"The Patron Saint of Liars and Fakes"
- A lesson in the kind of woman you never want to be -
I was pulling into a parking space for another day of work when I got a call from my mother informing me my cousin died. The last time someone in our family had passed away was when I was young enough to find all the comfort and solace I needed in a single Happy Meal. Suffice it to say, it would take a lot more than Ronald McDonald’s shoulder to cry on now that I was an adult.
The news was not taken well. Inexperienced when it came to death, let alone an unexpected one, I quickly found myself deep in the throes of depression trying to wrap my head around what had happened and make sense of how it fit in with everything I’d been taught to believe with regard to hope, faith, and religion. At work, I walked around like a zombie with headphones on, blaring “My Immortal” and other equally uplifting songs. I didn’t speak unless I had to say my lines, or if I felt the need to offer bleak commentary on people’s glass half full perspectives. It wasn’t that I wanted everyone to be miserable with me; in fact, just the opposite - I didn’t want them to be caught off guard the way I had. I had no idea how to harness all my emotions, let alone in a professional setting, especially since my profession centers around invoking emotion - often in less than two takes.
People at work knew what I was going through though, and they did their best to comfort and console me any way they could. Well, most of them.
It was 5:45am when I walked on set and into where my make-up artist, Zelda greeted me with a warm smile, excited to see I was finally wearing one of my own again. Since my cousin’s passing, it was the first time I’d been able to muster so much as a smirk, and I was finally starting to see the light. Just, not the same light my cousin had.
After I’d climbed up on Zelda’s dentist-like chair, she spun me towards the mirror and began covering my dark circles and post pubescent acne. We starting discussing our weekends, and not long after she’d told me about the newest addition to her farm, another actress entered the room. The Diva, as I’ll refer to her, was notoriously temperamental and moody, so when it came to exchanging hellos, most of us waited for her to engage. And on this particular morning, The Diva breezed right past us in silence, taking a seat at the far end of the room in another dental chair. The message was clear.
"Jekyll and Hyde,” Zelda sing song-ed while leaning in to me with the foundation sponge. She knew the angles of the room and how to avoid the mirrors so no one other than her intended audience saw her facial expressions or heard her one line commentary, which was impressively inaudible to anymore more than four inches from her face.
Precedent set, Zelda and I followed protocol pretending The Diva was invisible, and we carried on with our conversation until we were abruptly interrupted.
“Zelda, where’s Larry?” The Diva asked, exasperated after having waited a mere sixty-seconds for him to show. God forbid he’d run to the bathroom after his first sip of coffee that morning, or if he’s anything like me, his first scent of it.
“Oh,” Zelda said in her soothing voice turning toward her and glancing at the clock just above The Diva’s head. She was calm, patient, and pleasant, as if she were explaining to a child with an impending meltdown why she couldn’t have a cookie before breakfast, “He called about ten minutes ago to say he was running ten minutes late. He should be here any minute.”
Zelda turned back to me, contorted her face into another annoyed expression, then resumed our conversation where it had been cut off. At one point, something extremely funny was said, and we both exploded into laughter. For the life of me, I wish I could remember what it was, but as the saying goes, I only remember how I was made to feel.
“My God, are you ever quiet?” The Diva asked popping up from her chair in a fit of rage. “It’s like you never stop talking! It’s 6 am! No one wants to hear your voice this early in the morning! Zelda, call me when Larry gets here. I can’t handle all the obnoxious noise.”
“Okay…” Zelda muttered, after The Diva had disappeared. She was not agreeing to The Diva’s demand; rather commenting on the forever inexplicable outbursts. I, on the other hand, wasn’t able to handle The Diva’s tantrum as passively.
I’d felt guilty walking around as Debbie Downer for so long; I suppose it’s possible I was overly chipper when I walked in to the make-up department that morning. Still, I couldn’t help but recall all the times over the last month when I’d come in wanting nothing more than silence and sensitivity with respect to where I was emotionally.
As I mentioned, what I had recently gone through was no secret to anyone on set - including The Diva. Everyone knew the details surrounding my cousin’s death: how young he’d been at twenty-seven, how he’d been a twin brother, how he’d lost control of his car going around a dark corner, dying instantly on impact after wrapping his car around a tree, and how death itself was new territory for me. Nearly everyone had been incredibly respectful and sympathetic. Everyone except... The Diva.
She’d come to set annoyingly upbeat, almost as if she were going out of her way to rub her “happiness” in my frowning little face. I did my best not to take it personally though; rather, chalking it up to whatever behavioral disorder I suspect she has. Plus, I knew it was unrealistic to expect people to alter their conduct based on where I sat in life. I had no right to ask her, or anyone, to be anything other than what they were on my account. Nevertheless, it seemed as though The Diva believed the opposite, as long as it was convenient for her, and she expected all of us to make her beliefs our collective reality.
Fueled by confusion, hypocrisy, and the pain from an exposed nerve, I lifted the metaphorical tape off my mouth and, in a higher than normal volume said, “But, when she’s the upbeat, chipper one we all just have to deal with it?”
Zelda gave me another one of her looks as Larry entered the room. A short, gay man of about forty, Larry was known for a beautiful head of a hair and his penchant for drama and gossip. He had the mentality of an eighteen year old girl, which made him the perfect candidate to be The Diva’s minion - sorry, bestie. There was nothing he didn’t tell her and I knew this would be no exception, but I didn’t care.
“It’s ridiculous. I’m not gonna walk around on eggshells for her benefit. If we all have to deal with her moods, she can deal with ours, too,” I declared. As if on cue, Larry scurried out of the room to relay the information to The Diva.
They both returned moments later, The Diva, beelining for me, and Larry, crossing behind her in the opposite direction toward his chair. He tossed his hair to the side in a weak attempt to disguise the fact he was really looking me up and down, with his chin raised, eyebrows high, and lips pursed, as if to say, “You’re in trouble now!” In retrospect, the image was really juvenile, ridiculous, and quite comical, but back then I hadn’t yet seen Tootsie or SoapDish, so the humor was lost on me.
“Is there something you’d like to say to me?” The Diva asked, seemingly pleased she’d “caught” me. She crossed her arms in front of her, tilted her head to the side, and with a furrowed brow, watched my every move, anxiously awaiting what she assumed would be stuttering speech. It isn’t lost on me that her disposition was merely an intimidation tactic meant to dissuade me from confronting her. But, it was lost on me then.
I hardly noticed anything other than my eagerness to talk calmly and from the heart about the effects her actions had on others. I was still feeling vulnerable after the Grim Reaper’s rape and felt unfairly and arbitrarily attacked. As any other adult would, I assumed communication was the most rational and effective way to handle this kind of matter. Therefore, grateful for the opportunity, I proceeded in an articulate way I felt was most appropriate and mature, and of which my mother would be most proud.
“Actually, yes,” I confirmed, matching her confidence. Her eyebrows raised, expressing a disbelief that I’d actually had the audacity to talk back to her. “I just don’t think it’s fair for you to ask us to alter our behaviors to accommodate whatever mood you’re in when you never do it for us.”
I gave her a moment to respond, but she was rendered speechless. Thinking perhaps I’d succeeded in appealing to her softer side, a side that most outside of myself, doubted existed, I continued. “I mean, this is the first time in four weeks I’ve come to work in a positive mood since my cousin died and-”
“Oh, get over it!” she spat at me. “We all have people who die.”
The moment hung in the air as if suspended in time. Get over it? I was astonished someone could say something so cruel, cold, and heartless. The Diva’s face stared back at me without any flash of self awareness or regret I’d hoped might register with her, but it never did.
I wish I could say I scoffed in disgust before turning my back and walking away, unaffected and with dignity, but I can’t. I simply turned on a heel and retreated, crying like a child because in essence, I still was. And so had been my cousin.
Every now and then, you might run into people who exemplify the kind of woman you never want to be. Take them for what they’re worth, and trust their own self-inflicted misery is all the justice you need. Walk with your head held high knowing that sometimes, even as a young girl, you can be a more mature woman than a girl twice your age.