The festival grounds were quiet when I arrived at the performance tent. Bonnaroo is mostly asleep at 7:30 in the morning. I set my coffee on a table and looked around the space. We would need to rearrange some chairs and move tables to the margin. My simple set was already at the front of the tent along with the plastic bin containing oil lamp, pipe, glasses, shoes. The two-man crosscut saw was already mounted over the window. To the right of the window, hanging from a couple nails in the stud, were my clothes, cane, and…
Showtime was looming a little over an hour-and-a-half ahead, and my hat was nowhere to be found.
I turned to Sarah, my assistant for the morning. “Have you seen my hat?”
“It was hanging on the nail by the window.”
“It’s not there now.”
Sean, who was there to help set up the tent, wasted no time. “There is a hat vendor not far away, I’ll see what he has.”
“I’ll check next door,” Sarah offered.
With the tent now empty, I had time to think. The grief of losing my favorite hat of 15 years was quickly supplanted with concerns about the show. How would I recast a hat on such short notice?
The hat does little in the show. I doff it at the very beginning and only don it again at very end of the show. For most of the performance, it sits on the table or, when I am using the reduced set, it hangs on the nail by the window, but it plays a big role nonetheless.
In the final seconds of the play, while reaching for his hat, my character realizes he is still clutching his beloved book. It is an emotional moment for the character, and for me personally.
Now I would have to find another way to “discover” the book in my hand, another way to let go, another way to say goodbye, another cue, another path.
As I stepped into the morning sun to ponder this re-direction of the scene, movement caught my attention. I turned. Two hundred feet across the grass to my right, a young woman frolicked, nay pranced merrily through an archway towards me. Wearing nothing but the tiniest of white, cotton panties, her milky white skin soaking up the morning sunlight that danced through her wild blonde hair, accentuated her slender neck, arms, and lit her perfect curves, she bore the smile of one knowing that everything in the world is more than good, the expression of one in the throes of a passionate affair with the sunlight itself, still angling low and horizontal like her morning lover, casting a shadow from her lithe frame that stretched to the near horizon.
In most settings, I would try to be a gentleman, try to avert my gaze from such a woman (though there are scant few settings where such a woman would cross my path) whose joyous smile caused my heart to tingle, whose radiance almost belied her attire. Almost. Prancing towards me on a path which, if maintained, would lead this singularly sexy young woman within six feet of me, this stunning vision of youth, beauty, rapturous freedom and love for the moment, she slowed to a bouncing stroll (oh, did she ever bounce), then stopped for a moment directly in front of me.
In that instant, as I gazed into her eyes, her smile broadened impossibly.
Her voice was as lovely as her bright blue eyes, high in pitch but full with the perfect hint of breath softening her words. In that moment, under that gaze, whatever shred of self-awareness I had left evaporated, and I took in the fullness of her presence. I did not scan her up and down, did not undress her with my eyes (that was hardly necessary). I just smiled back at her, honestly, purely.
“And good morning to you…” The words barely escaped my quickened breath, their cadence dictated by the rhythm of a heart pounding visibly through my t-shirt. I didn’t care if she could see how vulnerable I was, how captured and defenseless.
Her eyes never wavering, her smile never changing, she turned and tilted her head back slightly towards me as she raised her hand in a gentle, slow, dreamlike wave, her blonde hair falling off her shoulder.
“Good morning…” I whispered to myself as her gait began anew, slowly increasing to the skip of a little girl within the womanly angel (her parts otherwise moving in ways not girlish at all). As she passed through the next arch, she glanced back (to look at me one more time, I pretended), before turning to the right and frolicked on to brighten more mornings.
There went the sun, I thought.
Slowly, shards of awareness of the missing hat slipped in and out of the vision I did not want to escape, the vision of perfect beauty that had illuminated my morning, had brought sunshine to my momentarily darkened world.
Somewhere in the timelessness, still aglow from the warmth of a passed sun, the fullness of the morning crept back in. Hat or no hat, the stage was set. The curtain would open in 45 minutes. Yet, in this moment, everything was okay. It had to be. Or, was it? Suddenly, my heart sank. The lightness that had accompanied my other symptoms moments ago was relaxed with a heaviness of heart.
Lost to the weak frailty of my own humanness, had I failed to recognize the human within the radiating vision? Who was this creature? Perhaps she was everything I perceived her to be–angelic, confident, a young goddess with the world on a string, but what if I was wrong? What if I was blinded by a Y chromosome into not seeing the fragile young woman, the powerless girl, the poor young girl whose night of unexpected and indefensible atrocity left her without clothes, clinging now, perhaps out of desperation, to an illusion of normalcy, forced to summon from her depths a shred of strength to carry her forward, wearing a facade made possible only by the loveliness that had overtaken this shallow man and who knows how many others? What if it was vulnerability I saw in those eyes, forcing her, in spite of the humiliation, to somehow embody a countenance the world has no right to force upon her?
What if an innocent young girl who came to this festival for fun, freedom, and music was not frolicking freely but, having had everything including her dignity stolen from her, was left with nothing but deceptively bright eyes, a painful smile, a tarnished young body… and her underpants? What if her gaze into my eyes was really a plea for safety? What if my middle-aged angst and a self-imposed delusion, fueled by the cruel trick played on an aging man whose libido has not caught up with his degenerating discs blinded me to the grandfatherly role I could have–should have–played for a young, wounded, vulnerable girl needing a safe embrace, or at least a blanket.
It was at that moment of guilty self-examination that I saw the first stream of ticket-holders making their way across the field towards my tent. Leading the crowd, two young women held hands and skipped through the grass. Neither wore a shirt. Both had breasts painted as daises whose stems extended down until they disappeared beneath their skirts. Daisies suspended in air, floating on a breeze borne of careless youth.
Everything was okay, I realized. I was okay. The play would be okay. Even my hat, wherever it was, would be okay. And the young woman who shined her light on my morning would be just fine too, with or without her clothes.
Now I just had to figure out how to get those images out of my head long enough to perform a play…