She was scared. Really scared. Bessie, her singing teacher, called it “stage fright,” but she didn’t care what they called it, she was really, really scared.
It was opening night of the County Fair and the place was packed. There were thousands of people out there, and she had to go out in front of them and sing. And sing on key. Without her voice shaking. Or Mommy would be really mad at her. She shuddered, knowing what that meant. She clung to the open curtain, her bare legs goose-pimpled with cold and fear and swallowed her urge to cry…it would run her mascara. She peeked around the curtain, eyes growing wide.
It was an outdoor theatre with a tall stage at one end and hundreds of folding chairs set out in rows of semicircles. The cheap wood chairs that pinched your bottom if you didn’t sit down on the seat just right, which was hard to do when your feet didn’t reach the ground when you were sitting down. The chairs creaked and groaned like a demented chorus under the weight of the hundreds of fair-goers who were eager for the live stage show, their voices adding an uneven hum to the background. It was the biggest place she had ever been, bigger than the USO hall or the YMCA auditorium or any of the clubs Mommy dragged her to at night. It was so big! And it was so creepy! There were no clouds and the moon was full, so a strange silvery light bathed the waiting audience, their upturned faces glowing strangely pale in the darkness. They were waiting for her!
Panic gripped her and she clutched at the curtain, her knees threatening to fold up, her dinner threatening to make a sudden, unwelcome reappearance. She had begged Mommy not to make her go, she had begged Bessie not to make her go, but they were a team, implacable and insistent. When her fear made her balk at getting out of the car, tears welling in her eyes, Mommy climbed into the backseat with her for a moment. She calmed, expecting a comforting arm around her shoulder and a reprieve. What she got was a peek into Mommy’s purse where lay, coiled like a sleeping snake, the strap. Mommy had brought the strap with her! She was absolutely doomed.
Not a word had been spoken by either of them. Mommy had simply patted the seat beside her and, when she had moved over closely, Mommy had placed the shiny black patent leather purse onto her pale, nearly bare little legs and silently clicked open the jewelled latch. The brown strip of leather, coiled neatly and sitting top Mommy’s spare pack of Pall Malls was all she needed to see. She looked up at Mommy and nodded silently, Mommy closed the purse, and they both got out of the car and walked calmly over to where Bessie awaited them at entrance to the curtained-off back stage area.
“Are you cold, dumpling?” Bessie asked, seeing her tremble. “Here, take my shawl.” A crocheted shawl smelling of dusting powder and old roses settled over her shoulders and she clutched it to her, happy to have something to grab on to. She wanted to go home and thought to voice her desire, but one look up at Mommy’s excited, animated face and she changed her mind. “Yours is not to reason why,” Mommy had told her when she asked why she had to do this, “Yours is but to do or die.”
Bessie said it was a great honour to be one of the opening acts, especially an opening night act, for the Fair. And most especially when there would be really famous people there. She didn’t exactly understand what Bessie meant, but it seemed to excite Mommy a lot.
They had entered the dark area behind the stage, an area curtained off by large flaps of canvas stretched over the raw wood of the superstructure. The ground had been trampled smooth by hundreds of feet, no trace of grass or even weeds remaining, and the claustrophobically narrow area had already developed a distinctive smell: raw lumber, airborne dust, and the stink of waterproofed canvas. She wrinkled her nose and hung back for a second, a sneeze building, but Mommy fixed her with a glare that stopped it dead. Following Bessie up some narrow stairs, Mommy dragged her along behind, her thin short legs having difficulty keeping up. In a moment, though, they were in a wider space, dimly lit, with people who looked like police standing near the entrance to a roped-off area. She squinted and sounded out the words on the sign…Performers Only Beyond This Point.
Bessie took her hand and they headed for the entrance to the roped area…Bessie would play the piano while she sang, but Mommy had to stay behind. She was beginning to be afraid…she wanted her Mommy…but when she looked over her shoulder, Mommy was gone. Panic gripped her and she began to feel sick to her stomach. Bessie took her to a large, heavy curtain near the stage entrance and told her to stand there while she went to check on the piano.
Bessie took back the shawl, then bent over to do a last minute inspection and tidy her flyaway curls. She’d spent hours sitting still for the torture of those pincurls. “Don’t move, now, do you hear?” Bessie commanded when she was satisfied. She nodded. “OK, then. You remember your lead in?” She nodded again. “OK, then, when you hear it, put on a big smile and come running out, OK?” She nodded again, miserably. And then Bessie was gone, too.
She was scared. Really scared. She’d never been backstage in a place this big. The curtains were huge, making scary shadows in the dim lights. There was someone on the stage talking and making all those silvery-faced people laugh. She was afraid she was going to cry and that would make her nose run and she didn’t have a hankie and it would make her make up run and that would make Mommy mad at her. She was scared and getting scareder with every passing minute. What if she missed her cue? What if she opened her mouth and her voice quavered? Worse, what if no sound came out at all? Clutching the curtain in a death grip with her nerveless, nail-chewed fingers, she tried to remember what she was supposed to sing tonight. What if she forgot the words? Mommy would kill her!
Looking back over her shoulder, she tried to locate the stairs, but there were too many people between her and the ropes that the policemen guarded. She couldn’t go back because she would get lost. She looked back at the stage…was it her turn yet? She hadn’t been paying attention…did they play her lead-in and she missed it? She wished she was home in bed, not out here freezing in her thin cotton costume, clinging to a stinky canvas curtain and trying not to cry or throw up.
She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. Hoping it was Mommy, she turned around and found herself looking up into the face of a lady with the reddest lips and orangest hair she had ever seen in her life! The lady was wearing the prettiest green dress, with the collar flipped up at the back of the neck like Mommy wore hers, and big, big petticoats that made the skirt stick out on all sides. The lady bent over until she could smell her perfume, a scent that caressed her nose and didn’t make her want to sneeze like Mommy’s perfume.
“Are you all right, sweetheart?” the lady asked, looking into her face. She could feel her lower lip tremble and tears well up in her eyes.
“Aw, you poor kid,” the lady said, reaching into her sleeve to withdraw a small white hankie. “No tears now,” the lady said, reaching out to dab gently at her eyes. “You don’t want to go out on stage looking like a raccoon, do you?” She shook her head and giggled a little.
“I know it’s scary sometimes…I get scared too. But you know nothing is going to hurt you, right?” She nodded.
“And when you get done with your act, people are going to clap and cheer for you because they loved you, right?” She smiled a little and nodded again.
“So you’re gonna pick your chin up and smile, and when it’s your turn, you’re gonna go out there and knock ‘em dead, aren’t you?” She smiled and nodded at the lady, who actually looked kind of familiar, and who had a huge grin on her face.
“That’s the spirit!” the lady said, giving her a hug and standing back up. “You’re going to do just fine, aren’t you?” This time the smile was genuine and she nodded again, and the lady waved and walked away, suddenly lost in a small milling crowd.
Bessie had wrapped her in the shawl when she came off the stage to the sounds of thunderous applause. People were always surprised at how big her voice was…she didn’t understand that, either, since it was her voice and it seemed perfectly normal to her. They threaded their way through the backstage crowds towards the ropes and the stairs beyond. She was tired, ready for bed…although she knew she would have to stand still for Mommy washing all the make up off before she could go to bed…she hoped Mommy didn’t get soap in her eyes again this time…that stung so bad! It upset Daddy to see her all painted up, so Mommy always made sure she was clean before she could go to bed. She obediently trailed behind Bessie then halted as she caught a glimpse of green skirt. Bessie, too, stopped and looked in that direction, her face transfixed, her mouth formed into an admiring “O.”
“She’s a very nice lady,” she said to Bessie, careful not to point impolitely. “She wiped my face with her hankie when I was going to cry.”
Bessie looked down at her distractedly. “Who?”
“The lady in the green dress, she’s nice. I like her.”
Bessie gave her a funny look. “The lady in the green dress? The one with the red hair?”
She nodded, wondering if she had done something wrong and was going to get in trouble.
“Do you know who that lady is?” Bessie’s voice was a little breathless.
She shook her head. “But she’s very nice. She wiped my tears and told me everybody was gonna love me and clap for me…and they did!”
“That was Lucy,” Bessie said, a note of excitement in her voice. “Lucy. You had your tears dried by Lucy!”
“From TV, honey,” Bessie said, leading her back towards the car. “Lucy from TV!”
She wasn’t sure why Bessie seemed so excited. She was on TV every week just like Lucy but nobody seemed to be excited about seeing her. Every Saturday morning on Channel 8, on Tiny Tot’s Ranch. She shrugged. All she knew was that this Lucy lady was very nice. She had dried her tears and hugged her and said everything was going to be fine. And it was.
She smiled all the way home.
It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.