On a rainy morning in the spring, I sat at the breakfast table finishing up my bagel and reading Ben Brantley’s review of the revived Cabaret while the kiddo banged in his high chair. As Brantley discussed what it was like to see a groundbreaking production mounted, sixteen years later, I pondered what the intervening sixteen years had done for me. The first time around, I saw Cabaret the same weekend my college boyfriend unceremoniously dumped me for someone else. She turned out to be fantastic, he turned out to be not worth it, and the production turned out to be one of those all time classics.
All these years later, I ended up standing on the doorstep of our beloved rental house, seeing the baby off to childcare, while pondering Brantley’s analysis of the plot. He notes that we as the audience are like Cassandra, reveling in the debauchery, while knowing the horror into which Weimar Germany is about to descend. And now, I’m Cassandra to the twenty-year-old me in the audience, knowing her theatre career is not what will carry her through, but after all the reveling in New York City in her twenties, her future still looks bright.
Standing there in the drizzling rain, I realized how proud I was of the risks we took in our broke, theatre professional twenties. One could argue that those years are why we’re double-income professionals in our early thirties and still don’t own a house (though I would argue that analysis is flawed, as is this spiraling bubble of a housing market). But if that’s the case, I’m still proud of the choices we made, and how they got us through to here, possibly less financially established but emotionally intact.
By one interpretation, you could say that my decade in New York ended in failure. But after quitting the theatre industry forever, shredding the majority of my headshots, and packing our Penske truck to head west (jobless) for my boyfriend’s law school, I didn’t feel like I had failed. On that last morning, hopping out of the truck to run into the local bodega one more time, I felt exhilarated. We’d lived our lives to the max in New York City, and like a swarm of bees who feels it in the air, we somehow knew it was time to go.
These days, the memory of those years is important. In many ways they were harder beyond measure than our current day to day. The biting cold, the leaky boots, the stress over making rent, the crazy bosses and job insecurity—those outrank being up at night with a cranky baby. But in other ways, in our younger searching years, there was an ease in being true to ourselves. The jokes came easier, the late nights watching movies were unquestioned, and we were closer to our dreams, if farther from our realities. These days, we have responsibilities layered on top of that early foundation of self—raising a human, sick relatives, billable hours, the responsibility of providing for not just my own family but my staff’s families. It can be harder to remember to laugh, even as it’s easier to afford the reveling.
Without those years, I’d probably be an exceptionally proficient office worker instead of doing pretty damn well as a creative business owner. David would undoubtedly still be a lawyer, but one who was never quite sure what path his life could have taken and if he’d given it his all. But I also wouldn’t be the woman who always tries to leave a dollar for the barista, even if my coffee was only $2. Because I never would have been the girl watching the well-heeled customer leave the shop without so much as a glance at the tip jar, knowing that those quarters were what helped me buy groceries, and they meant nothing to that investment banker. I wouldn’t be the woman who shoves extra cash and gift cards at her childcare workers whenever possible. Because I never would have been the girl who wrote the checks for her bosses’ nanny knowing that the woman who’d raised her husband, and was now raising her son, could hardly make rent.
Standing on the doorstep now, a Cassandra to that girl fourteen years younger, I know some of what’s in store for her. None of it’s easy. But I’m so proud of each risk she took, each moment of rededicating herself to something she cared about in the face of all logic, each time she powered through with only $20 or $200 in the bank.
Because Sally Bowles is right, as she faces the abyss. From cradle to tomb isn’t that long a stay.