The last two weeks have been crazy. Lispa was winding down for the year, and for end of semester evaluations, we had to prepare an individual three minute presentation for the teachers, finish our projects for space lab class, and come up with a 20-movement choreography for acrobatics, all of which were due this last week. In addition, I was doing an improvisation performance in a cabaret, while in my spare time trying to finish a translation assignment for a bank in Hong Kong. I had also started work as a home help for this ex-theatre writer who lives near the school. There were plenty of late-night drinking and partying that were fun, but that left me getting little to no sleep night after night. Lispa wrapped up on Friday the 14th, and I promptly flew to Berlin the next evening for a weeks vacation, feeling finally that I can relax, and that I have some time to myself.
This whole week, I am staying with Nina and Marcin, friends from way back when I studied abroad in Krakow. I haven’t seen them since I left Poland four years ago, so its been great to catch up and spend some time with them. Nina is German, and we were in the same Polish class in Krakow, a class in which we would constantly either laugh helplessly at our mistakes, or howl with frustration at the complexity of the language. I am quite certain that the struggles of trying to master Polish grammar together had helped created a lasting bond between us. Nina knew Krakow quite well, and is a fellow food-lover, so she was also the one who’d take me to all the bar mlecznys in town to sample the best pierogi, the best nalezniki, the best soups. Marcin is her Polish boyfriend, and he was the manager of Massolit, a lovely second-hand English bookstore & cafe in the centre of town. I went there quite often. Not only did they have comfy couches and shelves and shelves of books in literature and theatre – they also had killer carrot cake and gigantic chocolate chip cookies. They have lived in Berlin for three years now, she as a student in eastern european studies, and he as a polish-english translator. Nina and Marcin were the ones who took me to the airport when I left Krakow for good at the end of that semester, so it is somehow fitting that they are the first friends from Poland that I see in my European sojourn this time around.
In our last week working with the neutral mask, Thomas had us do an improvisation that took us out of the realm of nature, into human nature. The scenario was that someone very dear to you was leaving on a ship, and you were going to the harbor to say farewell. Except that when you got there, the ship had already left. It was too late. You could see the ship slowly sailing away in the distance, and so you wave goodbye for the last time, but you’re not sure that the person can even see you. Then after awhile, eventually, you turn around and leave.
It was very hard for me to summon the strength to get up and do this improvisation, because the memory of my last farewell was still too close, and I was afraid of what I might have to confront if I opened this pandora’s box again.
A year ago, a man I loved left me. He had to leave, and I knew very well that I would never see him again. The farewell itself was one of those moments that remained bright and clear as day, in spite of time. It was November, and I was standing on the curb of a sidewalk in New York, waiting silently as he got his bags, ready to climb into a van that would take him to the airport. The night before, he had made me promise not to cry, so I didn’t. I was almost stoic, calmly hugging him, then watching as he walked out of my arms. Just as he was about to open the car door, he turned, and said “You should probably leave now, it would be better. I don’t want you to have to watch as the van drives away.’ So I started walking. As I backed away from the van I waved goodbye, while still looking at his face, willing myself to sear this last moment, the way he looked then, into my memories forever. Almost before I was ready, I made myself turn around. I don’t know why I did that. And just like that, he was gone.
And I was alone, walking down Broadway towards a subway station, going home. There was no one to watch, no one to stop me as tears started welling, slipping and cascading down my cheeks. I felt silly. I felt like a blubbering mess, and I just wanted to stop, but I couldn’t.
Thomas said that saying farewell to a loved one is like having a part of you die inside. And that in order to grow as an artist, you have to learn to accept this pain as a part of life. To confront the hurt and say yes, then move on. I didn’t realize it at the time, but a year ago, in that moment when I turned away, I had failed to say yes. I had said yes in my head, but my body had not agreed. I had walked away still attached. Time and again, I thought I was free, only to discover that it still hurts inside. What does it take to really accept pain? How can one confront hurt and acknowledge its presence, but still be able to move on?