Bronze Chucks and Macbeth
By: Jaimie Malphrus
I had a 7 year old in my class last week that told me I reminded her of her chicken.
“Ms. Jaimie, you would really like my chicken, Dolly. You guys are a lot alike. She’s really nice and fun unless someone pecks her. Then she takes care of it.”
She said all of this with her eyebrows up… like, “you know what I’m saying.”
I had never taught her before.
I recently got the chance to perform a Lady Macbeth monologue (come, you spirits… unsex me here). You know. The kick ass one where she decides to strip herself of her “feminine” feelings-- compassion, sensitivity, grief, remorse-- and kill the King. So. Much. Fun.
Even better, thanks to the effervescent Mallory Pellegrino, I got to perform it for the incomparable Anne Tromsness and her class in a workshop directed by her equally brilliant husband, Jayce (let’s play how many adjectives can Jaimie come up with). I even got to watch the very talented duo, Zach and Molly, perform two scenes and take direction from Jayce, as well. My camera was off, but my face was probably an inch from my screen when it wasn’t my turn. And let’s not forget the students that literally BLEW my mind with their observations. Not only did they get a workshop, I definitely did, too.
It just so happened that this class took place, virtually, in the theatre of the Fine Arts Center where David taught. I actually was in that space the week before. David’s Mom, Dad, and I met up in the parking lot to go see a memorial that the school put up to honor David.
The last month I’ve stayed true to form. I’ve been frantically busy. I didn’t stop to “feel my feelings'' as my psychiatrist would say. That’s literally my least favorite thing-- sorry Linda. But this was a moment designed to specifically honor my husband. His students adored him. His coworkers adored him. His family and I are not the only ones grieving. This was a really beautiful reminder that David had an innate ability to impact everyone he met.
You can’t not feel those feelings.
There are a few places where the memory of David is intense, to say the least. The theatre in the FAC is one of them. And now a piece honoring him, specifically him, hangs outside the door of that theatre forever. It was nothing like I expected. It was better. A pair of converse sneakers, lovingly broken in by Anne, bronzed and hung right under a light next to the theatre door.
Artist. Teacher. Friend.
It’s quirky and odd and perfect. All I could picture was that energetic bounce he had when he walked. Tall and straight, constantly bouncing. I was always so worried he would trip and fall, because that walk seemed to defy physics. My brain didn’t understand it. It still doesn’t. And he was so tall! If he fell, he’d fall, you know what I mean? I used to “spot” him on the stairs to our apartment, even before he began to have trouble with them. He would get so annoyed, so I eventually just settled for walking behind him or in front depending on if we were going up or down. A decade of spotting toddlers in gymnastics can’t be forgotten overnight. (Sidebar- I’m sure he’d love being compared to a toddler but, seriously, where the hell was his center of gravity?!)
So, Macbeth. The night before, I dove into actively rehearsing and trying different things. I knew the lines, it was time to play. Tossing a tennis ball, pacing back and forth, trying to rationalize if I could kill a man. Surprisingly, that didn’t take too long-- scary, right? I mean, Lady M has been through some shit. I can’t fault her for wanting to turn those feelings off and do what she has to do to ensure the security of herself and the one person she loves. I mean, I get it. Perhaps I’m projecting… that’s where I went, though.
The issue came later.
I got home and didn’t have anyone to bounce it off of. David was all about Shakespeare. He got his MFA from the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Anytime I had a Shakespearean monologue or scene to learn, obviously I would make him watch. Or read with me. Or discuss the play we had just seen. This almost always turned into a heated disagreement. David once told me he thought I was being contradictory on purpose just to fight about theatre. While that does sound like fun (and definitely something I would do), I just really thought he was wrong... a lot-- which is what I told him.
You can imagine how that went.
So, after learning and working on this piece, who was I supposed to fight with about it?! I’d say it would be about a 50/50 chance if I would take his unsolicited “notes” or double down on my choice. And honestly, it’s not that I thought he was “wrong,” it was usually that his ideas or choices were wrong for me. Either way, it always made me more committed. Better. Because how good can a choice be if you can’t defend it? I didn’t have my sounding board to challenge me.
I tried to imagine what he would ask. What he would say. And it helped, a little, I guess? I tried to hear his voice telling me to do it again and STOP THINKING ABOUT IT. I feel the rage start to seep into my chest-- which actually was helpful because at this point in the process I would’ve been enraged at him anyway. That’s something that they don’t tell you about the Five Stages of Grief. The stages are not linear. Also, they’re bullshit but, hey, at least it’s something to reference.
Moving along, I “took the note” and kept rehearsing.
I did not melt down.
So, the workshop happens. It goes really well despite a Macbeth curse-caused school internet outage as soon as we began (thanks, kids, for the hot spot). I had a fabulous time. I got that little buzz you get from performing. That buzz that a lot of actors haven’t felt in a really long time. And then the workshop ends.
I feel joy- teaching, performing, Shakespeare, taking direction, working with my people, listening to really smart kids… all of my favorite things.
Then it hits me.
I need to tell him.
I need to hear his voice.
Everyday something happens that I want to tell him. Hundreds of times a day. I constantly get the impulse to text him or call him. Sometimes I do.
This was the first time that I needed to talk to him about something that made me happy.
Saying grief is weird, unpredictable-- that’s an understatement. Grief is an intensely personal experience. I’ve learned that it looks vastly different from one person to the next. From one minute to the next. For me, it’s manically going about my life and honoring David’s work and his legacy. Other times it’s a lot like when you get hit in the stomach with a soccer ball at point blank range in the exact perfect spot to knock all the air out of your lungs.
The pure terror of trying to suck in a breath and not being able to… feeling like the world is completely unaware of this terrible thing happening… you can’t warn them or call for help… you’ll surely never be able to breathe again… this is it… this is what’s going to take you out… an invisible blow sent from nowhere… how long can you go without air… I’m asthmatic, it definitely can’t be this long...
But then it eases.
Thankfully I had a meeting not long after. The second I could breathe again I had to get it together, which in that moment was exactly what I needed. Focus on something else. Mentally running-- which is my way of coping. Grieving. Surviving.
For now, at least.
But hey, at least I’m not Lady M calling on spirits and deciding to commit murder for a crown.
However, I am a lot like a chicken named Dolly that should not be pecked… maybe Lady M was, too.