I was born at the foot of a mountain in a house with a garden for a roof deep in the south of France. Or maybe it was really a 1970s ranch style house in front of a cornfield in rural Ohio. There was definitely a garden though. The garden was made up of straight rows of carrots, beans, peas, squash, and sometimes pumpkins. I helped my Dad plant the seeds in the spring, carefully placing them in the cool, dark earth, then sprinkling water over them as if to christen or bless them. I always said my own little prayer for each of them to grow big and strong and fearless. I’m not sure why I thought vegetables should be fearless but I did. I thought that maybe it was good for everyone to be a bit fearless. I tried to be. From a very young age, I was planning expeditions. I may have read too many Nancy Drew or Dorrie the Witch books. I would pack a small bag with bologna and american cheese sandwiches, pringles, an extra pair of socks, and my notebook. I’d set off down the one lane country road next to my parent’s house, intent on making it at least as far as the cemetery. I’d collect leaves and flowers and branches on the way, carefully placing them between the pages of my spiral notebook. I wrote down where I found each of them; things like ‘next to Mrs. Shepperd’s mailbox’ or ‘in the ditch by old man Cramney’s house under a black boulder.’ I thought my notebook very important and kept it hidden from my brothers and parents. I usually did make it the mile to the cemetery. The cemetery was one of my favorite places. I would find a pretty stone to sit next to, or a stone with a pretty name carved on it, and I’d eat my bologna sandwich and make up elaborate stories in my head about the person who was buried there. The stories often involved a poor heroine who overcame insurmountable odds to live a magnificent life of international travel and love affairs. When she finally met her end by falling from a cliff or saving the life of her beloved by battling a tiger, she was brought back to the sleepy rural town from whence she came.
I left as soon as I could. I was accepted into the Honor’s Program at Ohio University and was going to major in English and Creative Writing. I was going to be a Writer with a capitol W. I was going to be independent and fearless and strong. I was going to make more friends than I was able to make during all my years in grade school and high school. I was going to walk across the green arm in arm with my best friend and discuss Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf and the poetry we wrote that weekend. I was going to drink coffee in a brown vinyl booth with a mini jukebox that played songs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I was going to be alive; as if I hadn’t been up until then. ‘This is my life starting!’, I thought and was filled with the kind of excitement that involved hopping up and down uncontrollably.
Things never quite happen as planned. Something small like finding out your high school boyfriend who you followed to this godforsaken university forgot to tell you about the girl he’s been dating since he’s been here happens that changes everything and sends you careening off into a completely new direction. There’s a lot of ancient emotional and psychological muck wrapped up in that first year in Athens, Ohio. To delve into here, now, would produce a novel length plummet to some dark and scary place where no one ever laughs and everyone skins his or her knees. Ultimately, two immensely significant things happened that year. The first was I discovered theatre and decided I wanted to work in costumes. And the second was that, I, who had been the valedictorian of her high school class and a 4.0 college student, decided to simply not go back.
I fell in love with the theatre, completely, irrevocably in love. I somehow ended up in Houston, Texas (which is another novel length story) working at The Alley Theatre. I learned most of what I know today from my time there. Recently, I was talking with a friend about my theatre days so long ago and the people I had meant during my 12 years at the Alley and he said, ‘Oh, they’re still your friends?’ ‘No.’ I answered, ‘They’re family.’ They were and they are. After working in various capacities in the costume department, I finally ended up as the Assistant Milliner to one of the finest people I have ever met. I worked for Jorge for 6 years and he taught me everything he knew about sewing, and hats, and pattern making. He also taught me quite a lot about life and being yourself and not being afraid. My childhood wish to be fearless had been waning for a while and often I found I wasn’t on very sure footing with myself. He was the best teacher I’ve ever had. One of my most favorite Jorge memories is finding him in the dye room dancing the twist with the old washer as it shook and turned during its spin cycle. Jorge died about 10 years ago from complications due to AIDS but I still hear his voice in my head. If I’m struggling with a patterning problem, I hear him patiently telling me to make a mock up, that I already know the solution. When I’m unwinding an unwanted thread color from a bobbin, I hear him asking if I’m going to save that thread.
I moved on from theatre about 15 years ago and have been working in the more financially lucrative film and TV business. I just finished 5 years as the Head Tailor and Shop Supervisor on Boardwalk Empire. I wish Jorge could have been here to see that happen. He would’ve been so proud.
Now, after years of being consumed by a job in one of the most wasteful industries on the planet, I’ve decided to go back to my first love(s) of writing and travelling. Travelling is the only thing that got me through the past 5 years. As soon as production would end for the season, I’d be on a plane. I’m a solo traveller, an adventurer. I like going places people don’t normally go. I’ve visited a national park and nature preserve in Macedonia where I was told I was their first American tourist. I’ve met an Albanian cab driver and his son who drove me the three and half hours from Tirana to the Macedonian border for 50 euros. I’ve hung out with the 18-year-old national cycling champion in Macedonia who rented me a road bike to climb the mountain behind Ohrid. I’ve ridden a crowded train from Marrakesh to Fes swapping stories with passengers in French, Spanish, and English. There are so many stories to tell. And so many stories to live. I just hope I have time for all of them.