Time's Square

by Leslie Kendall Dye
Originally Published: 

I was walking through Times Square today when a bullet ripped through my heart. Blood spattered across 46th Street and my pulse grew faint. Only my toddler’s tiny hand gripping mine brought me back to life.

We were headed to the Bryant Park carousel on a humid summer morning. We had just emerged from the subway, dripping in sweat at 11 a.m.—nothing like a New York City summer—when disaster struck.

The bullet was launched from the second floor of the Actors’ Equity building at 165 West 46th Street. Weakened by blood loss, it took me a minute to realize it wasn’t blood at all. It was memory.

Memory flooded from the wound in my chest. Surrounded by neon billboards and hundreds of tourists, clutching my child’s hand and guiding her forward through the intersection, I was also racing backward in time.

It’s been five years since I’ve entered 165 West 46th Street. It was once a second home. Equity is the union for theatre actors, and many auditions are held in tiny rooms off its second-floor lounge. Equity was my routine, it was an affirmation of my identity as an actor, and it was a constant of my pre-baby life. As the memories of my former life flooded in, my nervous system swam through waves of nostalgia, confusion, pessimism and hope. I began to sweat more profusely.

I was 35 when I was cast in a new play, and I readily accepted. A few weeks later, I began vomiting at bedtime. I took a test. What my husband and I wanted desperately was due to arrive in November, if all went as hoped.

I met with the play’s director at a diner on Broadway to give him the news. Balancing a soggy matzo ball on my spoon, I told him I was pregnant. I was supposed to play an end-stage cancer patient, and the show would premiere three weeks before my due date.

Just like that, biology had me mommy-tracked.

I attempted a few more auditions in my first trimester, but the breathlessness of excess blood volume—not to mention the constant retching—made my readings seem a tad less professional. And so I surrendered.

I grew rapidly. By 20 weeks, strangers were smiling knowingly and saying, “Any day now?”

A casting director called with an audition for a show I had long dreamed of working on. She had assured me that as soon as that right role came, she would bring me in. I was 36 weeks pregnant, and larger than a blue whale. I cried when I called her back to tell her my situation.

“But that’s happy news! Congratulations! We won’t forget you, don’t worry. Roles come along all the time, but babies don’t!”

Is there anything easier to offer than false comfort?

© Courtesy Leslie Kendall Dye

I continued to cry, a 35-year-old whale-woman imprisoned by early contractions, unable to sleep or take a walk or find anything that fit. How would I ever be that other woman again, the one with a backpack filled with audition shoes and dresses and makeup and pages of dialogue and headshots and resumes?

I was about to take on a new role, and preparing for it had cost me much that I had held dear: auditions, roles, the remainder of my youth, even my (all-male) talent agency, who left me a voicemail sometime in my second trimester. Pregnancy had made me a liability, and that was that.

And so, unfettered by the distractions of career, I headed toward a different sort of labor.

My child is nearly 4 now. Due to both financial circumstance and personal preference, I chose—happily—to stay with her at home in her earliest years. If ever there were a child worth spending all my time on for four straight years, this is the child, I think. It has been a brutally slow and yet astonishingly rapid four years—just ask any parent, of course, and they will tell you about the breaking of all laws of physics, time and rationality that becoming a parent involves.

I have never worked harder and never felt less worthy. I have never felt so at peace with the limits imposed by the early years of parenthood and never so alarmed by the distance between me and the “real world.”

I try to follow the political headlines and even read a full article in the paper. I like to watch one or two shows that people my age are watching (hello, Sherlock!), and I’ve fought to keep reading books despite the warning that parenting ends that pursuit.

I have not stopped work altogether—I do local readings and short-film shoots and a commercial when I can snag one—but I cannot yet work on a project that would have me away for weeks on end.

I have no regret, because my goodness, it’s been fun. I have no regret because wow, have I been lucky to watch this kid grow all day, a luxury many parents would give a limb to indulge in.

I have no regret—except perhaps that there isn’t one more decade between one’s 30s and one’s 40s.

My daughter and I crossed 46th street, and I drank in a glimpse of the Equity lobby, all shiny brass and marble. My child dragged me eastward toward the park. The music and lights of the carousel beckoned.

She is going to preschool in the fall. Am I going back to school too? Will I get my supplies and begin my studies again? How far will I be willing to travel for a play or a role in a film? What will I say to prospective agents when I land in their offices for interviews? Will I tell them I have a child? I’ve already lost one agency because I grew a life in my body.

If there is anything motherhood has taught me, it is commitment. If there is anything motherhood has taught me, it is that new roles can be taken on when one is ready. Even when one isn’t ready, one becomes ready by force of necessity.

I will gather my supplies. I will memorize my lines. I will stand at the ballet barre three times a week to ready myself for the stage.

I’ve walked a long way in five years, and I’ve often thought I was walking farther and farther from the actor’s world. But it turns out I’ve walked in a square—time’s square, if you will—and here I am where I left off. What’s five years, anyway? The passage of five years can’t kill a dream, certainly not a passage as rich in experience as these five years have been.

Memory serves me well.

See you soon, Equity audition rooms. See you soon, casting directors. See you soon, grown-up world.

I hope you are ready for me.

“I’ll be back,” I told Times Square. “I promise.”

And with that, I plucked the bullet from my chest and sealed up the wound.

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