It was 7 p.m. last Tuesday, and Stephanie and I are at Steve and Hattie’s house for an aerial yoga class. We take the outside stairs straight up to the studio. It is supposed to be a one-on-one couples class, with Steve teaching, but when I walk up, there is Tyler standing in the way, and I can see the studio is full of many more.
Oh yeah, the 6-foot-5 Tyler has on a dazzling purple wig beneath his colossal top hat. He’s fashioned a purple glitter beard, a ringmaster’s jacket, and over-the-knee shiny black stiletto boots. “Come this way,” Tyler says, showing me in with his sweeping hand.
I walk in to behold this:
There is Hattie, spinning slowly on the lira wearing black fishnets, a sparkly gold tutu, gold sequined belly dancer halter top, and satin, purple, elbow-length gloves. To my left is Crystal, sitting on a chair grinning full of love and mischievousness. Then there is Patty sitting in an inflatable kid’s pool filled with balloons and candy, wearing a blue sequin top and blue bustle, with her knee-high Victorian pirate boots hanging out.
In the corner, a screen plays “Full Metal Jacket,” and to the right of it, Tim, in a giant yellow boa, assumes the role of carny barker, inviting me over for a game of miniature Plinko. We play a quick game, and I win and it seems like Tim kinda let me.
I keep moving around the room, dumbfounded and beyond perplexed. Steve, wearing black striped pants and a blue vintage polyester shirt, perches in some aerial fabrics. “Hi, Steve,” I say up to him. “Helloooooo, David,” he sends down, deadpan. Nicole takes picture after picture.
Next, there are two monkey-masked people sitting at a table dealing cards, wearing chimpanzee costumes. One of them play-smokes a pipe. I realize soon that this is Kate and Heidi. Next to them is a table with five kinds of milk. Tyler fills a wine glass with chocolate-almond and I sip it.
As I make my way around, Stephanie follows me with a glint in her eye. The room is quiet, people generally talking only when I engage with them. I keep racking my brain. It’s not my birthday, and there are no anniversaries to speak of. If this is an intervention, I can’t imagine what for, but it would go down as the most surreal intervention in human (and chimpanzee) history.
It felt like a dream. “I don’t understand what’s going on,” I kept saying.
In May of 2016, I wrote and produced a one-man show called “We Are Broken and We Are Whole” that I performed at the Durango Arts Center. It was rough around the edges and raw, but it came from my heart and it really meant something to me. The show’s title had a tagline: “Equal parts fiction and truth about what it means to be caged and what it takes to be free.”
Working with my friend and director Sarah Syverson (who wrote that tag line), the show was a collection of five scenes, all telling the story of how and why I got divorced seven years earlier. Three scenes were adapted from works of fiction, which were lightly staged and that I performed from memory; these were interspersed by two dramatic essay readings that told the story of what I had faced in my life, why I wanted out of my marriage, my regrets and shortcomings, but also the rebirth that came from that decision.
The works of fiction were all written shortly before or after I divorced, the first, a metaphoric story about a bird that gets trapped inside a church during a wedding and intermittently wreaks havoc on the ceremony. The second was about a guy whose home and its contents become unrecognizable or disappear altogether, and a love (and lover) he pines for.
But the third story and final scene of the show was my favorite. In it, my character opens by telling the audience “I met her on July 11, 2016. We were particles and energy and matter one day, a universe the next. Our hearts had been beating in sync for centuries and when we held them together, the fire made us hot to the touch.”
After a short but intense courtship, realizing that they had a love like no other, my character explains, he and Hennie decided to throw the most surreal, dreamlike party to celebrate their love. At the party, “There was a lion tamer and a giant Plinko board and an inflated castle full of balls and candy. There was a hillbilly riding a unicycle, whistling and playing fiddle … There was a virtuosic tap dancer and an improvisational painter doing works of abstract expressionism. There was a photographer doing conceptual self-portraiture.” They “brought in a couple of chimpanzees to smoke pipes and deal cards. There were three break-dancers and four magicians and a scientist performing physics experiments for the kids.”
Near the end of the party, my character tells the audience, he and Hennie gave each guest a stack of pictures, “some from the past, some from the future, some from that day. The pictures embodied the magic of two people who wanted nothing more or less than one another.”
Still trying to figure why so many of my friends were in Steve and Hattie’s aerial studio, Stephanie led me back to Crystal who invited me to open the ornate box in her hands. A note attached to a string read, “These pictures embodied the magic of two people who wanted nothing more or less than one another.” I pulled the string to open the box and found a cloth sack housing an exquisite silver bracelet made in Crystal’s unmistakable style, atop a stack of pictures. In fact, it was every picture that had ever been taken of Stephanie and me. Except the last picture, which was of a sign that said “The Future.” Stephanie took this picture from my hand, flipped it over and read it.
Her words were everything anyone would want to hear from the person they loved, and she and I fought tears while she read. At the end, she asked if I would marry her some day. I said, “Of course! Yes!” and we kissed a bunch and our friends applauded and whooped and wiped tears away, and I put on the bracelet and hugged everyone and laughed with everyone and kissed Stephanie some more.
Later, I learned the evening had been in the works for months. Stephanie had written my parents a card asking for their blessing. One night, she had kept a piece of ribbon by the bedside and measured my wrist as I slept. And she had secured the date with our friends a month ahead of time, but only told them the occasion four days before to maintain the secret.
When I had walked into the studio, I’d been too caught off guard by the bizarre, surreal scenes to understand what they all had in common, where the ideas had originated and what the theme of the night was – love and commitment. My brain could only think that we were celebrating something that had already happened, not understanding that we were there to celebrate the future, something new, something that will grow and blossom.
I had met Stephanie a mere two weeks after I performed “We Are Broken and We Are Whole.” A number of weeks after we met, I read her the show as we sat in my living room. She later told me she fell in love with me that night.
What Stephanie created last week was the greatest gift I’ve ever received. I didn’t understand what was happening because what she pulled off was incomprehensible: my brain could not comprehend something of that magnitude. What I walked into last Tuesday was what I had in mind when I wrote the story, and it’s what I really wanted to do when Sarah and I staged the show. Somehow, Stephanie managed to do this in real life, authentically, in one of the most meaningful moments of our lives no less. The one time in her life she asks someone to marry her and she nailed it.
In my show, the party they planned was to be an embodiment of what existed between them: “Something so vivid yet hard to describe … even if you were there … where you wake up the next day … and think it was all a tender, invigorating dream.” That particular story I could imagine, and, after all, did. The story Stephanie created, what really took place, and what has taken place in the year-plus since I met her – my real, human, blessed life – I couldn’t have imagined. I couldn’t have written it, either. It would have been way too unbelievable.