I walk out on stage. “Gasp.” I shiver in the wind of inhalation. The air intake by the audience is so sudden and abrupt that I’m suddenly lightheaded from the shortage of oxygen. It is as if this sharply drawn collective breath creates a momentary vacuum in the room, into which all my logical thoughts disappear, and which my fear rushes out to fill. I don’t see them choking on their malicious whispers, my view now obstructed all the more with warm viscous terror flowing from my eyes and ears, from the corners of my mouth, down my nose, dripping down my face. I try to wipe my face awkwardly with my fingers, which are sticking, now also covered in this sap of dread. The silence is deafening, overwhelming; pounding rhythmically in my ears.
And then suddenly I am aware of the reason of this vacuity: I am on that stage stark naked in all my glory, with a fantastic turnout, and all eyes trained on me. It’s like one of those dreams you have before each new school year: you are in school, and the teacher calls on you, and you haven’t read the chapter, and now that you are in front of the whole class you realize that on top of everything else you are also naked. Well, this time it’s real. Here I stand on this stage, my pale body flooded with light, every flaw underlined and highlighted, my soul turned inside out for their viewing pleasure. And my audience just sits there holding their breath, hungry for every little irregular detail, their eyes following my every movement greedily, their distorted mouths drooling in anticipation.
It is exhausting trying to live your life with a whole community watching: wishing you well, wishing you ill, or even just observing you in your natural habitat. Your happiness and your heartbreak are subjects of conversations over beer and peanuts. Your weight gain and weight loss are tracked and attributed to laziness or stress or an eating disorder. The circles are under your eyes are said to have been caused by excessive drug use and sleepless nights spent crying. An overly friendly “hello” is a shameless attempt to break up somebody’s marriage. You become a string of adjectives compiled by kindly social anthropologists in hair curlers and bathrobes. But at the end of the day what else can you do? It is your stage and your play. And you go on performing stark naked and with a pounding heart.