I tore open the basement door and was met with darkness and the mews of sequestered pets. He was definitely was not in the basement.
He hadn’t been in the kitchen, or upstairs in his bedroom, or in his office, or in the garage, so I was positive he would be in the basement.
I shut the door carefully so Elise wouldn’t hear the noise, noticing with a certain detachment that my hands were shaking.
Time was running out.
I haven’t felt stage fright in a while – physically felt it like an affliction, or a holy ghost moving within me.
Now it’s just a spare butterfly in my stomach, or a certain anxiousness – probably because these days my on-stage appearances involve strumming and squawking my own songs rather than reciting 115 pages of memorized dialog. Yet, even in my theatrical days my slight stage fright was nothing debilitating. It was more a survival instinct than performance anxiety; it kept me aware, kept me from being complacent.
Or, maybe I’m just a natural performer, and I’ve never really understood what stage fright really is.
Until that Sunday.
Back in the kitchen now, with Elise a scant wall away in the bathroom. Even washing her face or futzing with her contacts wouldn’t keep her in there much longer. I had another minute, maybe two. Desperate, I looked out of the window.
There he was. Walking the dog.
I don’t think I’ve ever moved so quickly in my entire life. Out of the kitchen, into the hallway, and out into the pitch black garage, stealthily shutting each door behind me as I went.
A sole trace of light radiated from around the edges of the outside door. In the relative blackness I nearly tumbled over a box. Or a car. Or some sort of inert garage gremlin, for all I knew at the time. I was completely fixated on the outline of the door, which he hadn’t shut completely. I should have noticed it the first time I peered into the garage.
Heart racing, I grasped the doorknob.
Despite my near-OCD about consistency and personal habits I don’t believe in carrying on a tradition for traditions sake. Just because everyone does something a certain way – have always done something a certain way – doesn’t mean I plan to adhere. In fact, it probably means that I plan not to, especially if the tradition is religious or patriarchal in any way.
Yet, even with that inherent rebelliousness, there are a few traditions I just can’t bear to break. Am I actually polite on some deeply-repressed psychological plane? On some even deeper level do I buy into a few traditions just so my rejection of others is more profound.
Or, are some traditions that way for a reason?
I burst out of the door and into the daylight of the driveway, breathless.
From across the street Elise’s father looked up from a cell phone call to regard me quizzically, the dog hunched in the grass by his feet.
As I met his gaze my entire body shook uncontrollably. The physical, rational part of me was having a grand mal seizure. Somewhere beneath that a combination of instinct and basic motor functions took over.
I started to walk down the driveway.
It was over before I knew it. Like being stuck by a needle, or surging down a rollercoaster. Or getting on stage. All the anxiety in the anticipation, and none of in the act.
My recollection of the actual event is vague. Did I speak with confidence, or was I shaking like a leaf (and possibly dry heaving) the entire time. I would say that we could ask Elise’s father, but I’m sure he had his own collection of involuntary reactions to contend with at the time.
Five minutes later we walked back into the house together to find Elise seated in the kitchen, reading her book. She raised an eyebrow at our entrance, to which I replied, “I didn’t want him to have to walk the dog alone.”
She went back to her book, apparently unconcerned, unaware of the mad hunt that had lead me outside or the motivation behind it.
I resisted the urge to shoot a look back to her father, but couldn’t risk giving my mission away.
I had permission. We were getting engaged.