Last night I went back to my high school to see their spring musical The Boyfriend, though in two years the turnaround has been such that most of the performers were strangers to me. In all my years there, I was only on the audience side of the equation once or twice. It was a strange feeling to be sitting there instead of in darkness behind the curtains. It almost made me want to get up and sneak back stage and put on a headset or grab a make-up brush and help out. It was also the night of the Cappies critique; the night where high school age critics from around the DC region come to assess the show for an awards program (like the high school Oscars). I was one of those once, a Cappies critic, so it was a little jarring for them to look so little and self-conscious to me.
After the show, I ran backstage (probably illegally) to see the assistant stage managers. The stage-left ASM, after an ecstatic greeting, pulled me over to his station and said “I gotta show you what Dennis has been leaving about.”
Now, who’s Dennis, you might wonder?
In eleventh grade I played Muzzy van Hossmere in Thoroughly Modern Millie. In the onstage girl’s dressing room (where we lived after tech day), the sink would turn on and off of its own accord. We had very little control over it, but everything in that department is on the fritz, so no one was especially surprised. For some reason, I was the one that seemed to be able to get the sink to work the best, and after a while I just started attributing it to a theatre ghost I made up named Dennis. Many theatres have ghosts, and so I made up one for us on the spot. I said we’d dated and split on good terms which is why I managed to keep him under control better than most.
It was one of those random things I found myself saying, a product of not enough sleep and too much musical theatre. It was good for a giggle, something we were in desperate need of, and nothing more. But tonight I found out from my little sister that everybody at school still thinks there is a theater ghost named Dennis, and he is now, not only a legend and known by many (including the middle school drama teachers who use him as a device to inspire obedience from their students during shows), but that it is no longer even connected to my name.
When my sister was talking about Dennis last night after the show, and I told her he had been my own concoction, she said, “YOU made up Dennis?!”’ It was one of the happiest moments of my whole life.
Hearing that this ridiculous product of my imagination has since taken on a life of its own (perhaps largely due to the fact that that theatre really is terrifying and its high time somebody gave a benign name to the chills you get when you’re alone backstage or at the top of the house) was one of those rare moments in life where I felt noticed. Somebody took something I made up and ran with it, and it has been proliferating now for three-and-a-half years. It’s not as though I spend all other moments of my life feeling like a poorly colored and unnecessary part of a crowded backdrop, but there are times when people do things or say things or pass things on that meant that you were important or that they anticipated you.
For instance, I spent all of my senior year planning and talking about the Philly cheese steak challenge, a tradition of my high school where you drive to school (as if you were going to attend—HA!) and then at the morning bell you drive up to Philadelphia to the place where Philly cheese steaks were invented, eat a cheese steak on site and then turn around and drive back to the school parking lot before the last bell rings.
Despite all of my planning and talking, my friends backed out and my last year at that school ended, and I didn’t get to do it. One week early that summer, my Dad told me to keep Friday open (who knows what that means) and Friday came and we drove to the school parking lot early (cue my confusion) and walked up to the front doors of the school with a poster board we had yet to read. I flipped the poster over and there scrawled in my Dad’s hand were the words “The Ultimate Philly Cheese Steak Challenge” I barely had enough time to take in the thoughtfulness of this gesture before we were running to the car and driving to Philadelphia and making unforgettable memories.
Another time, a boy I liked went off and got married (at my age and stage, I’m pretty sure he was just the first of many) but I had a bunch of pictures of him up in my room at home that I’d forgotten about, since I was tucked away in my redecorated freshman apartment. When I came home for Christmas, my brothers had taken his pictures down and replaced them with a bunch of photo-shopped pictures of me and my favorite oldey time celebrities.
It’s moments like those when you feel grateful to be alive and to have a life full of love; love for others and the love they have for you. Those simple events of being noticed by somebody when you didn’t ask or having them remember that memory you had hoped to make and then making it happen. Somebody that saw those pictures and knew they might make you cry and decided to make you laugh instead, somebody hearing your ridiculous ghost story and telling their friends and the underclassman and the teachers and the air. It’s those moments of being noticed that make you feel inspired to listen more closely to the people around you, because everyone has that heartache or disappointment or potential for unexpected joy. And you can be the one who notices; you can be the difference.