Best known for the Off-Broadway musicals, "The Last Session," "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" and "New World Waking," a song cycle for peace and justice.

Monday, December 12, 2016

After reading “Once, We Were Heroes”

After reading “Once, We Were Heroes”
By Steve Schalchlin


I found an essay about AIDS called


"Once, We Were Heroes by Mark S. King

I read it out loud yesterday in my Sunday afternoon acting class
At first I could tell I was rushing
I always rush through things

The first story in the essay is about a man
Trying to keep his dying lover from drinking the poison
The two of them had lovingly concocted together

He failed

As the gravity of that sheet-soaked passage hit me
Two tormented souls struggling for one more moment,
I became aware of the young people in our class.
I realized how shocking it must have sounded to them.

"Here, honey. Here’s that poison we mixed together!"

Because to me, having lived through that era,
It felt like a normal and completely understandable
Situation

To die of this disease is to suffer.
There were so many people dying so quickly
in such horrible painful excreta-filled
‘holocaust bodies and faces’ ways

So familiar, that I didn't even flinch when I read it myself

Until

I looked up into the eyes of the 25-year-old boy sitting across from me
His eyes, normally so filled with animated hungry life, wide-eyed and bright
Seemed remote, turned aside
Like he was not wanting to absorb it
or perhaps he was fearing that I, myself, may still go down that way
I’m one medication-fail away from it.

I began to weep
And breathe
And slow down

As I continued describing A Medieval past
An alt history
Of bloody painful isolated death

And then I realized

Back then, he would've been among the first to go.

Like most young actors, he is physically beautiful
Talented and reckless

Like most young people who come from good parents
From Indiana,
He is Eager to sample life

We were all eager to sample life
It was all so very innocent
We were all so very innocent
Kids in a candy store
Away from home
In a profession where the goal is to play

We were all beautiful
We came from worlds without outside voices
We lived in bubbles untouched by the Other
We didn’t know there were others like us

So, when we found each other...

After weeks of a steady grind here in
My bonus round life
I had been questioning myself

But, in this moment, as the faces of the dead
Appeared in the faces of every person around that table
I was reminded why I grab life so by the throat
And ride it like a freight train

And live the shit out of it

Why learn guitar all of a sudden after 62 years?
Why write songs?
Why?

Because, if I do not, I will be betraying them
the ones we lost
the ones who fell by the wayside
my entire dead generation

How dare I get the opportunity to live
And then squander it
Those hospital beds
People who, in a matter of weeks,
Went from being breathtakingly beautiful to skeletal

I could not look at him and not see them
or worse, imagine what he would look like
if he were them
See his eyes sunken and hollow
His robust cheeks sagging and yellow

I have to live the life they were begging for in each doomsday prayer
I want to grab him and tell him that HE also has to live the life they fought for
How easily it can be taken away

Every single one of them died with a broken fantasy image
of the life they would have led
The dances they would have performed
The Broadway roles they would have created
The New York Times reviews!

But I'm the one who got the bonus round
I feel like I have squandered a lot of it, as it is
But I have found a place in my life where I can do my work
I have a room in which I can rehearse
People helping me
People coaching me
People singing with me

I have people who want to act scenes with me
Who Want To Teach Me To Dance

They would have fought for these opportunities
They would not have wasted their lives
Well maybe some of them would have
Don't all of us waste parts of our lives
Or feel like we've wasted part of our lives

But sometimes I feel them watching me
And they are saying, Really?
That’s the best you can do with your life?

And my answer is always, No. No.

I can do more. And I will.

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