When I was 16, I came within a mile of killing myself.
A mile, or roughly two minutes. At the spot where the impulse struck me, on Route 175 in Columbia, MD, the roadside was all gently sloping grass—no trees or telephone poles or even concrete safety barriers to ram a car against. A mile further down the road, and I could have found any of those sturdy car-smashing targets—but before I got that far, I’d thought better of it. But in that instant, in the car alone, after the boy I was in love with told me he wasn’t in love with me, that he thought of me as a good friend but nothing more than that… if the chance had been there, my teen-angst-ful self would have taken it.
Next month, in case you’ve missed any of my earlier from-the-rooftop announcements, I’ll be playing Bruce Bechdel in Fun Home, the musical based upon Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical “tragicomic.” Bruce was Alison’s father; he was passionate about literature and photography and art and design, and he made sure the home Alison grew up in was pristine and fashionable and full of beauty. He was also gay. And four months after Alison came out to him as lesbian, he killed himself.
I’ve been talking a lot with my therapist about this show. Playing Bruce, I told her, is like riding my bike riiiiiight along the edge of a cliff—trying to match its curves and twists without falling in and crashing.
Some days it’s terrifying.
But unlike 16-year-old me, I’ve learned to think, as I’m teetering on the edge of that cliff, about the people around me—my husband, of course, who is the best friend I’ve ever had; but also my sister and our parents, and a select group of other close friends—who aren’t afraid to see me hurting, or angry, or scared. These are people who have seen me cry, and have let me cry, and have sat with me without fixing or masking or ignoring what’s wrong. They’ve been with me in moments when the fact that they were with me was the only good thing I could see, and they stayed there until I could see more good things than that.
These are the people who’ve saved my life over and over again.
And one moment, on Route 150 in Beech Creek, PA, Bruce couldn’t think of anyone like that.
I hope you’ll come see FUN HOME because it is—and I give you my word that this is not an exaggeration—the best-written musical I have ever read. I hope you’ll come see it because the story is funny and poignant and sweet, and the music is fun and glorious and haunting. I hope you’ll come see us because the cast includes some of the most insightful, vulnerable, dedicated actors and singers I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. I hope you’ll come see us because I feel as though playing Bruce at this moment in my life—I’m just 2 years older now than Bruce was when he died—is something that had to happen.
But most of all, I hope you’ll come see us because someday, someone else will need you to be there for them. And they’ll need you to be able to see their pain and their grief and their shame and their terror, and not be afraid of any of it. The edge of the cliff can be a horrible place to find yourself, and if you’re not careful, at the wrong moment, you can fall in. But if you’ve learned the terrain—if you’ve been there before, with someone who knows the way, and who can grab your hand if you start to slip—it’s not quite as scary.
Will you join us?
To buy tickets for the October 7 performance, benefiting the LGBT Center of Central PA, please use this form. (These sales must be completed by October 1.)
Tickets to all twelve performances are now available on the Open Stage of Harrisburg website and at the door.
If you’d like to learn more about FUN HOME, and maybe be a little less scared of the cliff before you visit, here are a few resources to get you started:
- Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (the book the musical is based on)
- Fun Home show website, including synopsis, reviews, and music player
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (or call 800-273-8255, 24/7)
- The Trevor Project: crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ young people ages 13-24 (or call 866-488-7386, 24/7)
- The Stigma Project: an ongoing, statewide (Pennsylvania) campaign to eliminate the stigma associated with individuals with physical, mental or intellectual disabilities
And even if none of those resources seems quite right to you, you’re not alone. I’m here for you.