h2>Dating : Ellen
by Tommy Paley
Ellen loved acting; she always had.
The stage — she told everyone — called to her, though, thankfully from the perspective of her mental health, not literally.
She was always acting. In winter, in summer, in spring, in fall. She never stopped; not even when kindly asked to “go home already” or “take a break, it’s exhausting for the rest of us”.
Ellen acted on weekdays, on weekends and on those days which felt suspiciously like a weekend aside from the multiple, escalatingly angry voice messages from her boss at the restaurant wondering if she’d “finally lost it” with as little empathy as possible.
She hadn’t lost it, but was trying. She dreamed that all the world was, in fact, a stage and that the worries and concerns and credit card bills of her actual life could melt away and that all she had to do was learn her lines, don her costumes and wow the audiences.
And wow them she would.
Some would say she was born to act and to those people she’d say “are you my mother?” all the while knowing that, aside from one particular woman with a permanently creased brow, they weren’t.
Her parents, despite their love of and excellence in eye-rolling, had always been supportive of her desire to “act on Broadway or, if not Broadway, literally anywhere else”. Her dad was always going on and on about letting her inner bird fly — he literally wouldn’t shut up about it — something she found both inspirational, downright confusing and, later in life, cause to verify her lineage.
Despite her parents initially wanting her to become a doctor or an accountant or one of those doctor-by-day, accountant-by-night heroes in the movies they loved watching, they eventually gave in. Their little girl was destined to be on the stage or, if the stage was occupied at the time, in the area directly next to the stage as she waited for the stage to be free. They just knew that their Ellen would one day have her name in lights, even if she had to purchase, rent or borrow both the letters and the lights to make it happen.
She was signed up for summer camps and spring camps and every audition their local community theater advertised until she was informed “You do realize we are a dentist office and the theater is across the street?” When other kids were off to tennis lessons and math tutors and, in the case of her worrisome neighborhood friend Dennis, taxidermy class, Ellen was solely focused on acting.
She spent her free time searching for, and then devouring, books on the topic — not literally, of course, though the librarian did question her as to why many of the books she returned looked as if they’d been lightly gnawed. After saving up, she enrolled in method classes where she excelled in living the life of her characters outside of class to the point where the abnormal psych researchers at the local university showed great interest in her work.
Her friends sometimes complained “you’re being obsessive and not in the cute, obsessive ways of your youth” and “stop trying to vacuum me, I’m not a throw rug despite what you think of my sweater”. They tried to get her to drop everything for a girl’s night out and “to stop dramatically staring off into the distance each time we ask you a question unless we ask you to mentally calculate the distance to that tree in the backyard”. She loved her friends and knew they meant well, though she sometimes wondered who the tall one with the glasses and quite-clearly-fake European accent was.
All Ellen wanted was a steady job — maybe a small, but meaningful part in a play or a recurring character in a TV show or even the star of a blockbuster movie, she wasn’t picky. Sure, in her fantasies, she was rich and constantly being fed grapes by scantily-clad male models even when she pleaded with them for some variety — like a peach or some cut-up melon or even some whiskey to take the edge off. She also imagined herself being whisked off to huge and lavish parties that she’d only read about online before the librarian reminded her to “stop drooling on the keyboard”. In this dream world, she’d occasionally take a break from the grape feeding and party whisking to remember where she’d come from mostly because her therapist recommended that she “stay grounded and could you please stop laying on the ground during our sessions”.
On quiet Sunday mornings, she’d sit at home, soaking her feet in the basin her grandmother gave her as she lay on her deathbed — could she be more random? — and planning the next steps, followed by the steps after that and so on. At some point it just became really hard to keep track of or plan too many steps in the future, but she tried nonetheless. She’d tell her sisters that it was the least she could do — to plan her future — while they countered that the least she could do was nothing — but their words fell on heavily-cottonballed-ears which was very similar, in practical purposes, to deaf ones.
Her sisters had left home and married men with broad shoulders, degrees in macro-economics and haircuts you could set your watch to, but only after considerable practice. They had attended the finest schools and wore designer clothes and put cucumber slices both on their eyes and in their salads, though not in that order. Though they claimed to “love her and have her best interests at heart which is harder than it seems in this harrowing world in which we live” she had her doubts. It felt like lip-service which, according to her horoscope, was only the seventh-best type of service one could receive.
She also longed for a Romeo to her Juliet, a Clyde to her Bonnie, a talking male alligator to her talking female alligator. How great it would be to be swept off her feet — not literally like that chimney sweep she dated in college was always doing — by a chivalrous, witty man who loved her, acting, and graphic t-shirts with nonsensical messages printed on them. Ideally he’d be tall, but not so tall that she was constantly straining her neck and observant, but not so observant that it felt like he was mocking her relative lack of observation skills.
They’d spend their mornings eating breakfast cereal and drinking coffee and whispering barely-audible love messages or directions to the new shopping mall into each other’s ears. They’d spend their afternoons running lines and writing scripts and joking about off-color stage directions. They’d spend their evenings measuring perimeters and areas of random shapes and cooking huge pots of beef stew. After another long day pursuing their acting dreams and exponentially increasing their love for each other, they’d undress — as quickly as one could on a budget — and hit the sack — they planned to keep multiple potato sacks stuffed with insulation on hand to help them with any pent-up frustrations — before going to bed.
But, she couldn’t spend too much time dreaming of future love and happiness and success — she couldn’t put food on the table by dreaming because, if she could, she’d be eating way too much mediocre Chinese food. No, she had to stay focused on her goals and put in a lot of hard work. Ellen was known as a relentless hard-worker who, according to her grade 3 teacher “was honestly freaking everyone out a little bit.” Not afraid to get her hands dirty and, if necessary, grubby to get the job done, the word ‘failure’ wasn’t even in her vocabulary which, her grade 3 teacher once told her parents was “as impressive as it is randomly selective almost like she is only paying attention every third day”.
Ellen loved acting. The chance to play another person. The opportunity to be someone quite different from herself. The perfect excuse to rub butter all over the floor, remove her clothes and slide everywhere if the director asked her to.
She planned to be a star— of that she was resolute, unwavering and determined.