#blessed

That stupid hashtag is way overused. Instagram celebrities using it for really good coffee or finding a nice parking spot or otherwise finding/getting some sort of cool swag. Puh-leeze.

You want to know what truly makes you blessed? Friends. People who love you. People who go out of their way to show you that they love you. Add that to the “coincidence” of having it happen when you might be feeling especially bad about yourself or your depression (or other mental illness) is acting up, and you’ll really, truly know what it is to be #BLESSED. So much so that I wish I could somehow embiggen that word to make it more meaningful. Or add a serious “MFer” to the end of it or something.

You may or may not have read my last post. That’s how I was feeling after the first weekend of my appearance as Ursula in The Little Mermaid. I know. Ew.

But the universe or God or just the amazing kindness of people who care about me gave those feelings a massive can of whoop-ass over this past weekend.

Friday night, I knew my mom was coming to my show and she told me that 2 of my cousins were also coming and bringing their kids, which was more than enough. So nice that they wanted to come and share this lovely show with their kids, as well as support my return to the stage after so long! They live more than an hour away, so it was a big deal and I really appreciated it!

My cousin Johanna, brother Andrew, me, and cousin Katie

As I’m getting ready for the show, I had about half my makeup on and my costume. It was time for vocal warm-ups, so I had stepped out of the dressing room, talking briefly with my fellow cast members, when we heard pounding from what used to be the stage door, but now is just a door that stays locked to the outside. I was closest to the stairs, so I started down. About halfway down, I recognize the figure in the window, but my brain won’t allow me to believe it. It’s my brother, Andrew. With his daughter, Ella. WHO HAD FLOWN IN THAT DAY FROM CALIFORNIA. For one day. They flew in only to see my show and flew back the next morning. I was BLOWN AWAY. My brother, the professional actor, flew himself and his 3 year old from California, came to a night performance of my show and then got up the next morning and they flew back. And they did it because he loves me.

After the show, I ran down in my makeup and costume so I could show Ella. And she LOVED IT. This amazing child, who’s only really met me once, ran right up to me, sat on my lap, explored my makeup and costume and wasn’t afraid at all. And she was happy! I introduced her to the actress playing Ariel, too, but Ella wasn’t having it. As I introduced her, Ella saw that she didn’t actually have red hair. She said, “I’M Ariel.” Then Deanna asked her if she was a mermaid, and she said, quite sassily, “No, *I* have legs,” as she squiggled out of my arms and ran away. SO FUNNY.

It was so cool – the next morning I got to talk with Andrew about the show and get his impressions and feedback. It made me so happy to know that not only did he like my performance, he enjoyed the show in its entirety. For someone with his theatre/acting experience to be proud of me, meant everything.

Needless to say, after that surprise and the preceding performance, followed by Saturday’s matinee, I was TIRED. It takes a lot of energy to perform Ursula well. She’s constantly “ON.” Every moment is a performance for her – whether she’s complaining to her eels (the only beings she has to talk to) or putting on a show for Ariel to get her plan in motion, every single moment is carefully plotted and performed with clinical precision. And it takes a lot of energy to do. So by the time Saturday night’s performance rolled around, I was ready to perform, but knew it was going to drain me.

The audience Saturday night was every performer’s dream. They were on fire. The were with us every step of the way, laughing at every joke, applauding for every special moment, bursting into raucous cheers at the end of every song. They fed us every bit of energy we needed to amp up our performances and give that extra 10% that took it over the top.

Then comes curtain call. I’m the second to last one to bow and I have the delicious pleasure of getting to enter from far upstage and the cast parts to let me parade downstage – very Ursula-like. As the crowd parts and I walk, the freaking audience ERUPTS. Cheers like I’ve never heard. Then I see, in the last 2 rows of the main floor, a whole bunch of white fans waving and bobbing. I KNOW those fans. Those are the fans we’ve made for the high school musicals for the past 3 years to sell with the kids’ pictures on them. I know who makes those. WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? (Actually, “what the fuck” is what I mouthed as I turned around and walked to my place with my cast mates.)

Without my glasses, I can’t see who the people are. I just see white fans. And blurry faces. As the stage lights go down, I race downstairs, get help removing my wig and costume, and run downstairs to see who the heck is here?

As I round the corner, I see something along the lines of this. (Not quite this organized and lined up, but these faces and fans.) Friends. Friends from more than 30 years ago. Friends I haven’t seen in 10, 20, 30 years. Friends who have FLOWN AND DRIVEN IN FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY. To gather, reunite, and support this one old friend who’s returning to the stage. Friends who love me enough (why??) to come in from NY, Michigan, Iowa, Seattle, and also from closer by. Friends who planned this gathering, bought tickets, gathered, and came. For me.

I have never been so overwhelmed in my life. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t think. I felt like I was out-of-body. I’m looking at these amazing people and I can’t function. I can’t do anything but cry & hug & stumble over words. My head hurt. I couldn’t…..I just COULDN’T. I don’t know if any of you have ever experienced an outpouring of love like this before. I kept thinking…why?? Why would they do this for me? I haven’t done anything for them. There’s nothing they’re repaying me for. How on EARTH could I have built up such a credit of love? I don’t deserve it. I can’t wrap my brain around it. IT DIDN’T MAKE SENSE.

They gathered around me, taking pictures, sharing their love and their amazing positive feedback about my performance, and I just stood there, gaping and utterly flummoxed. Because this kind of thing is what you see on TV or for someone who’s worked tirelessly for years helping children with cancer or something.

I cannot possibly, no matter how long I type, convey my absolute, overwhelming feeling of gratitude for what my friends and my brother and my cousins did to show me love this weekend. You made me feel so special, so thankful, so overwhelmed with love. You showed me that how I feel inside – no matter how strongly I might feel it – isn’t true. That I’m worthwhile, no matter how I look. That I matter. That what’s inside me has made a difference somehow.

Amy, Tammy, Tim, Dean, Tammy, Jannah, Sonia, Cha Ron, Linda, Leon, Jeff, George, Tony, Kathy. And your families. YOUR FAMILIES. Who came along somewhere they didn’t know to see someone they didn’t know do something they probably didn’t care about. Thank you. There will NEVER be words. I hope I can do something like this for you or someone else sometime. I want nothing more than for others I love to feel what I’ve felt.

Oh, and I have to tell you guys something interesting. That night, while I slept, I dreamt of you all. We were all going somewhere – like a field trip or going somewhere on a visit or something – and all of you were there. We were laughing and walking and having a great time. In the dream, I turned my head to the left, and right next to me was Tim White. Smiling and laughing with us, traveling with us where it was we were going. He was with us when you gathered at Amy’s. He was with us when you all sat in the Opera House. He was with us when you came down and met me. He was with us at the PourHouse. I believe it wholeheartedly.

Andrew – I know you’re my little brother, but your opinion and love and support of me means the world. Before, you HAD to see my shows. You didn’t have a choice, you just did. This time, you  made the choice. And I recognize the work, sacrifice, and time it took to do that. And I love you more than I can ever say.

Thank you all. You showed me what I can’t show myself much of the time. Acceptance. Love. Support. Belief. Caring. You are the ties that bind and I cannot believe that, 30 years later, y’all still care about me. But maybe I can believe it. Because I care deeply about all of you. Never let anyone tell you that high school friendships don’t last. Because they DO. If they matter.

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