An Hour in The Life of Divorce
|SOLILOQUY IN RETROSPECT
AN HOUR IN THE LIFE OF DIVORCE
A SOLILOQUY IN ONE ACT
The stage is divided into three settings. The first setting, stage right, suggest an empty room with a folding chair set in its. Upstage - left corner. Some where in the room, luggage sits ready to be removed, and another folding chair rest on the down¬stage end of the rooms left wall.
The second center setting suggest a well furnished apartment, its stage right wall is a full length bookcase with a drop leaf bar and a stereo set on its down stage end. There is a sofa in the center of this room (center stage), and an end table. On the table is a wedding picture; the groom in the picture is Peter Harris. The room’s left wall has a fireplace surrounded by mirrors. The rear wall of this room is in a grid pattern of translucent panes that are backlit and can be alternately lighted.
The third settings suggest a park. Centered toward the upstage area of the park is a two-seat swing set. A formally dressed couple, suggestive of the wedding picture on the table, stands embraced in front of the swing set.
As the curtain rises the stage is black.
A spot fades in to dim on the lone chair in the first scene. This light remains constant throughout the play. A second spot fades in to dim on the couple embraced in the park scene. The Woman is in a pastel yellow. A third spot fades in to dim on the center couch where Peter Harris is seated sipping a glass of wine. The bar and stereo are also softly lit. The wedding picture is visible behind Peter Harris stage left. Peter gets up moves to the stereo and makes an adjustment.
He returns to his seat, picks up the picture, sits and takes another sip of the wine. His spot begins to fade to black and Patti Labelle begins to sing Down The Aisle. The couple in the left scene come to life and begin to dance across the stage, we see they are young and in love.
By the end of the song they dance back to their original position and their spot fades to dim. The spot on Peter Harris comes up to dim; he is still looking at the picture.
PETER. It seems like only yesterday. (He takes another sip of wine gets up and moves to the bar, he sets the glass down.) But -- then came tomorrow. (He puts the picture on the bar and faces the audience.) I remember the conversation as if it were happening right now. (He moves right, into the empty room scene, picks up the folding chair and continues to the foreground diagonal to the empty chair in the left upstage corner. His spot has followed him so that only Peter and the upstage empty chair are lit. He sits and faces the audience.)
We had just returned from Mary James' graduation party. She has finally received her MBA, Magna Cum Laude, after ten years of hard work. It's three a.m., I have to drive to Atlanta later today and I should be getting some sleep, but there is no bed to sleep in (He indicates toward the empty room) this last night Laverne and will ever spend together.
I can see her now sitting on that paint splattered Samsonite chair (he indicates toward the empty chair). I use to use it as a step chair during my (mimicking Lavern’s voice) “never to be completed endless ten year ever since we’ve been here reconstruction” of our home in Queens.
I am sitting on another one of the chairs and we are facing each other. Laverne is in the corner, her hands are clasped and resting on her knees, her eyelids are rimmed with tears -- tears too hardened to fall.
I ‘m sitting by the entrance. The door to what was once our bedroom, and eventually it would have reverted back to its originally intended use as a dining room. But somehow I lost my motivation to build about two years before. I was so close to completion. I put my life into that place. We just couldn’t agree. Now twenty years later it’s all boiled down to who is going to keep the house, who is going to leave, and with whom our children will stay.
Stacked against the wall are the last of her bags and belongings. The movers picked up all of our furniture yesterday -- our furniture? I’m going to drive the car down for her. We arranged our timing to arrive in Atlanta, just before the movers arrive with the furniture. Laverne's furniture now, for Lavern's new apartment, Lavern’s new life.
Who is Mary James, Lavern's best friend and confidante for ten years now, the same ten years Lavern and I have been loosing friendship, becoming -- less confidante. The same ten years since I graduated from college. Ten years, ironically, almost to the day! With all of my dreams of fame and fortune! Me, hobnobbing with the super stars! Me, Black Dramatist! Me, Dramatist extraordinaire! Celebrity status. Lunch with Diana Ross; and I don't mean just cause we happen to be on the same Film Set, with her as Dorothy, and me -- one of the extras hired to color the Wiz’s, Ball. No! Not me. Not tomorrow. I was on my way. I was headed straight for the stars.
Mary James, and Laverne Harris. Ten years ago the doors to management in the Xerox Corporation, just started to open for them. After ten years of proving themselves above and beyond the call of duty. Ten years, almost to the day. More irony, or does life progress in ten-year cycles. Progress for those who maintain forward and upward mobility for ten years -- without being sidetracked! Undaunted and unyielding to the obstacles those ten years inevitably reveals.
The same obstacles that frustrated me in only two years at the same corporation! Oh! But then I got caught up in the movement. Black is beautiful! Sidetracked by the movement. Black Power! I had an attitude. What was I doing working, no -- ¬slaving -- for the white man. (He looks over his shoulder stage left towards his apartment and the park scene, which fade in to dim then quickly fade out.) Would I quite my job today and drive a gypsy cab. Sell drugs and conspire against my country. This U S of A, my home. Where for five generations my ancestors worked and died to help build this country. I wasn’t aware of my beauty? I didn’t understand that the power came from within me.
Black Nationalism. Yes, America was put on the road to reform, but how many young black men didn’t understand, what is Black Power. What did Black Nationalism do for us? What did it do for the Black women whose men would become victims of misunderstood idealism? It took me ten years to find my way through the amorphous black cloud of identity and self-awareness. Ten years of blind mostly misdirected efforts. What did Black Nationalism do for me?
Mary James, Laverne Harris, me! We all started with Xerox at about the same time. 1969. Man will walk on the moon. Malcolm's been dead for five years now. We were still bereaving Martin Luther King. Johnson is out, and Nixon is in. Equal employment opportunity, affirmative action, training programs, and educational opportunities -- are not out yet. It's still "the great society." 1969. The same year Laverne and I got married. I was twenty two, its already been two years since I came home from Nam. (He pauses) Damn time flies!
I had to twist Lavern's arm to get her to leave her near dead end job at Household Finance, and join me at Xerox. Just as ten years later I had to twist her arm to get her to cross another threshold. Take the opportunity being offered to you.
Personally, I couldn’t cope with politics, not at Xerox, and hardly within the American system. But Laverne was covered with enchanted oil. Everybody loved her. Didn't even notice her blackness. Her creamed coffee, smooth complexion! Her full manageable head of hair! Her beautifully proportioned five-foot small frame! One hundred and one pounds! She slipped right through the politics and into the heart of everyone with whom she came in contact. Lavern Harris was known throughout the Region. In offices she had never even set foot.
She slipped into the very pores of my heart. I envied her intelligence, her capacity for success; and I loved her. Though ten 'years later I couldn’t understand how she could be so loved by her subordinates on the job, and talk to me, us, her family, the way she did when she came home.
On the other hand, Mary James was face forward, her eyes focused and unblinking, she was going in circles, tenaciously grasping at thin air. Riding sidesaddle. Dodging bullets. Performing Dale Evens', stunt rider's horse tricks; on the manured, dry, and dusty trail; behind the speeding stage coach, with grit and shit between her teeth -- trying to grab that brass ring. Her frame was not so small. Her hair not as manageable! She had a little less cream in her complexion. No. No. No enchanted oils to smooth out her blackness. No, not Mary James, Mary James was all Sister. She may have swallowed some shit, but she sure didn’t take it.
And here it was, the whole fucking pie on a platinum platter, a management position with the big X being offered to Laverne Harris, my wife. Niggers and Honkies with degrees were offering their wife’s bodies for an opportunity like this. What do you mean, you don’t think you can do the job. Woman you know you’re good. They love you. Would they offer you the job if they thought you couldn’t do it? So what if you only have a high school diploma. You are making the numbers that’s all that counts. You’re good they love you. You've come through the Derby and the Preakness baby, by lengths. They are offering you a shot at the tipple crown, take the job, take the job.
I am not certain, if it was feeling, the belief that she was loved, praise, or encouragement, that Laverne Carlisle - Harris wanted, needed or loved the most. Although our love was in complete agreement at some point, increasingly we were disagreeing on the means, by which our love should be expressed, more and more often to the point of violence. More and more often we said things that we meant, but they weren’t the things either of us really wanted to express.
Too often we didn't say what we should have said, what was in our hearts and shielded by the defenses of our bodies. Too often we said things we should not have said, not the way we said them. And yet, I thrived on conversation. Conversation aroused my sexuality. I needed to hear myself. I needed someone to hear me. I needed to know that there was someone else out there that believed in me more than I believed in myself. I needed to talk. I needed to talk to Laverne. Laverne? Well Laverne, Laverne needed to be held.
Certainly, it was praise and encouragement that could have saved our marriage; for the next ten years I watched it die. I let it die. I took part in its death. I agonized and slowly died with it. Praise and encouragement that I so desperately wanted! Praise and encouragement that I knew, Laverne Harris thrived on. That I once thrived on giving. Praise and encouragement that I could no longer give! Or maybe I was just unwilling to give any longer.
Laverne carries on with her monologue. I can only sit and listen, suspension of disbelief. To speak would only lead us off on a tangent. Besides I need to listen. I need to hear what she is saying. (He gets up from his chair and faces the empty chair behind him in the corner.) I feel my barriers melting.
(He moves quickly to the bar and takes another sip of wine then picks up the picture. A spot fades in on the dancing couple still embraced in front of the swing. From behind the bar he is facing towards the empty chair in the first scene. Picture in hand, he reaches overhead with both hands and leans on the bookcase looking down.)
I can almost reach beyond them, (He faces the audience.) Beyond my self! I want to touch her. If I could only reach, I could touch her.
(His light fades to dim as Linda Ronstadt starts to sing Desperado, and the girl of the dancing couple comes to life dancing down and across stage in a dance trying to entice Peter to reach for her, but he keeps his back to her so that by the end of the record she gives up and fades back to her position in the park, except now she is upstage of the swing. Her partner remains on the downstage side. Their light fades to black. Peter's light fades in, he is still leaning on the bookcase, again he faces the audience.)
She’s reflecting on the good times we had together. (He replaces the picture on the bar and continues speaking as he moves back to his chair in the first scene.) The happy days! Our wedding ceremony and our vows! My vow that, "though time may separate us, we will never part.” (He sits.) All of our friends and relatives! How to this day everyone thinks we are such a beautiful couple.
She speaks of our daughter Theresa, who just recently married, and Theresa’s enthusiasm with her own new family, her new position in Wall Street finance. The struggles we survived. The birth of our son, Peter, a graduate of Performing Arts High School, and about to enter college!
Dreams? I guess we all have our dreams. Lavern is speaking of her dreams, dreams she never shared. Her dream wasn't to be the Xerox credit manager, or the Office Manager, or the Regional Manager. No, her dream was just to stay home and raise the children. Her dream was to take care of her home and her husband; and she never had that opportunity, except for short periods after the children were born, and that's all she ever wanted. An opportunity that now at the age of forty would never be available to her again.
She took me at my word when I told her I wanted my wife to stay home and raise my family. (He gets up-and moves back to the bar, picks up his glass and sits in the armchair. Only the armchair, the bar and the stereo, are softly lit in the center scene. A soft spot is still on the empty chair in the first scene. The park scene is still black.)
She’s giving a convincing argument about her reasons for her actions and her inactions over the years; and I can relate to some of the things she is saying. Her resentment of having to carry the weight of the responsibilities while I went to college! When I was in prison for, a year. That she was forced to fight in the backbiting dog eat dog world of the corporate power struggle, and all she ever wanted was to stay home and love and be loved. (The translucent grid on the rear wall fades in to dim, and the panes begin to slowly and randomly alternate lighting.) At the same time she is convincing me that she is aware, had been aware, of how her actions and inactions affected me. She is telling me that she knew what I needed, and that she deliberately withheld it.
Vignettes of our life together flash through my mind. I feel myself swelling with the sorrow of the last ten years. I look up to meet her eyes, and for the first time I see her again as I have not seen her in at least ten years. (He reaches for the picture on the bar.) The picture I held of her during the incarceration. The year that seemed like twenty years, almost twenty years ago.
For me there was no God. Not then. Then I prayed to Laverne. Lavern was my strength. My faith in her got me through, day to day. I built a golden pedestal, high as I could imagine, (He gets up and places the picture on one of the upper shelves of the bookcase.) and ever so gently I placed my image of Lavern, on that pedestal, (He sits down) and it was to this icon I prayed. Every day I prayed.
(He gets up quickly and crosses to the right wall and faces the mirror. His spot follows him and only Peter, Silhouetted by the dim alternating translucent grid wall, and his mirror reflection, are visible in the center scene. As he speaks the park scene fades in to dim. The dancing couple are absent, only the swing is lit.)
The deeply buried feelings return to haunt me. (He speaks between his reflection and the audience.) The memory of the day shortly after I returned from the Federal Penitentiary in Danbury! I'm in the playground pushing the children in the swing. We're laughing and talking and having fun, and they speak of the fun they had with Uncle Sonny, while I was away. (The park scene goes to black. Peter turns and crosses back to the bar looking up to the picture, his spot follows him and he is still in silhouette.) Who is Uncle Sonny? (He sits down in the armchair.)
Didn't I want to believe her that he was just a friend. Didn't I believe her? (He finishes the wine in the glass.) Gold doesn't tarnish. (He smashes the empty glass in the fireplace.)
Perhaps that’s why she talked me into confessing my infidelities when she visited me in prison. I told her they were just one time affairs they meant nothing. I told her I loved only her. I would always love only her. Every day I was there I reminded her. I still have all the letters. She collected them I saved them. The height of my love for her, my belief in her, bound in four hundred ten torn envelops.
(He gets up, pours a shot of whiskey, downs it, and moves into the first scene as he speaks, his spot follows him to his chair. Laverne's chair has remained in the constant dim spot since it first came up. Except for the center scene’s grid wall being alternately lit, the other sets are black.) Didn't she believe me? Hadn't she heard my prayers? (He sits.) There is no god in this world.
What happened to all the time between then and now? How did we come to this moment? The image is stereoscopic. The person talking in front of me is two people talking at the same time. The innocent young woman I so dearly loved. The vindictive and vile creature that had learned to hate! Was I her teacher?
She is speaking of how supportive I have been in all that she attempted to do, and all that I tried to encourage her in. She wonders if things would be different today had she tried to be what I wanted. This is the first time that I've heard this side of her. For the last ten years I've told her -- I can't be other than who I am, I can't be what you want.
She talks. I am reflecting on her statement about the family life she says she provided me. She’s right, but I am thinking of the family life that I wanted. I’m thinking of the encouragement and support that I needed. (With mounting indignation.) I’m thinking I gave up my dreams for my family. I became a civil servant.
She expresses regret that someone else will have me now, when it was her that knew me when I didn’t have a high school diploma. Her that was with me when I didn’t have a job! Before I took that test and started out making as much as she had to struggle twenty years to make. Knowing that someone else will reap the benefits of her tribulations. (The alternating lights in the translucent grid slowly increase speed.)
My mind is moving through time. (He gets increasingly more restless) The facial expressions that I once loved are now boring me to contempt. I can feel my eyes flare, and I almost choke regurgitating the undigested food of that contempt. I can't look at her any more. I don't want to hear it. (He jumps up and moves quickly back to the bar.)
My body just reacted. I don't even think she noticed she just keeps on talking. I walked out of the room to adjust the stereo; it's all I have left. It sits on the floor against the wall in the middle of the empty living room. The empty world to which I must return! My back against the wall! Dragging my ass on the floor in the middle of my children's contempt for me.
The empty world of alcohol and drugs, where I have begun to seek refuge, friendship, and solace!
(As he makes an adjustment to the stereo his light fades to put him in silhouette against the grid. The lights come up to dim on the park scene, which is now empty. Bonnie Raitt begins to sing Fire and Ice, He stands there, the dancing couple enters from stage right and does a dance of struggle, and by the end of the record they exit stage left. Peter's light fades in to dim, he begins Still in anger.)
It was she, her lack of support for my dreams, her lack of belief in me. What about my struggles, my compromises! My battle to overcome myself, society, and the powers that sought to suppress me! She doesn't have any equity in me or anything that I have managed to accomplish. The old feeling that I'll make it despite of her swells the lump in my throat. (He stops and sits back down) Yet what would I have been without her?
(Lavern's light fades to black. The park scene fades to black. The grid increases speed. Peter sits alone in the armchair in silhouette, he continues.)
I'm overwhelmed by elusive images of dreams and the whole period of trying to understand my capabilities and myself. What drove me and what killed my drive? How eagerly I created challenges. My confidence that I was infallible! My energy and spirit unyielding! (He gets up and moves to center stage under a dim spot. He addresses the audience.)
The boy with his finger in the dam! The ram trying to butt a hole in it! The ant, trying to carry it away one crumb at a time -- without being swept away by the water! The world was mine. The power one feels when filled with God. Believing he is all god is. (The grid lights begin to slow their pace and slow fade. Peter pauses.)
Can the ant ever stumble? Can the ram ever pause? Can the boy remove his finger to wipe the tears from his eyes? Can he even afford to cry? (The grid has stopped alternating, but it is still lit and still fading.) How long can he stand alone in a time capsule with the sand trickling from beneath his feet, when he is left hanging by the finger groping for a place to establish a footing, before his finger breaks and is torn from its socket by the weight of the years of struggling. Releasing him to be swallowed by the capsule and buried in the sand, where he slowly suffocates, and ultimately....
(He turns from the audience and returns to the stereo. His light fades to dim. The grid lights again to put him silhouette as The Four Tops begin to sing Mac Arthur Park, and the dancing couple return and dance a song of everlasting love. They freeze frame in a kiss at the end of the song as all lights fade to black)
© 2008 Stephan P. Earl