Several years ago, my best friend and I went to see a show at a downtown theatre. I don’t remember what show and I don’t remember why we went, but I know that some details of that evening are burned in my memory with perfect accuracy – sounds, physical sensations and rainbow colors included.
We took our seats in the audience and sat quietly chatting as others filed in. I was happy to be on the aisle. The risers sounded hollow and a little dirty as shoes moved across them. The chairs squeaked and seemed to protest as they were filled.
When the lights finally dimmed I was immobilized by that fleeting terror that strikes when I can’t see. Once I knew that my eyes were fine, I got the giggles. I couldn’t stop smiling and my muted snickers seemed offensive and clumsy in the dark. I couldn’t even turn to my friend because the fingers I waved to confirm my presence were invisible to us both. I could hear her breathing, or was that the woman next to her? I felt as big and obvious as an elephant sitting in that pitch black nothingness.
Across the aisle and three rows behind me there was an older gentleman. I’d seen him come in, but I knew the wholeness of him without the visual. He was coughing a little, trying to clear his throat…maybe a little bit sick or allergic to the dust. He was fidgety too. I could hear him. He shifted in his seat, his clothes and his skin in that way that some people do, people whom you don’t forget. He made me nervous and that was before it happened.
I was shifty too. I couldn’t wait for the show to start, but I also loathed the light it would shed on my existence. In that short time I had grown dependent on the dark. I knew the stage lights would reveal my elephant self and I dreaded it. But the show didn’t start, at least not as soon as it should have. Maybe there was something amiss backstage. We were plunged into that darkness and there we stayed.
The old man was struggling. He moved, he coughed, he sneezed. Then he REALLY sneezed. And in the moment immediately after that sneeze, I felt a THUD. Thank God for the turtleneck. I had decided at the last moment to wear it under my blouse, in case the theatre was chilly or in case I was pelted in the neck by a high speed old man booger. Now I was just me again, with an elephant on my neck. That’s when the stage lights went up. I was thrust into blinding embarrassment.
I knew the neck elephant was visible to the row behind me. How could it not be? It was huge. HUGE. All the self-conscious musings in the dark paled in comparison to the flop sweating realities of that lighted theatre. I leaned over and tried to whisper to my friend. She looked confused. I knew she couldn’t hear me. So I sat there with a Texas sized booger on my neck for almost an hour. I couldn’t enjoy the show. I couldn’t leave the room. I certainly couldn’t touch my neck. I had no tissues. I had nothing but the elephant.
When intermission came I grabbed my friend’s hand and tore out of the seat. I dragged her toward the restroom and explained excitedly that I had been violated by a booger and needed her to GET IT OFF ME. (Privilege of a lifelong friendship: booger removal, no questions asked.) It took her a minute to understand my frenzy and then her eyes slowly panned over my shirt and up to the area I identified. She searched cautiously, careful not to touch anything and then she saw it. Do you know how large your eyes have to be to fully reflect an elephant? The look of disgust I saw in her face made me want to cry, but she faded to horrified amusement and that’s all that saved me.
My amazing friend took an old man elephant boogie off my neck in public. I love her. And I love that one of the grossest things that has ever happened to me is tempered by the memory of her presence.