by Maile M. Walker
You never forget your first love.
I’m sure this simple sentence has conjured up memories for you. Images of boyfriends or girlfriends past who made your heart race in unexpected ways. My first love is a bit different. The mistress of my heart isn’t flesh and bone. She doesn’t speak traditional words, and never once reached for my sweaty hand. However her siren song still calls to me, and I’m sure that one day we’ll find each other again.
I don’t know the moment we fell in love. A desire to perform has been a part of my essence since early childhood. I took ballet classes, as most little girls do, and l found my five year old self conflicted. I loved the recitals, the stage, and the applause. But dancing? Flexibility? Athleticism? The mechanics of ballet overwhelmed, and eventually I stopped taking lessons. I preferred to dance by myself, spinning alone in my room while I told stories to my stuffed animals. I was a princess of rainbows, and only my twirling and singing could bring colors to the world.
I grew up in Southern California, less than an hour away from Hollywood. Dreams of movie stardom floated into my mind the moment that I was old enough to understand what they meant. I saw the kids of Full House and Who’s the Boss, and wondered why they were living the dream while my audience consisted solely of my toys. My mom enrolled me in acting classes. I learned the art of commercial acting, how to smile brightly and how to clearly say a catch phrase. I learned about acting for the camera, surrounded by other kids who wanted nothing more than to be cast on the next hit sitcom. Like ballet, these classes focused on mechanics. We didn’t learn how to act; we simply learned how to look good on camera.
Somewhere along the line, the classes changed. Commercial classes became musical productions. Smiling for the camera became Improv lessons. I learned how to pause for laughter, the difference between upstage and downstage, and how to work with a cast of talented and temperamental personalities. I learned about call times, sight lines, stage lighting and makeup. Like all arts, the mechanics were crucial. Theatre was more than performing for my dolls. There were real audience members who needed to hear my words. But now the mechanics fascinated me. They didn’t stress me out as they had with ballet, or annoy me as with commercial acting. They were part of the process, and made me feel confident in my performances.
Around me my peers fell in love with one another. They went on first dates, while I rushed to another rehearsal. I moved beyond the front of the stage, and found other ways to be involved. I helped write sketch comedy routines. I found another home in the tech booth, helping to run the show as a stage manager. I took opportunities to direct, to produce, and flirted with design.
At eighteen I went away to college as a theatre major. I followed the call of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and moved a state away from home. I watched in awe as upperclassmen performed, while I struggled with basic costume design and not getting the classes that I wanted. I found my first romantic love, a boy who took my attention away from theatre. I drifted away from my first love, lost my way and my life changed around me.
Time passed. I moved back to Southern California. I found theatre again. I performed with a murder mystery troupe, taking the opportunity to act, direct, produce, and stage manage. I made lifelong friends who performed alongside me. I joined an independent bare bones theatre company, taking part in productions that changed my viewpoints and personal history. I discovered and rediscovered myself time and time again.
Theatre has always been my first love.
Like all first loves, she wasn’t always kind to me. I would leave auditions hopeful, only to receive the call that they went in another direction. I’d watch performances broken hearted that someone else was playing my part. As I grew older, I noticed the politics behind the casting process, and realized that often I was losing out for reasons that had little to do with talent. I came to terms with my lack of singing ability, and I never discovered an affinity for dance. I’d write scripts and have my words butchered by actors who found their own ideas better, and stage managed shows where the cast never thought to say thank you.
I’ve walked away in shattered tears more times than I can count, only to return at the promise of another moment in the sun.
But the here’s the funny thing about your first love. Your first love often is not your true love. Sure, your first love holds a piece of your heart, and is forever connected to your personal history; but that doesn’t make them the one that you’re meant to be with. As I grew older, I discovered a new love. One that was stronger, deeper, and somehow even more personal.
The written word.
I love stories. I read them. Watch them. Perform them.
I live for telling stories.
When I remember high school, I think of the hours spent at rehearsals. I don’t think about the downtime spent scribbling fiction in my notebooks. I remember childhood colored by a desire to perform; not the recesses spent in the library. I loved performing for my stuffed animals and dolls, while the fact that I created original stories for them was taken for granted.
How many of us have held onto our first love at the expense of our true love? How often do we hold treasured memories close, while overlooking what was right in front of our face? Writing was second nature to me, something I did without realizing how it completed me. It didn’t have the rush of theatre; the bells and the whistles. It was a calmer love, a more mature love.
I imagine that I’ll return to my first love again. She and I always manage to find one another. What’s important is that I’m older and wiser, and understand that my true love will always be there for me. Whether I’m near the stage or far, I’ll always have a notebook and a pen, and words will always flow from my fingertips.
And one day, when theatre and I say goodbye for good, I’ll know that first loves aren’t always built to last, and that true loves are the ones who always stand by you.
The written word will always be the one keeping me warm at night. She is the one I offer my devotion to, my loyalty, and my heart.
Category: Memoir, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student