When things got really bad, Nathan used to bring me a cocoa, and we'd sit by the fire, wrapped together in a blanket.
It wasn't always cocoa--he used to bring me an Irish coffee or maybe a glass of wine. Eventually we both realized that it was becoming more Irish than coffee or it was a bottle of wine instead of a glass, and by slow mutual consent he stopped bringing it, and I stopped needing it. I never stopped wanting it, but as long as I was wrapped in his arms and could feel the strength of his chest against my back, the need was never quite as strong as I remember it.
I still sit by the fire. I still drink cocoa, and I still wrap myself in the blanket and watch the flames flick their orange and red tongues against the charred brick. But without the feel of his heart against my back, I'm starting to feel the need. And it scares me. A little bit.
Back in the beginning we met. We were both in the University Theatre Department. I was there to perfect my craft and emerge the next Dame Judi. He was there to revolutionize technical design and theatre management. We both fell a bit short of our dreams, but we always joked that we weren't dead yet--so who knows what could still happen?
That became our catch phrase. When I'd fuck up an audition and convince myself my career was over, he'd tell me, "Lucy! It's not over. Stop playing dead!"
That was back when I was Lucy. I hated the name, but when I was just starting out it seemed to fit. I was the wide-eyed innocent, blonde-blue-thin-pale-fragile, and it played well. I could play "Our Town" without breathing hard. I was brilliant as the ingenue.
Nathan and I got married the day after graduation, and we moved into a tiny apartment --a third floor, non-air- conditioned walk-up that cost us more than our University tuition, books, and housing combined. But we loved it. We were there to fulfill our dreams.
We were young, ambitious, and in love with the idea of struggling for our goals. The starving artists--noble and admirable. Nights we weren't working we spent up the roof, under the stars. We'd drag a cheap folding lawn chair to the roof and lie together, side by side. The apartments in the building all had fire-escape balconies, and we were the youngest tenants by 30 years or so. Most of our neighbors spent their evenings sitting outside their own windows. We had the roof to ourselves.
We took advantage of the roof-top breeze and the isolation, and we discovered wonderful ways of making each other come using our fingers, our lips, our hands, our tongues. He'd press his mouth against my pussy and tease, nibbling with his lips, flicking my clit with his tongue, until I'd forget the heat and bury my hands in his hair and tug him up, over me, desperate to feel him inside. He knelt between my legs and held his upper body over me. He watched me as we fucked. Our eyes locked together, and he always held off his own climax until I had mine. My hand worked between us, hard on my clit. No matter how slow or comfortable or lazy it started, I couldn't come without the rough friction of a finger or his tongue. And always, as I clenched around his cock, he'd thrust three or four more times, hard. Deep into my pussy, intense thrusts. And we'd finish together. Sweaty and slick, sliding against each other as the lawn chair creaked and groaned under our combined weight.
Being married was easy, but living in the city was hard. I waited tables and rode my bike as a messenger to keep my legs slim and my waist fat-free. I got an agent and a portfolio. I went to auditions and did staged readings for the exposure. Nathan got on with the union and started in gofer jobs in the off-Broadway theatre houses.
Then I started really getting roles--stage roles and small film roles. Commercials that highlighted my innocence and sweetness. Off-brand shampoo and dish soap. Paper towels and toothpaste. Fast food. All-American Girl stuff. There are hundreds of actresses at my level. I was the middle-management of actresses.
One day my agent had the paperwork for my Screen and Stage Actors' Guild card, and she told me I had to pretty much decide who I wanted to be for the rest of my life. Fuck. The rest of my life. No pressure.
She said that I was going to have to lose 'Lucy.' Too many associations. "You're not a comedienne. You're not funny. Don't let it go there."
I was in the middle of an off-off-Broadway production of Othello, and I was drawing packed houses and getting rave reviews. Nathan suggested 'Desdemona.' "It's a new life for you, Lu. Desdemona was beautiful. She's the ideal of womanhood."
My agent thought (and I privately agreed) that it was too dramatic. We settled on 'Lydia," although now I can't remember why or where it came from, but it had a nice ring to it. Nathan still called me Des when we were alone.
My parents still called me Lucy.
My parents never wanted me to act, and I know that they secretly assumed it was a phase. Something I'd get out of my system and grow past. Do something sensible. Move back home. I'd send them clippings, reviews from the trades and the New York Times theatre section. They'd send me clippings from the local newspaper back home. Every week there was a 'phone call, and every week there was something new.
"The high school is looking for a drama coach, Lucy," Mom would tell me. "You'd have to teach a couple of English classes, of course, but you'd get to teach a drama class and run the drama club. Doesn't that sound perfect?"
Next week, "Lucy? You remember Martha Preston, don't you? The community theatre director? She's hurt her back, and the theatre company is looking for someone to take her place. You'd be perfect for it, darling. It doesn't pay much, but you'd be back at home, so you wouldn't need much. It would be enough to hold you over until you found a real job."
I was 25, and I had three names. Fuck. No wonder I started drinking.
That's not completely fair. I started drinking long before I had three names. You can't spend time around actors and not drink. It's part of the scenery. It's one of your props. A bottle of champagne on opening night, frozen cocktails at cast parties after the show closes, beer in the dressing room after rehearsals, wine during casting meetings. It was inevitable.
There are two groups of theatre people who don't drink: children and the "recovering" ones. The children were ignored, and the recovering ones were revered. Not admired, really, but looked on as oddities. Respected, but not really a 'part' of things.
Actors are unbelievably selfish creatures. They're shallow and petty and jealous and vindictive and phony. They love you as long as you're not upstaging them, but the minute you look better or have more lines or more camera time, they start looking for ways to cut your ankles out from under you. The booze was pretty much the only thing that held most casts together. The booze and the back-stage, backstory affairs.
God, the affairs. The tabloids hint at the torrid and steamy sex that happens during movie shoots or theatre runs, and most readers seem to accept that the tabloids exaggerate. They don't. If anything they miss half of what's really happening.
You can't work in close quarters with 16 other actors and not have sexual tension. And since most actors are shallow, ego- maniacal beings, they jump at any chance to prove their sexuality, their attractiveness. The cliché of the casting couch is wrong only in that it doesn't stop at casting.
Anyone who could possibly have any positive influence on your career is fuckable. You want to show up the other actresses on stage? Give the costume designer a quick, sloppy blowjob during a fitting. Let him come in your mouth, and you're guaranteed to look 10 pounds lighter and a thousand dollars better than your female co-star. Worried that the late nights are starting to show as dark circles under your baby-blues? Stroke the head make-up artist through the fabric of his Levi's, and you're guaranteed to glow under the harsh stage lights.
I know I said that being married was easy. Being married WAS easy. Being married and faithful was hard. Too fucking hard. I had three 'affairs' during my marriage. They were all work-related; they were all over once the production closed. It was expected. I didn't particularly like it, but they were baggage-free and they didn't reflect on my relationship with Nathan at all. I know he must have had his affairs as well. I would expect nothing less. He spent his days surrounded by beautiful people looking for self-worth through the admiration of others. They offered their bodies, he'd have been a fool not to accept. But we never talked about it.
So we fucked and we drank.
That was fine, as long as it all stayed professional. But actors are also obsessive. They have so little personality of their own they become brilliant at 'borrowing' the personality of others. That's why the good actors are so convincing. They don't have any of their own "selves" to get in the way of the character.
When the show is over it's hard not having a personality to fall back on. For me, that's when the booze became personal as well as professional.
Nathan had become a success faster than I had. Within a couple of years of coming to the city, he had proven himself to be the backstage Superman that he knew he could be. He worked hideous hours -- longer than mine. Stage managers have to organize everyone, from actors to lighting to the clean up crew. He was made of energy and never seemed to take a breath that wasn't directed towards furthering his career. Soon he was the sought-after one. It was, "call Nathan if you're anticipating production problems."
I had climbed nicely to the top of my fighting class, and I was at the upper range of my Golden Age. I could play anything from an innocent 17 (admittedly with some extra help from makeup) to a sexy 20-something, a sultry early-30s and (with extra help from makeup) a convincing matron/mother/unmarried older aunt. I had range. And I was hot. No longer was I stuck in off-off-Broadway. I had a Name. Casting directors called my agent first. I got to "review" scripts. I wasn't a top headliner, but I could play the supporting lead, and I was damn good at it.
And I was struggling with every fiber of my being to hold on to it. I was about to turn 29. A death and dying, make-or- break age for actresses. I had made the transition from Ophelia to Lady MacBeth, from Desdemona to Queen Elizabeth. And I didn't know if I could keep it up. This was a trial production for me. I was playing Hedda Gabbler in an Ibsen revival. It was huge. It was all over the trade papers. The director was taking a massive risk casting me. And I was terrified.
Rehearsals were not going well, and someone had leaked that little tidbit to Variety. It wasn't a large paragraph, as publicity goes, but don't believe what you hear. There is such a thing as bad publicity, at least for an actress in her mid-twenties (fine, late twenties) who is struggling with her "identity." I wasn't getting along with the crew, and I know who leaked it. My understudy was slavering for a chance to play opening night--which was two weeks away--and she'd been purring up against the director any chance she could get. So when the bit appeared in the Friday morning trade paper, a little "we hear that Lydia is having difficulty melding with the supporting cast." I knew where it had come from.
Fucking petty little bitch.
So, when 'someone' left the article at my dressing room door, I did what any good actress does. I screamed at the prop master, locked the door to my dressing room, and opened the bottle of wine that was, as always, chilling in the mini-fridge.
Nathan had moved from off the program to the first listed name under "Production Management." He was running things wherever he went, so, when I threw my temper tantrum, he was one of the first to know --even though he was working in a different theatre on a production of 'Cats'. It must have taken all of 96 seconds for the gossip lines to start ringing, because he knocked on my door about eight minutes after my tantrum started, and about half way through the wine.
"Des? Let me in. We can make this go away." That's my Nathan. Always the calm one.
There was some discussion on the other side of the door. I recognized the stage manager's voice. He must have been giving Nathan a key to my door, because when I turned to answer, he was standing there.
"There's nothing to fix, Nate. She's a bitch. She wants this role so bad? She can have it. She'll fall flat on her face, and they'll be begging me to come back." I must have been drinking faster than I realized. The bottle was empty and I reached for another. "She knows it, you know it, and that piece of shit director out there knows it as well."
"Enough, Des. Let's go home. This will all have blown over by Monday. Wait and see."
Nate always knew what was right. I went home, and we hid out for the weekend. We stayed by the fire and Nathan held me. He stroked my body and he stroked my ego. He convinced me that I was still young and beautiful and talented and desirable. I cried as we made love. But it helped. I forgot my understudy as Nate's fingers twisted and pulled at my nipples. I clawed at his back as he thrust between my spread legs. I dug into his biceps, leaving deep fingerprint bruises on his skin, and I wrapped my legs around his hips holding him tightly against my body, trying desperately to mold our bodies together,
And when it was over, he brought me cocoa, with a shot of whiskey, 'to help me sleep.' And it did.