But most of us are saddled with speed bumps and unexpected curves during those formative years that can knock us off Inspiration Road and land us in a ditch. The dreams of rock stardom or being in the movies or even a fireman fade into the recesses of going through the paces of life.
Me? I dreamt of being a published writer when I was a teenager, hunched over my manual typewriter and pounding out what surely would become best sellers. But one thing lead to another and I eventually landed at the point of nurturing other’s careers and taking its vicarious pleasure with me. By the time I had an opportunity to say something inspired, I was too shy after years of having my aesthetic instincts trampled.
About a half year into my job as an agent in New York, I was lying in bed with Billy, watching TV. It was late and the morning alarm was not in the distant future – she was right around the corner. Billy suddenly turned off the television and sat up to look at me. I saw his eyes were brimming and his chin quivering.
“Terry?” he started.
“Why’d you turn off the TV?”
“Cause I have to tell you something. I know this is going to sound crazy but I really want to be an actor,” he almost blurted it as if the secret had been pent up in a cage and someone left the door ajar. The statement pounced.
“Are you kidding me?” I snickered. This moment was apparently about me. I worked all day long juggling actors’ egos and I intimately knew the difficulties they endure and now I was being slapped with this? I was outraged.
“No I’m not kidding,” he was soft in his reply but the tears started to flow. “I just want to try it. I always wanted to be an actor. I just want to see what it would be like.”
“Great! And you want me to send you in on auditions, right?” my question embittered.
“No. I’m not asking you to do that. I just want to try it. I don’t want to be a movie star or anything. I just want to maybe do some commercials and I think I have the talent,” he was still trying to convince me this was a good idea but he could see by my coldness, I was not going to be very supportive.
“Okay. Let’s talk about this tomorrow,” I was more interested in getting the TV back on than hearing his dumb scheme.
“I thought you’d be happy. I never told anyone this before and now you’re all pissed off,” his hurt was palpable.
“No. I just know what a fucked up job it is and I don’t think you’d be happy, that’s all,” I was covering my tracks.
“How will I know unless I try it?” Of course he was right but I didn’t want to be married to an actor. Anything but an actor and there was a flash through my mind that the only reason he was with me in the first place was so I could help him with his acting career. Somehow I determined this was some long-term plan of his to get me in his grip and use me to be his agent. The megalomania of that thought didn’t come to my mind’s forefront for a little while – the idea sat and stewed.
Billy didn’t mention it again after that night. In the meantime, I had scoped out a few acting classes and one night suggested them to him. I also said I would send him out on a few low-profile auditions but he really should take some classes first. My initial reaction to his confession had lasting resonance though. He’d shrug and change the subject.
Once I was laid off and we moved back to Los Angeles, Billy was crowned the breadwinner and he went back to the business he’d swore he would never return to. He was well respected in the limousine industry but he felt stifled and angry at the job’s weird demands and hours. He hated dealing with pampered assholes and had a cynical underbelly view of the entertainment business.
As I finally got off my ass and back on my feet, he found his creative outlet to be dancing. It was something at which he always excelled but now it took on more important dimensions. He lived to dance and he soaked up the positive feedback from his performances on the floor. But club dancing doesn’t make a career and in Los Angeles, it comes with many unwanted and ugly influences.
Billy was always searching for another outlet. He really liked crafts and we’d go to Michael’s, a local arts and crafts store, and he would load up on beads and glitter and odd items whose future only he knew. He’d spend a night while I was watching TV, constructing a little box that spelled out LOVE in clear glass crystals then he would proudly present it to me.
Our conversation in New York finally had caught up with me and I was always supportive, admittedly sometimes condescendingly so, and I would ooh and ah at his latest creation. One Christmas, I bought him a semester of acting classes. He was so excited and every week, he would get dressed up and attend. He’d come home and show me his notes and he was especially proud of the teacher. She was a women who once played McGarrett’s secretary on Hawaii 5-0, one of my favorite all-time programs and Billy even constructed a dance for its theme song every time it would come on TV. It was a wild dance, with arms flailing and he would get himself dizzy from it.
“You better sit down before you fall,” I’d kid him as I watched in rapture what he was doing. The dance was funny and goofy but he was doing it for me, on cue and he never failed.
He even went through a clown phase, at my suggestion. He loved kids, being with them, rolling on the floor and talking their language. I’ve never really been good around children but Billy felt right at home with them and could keep a conversation going. I offered one night that he pursue being a clown for kid’s parties. He surfed the net until he was on every mailing list imaginable and our mail was inundated with clown material. To this day, I still get some of his clown mail.
The next year, in 1998, I got him classes at The Groudlings, an improv group in Los Angeles that spawned the careers of many. He loved loved loved that class and he would come home and try out new characters for me. “Earl” was his favorite and got the most response from his classmates. Earl was an older man whose hobby was reading out loud from the newspaper. He did it as if the world were hard of hearing and Billy became so committed to this silly character, it was irresistible even if I had to put my fingers in my ears to tolerate it.
But his stunted muse grew more interested in design and the next year he asked me for a sewing machine for his Christmas present.
“I don’t want anything complicated!” he warned. “Just something simple so I can try it out.” Billy was sometimes thrifty to a fault.
In 1999, he tore open the wrapping for a Singer that had a few bells and whistles but nothing out of control. He looked at it and started to cry.
“You do everything for me, Terry, I love you.” It was around this time that the phrase, “Thank you. Thank you for everything,” became part of our script. Also came the notion that anything we bought each other was bought with “love.”
“Look, honey, I got you some bottles of Coke,” I’d say. Then I would add, “And you know what I bought it with?”
“Love,” and then that face that he would make would be in full effect. It was innocence personified, wrapped up in the simplest terms and affects.
Or he would come home with a new shirt he found at a thrift store for me and he’d state, “I bought this with love, you know!”
But the sewing machine went untouched. For years it sat up in the back house, on an antique stand he had found at a swap meet, and collected dust. One day when we first discovered the joys of eBay, he found a section for clothing patterns. He ordered all of these patterns from the fifties and sixties. He ordered a pattern for a Santa suit, something he always wanted to play. One pattern he received was for a caftan.
“The first thing I’m making you is a caftan!” he teased me as he showed me the package the day it arrived in the mail. It was a horrifying brocade contraption of straight cloth to the ground with side slits and the cover had a drawing of a man trying to look as masculine as possible in this man-dress.
“Ooo and I can’t wait to wear it!”
He started to collect fabric at a nearby store and befriended the crazy old bat that owned it. We went downtown one day to the fashion district, a world unto itself, about six months before he left to buy bundles and pieces of cool fabric. He found some really cool white cotton cloth with surfers and the Hawaiian Islands printed on it. He spent the next two days cushioning and covering an old wooden stool. It looked great. I have covered the seat in plastic to prevent it from getting soiled.
But the sewing machine remained elusive and scary to Billy. It wasn’t until the Christmas before that he ventured into it and actually used it one night. I was downstairs watching TV when he came in and proudly presented me with a pillow, his first sewing creation on the machine. It had four or five different layers of competing colors and textures, and I grabbed it from his hand and hugged it.
“That is beautiful!”
“No it’s not. I was just fucking around,” he looked down a little and smiled.
“I said it’s beautiful and I mean it!” I wanted more than anything for him to find his outlet, his release valve and whether I thought it beautiful or not was not even on my mind. Actions are louder than words, though, and I relegated that little pillow to the back of a bookshelf, out of view. Now, of course, it is the focal point of our bedroom.
With the sewing machineophobia in check and plans for a new line of designer pillows under the label V.B.S.S., Venice Beach Street Shopping, he was on his way. He had found, at least at the moment, the creative expression that he roped and tied down. His last night was spent posting the booty he found at a swap meet on Ebay and working on a design logo for V.B.S.S.
Am I happy he found his voice? Of course I am although I’m not certain he ever really did. Do I think he could have been successful at it? I know he would have been, both creatively and financially. Does it tear me apart when I remember the look on his face when he told me he wanted to be an actor and my mockery of it? More than I can ever express. Will I ever forget his cautiously elated expression he wore as he handed me the first pillow he ever made? Never.
Now those memories come back to haunt me
they haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true
Or is it something worse?