When I was twenty-two, I played Ophelia in an educational tour of Hamlet. I was the biggest, loudest Ophelia ever. I ate that doe-eyed Ophelia (the one with the wispy, blond ringlets on the cover of your high school copy of Hamlet) for breakfast. When this Ophelia went mad, she not only handed out flowers, but grabbed Claudius and bawdily kissed the hell out of that traitor.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t sing to save my life. I still remember my director’s note: ”You have three songs. You think you could find a tune in one of them!” Of course, this was the same man who use to sneak up behind me and hit me in the back of the legs with a wrapping paper tube because I habitually locked my knees. The same man who in the middle of the nunnery scene instructed Hamlet to shred his “love letters” to me in such a malicious manner that to this day if you rip paper in front of my face, I will burst into tears.
Hamlet and I did not get along. At all. I thought he was a horrible scene partner. And he thought that I was a big baby. Looking back, he was a horrible scene partner. And I was a big baby.
Our dress rehearsal was the day before Valentine’s Day. I remember this because one of Ophelia’s songs started with, “Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day.” That was also the day that I received from my college boyfriend, who I had left behind in Florida, a five-page letter written in a drunken rage outlining every horrible thing I had ever done to him. And, because the passions of youth are inexplicable, said boy had also pre-ordered me flowers for Valentine’s Day and my opening. These flowers arrived the same day as the dress rehearsal—the same day as the five-page letter detailing at length my greatest flaws and sins.
During that performance, I handed out his oddly-timed flowers onstage during the madness scene. I truly went mad from that special kind of hurt and rage only a twenty-two-year-old, overly-dramatic baby can produce. There was not a dry eye in the house when I was finished. For the rest of the run, I couldn’t live up to that night. My director would often note, “Do you remember the dress rehearsal? Do the madness scene like that.” I wanted to shout back, “Don’t you understand, that would kill me!”
It killed her, didn’t it? Ophelia. Loving too much. Having too much taken away from her. I still think of that song with its illusive tune that I dutifully plunked out on the piano before every show, because to a twenty-two-year-old, overly-dramatic baby, being off-key is the end of the world.
Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day.
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose and donned his clothes
And dupped the chamber door,
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
Ophelia is now thirty and, having been duped a couple of times, this maid definitely never departed more. Ironically the other day, while crying over my recent broken heart, I looked up to see Hamlet on the A train. Turns out, we now work quite close to each other. We actually had a nice catch-up conversation. Hamlet works with troubled teens, as well as a homeless shelter. And while I’m sure he still mispronounces Ducat, it seems he grew into good guy.
However, that didn’t prevent me from pretending to be asleep this morning to avoid talking to him on the train. Is being forced to ride the A train with Hamlet after all these years some sort of comic joke? If Ophelia hadn’t descended into her watery grave would she have been doomed to commute to a mind-numbing day job with the Melancholy Dane in the next seat? Pretending to be asleep, lest he of all people witness her current heartbroken tears?
Or does it speak to the cyclical and yet totally unpredictable nature of life? That things that were the end of the world at twenty-two now are laughable? That if Ophelia had made it to thirty, maybe she would have recognized the strength and power in her madness? As I progress on my journey to overcome lifelong weight and body issues, I wonder what will be laughable years from now to my forty-year-old self? Part of me feels Hamlet’s sudden subway appearance is to remind me that I am still the biggest, loudest Ophelia ever. That this duped maid isn’t going down without a fight. The other part of me is still leaning towards cosmic joke.
But then I think about the boy who sent me that five-page hate letter. How he now also lives in the city, and through a minor miracle we reunited and became good friends. How, in an even stranger twist of fate, his cousin just married my best girl friend. So now I will never get rid of him. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Who would have ever thought?
Ophelia’s tune often echoes through my mind, and there are times when I envy her watery grave. True, my life is nothing like I thought it would be during those long ago days spent daydreaming in the back of a touring van, but I am beginning to accept life doesn’t always turn out like you thought. And I am beginning to find my own madness.
I still can’t carry a tune. But why do mad girls need to sing on key anyway?
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