Dear Soul Beings,
It began when we said goodbye to my daughter in Boston. She would be there for five weeks and my world was about to shift. I felt the air sucked out of my chest when she kissed my cheek.
“See you soon,” she said. “Don’t worry. I love you.”
We walk past the university, down to Newbury Street, looking at sneakers, tee shirts, cafés and people eating lobster sandwiches. I’m just about to walk into Anthropologie, when I get a call from a casting director in Albuquerque.
“We could really use you in a couple of weeks as a featured extra on set. Would you be available?”
I said yes immediately. July was going to be hot and wearisome. Something like this could blot out a day of melancholy.
Still, I was surprised to be in their database. I hadn’t worked on anything since Jane Got A Gun. That was a few years ago. After sitting around for hours on the set, in a lace-up corset and thick woolen dress, and standing outside in the hot summer heat as “deep background,” never sure if I was even in view of the camera, I swore I would never do it again.
Now it’s June, my daughter is gone and I said yes to the call.
I spent this past Monday on the set. This time in khakis, boots and a heavy, black, oversized tee shirt. I arrive at “holding,” (the building where extras are registered and hang out when not on set) at 9:30 am. After signing in, I’m sent to a trailer to check my outfit and then to hair and makeup where the extras are lined up in front of another trailer only to be sprayed with sunscreen. It is already eight-five degrees.
Back to holding. Hurry up and wait.
The room is stuffed with folks, mostly middle-aged men and a few women sitting around. I settle myself on the thinly carpeted make-shift stage, next to a paneled wall with an electrical outlet. I plug in my phone and lean back to survey the situation. There is a wall with windows and a ginormous swamp cooler. On the opposite side are two doors to the restrooms and in between are row after row of long tables and chairs. People read, talk on their phones and chat to each other to pass the time.
Now it’s ten thirty and there’s a nervous dull roar in the room. Where will they put us? Will we be outside? So many people. Will we be in a scene with the stars? The second assistant director runs in and out with a clipboard talking on his walkie-talkie. One woman with a narrow pointy chin and glasses reads her book. She looks to be about thirty. I think she’ll be placed in close range of the camera. I overhear another guy say he’s been in nine movies in the past eight months. I turn around and ask him if he has an agent.
“Naw. I just sign up with the extras casting people. I always get called.”
I wonder what his day job is.
I look over at the guy standing next to me. He’s tall and muscular with angular features and dark hair. He’s wearing a navy tee shirt with a logo on it. I catch him staring at his cell phone and hear the camera click. He rustles his hair, smiles and clicks the camera again.
I feel a wave of compassion for him. He has beautiful brown eyes. He’s lost among the many that are hoping to be seen.
He turns to me and says, “Do you mind if I plug my phone in here?”
“No. Go right ahead.”
He sits down next to me. He introduces himself and we exchange names. I ask him if he’s done this before.
“A few times,” he says. “Whenever I can fit it into my fight schedule. I really want to be an actor. I’m taking some classes now. But really, I’m a fighter. That’s how I make money.”
“What kind of fighter?” I ask.
“Well, I box, wrestle, work with the team. I used to be in the Marines. Did my four years, fought in Iraq, then I had to hide away. Spent time in the mountains. Went to community college. Got married. Gotta make money somehow. Gotta stay busy.”
I smile. He’s in really good shape but he doesn’t look like a fighter. He seems like a really sweet guy and he looks like a movie star.
“Where are you from?” I ask.
“Idaho. But I’ve been all over. My wife and I live in Albuquerque.”
His face softens. His eyes smile and he seems less self-conscious. I have to ask him, “When were you born?”
“March 4, 1987.”
“Ah…a Pisces. All the best people are Pisces!” I rattle off my pseudo knowledge of astrology. “You’re very sensitive, artistic, with a tendency to drop into Neptunian depths, but loving and compassionate!”
“Wow!” he says. “Nailed it!”
He tells me a bit about his past. That he had stomach cancer. We talk about the protocol of surgery and chemotherapy and I tell him that I also had cancer. He tells me he rejected chemo and healed himself with the Gerson Therapy; a natural treatment of juicing and vitamins that activates the body to heal itself. I see beneath his strong veneer into a deep soul strength.
“This was after the Marines,” he says.
I tell him, “I did eat mostly vegetables, but I felt I had to do everything, including chemotherapy. My daughter was only seven when I was diagnosed.”
How did he end up in the Marines, I wonder. I ask him if he has kids and he says, “Not yet. Tell me about your daughter.”
“She’s an actress. That’s kind of how I got here. I’ve been on a few sets in the past with her. Right now she’s at Boston University, away from home for the first time.”
He looks at me silently.
“She’s my one and only. We started late and adopted her when she was just born. I miss her terribly.”
“Oh,” he says. “I’m adopted too.”
“Amazing,” I say.
I love how the common mark of personal story can connect strangers.
“Essence to Essence”
“Yes, we have an open adoption with the birth parents. And this past year has been fraught with questions and identity crisis for my daughter. But we talked and I gave her all the birth records and medical reports. She’s been in touch with her birth family and it’s been really helpful for her to have that contact. But this separation is hard, although necessary for all of us. Anyway, tell me about your family.”
He explains that his was a closed adoption. “I’ve tried to find my birth mother but to no avail. I know she was very young.”
He tells me he’s been on ancestry.com and he’ll keep trying. He talks about his adoptive family.
“It was a stable situation. You know, family meals and stuff. But they were very controlling, very religious, and I’m not. I rebelled when I was quite young. Got kicked out of two private schools. Enrolled in the Marines when I was seventeen. Got the hell out of there.”
Wow. Transitioned to the military where they’re taught to be killers. He doesn’t seem like a killer. A Pisces with a ravaged soul. I worry about treading on boundaries but the container of adoption pulls me in.
“Tell me more,” I say.
“Sometimes, I yell too much at home. It’s the Marines. They train you to be tough. They want you to be violent and aggressive. Sometimes it’s hard to decompress and realize I’m back in civilization.” He has tears in his eyes.
“I can’t say much more right now,” he says.
I touch his arm and now I have tears as well. I can’t pretend to know his pain. Pain from war, pain from personal abandonment. But I know he is a sensitive soul and trying to make his way.
“So glad to have met you,” I say.
He smiles and says, “Hey, you’re doing a great job.”
“You know, you are young, good looking and smart. You can be anything you want. You have your whole life in which to define yourself. You are healthy and strong; you have a wife who loves you. Step into yourself!”
“Yeah, there are things my wife wants to do too. She’s going to school but we want to travel and explore. This is fun too. I am so glad I met you!”
The second AD comes in and announces it’s time for lunch. One o’clock and we haven’t been on set yet.
“I’m starving,” I say. “Let’s go eat!
I feel buoyed by our connection. I am happy he is building a life, that we got to talk about our shared experiences, that Marika is loving her life in Boston and that I had the luxury of time to connect. It’s powerful to share stories and the gold is in the connection.