ANONYMOUS. Names and other identifying information have been changed.
I told myself I would never have a showmance. Too much drama, I said. Before my first professional job, my theatre mentor advised me, red hair ablaze, voice cracked by years of unchecked belting and cigarettes, Don’t sleep with anyone you share a stage with. Trust me. They’re nothin’ but trouble.
And for the first few years of my career, I listened. Like many young ingenue types, I had my share of opportunity. Like a good girl, I turned them all down.
But that was before he walked into rehearsal. My leading man. Emeralds had nothing on his eyes. We shall call him C.
Oh, he was beautiful.
I was in trouble and I knew it. We both knew it. The second our eyes met.
Our first summer was something out of a teenage novel. Humidity, sweat, the sweet taste of peaches, and clandestine sex. We were both in relationships but our partners were home for the month of July and all we wanted was each other. My body craved his like an unhealthy addiction but because everyone knew our relationship status outside the theatre, we had to keep it quiet. We kept it onstage. Generally, the reviews were just fine but every single one mentioned our chemistry. We instinctively never sat next to each other offstage or off the clock. We made sure we were never alone, always chaperoned. Always in groups of at least three.
Once the curtain went down, C and I would separate. He’d go out to the bars and I’d stay home resting my voice for the next show. Not him, though. His was an unfairly unbreakable voice. He could drink himself blind the night before a matinee and his voice would be like nothing happened the next day. I guess that should have been my first clue. He just wasn’t responsible, but oh could he sing.
We escaped into each other as often as we could. Not an easy feat given the circumstances of non-equity actor housing and the non-existence of unlimited texting. My boyfriend, so blissfully unaware, was deep in his post-graduate job hunt, conveniently and irritatingly distracted. C’s girlfriend visited on opening weekend and it was the only two nights we spent apart during that contract. She was a lovely, sweet girl who didn’t deserve what we were doing behind her back, but I didn’t care. I knew my place. I was the one who washed his sheets before she arrived. I cleaned my hair out of his shower drain. I made sure there were no condom wrappers anywhere. Those two nights were torture. I ached for him so hard. I couldn’t sleep, wondering if he was doing that thing I like to her just 30 feet away from me. He dropped her off at the airport Monday night and returned to my arms. He said he loved her, but he wanted me. Oh, how he wanted me. I fell back into his bed, not caring that his sheets smelled like her perfume or that her hair now clogged the shower drain. For two more weeks he would be mine.
Our contract ended in August. I went back to my hometown and he went back to New York. We kept in touch on MySpace, the occasional hello, the happy birthday messages. Always platonic. I like to think he was protecting me by staying so antiseptic in his communication, but deep down I knew he was really protecting himself first. Once, on a rare occasion that we spoke on the phone, I drunkenly wept, begging to know why we couldn’t be together. His answer? You’re too far away. Then I’ll move! No, don’t move for me. I have her. You have him.
Oh, yeah. Him.
C knew we couldn’t last outside the confines of distance and time. It was, ironically, the distance that kept us close.
Two summers later, we got another contract together. Not as love interests but as ensemble. There was less pressure to take care of myself and more freedom to be wild. Every night as C slept, I would stare at the I miss you texts from my boyfriend, the guilt heavy on my heart but easily pushed away. What happens in summerstock stays in summerstock. Rinse and repeat for five weeks. Our last night together, C and I confessed our love for one another. I love you till the ends of the earth. Over and over and over until he fell asleep in my arms, and I stared at him until sunrise, imagining an alternate universe where our couplehood was possible. In another dimension, we were shopping at Ikea for a rug.
My flight was early. I pulled my arm out from under him and he rolled over, still snoring. C had one more show in his contract so he would be staying. I showered and dressed, careful to clean all my hair from his bathroom. I emptied the bathroom trash into the bin outside his window. Not a condom left to find. Not a trace of me except a little hickey on his neck, my perfume on his sheets. He would have to wash them himself this time.
Every few years we would meet again, either by contract or design. Once, on a girls’ trip to New York, I lied and told my friends I couldn’t go with them to see Legally Blonde because it just didn’t interest me but I’ll meet up with y’all later just text me the name of the bar, kthxbi. Instead, I took a cab from our hotel to his apartment in the Upper East Side. C had broken up with his blonde beauty by then. I showed up wearing an engagement ring. I may have imagined it, but I thought I saw a brief shadow of sadness flash across his eyes as he congratulated me. He said he was happy for me, then pulled me inside and spent the next two hours making sure I would miss him when I left. I tried to take my ring off but he wouldn’t let me.
The night before my wedding, he sent me a Facebook message wishing me a beautiful day. He said my soon-to-be husband was a lucky man and signed off with the most banal of signatures. Take care, C.
I have been happily married fourteen years, now. My husband and I have a 10 year old son and a house in the hills a thousand miles away from New York City. I quit the business when I got pregnant back in 2011 and I honestly don’t see myself ever going back. I teach voice now. My life is comfortable. My son brings me joy. My job fulfills me. My husband adores me. He gives me stability. Safety. The only thing C and my career couldn’t give me.
I visited New York with some of my students the summer of 2017. On one of my nights off, C and I met up for a drink at a bar near his place. His glowing green eyes threatened to pull me under again, but this time it was easy to hold my feet to the ground. We reminisced, we laughed, he didn’t act bored when I showed him pictures of my son. He kind of looks like me, he joked. I smack his arm. You wish!
No I don’t, C laughs.
No, you don’t. You really don’t.
(pause) But sometimes I think about it.
Same. Some days, yes. Very much, same.
C insisted on paying the entire tab, and I didn’t argue. He walked me to the subway, and gave me one, final kiss before disappearing into the crowd. I stood there, waiting for him to turn around, but he never did.
That was the last time we ever spoke.
C is now on Broadway. He is finally a star. His profile photo is of him and his now girlfriend – she is much to my relief, not blonde. I downloaded a cast recording of his debut show, and when I heard his voice, my eyes closed and I am immediately transported to our first summer over 20 years ago. Two naive twenty-somethings drawn together by a magical mix of heat, music and urgency. I sent him a message recently, congratulating him on his success. You sound great in this song, I write. He replies politely, Thanks. Hope you are well. Take care, C. As much as I want to hope he is protecting me with his banality, I know he’s only protecting himself.
I do miss him. He is the one that got away. Or rather, the one who couldn’t stay. Perhaps it is this idealization of our relationship coupled with the pain of his absence that colors the memories of our once shared existence. What was it that kept me stuck on him? Was it some string of Fate going back to some astral plane? Did we belong to each other, even if we were never meant to be in this lifetime? We never fought. We never had the time.
My little secret…whenever I miss my wild days, all I have to do is close my eyes and I’m back in shitty actor housing on a lumpy squeaking mattress with C. Only in my fantasies do I act on my frustrations. But that never lasts. I open my eyes and I’m safe at home.
Take care, C. Take care.