After my trip to Hub City, I'm sick again with another sinus infection. It's like I can't get on an airplane without catching something.
Luckily I recover just in time before the latest opera, Tales of Hoffmann, goes into dress rehearsals. For a semi-staged performance, there is an awful lot of business on stage and a ton of quick costume changes off stage, which we have to do in the hallway because we are not in our usual theater but a place that was built over a hundred years ago. The real changing rooms are in a grim basement without a monitor, so we are instructed to remain in the hallway beside the stage.
The plot (such as it is) of Tales of Hoffmann makes no sense at all. Basically it's just a flimsy excuse to string together a bunch of different songs, some of them very famous. I have to admit, the music is spectacular. Everyone in the cast has to play multiple roles, even the leads. Suzanna is the lead soprano again, and one of her roles is the wind-up doll Olympia. She's so cute in her mechanical doll costume, and oh man, she really sings the hell out of that aria. She's just been marking it in earlier rehearsals, not singing the real notes because it's so high, but when she sings for real in the dress rehearsal, we all gather in the wings just to listen. I've been carpooling with her almost every day and she complains about how that aria is a pain in the butt but I can tell she is loving the opportunity to really stretch her talent and show what she can do.
There's a new guy in the men's chorus, or I should say, a new young, straight guy. Old dudes come and go all the time, and the men's chorus is mostly gay. So the arrival of this new member is kind of a big deal for the women's chorus. The new guy is named Uri, and he is gorgeous. He's slender and boyish, with blue eyes, square jaw, straight white teeth and long chestnut brown hair. Usually long hair on a guy is a ratty disaster, but Uri's hair is shiny, thick and perfect, nicer than most girls' hair. He wears a retro leather jacket with stripes on the sleeve that suits him perfectly. Not only is he beautiful, but he's sweet and kind. All the girls in the chorus have crushes on him, including me.
At one staging rehearsal, before the sets were painted and finished, I was walking down the wooden platform at the center of the stage, about to walk down the two steps at the front, when I slipped. I was wearing my character shoes, and somehow I managed to connect exactly with the head of a nail at the edge of the step and the head of a nail in the heel of my shoe. The two bits of metal slid unexpectedly. One second I was strutting down the platform in character, and the next both my legs shot out from under me like in a cartoon pratfall. Luckily Uri was standing right next to me and caught me in mid-air, gracefully setting me back on my feet with surprising strength. If he hadn't caught me, I would have cracked my tailbone on the edge of the step. The rehearsal stopped dead as everyone marveled at this amazing rescue. I thanked Uri profusely.
After that, I start talking to him more and more. Ok, so he's only twenty-four and I'm thirty-two, but he seems remarkably thoughtful and mature for his age. No matter what I natter on about he listens like he's genuinely interested, even my very boring grad school stories. For a minute I start to actually like him for real.
Of course, this puts me back in the position I was in when I was dating William, competing with all the other single girls in the company. In fact I thought at first that Uri was dating one of my friends in the chorus, an alto of Amazonian proportions named Frances. But when I ask her, she informs me that they went on a few dates then he flaked out on her.
"Don't trust him," she says darkly.
I brush off her comments as sour grapes. He seems like the most trustworthy person I have ever met.
Shortly before the show opens, after rehearsal one night I offer Uri a ride home. For once I have my car with me and I'm not carpooling with anyone else. In the downtime backstage we've been chatting and it seems a shame not to continue our conversation.
Uri lives far from me, on the other side of town in a neighborhood I don't know well. He shows me his building but of course the entire street is parked up, bumper to bumper, so I just pull up alongside the parked cars. It's not double parking if you stay in your car, right? Anyway the street is wide enough that cars can drive around me.
Instead of jumping out of the car right away, Uri lingers to finish our conversation. Somehow we've drifted from me talking about grad school to more existential topics. I tell him all about my humiliating job interview, and how I'm about to graduate with no job and yet another useless degree. I feel like I'm looking over a bottomless pit.
Even if I do somehow manage to find a job, very likely I'll have to move, and not necessarily to a big city. If I end up in some little town, I'll probably be single for the rest of my life. I'll never get married and have kids. I'm already far past the age where most people have this shit figured out already. What the hell am I doing with my life?
I'm not even trying to impress Uri or flirt with him anymore. This all just comes pouring out, and I don't care what he thinks of me. My other friends are already tired of hearing me go on about this. It's nice to have someone really listen.
"I'm sure you'll figure something out," he says kindly, as I stare hopelessly out at the dark street, the leaves of the trees looking ghostly under the streetlights.
Just as he says this, I suddenly jump up in my seat and squeal like I've been shocked. I suddenly realize I turned off the car engine but left the headlights on, and we've been sitting here a really long time.
I go to turn off the headlights but at exactly that moment, they slowly fade away.
"God damn it!" I beat my fists on the steering wheel. "I fucking drained the battery! What the hell is wrong with me?!"
Uri stays calm even as I'm freaking out and starting to cry.
"Do you have jumper cables?"
"No!" I can practically hear Nam, my auto repair expert friend, lecturing me for not keeping a set in my trunk.
"I think my roommate has some. I'll go get it," Uri offers. I watch him nimbly sprint up the front steps then come trotting back out with them. I'm sunk down in abject humiliation. How could I make such a stupid mistake?
Now we have to wait for someone to drive by. Luckily a car full of twenty-somethings pulls up and Uri talks to them for me. They're happy to help, and pull up next to me.
I pop the hood and stay in the car like a stupid girl, letting Uri attach the cables even though he doesn't even own a car and probably has never done this before, just because he's a guy and the thought of doing it myself scares me.
The jump works right away. I thank the other car, then thank Uri profusely. Once again he has saved me.
I drive home well past midnight, feeling even more dejected than before.
Opening night of the opera, the show finally comes together. The bare-bones costumes for the chorus are actually not bad. I get to wear a corset and a huge hat with flowers for one scene, and a mantilla for another. I feel quite glamorous. William and Uri both look very dashing in their 19th century military costumes, white breeches with royal blue jackets covered with gold braid. I'm finally relaxing about the crazy staging and fast costume changes, and enjoying being in the show. Suzanna brings down the house with the doll aria.
Suzanna and I have been carpooling nearly every day, and today is no different. Even though it's opening night, we decide we're too tired to stay out. She drops me off at home and we agree to carpool again the next day.
I'm checking my email when the phone rings past midnight. It's Suzanna's fiancé, asking where she is. Apparently she hasn't come home yet. I thought they weren't living together yet, but he explains that he's staying at her place for now, until they can find something bigger.
I don't know where she is. She dropped me off over an hour ago. He tried calling her cell phone but she didn't answer.
Now I'm worried too. What if she was in an accident? I call her cell phone and she answers right away, sounding flustered at first, then furious when I explain that her fiancé is looking for her.
"He called you?! He had no right to do that!!"
"Well, he's worried and I don't blame him. Where are you?"
And that's how I find out that Suzanna has been hooking up with Uri for weeks.
It's the scandal of the season for the opera company, and everyone has an opinion. I was never a big fan of the fiancé. He's kind of a pretentious jerk, overly serious and boring, and the competition between them for career advancement seems unhealthy. Still, it was cruel of Suzanna to cheat on him and lie rather than just breaking things off earlier. People are also a bit surprised at the age difference, since like me Suzanna is in her early thirties and Uri is ten years younger. No one said anything when William hooked up with Vicky even though she is twenty years younger than he is, but if it's a younger guy and an older woman, everyone has to comment. Also the fact that Uri is just in the chorus and Suzanna is a lead, which again no one seemed to notice with William and Vicky.
But the one I am most upset with is Uri. I'm not so secretly jealous, even though we never did anything more than very casually flirt. But I know he did a lot more than flirt with Frances, and maybe others too. The way he quickly cycled through many women in the company reminds me of William, and it puts a bad taste in my mouth.
France was right, he's not to be trusted, and I don't want to see Suzanna get hurt. I tell him as much while I'm giving him a ride home again after a matinee.
"If you're going to see her, it has to be serious," I say. "Suzanna doesn't sleep around like I do. This has to be for real."
In the passenger seat, Uri nods seriously, looking out the windshield. "I know."
Just as I pull up in front of his house, I turn and narrow my eyes at him. "If you hurt her, I'll cut you."
I mean it in a teasing way, but apparently he complains to Frances that I'm being inappropriate. Whatever. I am done with him.
It's wheelchair basketball season again, and The Mantis invites me to come along to watch him play. They use a gym at a satellite campus of Lester State two hours south of Raser City. I drive down and meet him there. I get horribly lost on campus, so by the time I arrive the game has already started, but his girlfriend Titania is sitting along the sidelines and waves me over.
The game is being held in a typical school gym with risers along the side, but they're not even open all the way. There are only a dozen or so family members scattered around watching. I'm very grateful Titania is there. I've been thinking about attending a wheelchair sports event ever since breaking up with Rollerboy but always felt like a weird creeper just showing up on my own. Knowing someone on the team as a friend, and having another friend to sit with gives me plausible deniability.
"So how many people here do you think are devotees?" Titania teases me in a whisper. I scan the tiny crowd of spectators, all suburban mom types with kids.
"I'd say none. They all look like the wives of guys on the team."
"True, but you never know," she says conspiratorially. "Maybe that's why they got married."
Just after I arrive there's a time out. Several of the amputees have slid down from their chairs to lie on the floor, waving their residual limbs in the air. Titania jokes that it looks like the aftermath of a battlefield.
Mantis wheels over to give me a sweaty hug. "We're getting our asses kicked," he says ruefully. He explains that his team never practices, but the other team is coached by a former member of the US Paralympics basketball team, and they are based at the main campus of Lester State, the university I attend.
"What! That gym is just a few blocks from my house!" Suddenly I'm paying attention.
"Why do you think I invited you?" he says with a wicked grin. He gulps down some water then takes me over to meet the coach and some of the members of the other team.
The coach is a bluff, fiftyish para, a super jock type with a wife and kids in attendance. I shake his hand and say hello, but really I'm more busy scoping out a few other guys on the team who are younger and perhaps single. The coach is very friendly, and when he hears I live nearby, invites me to come to their practice. I am all over that.
The game resumes, and I sit down again next to Titania to watch. She gets a phone call from her older kid, and disappears outside for about twenty minutes.
"What's the score?" she asks when she comes back in.
I just gape at her. I have no clue what the score is, or which team is doing better. I've just been watching in a kind of blissed out fugue state, as the guys push up and down the gym. I love watching their arms pump at the wheels, then pull sharply to turn on a dime. It's so cool the way a guy will squeeze the ball against the push rim then move forward to propel the ball smoothly into his lap. I'm vaguely aware there are some rules about how much you can push before you have to bounce the ball, but anything else I have no idea. I certainly haven't been watching this as a game with winners and losers. For me it's just a panorama of guys in wheelchairs flexing their arm muscles, who I've been mentally ranking from most to least attractive. The Mantis is somewhere in the middle, by the way.
"Um, the score? I...don't know?"
Titania laughs and rolls her eyes at me.
All this gets me back on a dev high again, so naturally I turn back to the internet. It's been a few years since I help Lee to start the Paradevo website but I kind of dropped out of touch with him. I decide it's time to see how he's doing. I send him an email titled The Return of Devo Girl.
Long time no email, sorry about that! I'm really happy to see that you've kept the site going though, and you have a lot of new content. It looks great! So how have you been? Things with me are mostly the same, still in grad school and really busy. I'm not dating anyone unfortunately :( So naturally I am back to channeling my devo desires onto the internet, after a long hiatus. I have been totally into the TV series Blind Justice (probably not your thing, but I really like it) and found a number of like-minded people on some of the fan sites. As a result, I have been inspired to create more web content for us blindness devotees. Why should the SCI guys get all the love? ;) I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I wrote some Daredevil fan fiction if you want to post it on Paradevo. I wouldn't mind writing some new stuff for you too, but I don't have anything specific in mind yet--I've got too many projects going on right now as it is.
Lee writes back,
Wow, can't believe it's you...
Yeah, I get mail every once in a while asking me if there will ever be another chapter of Devo Diary. I have been forced to tell them that Devo Girl has disappeared off the face of the earth ;) It would be great if you could write something else for me, but no rush, since I've got a decent number of contributors.
I actually recently obtained a domain name (www.paradevo.net) and now I've been considering expanding the site with more photos. But I already got a nasty email thanks to one of the photos I took from the Dev Girls site. Any ideas?
Anyway, it's good to hear from you again.
I know exactly who sent him that nasty email.
Oh my god, you know that's my ex, right? The guy I dated for two years, the one I nicknamed Rollerboy.
OH SHIT!!! I had no idea.... I only posted it because I figured he consented to being on Dev Girls, so what the hell. He was really upset about the photo being on there. I took it down right away. I have to tell you, he's a good looking guy. I had no idea he was so pissed off about devos... most men seem to be OK with it and mostly flattered.
I write back,
Yeah, Rollerboy was really hot, and sometimes I'm still a little sad we broke up, but he had a lot of issues, it's a long story. Regarding the photos, he was mainly angry because of that guy impersonating him. Also he got a lot of email from guys pretending to be girls and asking for his photo, which also bugged him. But anyway that all happened several years ago now.
His first email to me wasn't that angry, but more just curt. I took the picture down right away, but I challenged him a little and said that while it was his right to ask me to take it down, I didn't think it was hurting him to have the picture up there. He said a few things to me that seemed really weird. He said something like, "It seems like your only qualifications for posting a pic is if the guy is good looking and in a wheelchair" (uh, yeah) and "Would you have posted the picture there if I weren't in a wheelchair?" Well, of course not... what kind of dumb question is that?
This all takes me right back to my time with Rollerboy. I can hear him saying those exact words to me. I respond,
Ugh, unfortunately I think that is all fallout from our relationship... those are basically the same things he said to me. Even though he knew I was a devotee from the start and claimed to be ok with it, he never really was, and when he decided to break up with me, his reasoning was that I only loved him because he was in a wheelchair, and sadly, it was kind of true, since we didn't have much in common. If you think of it as directed to me rather than your site, his comments make more sense. All his anger about the devos online who stole his image repeatedly and some others who sent him stupid emails got mixed up with his feelings for me, and it all got real ugly. Oh well, I hope he's figured out how to be a little more happy, but we haven't been in touch for 3 years or so.
Considering how pissy he got over that photo I posted, I doubt he's much more happy. I tried to reason with him a little, saying that pretty much everyone is initially drawn to other people because of their physical characteristics, but he wasn't having it.
We email back and forth some more about hot guys in wheelchairs, and I end by sending Lee a link to a personals ad I just stumbled across on Craigslist. The ad contains a collage of five or six photos of a para guy in a sporty manual chair. He has buzzcut blond hair and scruffy stubble. In one close-up photo, he's looking back over his heavily tattooed shoulder with a grin, his blue eyes shining. The other photos are all of him doing BMX tricks on a half-pipe in his wheelchair. The text underneath it is brief--he's thirty-two, into wheelchair BMX and weed, and lives an hour and a half south of Raser City. He's cute for sure but lives kind of far away and probably we have nothing in common. But I love that he's so up front about his disability. So many guys try to downplay it in their personal ads, but not this dude. He's like, here I am, sexy wheelchair athlete. I go back and forth in my mind about whether to contact him or not, but really it's just a matter of time before I give in to my dev desires.
For my thirty-third birthday, I get together at my favorite hipster bar with all my friends: Sarah and Stephanie, all my opera friends, and Mantis and Titania. I'm still feeling like a failure in my career, and it's depressing that I'm approaching my mid thirties without a real job. I've deferred completing my degree yet again to give me some more time to try to secure a job, and in the meantime I'm working some nothing jobs on campus. I'm so sick of school and just want to be done. It's like I've enjoyed an extended adolescence for twenty years too long. When am I going to be a grown-up?
But anyway even though I still don't feel like an adult and I'm still single, it's nice to have so many good friends. There is a part of me that doesn't want this to end. I want to keep working those nothing jobs, just enough to pay the bills, so I can be in the opera in the evenings. I like hanging out with my friends all the time. I don't want to give that up.
At the party, I mention this to my gardener poet friend from the men's chorus. "Why am I trying so hard? Maybe I should just give up and find some day job, like Ariel or Lulu or Gretchen are doing."
He shakes his head. "That's fine for them but you won't be happy doing that. Come on, you're so close to finishing. Just hang in there, kiddo. I know you'll find a real job soon."
Later that same evening, I take The Mantis aside and tell him about Paradevo and my emails with Lee.
"We put together this website for devotees but there still isn't much content. Lee has been asking guys to share photos of themselves but no one has volunteered. So I was thinking, I still have all those photos of you. Do you mind if I post some?"
He laughs. "Can you hide my face?"
"Sure, there are a few where we don't see your face. I promise I'll only post those."
"Ok, go ahead. Maybe some devs on that site will be interested. You have to put me in touch with them."
Titania, who has been laughing along with this whole conversation, says, "I'm going to buy you one of those t-shirts that say 'I'm famous on the internet'!"
"No," I say, "It should be the one that says, 'I'm somebody's fetish.'"
We all laugh, and I promise to pass along any fan mail from his future adoring devotee public.