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I looked at my sink the way I looked at any other sink. It was a sink. Nothing in it. Nothing on it. Nothing to it. It had a plain, gold faucet with a clouded luster and an emerald marble table below. It looked like any other sink I’d seen in any other powder room or office building or hotel. My mother still hadn’t thrown out the stack of unused red Solo cups from the memorial.
“But what do you see in it? What’s its story?” My acting teacher kept prying. “What’s its meaning, its purpose? How does it feel?”
It’s a sink. Its story is that my mom picked out a bunch of stuff she liked in a home design magazine and some plumber installed it in my house. Its purpose is to spew out water when someone pulls its lever. I mean, who cares? Some things have absolutely no meaning or emotion, and a sink is one of them. Apparently Sandrine couldn’t cope with that. She had dragged me all the way from the sitting room to stare at something that doesn’t breathe so I could give it life.
I had to break her: “I’m sorry, Sandrine, but it’s a sink. I really don’t understand the point of this exercise.”
“I’m trying to get you to feel something. Evoke emotion.” Sandrine was moving her arms in a hippy-dippy, under-the-sea way that I can’t even begin to explain. “Touch the sink. Feel its crevices. Relate it to yourself.”
“How can I relate this thing to myself?”
“But I have nothing to work with.”
“There are no limits to what the connection can be.”
“I’m a human. I have a life. It’s a sink. It doesn’t.” I thought I made the distinction.
“But imagine it does. If you can open your mind, you can open your body and your soul.”
Sandrine was starting to wear on me. It’s acting. You don’t have to feel anything. You go on a stage and pretend you feel something as you say the lines. At the end of the day, it’s a performance. It’s fake, and anyone who truly buys into it is a fool. I used to believe what Sandrine shoved down my throat – that I loved “feeding a story to the hungry crowd”– but now I know that’s all a bunch of fabricated nonsense. All I ever really liked was perching myself on a pedestal in front of an audience.
“Okay. Let me help you find a connection.” She took a beat to think. “Its faucet is gold and we are digging for gold inside of you.”
“There’s no gold inside of me. Just blood.”
“But in your heart, Morgan.”
“Why are we doing this?” At this point, I was completely befuddled.
“Because you’re reading a monologue from the perspective of a girl whose little sister killed herself, and your face is completely expressionless. Your lines are mechanical, and you look bored.”
“Okay, but can’t I just pretend to cry or act sad without thinking about something that actually happened to me?”
“No. Besides, I think it would be therapeutic for you to think about the incident. Maybe that will help to unleash your true self.”
“How will thinking about things that depress me unleash my true self, Sandrine?” I was fed up with her.
“You and your character are going through the exact same thing, so this piece should cause you to emote quite easily.” Sandrine enunciated each syllable to the point where I felt each obnoxious word hit my throat like a hot, tiny pellet.
“What are you talking about? My sister’s not dead,” I retorted, gesturing to the photo of my sister and my dad on the counter.
Sandrine just stared at it, not knowing whether to make a reference to my father or get back to acting. Luckily, she went with the latter.
“The audience won’t believe you unless you’re actually feeling it.”
“But I’m not feeling it! I can’t actually feel it. There are other ways to give a good performance that don’t involve turning into an emotional wreck in front of everyone! They’re not supposed to think I’m a mess or that the actor is actually in pain because it isn’t real!” I exclaimed.
Maybe I got a little too carried away. Maybe I didn’t exclaim; maybe I shouted. And maybe I was getting way too invested in this argument for a reason that I couldn’t articulate. Maybe I thought acting was bullsh*t, and I wanted to quit.
“Morgan, we act because we want to feel in order to make others feel. If you truly don’t feel or don’t want to feel then why do you want to act?”
I liked to act because I liked to be on stage. I never had to feel anything; I just had to convince the blobs in the crowd that they were feeling something. The only thing I liked to feel was the audience looking at me. The people in the first row were close enough to reach out and touch me, but they couldn’t. Not only because I was elevated, but also because they were hypnotized by my world yet stuck in their own. My eyes shone like a million daggers when I was in the spotlight, and they pierced through the limp bodies below me, but I didn’t feel a thing. They held the seats – I held the knives. I was playing pretend. That was the point.
But I didn’t say any of that.
“I don’t,” I replied with a completely straight face.
I just wanted it to end. I wanted to go back to doing my own thing. I wanted to use the sink to wash my hands and leave. I wanted to get a new acting coach who wouldn’t ask me about the emotional journey of an inanimate object.
“What?” She was shocked.
“I don’t,” I stood firm.
“You can’t quit, Morgan. I see potential in you, if you would only let it out for the world to see.” She looked off into the distance like she was at the climax of one of those movies where a talented kid almost gives up on her dream.
Sandrine was one of those actresses who needed to learn how to talk like a human and not like a magnet on your refrigerator. She was always digging for a pretentious cliché or a turning point type of line that would bring out some broader emotional truth and solve everything or bring back the dead. She was so dramatic that I could never tell if she was acting life or reacting to life. And her name was Sandrine. I guess that’s why she was an actress.
“Morgan, you’re closing yourself off.” She was still trying to lead me to some type of revelation.
I wasn’t answering her, which was kind of awkward, but I guess it made for a good movie. I knew I should probably talk though. I needed to roll the credits.
“Listen,” she ventured, “I know it’s been tough since-”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I cut her off.
“Morgan, you’re a very talented actress, and you would be even better if you let yourself be vulnerable on stage.”
Be vulnerable on stage? On stage you’re invincible, and absolutely nothing should change
that. To be an actor, you don’t
have to be a weakling. Why did
she want me to disintegrate into some fragile child from an
Arthur Miller play?
“Thanks Sandrine, but I think we should stop. I’m not feeling great.” This was getting weird and, if I was quick enough, I could make it upstairs in time for today’s last rerun of “Shark Tank.”
“I get that things are especially hard for you right now.”
“Clearly you don’t get it because you won’t listen to me when I tell you that I need to call it a day.”
She started to condescendingly massage my shoulders. “Look, maybe if you channeled what happened with your father into-”
“I don’t want to talk about it! You can leave now.” I felt the pang of her thumbs reverberate in my neck as I pulled away.
She was my acting coach – why did reality have to come up?
I stormed out of the powder room, slammed the door in her face, and locked myself in my room until she left. It was rude, but there is no point in discussing my problems with her, or you, because it’s my life. It’s a secret. You’re the audience. She’s an actor. All you need to know is what I show you, and that’s completely fine.
I heard the bang of the front door and ran to the window, watching until her baby blue Mini Cooper disappeared onto the street.
I think my mom was at some suicide awareness concert event and my sister probably went with her because she needed an excuse to wear her new flashy pumps, so I had the house all to myself. My legs felt like frayed strings and my feet like dented slabs of wood; I hobbled to the kitchen and plopped down on the nearest barstool.
I looked at the white flowers lined up on the kitchen counter. We should have put them in the basement to begin with, because they were useless out here and they would start rotting tomorrow anyhow.
The ones from Sandrine were the biggest, of course. They were way over the top, inappropriate. My mother loves that kind of thing. I don’t think sending a card the size of a cookbook and waxing poetic about how “free-falling into the atmosphere is the most peaceful and sublime form of death out there” is helpful to anyone. And no, saying “ah, what a release” does not make me see things from my father’s “newly refreshed perspective.” But according to Sandrine, that was supposed to be comforting. Just like my monologue was supposed to be some sort of catharsis. But I told her that my sister was still alive and she never blew her brains out after all, so her theory was stupid. That woman had some nerve.
I was tired of looking at the flowers from all the people who wanted to throw some type of pity party on our behalf. I didn’t want a party, and I didn’t want to be on stage anymore after my tiff with Sandrine. All I wanted was to eat. I worked up the strength to walk toward the sink again. I looked at it with a newfound sense of disdain, even though it looked like it always did. Before I got started on my microwave lasagna, I turned on the gold faucet and put my hands under the water. I despised its transparency.
The water came on way too hot.
“Ow!” I jerked my hands out of the way.
I was so jarred that I yelped. Almost cried. That would’ve been something.
The last time this happened, I was a little kid, and my father accidentally turned the water on boiling hot as I was about to wash my hands. I wailed because I was used to minimal discomfort at the time. He probably had a lot on his mind, but I was a little brat and I was hurt and I was mad. I started on one of my hissy fits, but my father scooped me up and held me until I stopped.
He had been completely steady throughout the thunder, just as he always was. He was so even-keeled, and I loved that about him most. That’s what I missed. But maybe that neutrality was hiding something inside that wanted to wail like me.
You see, Sandrine waltzed around, trying to tell me that I had to open up the door to my deepest depths and gather the courage to scream, but screaming was easy. What took real acting chops was to contain it all. Just like my father did before he succumbed to gravity and plummeted to the center of traffic.