ACTRESS: So … uh, let me set the scene here. That will entail a little background, so bear with me. I mean really bear with me, ok? If, at any point, it seems I’m rambling or longwinded, just tell yourself- or nudge each other say, “Well, bless her heart. Her head blew up.”
Okay, the opening matinee had gone pretty well. See, in what had been a bad summer for both my friend Merritt and myself, acting in this two-woman show had been the only shaft of light and we’d looked forward to it. We’d worked our asses off, we had an abbreviated rehearsal time, and still, we felt good about it. Luckily, of course, the audience didn’t know any of this, nor were any playgoers aware of the chaos backstage, such as painting of the set beginning only at 11 am that morning.
I’ll confess, I was terrified that afternoon. But we got thru it , before an audience of ten. So.. onward and upward, right?
As we dressed for the evening show, Merritt and I kidded each other, horsed around. I heard the pre-show music kick in, and I did my ritual, a quick “En El nombre de padre, del Hijo y el Espiritu Santu.” And I told myself, this will be over in a couple of hours and I can have a drink and relax. Except this time--somehow--I didn’t buy it. “A coupla hours.” “Get a drink” “Relax.” I had a weird feeling that it was never going to end. Ridiculous, right?
The show was going well. Merritt and I--quite frankly--were cooking. For a time, anyway.
I know now that it happened-- (pauses, points to head as if to say, what do you think?) – sometime toward the end of Act I. I didn’t start to feel the full effects until after intermission. And then--
[Catching herself, she stops. This transition will repeat itself many times, as she balances between reliving her incidents, and telling them to her listeners; at times, the stress of this balancing act should be evident.]
(knowing their question) Yeah, well, the “it” I’m referring to--I like to call it “That Time My Head Blew Up.” Not overly snappy, but it’s either that or “I spent four years in New Mexico… and all I got was this lousy brain hemorrhage.”
So … we come out of intermission and my head starts to hurt. Terribly. And I’m still performing, pushing myself and a very confused Merritt through the scene. I don’t know what I’m saying, I was not really in control of what I said, my voice sounded flat and mechanical. But we went on—because I didn’t know how to stop. (pause, and the terror of that moment flickers once more)
I remember the director shouting at me. Not unusual, for that ass--but unexpected in front of an audience. And then I heard him tell the crowd that the show was cancelled--(as if hearing it anew)--what?- and then we went to the hospital. Someone asked for my cellphone, to get my emergency numbers, my family--and I couldn’t use my left hand. (for a moment, she stares at the hand, then gathers to go on)
My time at the hospital is remembered--if at all--in flashes, as snapshots, jagged shards of recollection. They add up, I guess. For instance.. as appreciative as I am to the staff of the ER, why do they ask questions if they aren’t going to listen? My favorite was the medical history drill…. (loudly, as if to the hard-of-hearing or stupid) “Is there a chance you could be pregnant?” (flatly) Not without a miracle. “What was that? Beg Pardon?” They talk in fevered whispers among themselves. Is she pregnant, she might be pregnant, we need to know if she’s pregnant-- (as herself) Hello!? Did you notice a bright star or three wise men following me in here?
Then there was the CT scan. I told them I was claustrophobic, I told them- yet they were surprised and angry when they had to pull me out and sedate me. And let me add that “sedated” does not equal deaf or unconscious or oblivious or stupid; I heard the cheery instruction that someone needed to notify my “next of kin.” Gee, thanks. Just because someone lies at the brink of becoming a human-sized can of V-8 juice--or Snap-E-Tom, as I prefer-- does not mean that they’re not there. (pause) They are.
I was largely out of it--I mean, really out of it--for about a week. But a few things stand out in vivid Technicolor, such as the Exorcist who came to administer the Last Rites, which also go under the fizzy title of Extreme Unction. This particular priest, I would have found frightening even if I hadn’t been immobile and really thirsty. Dressed entirely in black, he gazed dolefully in my direction, advanced slowly- for added drama, I suspect- then loomed over my face and intoned, “Would you like to discuss your Mortal Sins”? I wondered what was next--a pop Quiz? Maybe a Power Point presentation…
Other moments and thoughts that somehow rise to the top of the murky soup of that period include… (thinks for a moment) uh, the realization that a week into this picnic, I still had stage makeup caked on my face. (she will think of the next items very deliberately)
That watching “SpongeBob SquarePants” is infinitely more enjoyable on morphine.
That all the time, day in, day out, I was cold.
That even though the whole initial episode sometimes seemed like an elaborate joke, it was unlikely to be so, for reasons of logistics if nothing else. It would have taken a lot of planning to have set up the intercranial bleeds, the projectile vomiting, the Care Flight, the priest, my brother appearing at my bedside to read to me from a Harry Potter book. I don’t know anyone that organized.