I just watched Derek Delgaudio’s movie, directed by Frank Oz. It’s about secrets, identity and feeling vulnerable. Derek is a story-teller. He talks about the secret of finding out his mother was a lesbian and when people applied that label on her, perceptions changed. It impacted him, and this could have inspired this show. I too experienced a family secret, which set me on an adventure to explore identity.
I studied cities as if they were each a personality, therefore exploring myself. I wrote about it in A European Odyssey, the vulnerability I experienced, due to a secret, due to my own exploration of identity.
For the audience and those reviewing the movie, it remains indescribable. I understand. It also reminded me of the time my mother shared her experience of seeing Judy Garland from the front row. My mother grew up in San Fran and lived quite a life, but she kept quiet about it because she was a deeply private person. She preferred to ask other people questions, genuinely curious, and people responded in kind. I was terrifically close to my mother, whom I called Muv, but I never really saw her cry. I saw her eyes well up with tears, in happiness, sadness, in various moods. But she wasn’t an emotional person and if she became angry or frustrated, it didn’t last long and she didn’t project it, she assumed it was her own burden.
So this memory has layers of meaning. And it still lingers, what Muv was wearing, her gestures, her body, and most importantly how she felt; it was a peak experience.
I was still living in Seattle and we were renovating our houseboat. The upper story was a large, loft like space; it became a stage on that day. I was standing on a ladder painting, next to the kitchen area, trying to speed up the process, hoping the contractor could finish faster. It was pointless but I was so impatient back then. And Muv always seemed to move in slow motion. But she rarely talked about her past, she kept it ‘there’. One day she stopped by to check on the progress and sat across from my husband in the living room area. He was telling her about a recent trip down to Silicon Valley and what he thought as he drove around the bay area.
My husband must have triggered something because she relayed a memory from long ago, 50 years into her past. She was tall with great posture. Her long legs are positioned wide apart, she’s wearing a crisp white cotton shirt, untucked, without a wrinkle, cropped khakis and a pair of black, flat Ferragamo shoes down below. I don’t know how she kept her shirt so tidy. I never could. My cousin Betty said she used to come down to their ranch in Downieville in white pants and a white t-shirt and remain immaculate. Her cousins adored her, they had grown up in a different world. Muv wasn’t fastidious, but she always seemed to have it together and she always seemed to be living in the moment. And suddenly she wanted to talk about seeing Judy Garland.
Montgomery Clift was her idol, they all knew he was gay; none of her set cared. He was simply the most beautiful boy they’d ever seen. Johnny Mathis was her absolute favorite singer and she knew Judy did drugs and could not care less. It was her world and it was practically perfect. She’s around 20, I think she’d seen Frank Sinatra, Johnny Matthis and all the rest, often from the front row. Yet Judy was the one she had to share because it was a peak experience. For years Muv never watched TV, she preferred theater and live performance, it made sense.
And when she starts to tell the story I know it’s time to put the brush down and have a listen.
Muv starts to lean forward, becoming quietly animated. At first she’s staring at my husband, he’s engaged, and then her gaze gets lost in the distance, as if in reverie. She has one hand resting on her leg and the other begins at her forehead as she starts to talk about the performance, “You couldn’t believe it, there was perspiration just dripping down her face and then I felt the tears start to stream down my own, just continuously. Eventually everyone around me is crying and yet no one feels remotely self-conscious. Each of us is alone, with her, and that voice…” Her fingers never touch her face as they travel down her neck, hovering around her chest, I can feel the emotion as I watch her, as if we’re both in a trance.
Looking back I wondered if it was one of those performances where Judy sat at the end of the stage, I wonder if she was that close but I never asked. It didn’t seem to matter.
I love thinking back on that moment, and I can still feel that emotion and it’s the kind you feel when you watch the movie, “In and of itself”….when you’re ready to let go of those labels…