An Excerpt from Ellie Beth Potter's Book.
Sometimes, I think of myself as going from not existing to existing. just like that. No birth, no reliance on anyone else, just me. I know if I told my sister that, she’d say I’m being stupid. Of course, I was born. But I don’t like feeling dependent on anyone else for anything, especially not being alive. That’s how I’ve always been: irrationally independent.
My sister sits on my bed with me while my CD player blares my Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana double album CD. “Yeah, I could’ve been a rock starrrr,” we sing loudly off pitch. Our belted choruses are broken up by fits of giggles at how disastrous our singing is.
“Bri! Lily! Come down here, please!” my mom calls from downstairs.
Lily and I shuffle off my bed, and I turn off the music disappointedly. We bounce down the steps-an unspoken race between us that I win.
After sliding into my seat, I quickly shovel pasta into my mouth. I take a couple bites of bread and race back upstairs. I grab my script and tennis shoes. as I’m lacing my shoes, I run through my lines. “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?” Every time I’m reminded that I’m Juliet, I get a thrill. My chest inflates and I can’t stop it. It just feels so nice to be the lead. Not just the lead; the youthful, beautiful, poetic ingénue.
At rehearsal, I go up to Thomas to make sure he remembers the blocking for the scene we’re going over. Thomas is not just my co-star; he is the love of my life. Since my sophomore year, when he moved to Roan Forest High School, I’ve wanted him to like me. Not just like me but be mine. He soon became very well liked, though, and the girl who said “hi” to him on the first day meant nothing to him. Instead, he started dating Kristen, the prettiest, most attractive girl in our school. Of course he chose her over me--it’s a no-brainer. It still sucks.
When Thomas first joined the drama team, before he was dating Kristen, my brain flooded with visions of us, a power couple, dominating the drama department as the model of perfect, complete love. That didn’t happen. But we did become friends. We became acting partners, drama teammates, and, in the chemistry class we took together, lab partners.
The one thing that annoys me about being with Thomas, though, is that I never know how to act around him. Sometimes I feel like a nervous little girl with a crush, and other times, I feel like his mother, having to constantly remind him where he needs to be or what we need to do. I care for him, but I feel like I can’t show him how much I care, so I get awkward. I choose to condescendingly point out his flaws instead of smile and kiss his cheek like I want to. I mean, I couldn’t just kiss his cheek even if I wanted to be nice to him. I would probably just not insult him, but you know what I mean. I could pull him close instead of pushing him away.
When we are sitting in my car after play practice one day, I ask Thomas what we are going to do about our characters kissing. Of course, I want us to kiss. And not just because of the hours I’ve spent imagining us having some grand romance and rom-com worthy kiss. I also care a lot about the play, and I want it to be the best it can be. It sounds stupid to say, but I mean it. I want to keep the kissing in the show because I think it maintains the integrity of the script. But if I tell Thomas that, he’ll obviously think I just want to kiss him. Which I do, but that’s not the point. So, I leave it up to him. No opinion from me.
He says he’ll have to think about it. About a week after that conversation, we are walking to my car, and he says he’s thought about it, and he doesn’t think we should kiss. My heart sinks, but I don’t let it show. I try to convince myself that it’s not because I’m too repulsive to kiss, but I can’t shake the thought. The next day at rehearsal, we tell Mr. Ross, the director, that we want to do a handshake instead. I feel like a little kid that’s too afraid of cooties, but Mr. Ross says we don’t have to kiss if we don’t want to. I probably would have tried harder to convince Thomas to keep the kissing if he wasn’t dating Kristen, but I have no intentions of being a homewrecker.
I’m not jealous of Kristen just because she’s dating Thomas. That’s a big part of it, but she’s also the kind of girl that’s easy to be jealous of. Her dad is super rich, and her mom always throws the best after parties for our shows. Kristen is enviable by her own merit, too. She has a pure, radiant beauty that makes her seem like an angel. She’s also painfully nice to everyone, so no one can possibly dislike her once they meet her. I can, though. And I do. I think she’s perfect in every way, and it makes me livid. It’s not fair that she gets to be and have everything I want. I know it’s not her fault, but that doesn’t make me dislike her any less.
On the day before opening night, I sit down next to Thomas in chemistry class. He is on his phone, but Kristen isn’t his wallpaper anymore. I rush to her Instagram page, and all of her pictures with Thomas are gone. I smile softly, then quickly compose myself.
“Thomas,” I whisper urgently.
“What?” he responds with his head still down.
“Did—did you and Kristen.. um… break up?”
He looks up from his phone, and he looks sadder than I’ve ever seen him. I think he might have been crying.
“Um… yeah, we did.”
I’m somewhat thrilled, but I also feel terrible for him. Break ups suck, and I can tell he’s hurting.
“Oh, dang. I’m so sorry. I’m here for you, you know. If you need anything.”
We don’t talk the rest of class, and I wish there was anything I could do to make him feel better, but there’s not. So, I give him space.
As I’m driving to my voice lessons that night, I practice one of the songs I’m performing at our end-of-the-year recital. I picked the song because I learned it years ago, and it feels familiar, like a part of myself I forgot about. It’s a basic song, but it’s from my first Broadway show, Wicked. As I sing the perky “la la la”s, I drive across the road. Suddenly, I’m spinning out of control. I feel a tightening in my chest and I’m screaming, but it’s only in my head. And then it’s black.
What feels like a second later, I see a woman standing outside her car. Her front fender is crushed. Another woman is walking over to my car window while people are standing outside their shops, watching me. I start to piece together what happened, and I realize I’m stuck in my seatbelt. I can’t move, and I can’t breathe. My car feels heavy with heat, and I smell something burning. The woman taps on my window, and it takes me a second to remember how to roll it down.
“Are you ok?”
No, I’m not ok. Nothing about this is ok. I am the absolute opposite of ok right now.
“I--I don’t know. It hurts to breathe.” My voice is shaking, and I want to cry.
“Ok, do you have someone you can call?”
“Yes. My mom.” I grab my phone. “Can you call her?”
She takes my phone and finds my mom’s contact.
“Hi, this is Diane. Your daughter is ok, but she got in a pretty bad wreck. We’ve already called 9-1-1, and she’s going to need to go to the hospital. It looks like the air bag got her a little, and she says it’s hard to breathe.” She listens for a moment then turns to me. “Your mom wants to talk to you.”
My mom’s voice is strained with worry, but it’s still comforting to hear. She promises me it will be ok and tells me that my dad is on his way. She says to not worry and that she’s just happy I’m ok.
The ambulance arrives. My chest feels like it’s going to explode with anxiety. I’m still sitting with my seatbelt on, too scared to move. The EMT’s come to open my door, but it’s stuck. The pit in my chest gets heavier. They pry the door open and ask me to unbuckle myself. They then move me out of the car and onto a stretcher. The EMT in the back of the ambulance asks me questions the whole way to the hospital. He puts a neck brace on me since I’m showing signs of a concussion. The skin on my hand burns, and I can feel the rash that the seatbelt left across my chest. My whole chest still feels heavy, and I don’t know if it’s from the smoke or my anxiety… or both.
I get to the hospital and nurses start hooking me to IV’s and putting wristbands on me. The neck brace makes it difficult to see what’s happening, so I just stay still and let them do what they need to do. A nurse says something to me about them doing an MRI and I mumble my consent. It’s as if there’s a fog where my brain’s supposed to be, and everything around me feels distant and confusing. When I get back from the scan, my family is waiting for me. My mom bombards me with questions, and I try to answer her as best as I can.
Half an hour later, the doctor comes in and tells me I have a mild concussion but that I’m fine to go home. I try to stand up, but my head starts swaying, and I fall back onto the bed. My mom rolls a wheelchair towards me and helps slide me into it. My dad goes to bring the car around while my mom wheels me to the exit. She helps me into the car then takes the wheelchair back to the sliding doors. The ride home is a blur. When I finally get to my bed, sleep is automatic.
It’s opening day of the show. I feel a pain in my knees that I didn’t notice yesterday. My head is still spinning. I have no clue how I’m going to make it through two hours of being onstage. I take some Advil and ride the bus to school since my car is totaled. I lose my train of thought in every conversation I try to have between classes. I get to theater class at the end of the day, and the world is spinning. Mr. Ross tries to talk to me, but his voice is blurred like he’s the teacher in Charlie Brown. He pauses as if he just asked a question and I focus my eyes on him.
“Um… what? Sorry.”
“Are you okay to perform tonight?” Mr. Ross looks concerned, and I start blinking rapidly to get my vision to stay clear.
“Yes, of course. I can do it.”
I try to act as confident as I can while using all my energy to keep myself from falling to the floor. He nods slowly, convincing himself to believe me. I smile and he starts to walk away.
“You’ll do great tonight,” he adds. “Just, let me know if you need anything.”
I smile in agreement, but there is no doubt in my mind that I will not let him see an ounce of weakness in me this evening. Not one ounce.