The footlights of the stage flickered, turning the space into a silent film screen. Sharing the stage with me was a Swedish actress. I raised a hand, showing it to be empty. I put my other hand on top of my palm, spun my hand a few times, lifted my hand away from my palm, to reveal an orange. I grabbed a knife from a nearby table, cut out a slice, and turned to the actress. She took a bite of the orange from my mind, her blue eyes sparkling in the lights. It was always a special moment when we performed this section of our melodrama piece, and I always look back on it with fond memories. Less than eighteen months later, the actress would be dead. Her name was Elin. We both attended Dell’arte International School of Physical Theatre in Blue Lake, CA (http://www.dellarte.com), and one day in October after we finished our year of studying together, I received an email from mutual classmates of ours from Sweden (Elin’s home country) with news of Elin’s passing.
I had never had a peer die before. I remember when I finished school, between being broke, in the middle of a divorce, and having a theatre gig starting immediately upon my return, I booked it out of the small town in northern California the day after our graduation ceremony. I did not say good bye personally to many people. I just left. I figured my classmates and I would talk again, perhaps work on projects in the future, come back for reunions, who knows? So when I heard the news, I was shocked, and felt a tremendous sense of guilt.
Pretty normal, really. But also, living back in North Dakota at that time, I felt so isolated. I was nowhere close to a classmate. The training at the school is particularly intense, and it can sometimes feel a bit strange trying to relate the experience to people who haven’t been there. But for alumni, no matter what year you attended, you can understand the journey the school puts you through. And I needed that connection desperately to no avail.
The school did have a memorial service, streamed online. This was a fantastic way to grieve from afar. Those of us who could not attend wrote down our memories and emailed them. A number of classmates managed to get to the school for the service, and I remember one of my best friends I made in my class, Brandon, reading my words at the podium set up. It was both wonderful to observe, and even more heartbreaking to not be physically present.
If I learned anything from the experience, it was to truly enjoy the moment. Enjoy people. You never know which moment will be your final moment with someone. We are fragile beings. We come and go into this world far too easily. Talk to each other. Be honest with each other. If I ask you, “how are you?”, please do not hide behind a wall of automated responses. If I ask, it is because I want to know.
Elin’s Facebook profile is gone, deleted. I can scour some mutual friends’ photo libraries for photos, but I’m mostly left with memories. That moment on the stage. The rehearsals as we struggled to create something meaningful, that we could be proud to perform along with our ensemble mate Camille. That moment I pulled an orange out of thin air, cut a slice, and watched her as she bit into it. I hope to never lose that memory. Wherever you are in the universe, Elin, thank you for giving me a wonderful moment.