My flight for Maine left on a Sunday. I worked an 8 hour shift on Saturday, leaving work at 4:30pm. I went home and threw my already packed bags in my car. I knew my day was just getting started and I would have to power thru. Standing in my doorway, I inhaled a deep breath and I took a last look at my apartment. I hoped that the next time I saw it, I would be a different person.
I had dinner with one of my good friends at a local pizza joint. He was going thru lots of changes in his own life that summer and he wished me the best. “What are you going to do when this class is over and you come back?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I guess I hope I figure that out while I’m there.”
I drove to Des Moines to meet my friends, who were out at a bar. The Cubs had won a game that night. People wanted to buy me shots but I used a line from Sex and the City, saying “I can’t be drunk on the plane, I wanna arrive stunning and impossibly fresh looking.”
At closing time, I left with my best friend and we went to her boyfriend’s place. We sat up in the living room talking, afraid we would over sleep and I would miss my flight. Deep down, I wished she was going with me. I have never made friends easily, I’m a natural introvert, and I was scared to go somewhere for so long without a support system. But the world kept turning and the minutes ticked away. Eventually, it was time to get in the car.
I checked my monstrous bag and went to my gate to wait. It was 4am, my flight left at 5. I’d been awake for nearly 24 hours and had so much adrenaline pumping through me, none of this seemed real. Maybe I would wake up in my bed and it would be time to go to work again. Maybe it was still January and I hadn’t made it out of that snowstorm. Had I really managed to get here or would this evaporate the second I fell asleep?
I was shaken out of my day dream by a guy sitting three seats down from me. “Hey,” he said. “Were you in Doc’s Acting II class? Your name is Amy, right?”
Acting II was one of the last classes I had taken in college. It was taught by a very beloved professor everyone called Doc. He was one of those rare people who could make everyone he spoke to feel valuable. He always made me feel like I had actual talent for acting, but I assumed he made everyone feel that way. So much so that I assumed I wasn’t as good as he made me feel. It didn’t really matter because I didn’t want to make a career for acting, I just enjoyed doing it occasionally.
I also remembered this guy from my class. He was naturally funny, a quality which I didn’t have at all. He was going to Los Angeles, just starting a career in film and television. I told him where I was going and why. “I’m so jealous!” he said. “I have always wanted to shoot work of my own. And you get to do a project on 16mm? That’s amazing.” Yes, I hoped it would be.
Then he caught me off guard. “You were amazing in that class by the way.” he said.
“Oh I don’t know about that…”
“You were. Every time you got up in class, you could just do it. Do you remember that time he made us improve, we had to get up and do the 60 second monologue about anything? You blew that room away.”
The 60 second monologue exercise was meant to help us ‘stop acting.’ Sometimes actors worry so much about the lines in a script they don’t live in a moment and that’s when performances start to seem contrived. In my opinion, Jennifer Lawrence is one of those rare actresses that lives in each moment, so you never ‘see’ her acting.
So, one day, without warning, Doc had made us stand up one by one and told us to talk about something real. The topics were self chosen and people defaulted to what style they were comfortable in (comedic vs dramatic). I was mostly worried about filling the time, so I chose my topic accordingly . When I stood up, I spoke as if I were talking to my grandma who had passed away in 2002. Things she has missed, stuff I remembered. But something happened when I was up there. My thoughts shifted and I ended up talking to her not as she was for the last seven years of her life as she deteriorated into Alzheimers. I spoke to her as if she were healthy, with 100% of her mind. How deep down I was angry with her, because I had needed her to be an adult, a strong motherly figure, our whole family had needed that, but instead she had gotten sick and regressed into a child. I had never admitted that to anyone.
“No one was as authentic and vulnerable as you,” he said. “I wanted to be you, or have what you have.”
“I never felt I was that good. But thank you. It means a lot.”
“Well, you are really good. Don’t underestimate yourself.”
Then it was time to board the plane. That conversation, totally serendipitous because we hadn’t spoken since we were in that class, was so important to me that day. We never know who will remember the things we say, or what effect they will have on the other person. I’m sure he didn’t know it, but that conversation gave me a lot of faith in my creative instincts at a moment when I needed it most.
Somewhere in my flight path from Des Moines, to Minneapolis, to Newark, to Portland I managed to doze in my seat. When I finally landed after the last leg, nervous and alone, I found the school affiliated van that would drive me 2 hours up the coast to a tiny town called Rockport. Attendees for other classes were in the van, but none that would be in mine. I started to grow nervous. When would I meet these people? What would they think of me?
As we drove North, I was struck by how different the scenery was. All of the trees made it impossible to see the horizon, something I was not accustom to, being from the Midwest. The gas stations and grocery chains had names I didn’t recognize. But the towns were quaint, so that I could relate to. When I finally arrived at the school, I checked in and the van driver told me he knew where I would be staying and I would have about an hour to unpack before dinner would be served on campus.
Yes, where would I be staying for 7 weeks? I knew nothing other than my room and board would be provided to me at no cost.
When we pulled up to The Jammer, as it was affectionately called, I immediately thought about Alfred Hitchcock. Because he made a movie called Psycho and in that movie is the Bates Motel. That’s where I was staying. From the outside, The Bates Motel and The Jammer, were one in the same.
My room had two sets of bunk beds, but I was the only one staying in it. The first thing I noticed, apart from the bunkbeds was that there was no television. I was going to be here for 7 weeks and there was no TV? Maybe that was just a mistake… I’d have to ask the others if their rooms had TV’s.
I quickly rearranged the beds to create a seating area, rather than a dormitory. I opened my laptop to connect to the internet. No WiFi connection.
You have to remember, this was 2006. So Facebook existed but only within colleges, I had a flip, non-smart phone and text messages could only be 30 characters long and cost money every time you sent one. How was I going to communicate with my friends if I couldn’t get on MSN Messenger? How was I going to watch Grey’s Anatomy!? Season 3 was going to be starting soon and I had to find out if Derek was going to stay with Meredith or his red-headed ex-wife! This all seemed slightly terrifying. 7 weeks is SUCH a long time.
As the panic started to rise in my chest about what I had gotten myself into, I heard a male voice. “Say, Honey, this bunk bed situation ain’t gonna cut it and I see you agree. Can I get an opinion on my interior design options?” I’m two doors down.”
Standing in my door way was a clean shaven, dark haired man who was older than me. I couldn’t tell by how much. His accent assured me he was from New York and something about him made me feel as if I had just stumbled into a Will and Grace episode. Normally, if I man called me honey, I would have immediately disliked him. But not this guy. This guy was fabulous.
“Sure, I can help.”
“Cool, I’m Frank.”
“Nice to meet you.”
And the panic in my chest started to lessen, ever so slightly.