nightlife – midnight miniature golf, art openings in abandoned warehouses, breakfast at 3 am with a gaggle of actors. But … I didn’t want to be exclusive. I dropped him with no warning. He was shocked. He really thought we were dating even though I felt I was very clear with him. I probably wasn’t clear. I was a novice with the dating thing and I was an asshole.

Side note: Coming as I was off of a year of almost-constant suicidality, my freedom in Chicago most probably (in looking back) catapulted me into full-blown mania. I vibrated, thrummed, I felt like there were electric bolts coming out of my fingers.

About a month after I landed, I moved into a studio apartment. I didn’t bother to get any furniture, besides a mattress which I put on the floor. I bought a pot to cook in, not to piss in, and I taped up a picture of Tori Amos on the wall, ripped out of a magazine. Tori just “hit” and I went and saw her at the Park West, by myself. Another novelty. There were three big windows, looking out at an apartment building across the way. I didn’t put up blinds or curtains or anything. I had just come out of a relationship where THINGS mattered. Things like furniture and cookware, stuff I did not care about at the time. It was such a relief to not give a fuck about THINGS. My rent was $450 a month. !!! The first thing I did after I signed the lease was go to the pound and pick out a cat. I was ready for THAT commitment at least. I got the best cat in the world… until Hope came along, that is. His name was Sammy. He was sweetness personified.

In my first week in Chicago, I signed up with a temp agency and I got regular work in various office jobs. When I got my first paycheck, I felt RICH. It was so great to not have to SHARE it with anyone. I paid my rent. I was going to be able to support myself. I was DOING it. I was still just a couple of months out from my suicidal visit to the Tetons and look where I was now. Incredible! I deposited my first paycheck, and withdrew some money. I was in the Loop and walked by an H2O, member that chain? I went in and bought

1. A gel-like sleep mask you put in the freezer.
2. A honey-oatmeal face mask. I can still smell it.

I went into my totally bare-walled little bathroom and slathered my face in it. I felt so free. I bought this with MY MONEY. I took a picture to commemorate the moment.

I look insane. But I was SO HAPPY.

The apartment was right on Lake Shore Drive, and every day I would go for a run along the lake shore. I would listen to the B-52’s Good Stuff, one of the reasons why the album is SUCH a time-machine. It’s Proustian, any song launches me back to those first months, when I vibrated with freedom and exhilaration and excess energy (mania?), working off all of it during these lengthy runs. (Side note: There is copious evidence that regular exercise helps regulate bipolar, so much so that the first doctor I talked to said that if he could get away with it legally, he would refuse treatment to patients who refused to exercise. My theory is: My obvious (in retrospect) mania was counter-acted and managed by my 5+-mile daily runs.)

The night after I unceremoniously dumped the guy who wanted to be my boyfriend, I went to an Improv Olympic show. Jackie was on a team (with a guy who would be her future husband – still married! Two kids! Happy ending!) and they were performing. I loved it there. Everyone knew each other, everyone got a buzz on, the teams were all excellent, you would be laughing for two hours straight.

And this was the night M. and I really MET.

M. was one of the stars at Improv Olympic. He was on an all-boy improv team called The Family. (Google it. They are legendary in the improv world.) They were put together by improv-guru Del Close. Every one of the guys on The Family has moved on to various degrees of fame, writing for SNL, Colbert, Conan… One recently became an Oscar-nominee for Best Director, no less. People literally still talk about those shows. Ann Marie and I can still quote them at length. (“What in tarnation …”) The Family were the headliners on Friday or Saturday nights. You had to arrive early to get a ticket, the shows sold out quick. Stars and “alumnae” who were in town would stop by on those nights to see them. Chris Farley showed up once to catch The Family in action. (RIP.)

One of the “games” The Family played every week was called “A Day in the Life.” They would ask an audience member to come up onstage and describe what they did during the day. The team would then act it out. It was always side-splittingly hilarious. I don’t know what possessed me but I raised my hand when they asked for volunteers. They picked me. I remember what I was wearing, because my memory is NUTS (obviously). I wore a little mini-dress, ripped lace gloves I found in a second-hand store, and combat boots. My hair was long and wild and red. One of the guys interviewed me about my day. Was it the Oscar nominee? I can’t remember! The only two things I remember sharing is that 1. I bought a colander (to go with my one pot) and 2. on my way to the lake for my daily run, a guy pulled up his car alongside me, and said something rude, like “How much for a half-hour?” The audience booed the guy. All of the guys of The Family were sitting around me, listening very closely. I remember suddenly being conscious of HIM, sitting there to my left, listening, smoking a cigarette. I don’t remember having any specific THOUGHT about him, I just remember him being there. Then I sat down and watched these guys re-enact my day.

It was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen in my life. The things they picked up on about my totally nothing day, how they expanded the colander purchase into pure absurdity. One of them “played” me, and I was crying. These guys had ESP with each other, one of the reasons why their shows were always so phenomenal. Someone would “start” something, and the other guys instantly knew what it was and how to add to it. Whoever played me started to jog across the stage in slo-mo, and M. instantly knew what “moment” of my “day” it was, and said, in this over-it bored tone, “Oh, look. A whore running.”

I am laughing as I type this.

The laughter of the audience was like a WALL of sound.

At some point during the show, maybe it was “a whore running”, but I think it was more of a general feeling, I turned my focus to M. I was very familiar with him, mainly because Jackie and I came to Improv Olympic every weekend. He seemed a little untouchable. A big fish in a small pond. My “relationship” to him was purely audience/fan. However: I also remembered the moment, months back, when he tried to interrupt Phil’s pick-up. It was my only “personal” interaction with M. thus far. And it seemed … promising. I thought, hmmm, I think I could “work” that. But my overall sensation in the moment, sitting in my seat watching them act out my day, was bigger than all of this, and actually rather alarming. The sensation was unique in my experience, and it obliterated conscious thought. I suddenly got this overwhelming feeling that he was “for” me. I didn’t think, “My God, he’s hot” (which he was), or “I want him”, it was nothing that specific or down-to-earth. It also wasn’t, “Wow, I have such a crush” or “I am interested in him as a potential guy in my life.” No. What happened was an explosion of NEED. My need came from a place of certainty, and this was also alarming. I don’t know what it was. It felt like: “Oh. I will have him. He’s my guy. He’s mine.”

Pheromones? Sure. But I was in the audience and he was up onstage. I wasn’t having this experience while talking to him and getting to know him. We were at a remove and not “in relationship” at all. So it was like thinking Mick Jagger was “meant for you” when you’re sitting in the back row of Madison Square Garden.

But I couldn’t shake the feeling. It was so big it was embarrassing. I didn’t even KNOW the guy.

After the show, Jackie and I and our group of friends trooped downstairs. We perched at a table and ordered a couple of pitchers. I was still a little bit shaken from the weird moment when it felt like a klieg-light in my mind turned to him. I said to Jackie, “This is so weird. But I’m having this feeling about M … ” She was supportive. “GO FOR IT. HE’S HOT.”

Now remember: all of this so far was just going on in my mind.

But … in looking back … and the way it all went down eventually, I think a similar thing happened with him, from the second I stalked up onstage in my combat boots and lace gloves. He said to me later, “I just remember you shouting something like ‘I’m not a whore'” – which is a total exaggeration of what I said, lol, but regardless … I think we BOTH experienced internal moments of like, “Huh. Him.” and “Huh. Her.”

Like I said at the jump, it is hard to write about M. and NOT make it sound like a love story.

In the midst of the maelstrom, I went up to the bar to order another pitcher. I realized he was sitting about 2 stools down. By himself. A part of but also completely separate from the debauchery around him. (This was his thing. he was the center of attention onstage. Offstage, he withdrew. Maybe it’s more accurate to say he sat in the same place and held court.) I ignored him because I COULD NOT DEAL. I felt way too out of control to strike up a conversation with him. But he was staring at me. Watching me, more like. He meant to stare, and he meant for me to notice him staring. I was in the rip-tide. It was so weird: I was just talking about him to Jackie and here he was staring at me. I felt like I summoned him. What other explanation could there be? I gathered myself together and turned to look at him. Confronting the stare. He didn’t avert his eyes, it wasn’t like I busted him staring. He maintained eye contact. He was very direct and he put my direct-ness to the test. I failed. Instead, I flailed for normalcy and said, “Good show!” He nodded a curt thanks, but then said, “You look so fucking erotic in those gloves.”

These were the first words he said to me.

I knew then I could have him. Easily. Without breaking a sweat.

A surge of triumph overtook my body. But I was still shocked he just came out and SAID it. This was not normal social behavior. Also, it’s not like I was harboring a crush for months. I admired him onstage, but that was about it. I almost felt like he picked up on my crazed internal monologue, even though he was onstage and I was in the audience. Probably the most rational explanation is I got onstage to tell the team about my day, he took one look at my ripped lacy gloves, and … to put it bluntly, wanted to tap that.

Okay, fine. That’s true. BUT. Considering what eventually happened between us … considering that we were together, off and on, for eleven years … you’ll forgive me if I think there might be something more to it. Something a little cosmic.

There is zero reason this thing should have lasted beyond one night. It makes NO sense. So much of my life has been getting over the men I wanted but couldn’t have. I didn’t have to do any of that with him. Everything was in accord. Well, it was after the “Tsk tsk” moment, which I’ll get around to telling in the next 30,000 words. To have two un-tame-able people be in total accord about our chaotic relationship is … no small feat … and again it makes me think my rip-tide of “wow, that guy up there onstage is FOR me, he’s ABOUT me, he’s MINE” was right on the money. I knew. I don’t know HOW I knew. But I knew.

What was my response to “you look fucking erotic in those gloves”? I turned and walked away. I didn’t say a word. I didn’t flounce, like I was pissed at how “forward” he was. (I wasn’t wearing a tiny dress for no reason. Attention was part of the point.) I walked away because the rip-tide was now a flood. I was going to get what I wanted. I knew it. It was just a matter of time. And I freaked the fuck out.

To be clear: If you said to me, on that night, “You will still be doing this thing with him 11 years from now” I would have laughed in your face. If, in that moment, I had to say what I wanted I would have said, I wanted to kiss him. I wanted my hands on him, I wanted his hands on me. Pretty straightforward and not all that cosmic. Male attention was new to me and I wasn’t sure how to handle it. Phil came on to me like a normal socially-adjusted male. He flirted with me and he got my phone number. M. didn’t play that way.

I hurriedly told Jackie what happened. We were all pretty buzzed. Jackie flailed around in excitement. “WHAT DID HE SAY TO YOU??” “That I looked fucking erotic … what do I do now? I just blew him off. WHY did I do that?” My guess is, when I walked back to my table, M. kept his eye on me. He saw all of this go down. He knew I wasn’t offended, he knew I needed to re-group. (He was a genius with women. Seriously. He should give seminars.) He also clocked that Jackie and I were friends. He already knew Jackie from the improv scene. The bar was filled with people, all of whom were whooping it up, smoking, drinking, playing songs on the jukebox, but he sat at the bar. Now I know he was just biding his time, waiting for the right moment to come over and try again. He was (is still) a world-class improviser, and improvisers are brilliant about finding the “right moment”, when to step into the ring, when to subside, when to make a move, when to hold back.

Eventually, he came over. We were 6 or 7 people engaged in multiple screaming conversations. And he just STOOD there. I was talking with someone, aware he was there, aware he was there for me, but I let him just hang there. I didn’t turn to him, like, “Hello again”, I didn’t stop what I was doing to include him, or … to get a proper introduction. I just kept talking. And he kept standing there. Hovering. Noiselessly.

Can you imagine the courage? I couldn’t do anything like walk over to a table filled with a group of good friends and just stand there, waiting to be noticed. I CRINGE at the thought. Well, he didn’t cringe. Even though I had walked away from him, he knew – he KNEW – I was into it. So he came over to try again. Hats off.

As I continued to pretend M. wasn’t standing there, he moved his way around the table to get to Jackie. I saw him do this. I sat there watching him lean in and whisper to Jackie. Jackie told me later he said, “I really like your friend but I think I just scared her off.” lol Jackie said, armed with the memory of me gushing about him 20 minutes before, “She’s so cool, try again.” I watched him hesitate. By now, I had stopped my conversation and was basically just gawking at what was going on at the other end of the table. M. was so fearless onstage, he was this big tall guy who threw his body around, and yet he seemed almost shy. He asked JACKIE for my phone number. I HEARD him do it. She started to tell him and I intervened, I took control of this charade.

“HEY.” I yelled down the table. M. and Jackie came out of their huddle and looked at me. I said, “You don’t have to ask HER for my phone number.” This was in front of the whole table, and everyone suddenly subsided, realizing what was taking place. If there was popcorn, they all would have been munching on it. Now he DID look busted, so I took charge. I gestured at him, saying, “Get over here.” He obeyed. He was enjoying himself. He loved being bossed around, me yanking the reins into my hands. There he was at my side, and I said, “You don’t have to ask her for my phone number. I will give you my phone number.” Now that the moment arrived, I was cool as a cuke. I wanted this and now I was getting it.

He took out a little notepad and a pen from his back pocket and gave it to me. I opened the notebook, filled with writing, and I started to flip through it, wondering what he wrote in there. I didn’t know who he was. He was a complete unknown to me. As I flipped through the book to find a page (and remember, our only exchange at this point was: “Good show” “Fucking erotic gloves”), he stood there next to me. We made no small talk. We did not “start again” with a normal getting-to-know-you conversation. It seems unreal to me, now. My head was down, looking at the notebook, so I didn’t see him coming in to kiss me. Out of nowhere, and surprising me completely, he kissed me on the cheek.

The whole table was watching. Jackie screamed. I was so startled I jerked my head away and looked up at him. He looked down at me. He said, “I couldn’t help it. You’re so pretty.” Matter-of-fact. I wrote my number down and gave him the notebook back saying, “I’m going out of town on Wednesday.” “I’ll call you before then.” “You better.” “I will.”

Then he walked away. No other conversation occurred. No other guy could have pulled it off. If anyone ELSE came onto me that way, I’d probably be like, “Listen, get to know me first.” But I was already primed for it since I made up my mind he was “mine” earlier. The whole thing felt like my prediction/presentiment was coming true. I felt like I made it happen.

Unbelievably, M. called me. I don’t think it was the next day, but it was definitely before Wednesday! We made a date. My old journals are filled with blow-by-blow descriptions of these first dates, which were – on the whole – hugely entertaining and random – but the dates blend together now. I remember his car getting towed once and I leant him money to get it out of hock. I remember making out with him at some bar. I remember watching him play pool in such a sketchy joint I was the only woman there. I remember M. parking illegally everywhere we went (hence: the towing). I’m not sure when these memories lie in the timeline. It’s hard for me to re-create what it was like to “get to know” M. Eventually, much later on, a couple years in, we were so comfortable with each other he’d call me in the middle of the day when he was free for an hour and say “My back hurts – could you come over?” – and I’d walk the four blocks to his apartment, let myself in through the back porch, make him lie down, turn on a tape recording of seagulls and waves (which I brought with me) – and then literally WALK on his back for an hour. Then I’d go home because he had rehearsal or whatever. Or I had rehearsal. It eventually was THAT casual and taken-for-granted and it’s how I mainly remember him. But there were indeed, 3 or 4 “dates” where we got to know each other. Believe it or not, I made M. wait. Which seems RIDICULOUS to me now but it was somehow important to me, maybe because of the rip-tide. It was hard to get any details out of M. about his life, but he was (still is) voluminous on improv. Improv was (still is) his religion. I don’t remember him asking me many questions either. We met up at bars and pool halls. We … hung out. Then he’d drive me home in his little blue muscle car.

Eventually, I invited M. up to my one-room apartment where there were no curtains. (Months later, when he came back, he walked in and said, “I love what you’ve done with the place.” I hadn’t done anything.) And you know, we took it from there. There were signs immediately that this might be deeper than your run-of-the-mill hookup (which … I’d never done random hookups so what did I know). Some of the bad shit I mentioned before – the shit I wasn’t conscious of – ambushed me. I didn’t have time to stave it off.

I was with this person I didn’t even know and suddenly I was in an altered state. I was so embarrassed. I pushed him away. I put the brakes on. This was familiar to me, it happened, but … why NOW? I wouldn’t have blamed M. if he tiptoed out of the room thinking, “Sheesh, wayyy too heavy …” But he didn’t. It took me a long time to appreciate how he kind of just casually acknowledged what was going on. His ego might have been involved – of course – mine was too – but he just tried to figure out what the fuck was going on. “Wait … is it me?” “No no you’re fine you’re great…” “Did I hurt you?” “No!” I was, let’s be honest, slightly hysterical, and I started laughing. Or, scarier, cry-laughing. “Are you laughing at me?” he asked. “No! NO.” “Okay. Let’s take a break.” So we took a break. We chilled out. You see? M. was brilliant. Probably a nightmare for other women, perfect for me. I was a nightmare for other men, but perfect for him.

This little exchange was a sign of things to come. Not every guy would handle the moment with such grace, especially not on the first night together. And let’s not give him all the credit: I could have suppressed my altered state. I could have faked it, in other words. Lied, in other words. But lying was beyond me so I let him know what was happening. That’s pretty brave. He could have reacted really badly, like I was bumming him out or ruining his good time, or, worse, he could have flipped out because his ego was bruised. I didn’t know him at all. Anything could have happened. M. didn’t take me pushing him away personally. Or, he did – he was afraid he hurt me, or that I was laughing AT him – but he SAID both of those things out loud so I could then reassure him, and so it was all out there in the language. After the brief interruption, we moved on and … afterwards I was like:

I wanted to call in sick. I can’t go back to WORK after THAT. Interestingly enough, years and years later, M. told me what he thought during my laugh-crying – which we didn’t discuss back then and never referenced since. I won’t say what he said but I will say: If I had an eerie presentiment about him and who he was, then the same was true with him. I’m not exaggerating: he – that 26 year old boy – saw me better than I saw myself. AND. He was kinder to me than I was to myself. The cry-laugh moment – and me pushing him away – was – according to him – when he really figured out what I was about. AND … he was still interested. Not a lot of guys would be.

There was a weird profound moment that first night. M. was asleep on my single mattress on the floor. Let’s be honest, I barely knew him. I sensed his wild-ness though, which I liked and found exciting, but I sensed something darker. I sensed a self-destructive streak, maybe even a death wish. He was 26, and he seemed way older, just in terms of his outlook on life. It was like he was a grizzled old dude, near the END of his life, not just starting out. He could be crotchety, cranky, like an old man. He was free but he wasn’t CAREfree. He drank a lot, which scared me, but it went deeper. There was something else there, something I didn’t know yet, something had marked him, something not good. (I was right on all counts, by the way. There WAS “something else there”, which he eventually told me about. I saw some scars on his body that first night and I touched one of them and he said “Oh it’s nothing”. It wasn’t nothing.)

In other words, on our first night together, I started worrying about him. I felt like there was a fire within him burning too bright, like he was trying to douse something within by drinking too much, he drove like a maniac too – truly scary to be in the passenger seat. My head was on his chest, and I could hear his heartbeat, and I remember … okay this sounds crazy, the only reason I feel okay about sharing it is because this thing lasted as long as it did – I feel vindicated. Sometimes a manic state – which I now believe I was in for most of that year – provides a crystal clarity.. You have insights into the truth of the matter, you cut through the bullshit. And I FELT him. I didn’t KNOW him but I FELT him, and I FELT his … whole LIFE … in the heartbeat through his skin. His LIFE. Not his life STORY, not a metaphor, but the animal part of him, the LIFE, and I remember feeling like I was in there, with his pulse, saying, “Go go go you can do it go go go go …”

Encouraging the blood to keep pulsing. I wanted him to live.

WHERE did all this come from?

We got up the next morning, ate breakfast at the diner at the corner, and went our separate ways. I felt different.

Meanwhile, I got cast in a show, the first show I auditioned for, not too shabby! I was having this whole other life going on, with rehearsals and everything. I was deeply engrossed in the process. Since this was before cell phones, every time we wanted to hook up, M. would leave a message on my answering machine (and they were always SO AWKWARD. And he’d just LET them be awkward. It was so weirdly charming.) If I wanted to get in touch with M., I’d leave a message on his pager. Somehow it worked. Somehow, unbelievably, people were able to contact each other before the internet.

The THING with M. went on its own idiosyncratic track. We didn’t go to movies or out to dinner. We would meet up in pool halls. (He was a pool maestro. People didn’t want to play with him because they never got a turn. I LOVED watching him play pool. People would gather around the table to watch. Cigarette dangling, blue bandana on his head, he was a spectacle of relaxed focus.) I would meet up with M. at the Wrigleyside after his shows. He would call me and tell me where to meet him. If I was free, I’d go. Jackie and I went to open mics to do our a capella renditions of songs, shit we’d been doing since college. We sang “Jordan River.” We sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” We KILLED at these open mics. There was one on Tuesday night at one bar, one on Sunday night at another bar, and we’d go to one, then the other, and etc. He would come with occasionally. There were a couple of times when he got the locations mixed up, going to the Sunday night place on the Tuesday night or vice versa, and I’d come home and find a cranky message from him on my machine, “Hi. I’m here at Lottie’s. It’s Sunday night and you’re not here.” Jackie said, “Why does he keep doing this?” It was hysterical. No matter how many times I told him, “Open mic at Lottie’s is on TUESDAY, not SUNDAY” he kept showing up on Sundays.

I found M. almost unbearably interesting. His ice-blue eyes, big black hair, pale skin, how his body moved through space, his clumsiness but also weird grace, how he’d manhandle me, how he’d turn to look at me when I was talking, how he’d wince when he’d reveal something about himself. He was never sure how much to tell, he’d squint at me suspiciously before telling me anything about himself. Just checking if the water was clear. Those moments were tests.

We were so not into the “here’s my life story” vibe that I was still discovering all this stuff about M. years into it. Like, FOUR YEARS in I learned M. was fluent in ASL, a pretty big thing to NOT know about someone. We were out somewhere, and he ran into a guy he knew, they were excited to see each other, it’d been years, and they started signing at the speed of light. I just stood there and watched. Like: “who ARE you.” After the friend walked away, there was a long silence and he said, almost cranky, “Yes. I know sign language.” I hadn’t said a word. FIVE years in, I learned he could recite Kipling’s “Mandalay” by heart. WTF?? And – cosmic tumblers – I can recite Kipling’s “If” by heart!

What on earth DID we talk about? I still don’t know, but it was perfect.

I’m sure M. initially feared I was going to make girlfriend demands at any moment. But I didn’t want M. as a boyfriend. I didn’t want a boyfriend, period. I also knew it would be a huge mistake if we tried to domesticate this bitch. I was fine with that. But still: I was FASCINATED by every. Single. Thing. about him. Maybe I felt invested because of being inside his body screaming encouragement at his pulse. I felt invested in his life. His actual physical LIFE. I guess I still do.

Rehearsals for the show were intense and time-consuming. We moved into the theatre, the countdown to opening night underway. I went to my temp jobs during the day, went to the theatre at night. My life was ideal. I don’t remember the timeline, but I do remember there was a gap between our “dates”. I didn’t hear from M. for a couple of weeks. This would eventually be par for the course – on both sides – but at the time, I descended into anxiety. Wait … is it over? I’m not DONE yet. (Pick up the phone and call, Sheila, what is the problem.) I didn’t have time to agonize because of my schedule but I felt like a drug addict yearning for a fix. Or, let’s put it plainly: I WAS a drug addict yearning for a fix. Did I do something wrong? WHYYYYYYYYYYY was basically my state of being.

I gathered up my courage, and left M. a completely insane message. I tried to sound cool. I said something like, “Soooooo was it something I said?” I may have used a British accent. I wouldn’t put it past me. It wasn’t a long message but it was definitely awful. I hung up the phone and immediately wanted to take it back. WHAT HAVE I DONE??

But oh well, time to go to rehearsal. I don’t remember much of this, but I do remember where I was when I called home to get my messages (God, answering machines). I was at the little deli across the street from the theatre. This tells me that clearly I must have run over there on one of our breaks. Which tells me I was dying to hear from him.

And he called! Yay! But his call was worse than the no-calling. Way worse.

M.’s voice was low and gravelly. All he said was, in a flat-affect tone: “Sheila. It’s M.” Long pause, then: “Tsk tsk tsk.” Click.

Oh. My. God. I felt hot, feverish, clammy. The embarrassment was so intense I thought my knees would give out. “Tsk tsk tsk” was my worst nightmare. I broke our rules of engagement – which we never stated to each other – but … I disappointed him somehow. We were having fun and I messed it up by my codependent British accent. I BLEW IT. I BLEW IT. The “Tsk Tsk Tsk” was a trigger – well, I think it would be for a lot of people – but particularly because I was fresh out of a relationship where my boyfriend was sometimes slightly disapproving of and disappointed IN me. I remember burning dinner one night and instead of being like “Let’s get takeout”, he scolded me, and … basically “Tsk Tsk”ed me. So here was this fiery wild guy with the husky-dog eyes and the pulse that needed help – actually SAYING “Tsk tsk tsk” to me and I wished the sidewalk would open and swallow me up.

A couple days passed and every time I thought about it I cringed.

Finally I got myself together.

And this is the moment I started out to write about: the second time I “picked” him. The first one was by chance. The second one was deliberate.

It’s important because of what I said before. M. made a difference in my life – in how I feel about my life – then AND now – even more so now. He made such a difference I sometimes shiver to think of it not happening. I’ve struggled ANYway, but I’ve struggled LESS because he happened to me. By some weird power of alchemy and osmosis, he healed some of the wounds I was walking around with. Without saying much, he helped me see there was nothing – nothing – wrong with me. He didn’t set out to do that. But that’s how it played out. It’s HUGE.

I remember saying to Mitchell once, wistfully, “I haven’t really had an intimate relationship with a man.” And he said, “You and M. are as intimate as it gets, you do realize that, don’t you.” I didn’t. I really didn’t realize it as it was happening. I put him in his own unique category and it’s taken me a long time to shuffle things around properly. HE was the one I got to feel all the intimate stuff with, the stuff I never felt anywhere else, HE was the one where I got to feel safe – and I NEVER feel safe – EVER. Nothing could touch this. It was a mountain range. Nothing could get rid of it. It’s wild to me that a mountain range could emerge from “You look fucking erotic in those gloves”.

If I never had that relationship with M. – with all its wild shenanigans and hungover breakfasts and late nights at the pool hall and minor breakdowns and walking on his back – not to mention fights that are so hysterical to me in retrospect (even our fights were entertaining) – then I would think relationships were not possible for me. Other people got to feel safe, but not me, I’m too fucked up. But I felt safe AND I was fucked up. They happened simultaneously. (This is why I call bullshit on the whole “you have to love yourself before anyone else can love you.” BULL SHIT. I see people all AROUND me who are fucked up and who are also in long-term relationships. Get the fuck outta here.) I remember, maybe three years in, sobbing – wailing – I can’t even remember why – but it went DEEP – and it had nothing to do with him. Nothing. I have bad times when I can’t stop crying. This was one of them. I remember M. holding me and smoking a cigarette, watching some monster movie on television. He didn’t talk me through it, or console me. He didn’t even ask me what was wrong. He just held me, and I cried until I passed out on his chest. Meanwhile he’s watching Creature from the Black Lagoon and not saying a word.

M. never tripped about me being like that. He never got weird. He never tried to fix it, except in tangible physical ways: eat. fuck. watch TV. (Or crawl through my window at all hours of the night.) I still don’t understand why it all worked.

But it dates back to the “tsk tsk” and how I interpreted it, once I stopped cringing.

My feeling that I was not DONE with M. couldn’t really be put into words, or at least not appropriate non-terrifying words. It felt like I was in a desert and he was a well. That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone, right? But it’s how I felt. I sat down and had a long THINK about the situation. I went over everything that happened. I examined the dynamic. I felt it worked, although I couldn’t put it into words. I came to a conclusion: If I get needy, this thing will not work. And him saying “Tsk tsk tsk” was his way of gently (really, Sheila? “Tsk tsk tsk” is gentle?) reminding me to CHILL. He wasn’t just being rude, there was an underlying meaning: “Don’t ruin it, this thing is good, don’t ruin it.”

This is what I came up with. (There will be a follow-up to my conclusion, which I eventually shared with him – ELEVEN YEARS LATER.) M. was telling me to slow my roll, calm down, enjoy our time together.

Whether or not this was true, and honestly I don’t think it is, what matters is I decided to interpret it that way, and once I decided to interpret it that way, I was fine. I could have M. whenever I wanted him. I just had to ask. I didn’t need to trip about who called who, now it’s his turn, now I wait for the phone to ring. In a way, what happened with the “Tsk tsk” was I took ownership of at least MY part in the relationship. So many women complain about things and I listen and think, “You are assuming he has all the power. What about YOUR power?” This was the moment I “got” that. I want to see him. He is a well in the desert. Crazy, okay, but so be it. I’m thirsty.

I also remembered cheering on M.’s pulse and so I was invested in his life, whatever that means. I think this is a quote from Hopeful Monsters, or maybe it’s A.S. Byatt: I felt somehow like he was “to do” with me. And I was “to do” with him. Not “I love him”. But that … we were “to do” with each other. (I think of the final page of Normal People: those two “did some good” for each other. THAT’S what I felt, and still feel.) Like … this was meant to be, however it played out. We were linked up. And in my soul-wrestling with the “Tsk tsk”, I decided to just own it, go after this thing if I wanted it. Call M. when I wanted to. Ask for what I wanted. It’s not up to HIM. Whatever this thing is will be OURS.

So I called M. and said, “Hey we’re gonna be at the open mic at Lottie’s this Tuesday. You should totally come. Remember: it’s on TUESDAY.”

He showed up.

We never mentioned the “Tsk Tsk”. I didn’t have to. I figured it out for myself.

Over a decade passed. I moved to New York. M. moved to Los Angeles. We continued to meet up, whenever we were in the same place. We traveled to where the other was. Technology developed. We stayed current, with phones, chats, texts. He was a constant, just kind of always there. We were like an old married couple.

10 years into it, M. was in New York teaching an improv workshop. We spent a couple of days together. One night we were at a bar in Hoboken. It was a quiet night, not too many people there, and we found ourselves walking down memory lane, a new thing for us. We never reminisced. Maybe we both knew our time together was coming to an end. We talked about our relationship. It was FASCINATING to hear his impressions, his side of things. Some of the things he said to me I won’t share – like his perception of me on the first night with the cry-laugh – but his words handed a HUGE chunk of me BACK to myself, a piece I didn’t even know was MISSING. He SAW all that? And was KIND about it? And stuck AROUND? Way back THEN? He saw beneath the surface back then – not a lot of people did (I was ALL surface, by design. I didn’t want anyone else IN there). That being said, I asked M. what his first impression of me was and he said instantly: “Gloves.” Ha! If I always felt like some part of me was inside his body, cheering on his pulse, then a part of him was always picking up another piece from off the floor and handing it back to me.

THAT was our relationship.

My first acting teacher, a man named Kimber Wheelock, said to us in class once, “Love is needs fulfilled.” Love scenes are easier to play if you keep that in mind.

So using that definition, I loved him. And he loved me. It was very simple.

During our night of reminiscing, I said, “Do you remember when you ‘Tsk’-ed me?”

“What?”

“When you said ‘Tsk tsk tsk’ to me?”

“Oh God. No. I don’t remember that. I’m sure it’s awful.”

I told him the story. I went into as much detail as I went here. When I told M. what he said on the answering machine, he exploded:

“WHAT AN ASSHOLE.”

We were laughing so hard. He said, “I cannot BELIEVE that. What a fucking DICK.”

I hastened to give him my interpretation: “No! No! Here’s how I took it. I felt like you were saying to me, subliminally, ‘If you get all needy, then this cool thing is gonna get ruined. So just relax. Don’t be like that and everything will be fine.'”

There was a long long pause, as M. considered this. Then he said, bursting into laughter, “That is the most GENEROUS interpretation possible.” He was a little bit in awe. A lot of people disliked him, or were turned off, probably because of moments like “Tsk tsk.” The fact that I twisted myself inside out to give him the benefit of the doubt left him a little awe-struck.

“So … that’s NOT what you were trying to tell me?”

“No! I was probably just hungover and being a dick.”

I stopped to think this over. The magnitude of it shook me. If I hadn’t interpreted “Tsk tsk” so generously … he and I might not have sat there 11 years later.

So … I was responsible for this whole thing all along?

What if my response to “Tsk tsk” was different? What if it was “well fuck YOU then”? (way more understandable than MY mental gymnastics.)

My generosity has been taken advantage of. I have given people the benefit of the doubt. I assign good motives to bad behavior. I forgive. I let things go. Recently, say the last 10 years, I’ve finally stopped. Or, I am more selective. Not EVERYBODY is kind with “generosity”. I interpreted M.’s assholery generously, and so there we were, so many years later. Would it have happened without my generosity? M. might have called me again and I might have blown him off, because he “Tsk tsk”-ed me. So much has been lost in the intervening years. I would NEVER interpret someone this generously now.

I felt a little bit queasy, though. Maybe I sensed somewhere I was heading into bad times. It would be a bad decade. Maybe time telescoped out a bit and I became fully conscious of what M. meant, the difference he made, his singularity. The whole thing might not have happened if I hadn’t “generously” interpreted his irritable “Tsk tsk tsk.”

He was still blown away by what an asshole he was. He couldn’t get over it.

I said, “But I was right, though, wasn’t I.”

This stopped him. And me. We both just kind of sat in the awareness of how me twisting myself into pretzels to make “Tsk tsk” make sense brought us to where we were right at that moment. I said it again, “I was right, though, wasn’t I.”

“Yes. You were.”

The time of quarantine has been a time of reckoning. A time of reflection and assessment. “Tsk tsk” has been on my mind. Early on in the quarantine, many of my old flames reached out. They always do in times of trouble. One by one, out of the woodwork. It’s predictable at this point. (Not M., though! Not him! He’s the only one who never re-emerges from the past. Which is perfect in its own way. Respectful.) And so I started thinking about these relationships, because I was alone all the time, and couldn’t stop my brain from going there. I don’t have a long parade of assholes in my past. I picked good men, all valid choices. But many of them, when our thing ended, took things from me. Took things I still miss. I couldn’t stop the process. I didn’t know I was giving up things I would need later, things like hope, resilience, generosity. But M.? He GAVE me things I ended up needing later. He took NOTHING.

There’s something perfect about the fact that I picked him. I picked him out of the crowd because he said “Oh, look. A whore running” and then I picked him again – for real – because he said “Tsk tsk tsk” and I decided to interpret it generously.

We HAD feelings but we did not talk about them. Taking-for-granted was missing in my romantic life. I never felt safe enough. But with him, eventually, I did. So we never sat down and said, “So this thing we have means a LOT to me.” Everything remained unspoken. There are two exceptions, and both came on the same night. Four years into this thing, we finally get to talking about feelings. It’s eloquent that HE was the one who spoke, not me. I may have a mind like a steel trap (he said to me once, “Sheila, you could write a novel about the last 5 minutes.” Truth), but sometimes in the moment I get lost, confused.

I was moving to New York to go to grad school. It was a tempestuous time. I wrote another piece about the final weeks in Chicago where M. is prominently featured. No Facebook yet. So the goodbyes were final. Our last night together, we were at Improv Olympic in its brand-new theatre (located in the building right next to the Wrigleyside). Improv Olympic had grown a lot in the four years of my time in Chicago. The new space was a big performance space, a bar, etc. M. was managing it, and I think he also had a stake in it. He was excited.


The Improv Olympic theatre. I took this back during those good old days. That’s M/’s muscle car parked out front. Illegally.

A lot of times I would meet up with M. there after hours, so we’re talking 1 or 2 in the morning. I lived just down the block, walking distance. So did he. We were neighbors. So I could just walk up there, and we would hang out in the empty theatre.

Since it was our last night together, things were a little more open in terms of … feelings, and talking about them. M. said two things to me that night I’ve never forgotten.

We walked to a nearby hot dog stand and got some food. We brought it back to the theatre. We sat at the bar and ate. We watched Tap on television. This makes me laugh. We watched it just because it was on. Please remember: it is now 3 o’clock in the morning. We barely spoke. This was our last night together, as far as we knew. And this is what we chose to do. Out of the blue, out of the silence, M. said to me, “There isn’t a word evolved enough for what we are.”

I would NEVER have had the courage to say those words. It’s what I thought though, when I stopped to think. It started the first night, when I shouted at his pulse to keep living, LIVE, you have to LIVE.

Later in the night, or maybe it was before, I don’t know, M. reached into my bag and grabbed my notebook. He opened it and wrote something in it. Then he pushed it over to me. I read it in the dim light of the empty bar, the first rays of sunrise hitting Clark St. outside.

M. wrote:

“Trust is more important than true love. I don’t trust anyone. But I trust you.”

To quote a famous poet, those words – and he – have “made all the difference”.

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39 Responses to The “Tsk Tsk Tsk” of Destiny

  1. Scott Abraham says:

    Quite awhile ago I went through a Thomas Wolfe phase, Look Homeward Angel and such, working through the separate works. After awhile I realized the works weren’t separate at all. The names changed but they were all the same him and people and places and events. Could dip in and out of anything of his and they were all buckets pulled from the same river, and he goes back and reevaluates and revises and re… and re…and then fifty pages about a train ride. In my head I put it all back together into the grand unified shared universe narrative of Thomas Wolfe.
    Anyway, to me, that’s you. Good stuff.

  2. Jenna says:

    I love this Sheila! I love it when you write long, involved pieces I can just get lost in for ages instead of doing the very boring work things I am supposed to be doing! :)

    This year has been a doozy for nostalgia and looking back. I’ve been doing it with my ex, and so often my fear is that I was not generous enough with him, that I was not brave enough to stick with that relationship. No one else thinks this but me, everyone else pretty much thinks he was a loser, one of those hopeless man-children, and maybe he was, but there are days when I wonder. So your generousness with the “tsk tsk tsk” was so beautiful, and isn’t that what we all need from time to time? Someone to be generous, kind to us, especially in our most dickish moments? Thanks for the reminder! A lovely story and a beautiful relationship!

    I hope things start improving for you and for all of us! I am allowing myself to be excited about SPN starting again on the 8th. I don’t think it will be good exactly, but at least it will be complete.

    • sheila says:

      Thank you Jenna! I really hear what you’re saying about generosity – it’s a weird thing, right? Because … sometimes generosity leads to you (or me) being walked all over. Or you forgive the unforgivable, or whatever. I eventually got burned a couple of times in the last 10 years – from being generous – and I’m way too old for that shit, so … whoever comes along next may have a rough time. lol.

      // No one else thinks this but me, everyone else pretty much thinks he was a loser, one of those hopeless man-children, and maybe he was, but there are days when I wonder. //

      I really feel this. I mean, I was so young when this whole started – just a big KID myself – so the whole “manboy” thing didn’t really come into it. If anything I was a “womangirl” – and a complete nightmare to men who had more grownup attitudes. That being said – the guy this essay is about could be very VERY difficult – and a lot of people really admired his talent but stayed far far away from him as a person. I could understand why people had issues with him – but I just didn’t share said issues. He said that to me once, very early on – “It’s weird. You don’t seem to have any problems with me.” lol

      // So your generousness with the “tsk tsk tsk” was so beautiful, and isn’t that what we all need from time to time? Someone to be generous, kind to us, especially in our most dickish moments? //

      I know. I just don’t know if I could do that anymore. Been fucked over one too many times. But yeah, this is a good lesson – for me, too – I always need the reminder myself! Maybe that’s why I wrote it.

    • sheila says:

      oh and about the MOST important part of your comment:

      Supernatural!

      It’s weird – I feel so DISTANT from it right now. I can’t even remember “where we’re at” in the story – I am trying to picture if this happened two episodes out from the end of Season 4 or 5 – I would have been DYING. So I feel a little detached and that makes me sad.

      I am looking forward to seeing JA and JP again!

  3. Elliott says:

    Thank you for writing this. I’m a stranger and don’t know any of the parties, but it is compelling. There is a feeling I’ve had when I look at my own life after figuring some things out and parts that never made sense suddenly make sense. Pieces I did not know were pieces suddenly fit together. Your story has that feeling, and it’s a pleasure to read it.

    • sheila says:

      Elliott – hello and thank you!

      // Pieces I did not know were pieces suddenly fit together. //

      Thats a really great way to put it. I’m a slow learner. It literally took me a couple of decades to figure out what this relationship meant. I feel like it was only a lot of time passing that put it in perspective. I appreciate you reading and commenting!

  4. Sarah says:

    Exquisite. This is the kind of nostalgia I love—melancholy and hilarious both.

    We should all have a Grand Passion like this. Maybe we all do.

  5. Regina Bartkoff says:

    Sheila

    I opened this up and thought, “Oh Goody!” “A long essay by Sheila!”And I dug in. Didn’t stop till I came to the end. Impossible to put down, It came at a time for me too, like you say, quarantine is a time for reckoning. I was thinking of all the relationships I completely fucked up and lost because I was so nuts and wild and I was completely at fault. Only I didn’t realize it till it was too late.
    Then I saw this.
    It felt healing for me to read it.
    I loved what Scott said about Thomas Wolfe, one of my all time favorite writers being like you, YES! and I just decided to read Of Time and The River again when Graham Greene’s The End of The Affair was playing the other night with Deborah Kerr. I completely missed the film so decided to reread the book instead. Maybe it contributed to me thinking of all these things.
    So wonderful Sheila, so vivid and visual, so much insight, humor and sorrow, so much passion, Thank you!

    • sheila says:

      Regina – hello! Thank you for reading – as always – and I always love to hear from you!

      // I was thinking of all the relationships I completely fucked up and lost because I was so nuts and wild and I was completely at fault. Only I didn’t realize it till it was too late. //

      This is amazingly similar to my experience – I’m sure many are going through this. It’s a strange thing … a “pause” … made even more acute by all the craziness swirling around in the world. I’ve never been through a time like this! (well, none of us have.)

      Normally I don’t think about these things – although the “tsk tsk” thing I had been wanting to tackle for a couple of years. I knew it was gonna be huge – lol – and I didn’t even know what the hell I was going to write. I just knew there was something there to explore.

      // It felt healing for me to read it. //

      This is very meaningful for me to hear. Thank you!

      One thing I will say about my youth – i.e. my 20s – I sure enjoyed it! Youth wasn’t wasted on me! I might have gotten to it late – but I had a hell of a time, met all these interesting people, and – of course – made mistakes, fucked things up – just like you said – but I was really engaged with life!

      // when Graham Greene’s The End of The Affair was playing the other night with Deborah Kerr. I completely missed the film so decided to reread the book instead. Maybe it contributed to me thinking of all these things. //

      Yikes. That book is so powerful.

      Thank you again for reading. This one was for sure cathartic.

      Best to you and C.

  6. sheila says:

    Also: sign of the times: I have no pictures of any of this. I wasn’t bringing my camera to nights at Improv Olympic or when I met up with him. I HAD a camera, a big nice one (on display in the honey-oatmeal mask picture), but taking pictures was different then. You had to go get them developed. You weren’t taking 100 pictures a night unless you were a professional. It was a different time. If it were now, I would have 5,000 pictures of every crazy night out – which, yeah, it’s probably a good thing I don’t, although I do wish there were some – of me and Jackie singing at open mics, of M. playing pool, of the two of us – hell, even my one-room apartment – I have like 2 pictures of the place. I feel bad for these kids who have all these pictures of themselves absolutely shit-faced posted on their social media pages which then come back to haunt them later. I mean that sincerely!

    But I do wish I at least had a picture of us together. We took pictures of each other once – just once – him smoking a cigarette and pretending to look sexy, one eyebrow raised – to make me laugh – and then ME smoking a cigarette (or pretending to), and pretending to look sexy – but they are two separate photos. And that’s all I got. lol

    So. Most of my relationships are like this. No evidence.

    But I kinda like it? I think the memories might be more vivid since I have no record of them, besides my journal entries? I don’t know. Memory is a weird thing.

  7. Bethany says:

    That was a beautiful piece of writing. Your essays about this guy always end up making me cry, because it feels so familiar, the intimacy and electricity of this unorthodox connection, the hesitance to dilute it with anything mundane like a label, the understanding that it is one in a million. Mine lasted 6 years, ended 12 years ago. Can I ask – with something that unique and life-changing in your past, how do you go forward into the future with any hope of making equally meaningful connections? I guess that’s a really personal question that you don’t have to answer, but it’s something that I’ve been turning over in my head a lot, as a single person living through covidtimes, with a Relationship That Cannot Be Replicated in my past. I don’t feel regret, but it’s hard not to feel a little bereft. There are times when I think it was enough to have had that at all, even if it didn’t last. Then there are times when I’m overwhelmed by a sense of scarcity, knowing that lightning won’t strike twice. Your writing captures that lightning in a bottle so beautifully. Sharing it with us is also an act of generosity, and I’m grateful for it.

    • sheila says:

      Bethany – thank you so much. You’re eloquent as well: “unorthodox connection” – I wish I thought of that! It’s perfect!

      I’m wondering if more people have these types of relationships than we know about. For me, it’s hard to write about because I have to really get it right. I would never in a million years have said we were “dating” but we were definitely TOGETHER. Weird.

      // how do you go forward into the future with any hope of making equally meaningful connections? //

      Yeah. This is hard, right? Weirdly, though – for me, he’s not the one I feel that way about. There’s another guy who I feel ruined that for me. I linked to the one piece I wrote about him somewhere in this post. It took me years to get over him and honestly I never really did. We started texting in the first two months of the pandemic – he reached out – we are NOT in touch – and I finally had to just stop it. It was making me feel ghostly, like my life had gone wrong that I wasn’t with him. I haven’t allowed myself to think that way in a LONG time.

      But with the guy this essay is about … I’m mainly just relieved it happened at all, like you said. Because honestly: he never hurt me. He sometimes annoyed me – lol – but he never treated me carelessly or cruelly. There are no bad memories. If this thing HADN’T happened … I don’t know what my life would look like, but very different. I don’t know.

      I feel you on these questions.

      // Then there are times when I’m overwhelmed by a sense of scarcity, knowing that lightning won’t strike twice. //

      I very much feel this. Especially the word “scarcity” – it’s a word that has almost radioactive power for me!! You nailed it. I used to say “I operate from scarcity” – and it seemed to me I needed to somehow switch that up and “operate from abundance” but I just couldn’t manage it. Those were during the really bad years.

      I still don’t operate from abundance although I’m doing much better now – writing pieces like this on occasion reminds me of better times but it’s also maybe a way to remind myself I am still capable of this stuff, if I felt like it.

      i know how difficult it is to make sense of these lightning in a bottle relationships – I personally feel lucky it happened at all – but this took me a while to figure out.

      I wish you the very best!

      • Bethany says:

        Thanks for such a gracious reply, especially re: scarcity and abundance. I haven’t learned how to operate in abundance yet, but maybe that will be something I can work towards when 2020 is far in the rear view mirror. :)

        • sheila says:

          Bethany – I haven’t really learned to “operate from abundance” either. My therapist gave me some tips which I will pass on. Not as advice – no pressure!! – these are just things that helped me.

          1. Gratitude journal. Very difficult for me but once I got into the habit I found the good things of life actually had “sticking power” – it made it easier to remember them when times got rough. The brain remembers bad things – but the brain remembers good things too – I just had to train my brain to hold onto the good things. Like – for example – the guy this post is about. I think I “discounted” him because I was so used to the narrative that I’m alone, lonely, and “it” never happened for me, I didn’t have what other people have. But … but … it DID happen for me. With him. Took me a while to figure that out.

          2. She had me write up little index cards that I carried around during the day – to look at if I ever felt myself going into scarcity mode. It was so nerdy and self-help-y I resisted it at first but … they really helped. She helped me write the cards. They weren’t self-empowerment messages like “you’re beautiful! You’re worth it! Life is good!” Because in bad times those words are just invalidating. (to me, anyway). When life objectively isn’t good, it doesn’t help to hear “Life is good.” But the cards were more like: “I have faced many ups and downs in my life and I am learning more skills every day.” “I’m learning to be kind to myself.” Instead of “BE KIND TO YOURSELF” – which, Jesus, stop telling me what to do, it was more PROCESS language – reiterating that I was in a PROCESS – language was very important for me- how I talked to myself ABOUT myself – the words I used – was more often than not very cruel and self-loathing. So stuff like “I’m learning …” helped me to cut myself a little slack.

          Anyway, these two things really helped me. I still don’t operate from abundance but … “I’m learning.”

          and yeah … 2020 … we just gotta write this one off. What a year.

          • Bethany says:

            Thank you!! Those actually…might be helpful! My mental critic tends to obliterate any self-affirmations as baseless frippery. But FACTS about what I have already done…that, I think I could do!

          • sheila says:

            I completely reject self-affirmations – lol – I so hear you. I was so resistant to the index cards – I flat out did not want to do them – until she helped me with the phrasing. The language she suggested was all about the process – “every day I’m learning how to blah blah ” – and she would help me do ones for specific triggers – being in a new situation, not knowing how to do a certain thing – it would hold me back – she suggested something like “I have learned so many new things in my life and I will be able to learn this new thing too.” Bah, it sounds so simplistic but it really helped with self-talk.

            Try it out! If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work – but doesn’t hurt to try!

            Good luck – I mean that.

  8. Anne Whitehouse says:

    Dear Sheila,
    Thank you for posting this remembrance. So vivid, moving, and memorable. It reminds me of your play, “July and Half of August.” It’s been years since the reading of your play, but the feeling of it remains vivid in my mind, and this recollection brought me back to it. You have a special gift to be able to look at the past so clearly, and to be able to draw such conclusions from it. To be able to understand the feelings behind the gestures and to communicate them so well that someone like me, who was always afraid to be a wild girl, can understand and empathize.

    • sheila says:

      Anne – hello!

      Interesting you bring up my script – the play was not at all based on this guy – the relationship in the play was much more tormented with that sad ending – HOWEVER: one of the scenes in the beginning was taken word for word (as much as I recall) from a conversation this guy and I had on like our 4th or 5th date. It always stuck with me. It was about 1. sharks and 2. Pringles. Because that makes sense!

      // To be able to understand the feelings behind the gestures //

      It’s kind of wild to be remember body language so vividly as I do – do you remember body language vividly? It’s like imprinted on me somehow.

      // someone like me, who was always afraid to be a wild girl, can understand and empathize. //

      This makes me feel good to hear. Thank you!

      • ANNE WHITEHOUSE says:

        Thank you for responding, Sheila. It’s been a long time since I saw the reading of your play but I had a feeling about the characters–the female character in your play reminded me of the girl as you describe yourself in those Chicago days. I admired the wild girls, but I was too repressed. I do remember body language as well. Your writing is so vivid that I felt almost as if I were present at those Improv Nights. I did have one experience that meshed with yours. When I was about 20, I went out with a guy and ended up in a pool hall full of guys drinking and smoking, and I was the only girl there. But I remember being pretty bored by it ’cause the guy I was with wasn’t really interested in me, and in retrospect he was trying to get away from me by playing pool with all those guys whom I didn’t know. Thanks again for your wonderful writing, Sheila.

        • sheila says:

          Anne – well THAT guy doesn’t sound very nice! Good riddance!

          I was like a groupie when he played pool. lol He was so dazzling to watch – I don’t really play pool so the whole thing was just magical to me. and he was Mr. Tough Guy Poker Face, cigarette dangling … I was in heaven.

          But yeah, some of those places were soooo sketch. Places I never would have gone without him.

          The character in my play was a lot like me, only with everything exaggerated, good and bad. lol. I’m definitely nicer than she was! (I hope?) In a way she – and her experience – was my worst nightmare – but I didn’t realize that when I wrote it.

          • ANNE WHITEHOUSE says:

            I wish I could read that play again–or see it. I remember thinking after the reading that it was a lot better than most of the off-off-Bway plays I’d been seeing. Maybe the main character wasn’t all that nice, but I admired her because she was fearless and wasn’t afraid to plunge forward the way I often am. All my life I’ve been in awe of girls like that, one more reason the play made such an impression on me. You are a wonderful writer, and I always look forward to reading you.

          • sheila says:

            // after the reading that it was a lot better than most of the off-off-Bway plays I’d been seeing. //

            Many thanks!

  9. john doherty says:

    Was floored by this. Floored. Like, take-the-rest-of-the-day-off-and-go-for-a walk-style floored.
    Up there with the Valentine’s Day, secret note “good kid” essay.
    You can write your way out of anything. Thanks.
    JDoherty

    • sheila says:

      “write your way out of anything” – I love that John! Writing this one definitely felt like that. He’s vivid but hard to put into words. (said she, who just wrote 70,000 words about him).

      Thank you so much. I hope you had a good walk. :)

  10. I wish I could write like this.

  11. DBW says:

    Well, I don’t know where to begin. As you know, I’ve been reading your writing for a long time, and I so enjoyed reading this. You have such a gift. Do not give up on generosity, and, especially, gratefulness. Most of us should be infinitely more grateful than we are…Hell, I live much better than Queen Victoria ever thought of living. Almost any one of us lives better than 99.9999% of all the people who ever lived on Earth. Not saying that it isn’t a struggle at times, because we all know that it is–it is a struggle. BUT–it all ends too quickly, and what is gained in a struggle-less existence, what it really learned in the unexamined life? Personally, I wouldn’t trade a single second of it for some other imagined reality…even the absolute worse parts. What is generosity but the acknowledgement of your own gratefulness–“I am so damn lucky to live as I do, that it would be heartless and insensitive NOT to be generous.” I just hate to sense you slipping into a dark view of it all. It’s not dark, Sheila. It’s not. Life is out there every day, full of possibilities, full of unexpected encounters, full of the unforeseen delight, full of anything and everything that someone as talented and special as you could ever want…if you stay openhearted to it all. Don’t close yourself off. Just as an example–my dear mother-in-law got engaged at 88! Who would ever expect such a thing. They got married, and had 4-5 really great years together. As an expression of openness to all of life’s possibilities, their relationship was an inspiration to everyone who knew them. Their time together was short in duration, but the love they found late in life was timeless. I know that their experience was certainly rare and unusual, but it happened because of a shared belief in the fundamental good in human life–despite all the bad things that can and have happened.

    I’ll stop. Loved reading this.

    Yes, I know–I’m preachy and annoyingly optimistic, but…..

    • sheila says:

      DBW – that’s amazing about your mother in law!! Good for them!

      well I clearly haven’t given up on gratitude. This whole essay is an act of gratitude. Towards him and towards what he gave me. I will be forever thankful I met him. All of my writing comes from a place of gratitude, particularly when it’s something I want to write about, whether it’s Elvis or a movie or my life. I don’t focus on what I hate, I focus on what I love. and I’m very grateful for having the gift of writing in the first place.

      I’m very generous with friends and family – too much so sometimes – but in a romantic context, I’m tapped out. Things actually do die and scar tissue is real and I am no longer resilient like I was. A function of my illness, partially. I have other things I need to focus on. If someone said “Tsk tsk” to me now, I would never ever make up some cockamamie story about his underlying message. I’d cut him loose. I’m glad I did it once – and I am glad it all worked out the way it did. I’m impressed with myself! But 9 times out of 10, I’ve been used – for my greatest qualities. And the middle-aged men I’ve been involved with in the last 10 years have been the WORST. Like, legit harmful – doing more damage than any of the wild love affairs I had in my 20s/30s. Most women have stories about the young bozos they put up with in their 20s, and then they got to enjoy “real men” once they hit their 30s/40s. That has not been my experience. I loved the young bozos. They were NICE and FUN. I’d be a dummy to not learn from experience. So … I don’t see it as dark. What WAS dark were the years where I felt like my life had gone wrong somewhere. I don’t feel that way anymore at all. I don’t think I could have written this piece if I felt that way. It’s a very positive piece, I think. It’s a love letter. I felt happy writing it, not sad.

      Always good to hear from you! The world needs optimists. But it needs pessimists, too, just to balance everything out.

  12. DBW says:

    You’re right–on reflection, this WAS a positive piece, and I think I was reading it a little wrong. And, you’ve always been generous, probably to a fault, but better that than the opposite. In my experience, today’s average unmarried middle-aged man is too often defective. That’s an enormous generalization, but I see it again and again. I’m glad to read you saying you don’t feel your life has gone wrong somewhere. These are very tough times, times that magnify any feelings of aloneness or loss of connection. May it all relent just a bit, and let us get back to some sense of normalcy. I’m very lucky to have a real partner in my life that I know is always there for me, with only the best of intentions in her every act and thought. I didn’t really ever do anything to ‘deserve’ that, but I’m certainly thankful. Keep putting yourself out there, Sheila, and please keep writing.

    • sheila says:

      yes, this is a love letter! It’s all good stuff! a tribute to someone who made a difference – and who made a difference in how I looked at my own PAST. now that’s making a difference!

      I’m fairly immature and I guess I’m pretty eccentric. I don’t want anyone conventional or who gives a shit about convention. Those guys don’t tend to like me, so there’s no love lost there. I don’t know if I could ever live with anyone – it’d have to be someone who was really really busy with his own life – who didn’t need a lot from me – someone who was gone a lot (lol) – and I think a long-distance relationship would be preferable for a bachelor like me. Middle-aged men – in my experience – are either needy or they pretend they don’t care. They play games. They are threatened by high libido, which means they’re stupid. They ghost you. They do all the shit men accuse women of doing. They’re drama queens. Those young immature 20something boys I was involved with back then NEVER treated me as badly as so-called grownup men.

      The funniest thing is after one of my terrible experiences with one of these men – a friend of mine said, “Well, he’s never been married. There’s a reason.” I said, “You realize the same thing can be said about me.”

      I think how our culture views romantic monogamous relationships as the be-all end-all is practically brainwashing, not to mention damaging. I lost years of my life buying into that propaganda and it did irreparable harm. Other people tell me relationships can be great and I’m happy that that’s their experience but it’s not been my experience. So why would I put time in for something purely hypothetical AND something I only associate with pain? Honestly, I have so much more peace of mind once I gave up on all that. I’m not a NUN, mind you, but I gave up on all the rest of it. People say “It’s when you really stop trying, or really stop hoping for a relationship, that it happens!” This is propaganda parroted by people who haven’t suffered as I have. As though everything you do is supposed to get you the result of being in a relationship. The relationship is the brass ring! Even “stop hoping” in that context is spun as “the prelude to finding The One.” I am immune to that messaging now and I am much happier because of it.

      Everyone has different life experiences and come to different conclusions based on experiences. I’ve worked HARD to not be bitter. Part of the reason I am not bitter is because of the guy this essay is about.

  13. Sheaness says:

    Wow, this whole essay was awesome. I am not super introspective as a rule, but I guess (among other things!) this past year has been an opportunity for many to look back and to try and make sense of some stuff. I had a somewhat briefer watershed relationship on a much smaller scale that I was reminiscing about recently (not saying it was similar to yours except that it took me some time to realize it for the positive thing it was)….and this was just so well done. You’re such a fabulous writer and you elicit so many feelings in many of your essays, I just want to say thank you for putting yourself out there in this way and allowing us to benefit from your cathartic and refreshing style. I can’t imagine it is easy for you, I know you have had some challenging experiences, and overcome much, even in the past year. But I am thankful to have connected with your writings (initially because of Supernatural), and I probably don’t say it often enough but I have very much enjoyed going down the rabbit hole sometimes with all your linked missives, I learn a lot (so many gems there I did not realize I needed to know!), I find many of them healing (as I think someone said above) and I just think you are super talented. Many thanks.

    • sheila says:

      Sheaness – thank you so much for reading and commenting!!

      // it took me some time to realize it for the positive thing it was //

      It’s so funny how that can happen, right? The positive nature of this thing with my guy was staring at me right in the face for years but somehow I didn’t really get it.

      // But I am thankful to have connected with your writings (initially because of Supernatural), //

      Supernatural has brought so many cool people to this site – seriously – it’s such a smart thoughtful bunch. So glad I started to write about the show! Thanks for showing up here! I truly appreciate it!

  14. Jeremy Hornik says:

    Hi! It is genuinely surprising that I came to know you through your film criticism, because we basically lived in overlapping time and space for a few years. I saw that run of Arizona Dream, and I was one of those IO boys, and the Family were my teachers and coaches and directors and occasionally co-players. I enjoyed your piece on a whole nother level, working out who it might have been (not Ian, he’s a redhead, etc.) While I might be miles off, it doesn’t really matter. It’s a great piece about how what we need, sometimes, can only be seen with time and distance, because at the time we are too full of the living of it. Thank you for writing it, and thanks for emailing a link so I would t miss it.

    • sheila says:

      Jeremy – wow – have we discussed our overlapping paths before? Arizona Dream!! The movie had such a teeny tiny run – in Chicago and everywhere else – and after I wrote that piece, so many people who were in Chicago at that time said that they saw it too – it made me feel like I wasn’t just dreaming it.

    • sheila says:

      and you were an IO boy!! wow! I probably have met you before. I give it a 90% probability that we at least were in the same room, perhaps many many times. I didn’t perform at IO but I was there most Fridays/Saturdays – to see The Family show, or Armando Diaz – or to meet up with my guy after his show. and also to watch my friends on other teams. We must have a lot of people in common.

      IAN! I always liked him. Very nice guy. They were all just so talented – but as a group they were dynamite – never seen anything like it. Masters.

      // the Family were my teachers and coaches and directors and occasionally co-players. //

      this is so wild. Were you on a house team? What was your team’s name? I’m trying to remember some of the team names – they were always so funny. Who did you study with? Were you there when it was at the Wrigleyside or when it had its own theatre right next door?

      // working out who it might have been (not Ian, he’s a redhead, etc.) While I might be miles off //

      This may have been deliberate on your part, but the answer is right there in that sentence. and you’re right, it’s not Ian. lol

      It was cathartic to write and it shuffled a couple of things into place that hadn’t quite found a home in my head. I’m a slow learner! Thank you so much for reading this piece and for commenting! and I am so curious about your time at IO!

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