This was the first script I ever wrote. Wooooordy. Not bad, but I’d go through with an axe now. (Yes, DatD’s heroine is named Nan, and I do rather like the name Nan. No, I will probably not use it again… much.)
One Foot in Front of the Other
By Tiel Kinsner
Lights come up on a small café table where NAN is nursing a cup of coffee and a sandwich. She is about 28 and painfully withdrawn.
CONNIE, also about 28 and professionally dressed, was her best friend from high school, whom she hasn’t seen in six years.
CONNIE enters from stage right carrying her lunch and a beverage. She clearly has places to be. She fumbles in her bag for her car keys. Her eyes pass over NAN at first as if she is not there, but as she crosses toward stage left and her car, NAN looks up and a moment of recognition passes between them.
CONNIE: Yes?…. Oh my God! Nan! Is that really you? It’s been forever! Well, look at you! Last I even heard of you, you were engaged to be married to, oh what was his name?
(NAN swallows bitterly)
CONNIE: Yes! How is he?
CONNIE: Oh, I’m sorry… Gone as in passed? Or…
NAN: No. No, just gone from my life. Anyway how are you? I bumped into Sarah a little while ago and heard you were married and had a couple of kids.
CONNIE: Three actually! Yes, my oldest, Madison, is turning five in a month! And then I have twin sons, Eric and Tim, they’ll be two in July.
NAN: Wow! You have your hands full! Twins! How do you get any free time? I hope your husband helps out a lot.
CONNIE: Actually, we’re separated.
(BOTH are silent for a moment)
NAN: Do you want to have some lunch with me?
(CONNIE is torn and checks her watch)
CONNIE: I have a meeting actually in about an hour and I should – No, I really – Oh what the hell. I don’t really need to be there, my partner will be fine without me on this one.
(CONNIE sits at the table opposite Nan)
CONNIE: I honestly can’t believe you’re here. You practically dropped off the face of the earth after school and we all only ever caught bit’s and pieces of what you were up to, but I always wondered.
(NAN looks down)
NAN: Yeah, I know. I… I couldn’t keep in touch. I wanted to, but things got… complicated.
CONNIE: Tell me about it. Life has a funny way of doing that.
(NAN smiles faintly)
NAN: Tell me more about your kids.
CONNIE: (Brightly) Well! Madison is a little princess! She’s a jewel in little tutus and mommy’s heels. She has such a big imagination and loves to get into my jewelry and makeup. I have some of the biggest laughs catching her in my closet. Of course it’s a fortune in ruined lipstick and carpet cleaning, but I consider it money well spent to see her clowny-faced grin in rum-raisin. And she’s so precocious! And the boys!
CONNIE: They are definitely keep me on my toes and are in full swing terrible twos already, but they are wonderful! They don’t talk much yet, but it’s really amazing they way they communicate with each other. They’re practically inseparable. I swear they never actually learned to walk before they learned to run!
NAN: They sound like a joy. Do you have pictures?
CONNIE: Do I have pictures? Ha!
(CONNIE reaches into her bag and pulls out her stack of pictures and hands them to NAN.)
NAN: Oh this one is priceless!
CONNIE: Is that the spaghetti – oh uh-huh!
NAN: So what happened to their dad?
(A moment of silence)
NAN: We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t feel up to it. Really, I understand.
CONNIE: Well, James never got used to losing some independence after Maddie was born. We were so young. I was barely outta college, and he was just starting on his own as a contractor. I knew he was unhappy. The added household expenses really bothered him and he always kinda resented knowing we were waiting for him at home when he wanted to go out to the bar after work. I guess I wasn’t as understanding as I could’ve been, but I worked too and I never saw how it was fair that I had to be tied down between work and home and he was off doing his thing.
NAN: I think some men have a harder time with changes like that. They need some space.
CONNIE: Yeah, I get it. But just because I’m a woman and gave birth doesn’t mean that I don’t need some space too… Some recharge time. Whatever. When I got pregnant with the twins, the last three months I was put on bed rest. That was really rough… on everyone. I needed him at home during all his free time, just to get through it. He was really unhappy. With me, with life… When the boys were born, I know he thought everything would go back to the way it was. But three kids? I couldn’t do it alone.
NAN: I doubt anyone could.
CONNIE: So once I started back at work we hired a nanny. I work as a website designer so I could set my hours according to what we needed and, between that and the live-in, I really thought that would be the answer to our problems. James had just been so unhappy for so long I guess that it didn’t matter. And the nanny… Well… I don’t know. She was more the woman James wanted than I was I guess. Less demanding, younger… firmer…
(CONNIE smiles bitterly)
CONNIE: You know, you always hear about that type of thing and think it happens to people who are selfish bitches or because the man is a total dog. Well, I’m no saint, but I loved my husband, and was devoted to our family. I may not have been perfect but I really tried and gave all I had and James wasn’t a horrible man. He had some issues, don’t we all? But I never ever saw this coming.
NAN: God Connie, I’m so sorry.
CONNIE: That was about six months ago. I found out one afternoon when a client was a no-show and I went home early, knowing he was at home. He moved out the next day, and I’ve been picking up the pieces since.
NAN: I don’t even know what to say… I, just, I’m sorry.
CONNIE: I know, I know. I shouldn’t even have unloaded on you that way. I’m sorry. It just gets to a point when you’re so tired of keeping it in. You feel like you’re going crazy – being so fake all the time. Telling everyone how awesome your life is when it’s really in fragments around your feet. Thank you for listening to me moan. I’ll cut it out now.
NAN: Please. Please don’t think like that. I’m glad you did. Even though I haven’t seen you in, what seven almost eight years? I always loved you so much, and we always talked about everything. It feels really good to know that you didn’t just give me lines of crap.
CONNIE: Jesus… Seven years… So much happens in seven years it may as well have been twice that.
NAN: I know. It’s surreal to me to even be back here, let alone seeing you.
CONNIE: I really don’t want to pry, but what happened?
(Nan pauses a moment in consideration)
NAN: You remember when I met Felix how I’d been through a string of bad boyfriends and things at home were… never good.
CONNIE: Some drama you can’t forget, even if you want to. (Chuckles) I’ll never forget that time you and I had plans to go ice skating on a Sunday afternoon and your dad called me a ‘succubus leading you into temptation’ and forbade me to ever come to the house again…
(NAN covers her face with her hands)
NAN: OH God! He couldn’t have been more awful to you. I was so embarrassed! I felt like such a little rebel going out with you after that. I used to tell him I was going to study groups at Sarah’s. I loved that feeling! I felt like I was actually in control of my life…
CONNIE: You never had it easy.
NAN: Funny how life changes all the time and time passes you in a blink, but some things never change…
(They sit for a moment)
NAN: So, when I was a girl I had a prince.
NAN: Most little girls do, I guess. He would come and save me from my loneliness wherever I was… I didn’t have many friends growing up aside from you, and my brothers never wanted to play with me because I wasn’t tough enough not to cry if I got hurt, even if I didn’t tell. Not that I ever would have, you know what my dad was like. But my prince would carry me off on his great big horse and I would have the biggest smile knowing I was leaving all my misery behind forever… But princes like that only exist in Disney movies and bedtime stories… Men who’ll carry you off in reality can turn out to be more like the villains than the heroes we dream about… And the ropes that they tie you down with leave welts on your soul that never heal.
CONNIE: Are you going to be mysterious? Or are you going to share with me?
NAN: I wanted to believe Felix was that prince when he took me away but he turned out to be the villain. That’s all.
CONNIE: Come on now. I just spilled all my guts to you and that’s the best you’ve got for me?
NAN: I’m not very good at this anymore. I’ve spent a lot of years living in my head and not being able to reach out to anyone… He wouldn’t let me. He couldn’t stand to listen to me, but he wouldn’t suffer anyone else to do it either.
CONNIE: God Nan, what happened to you? You’re shaking like a leaf!
NAN: I’m broken.
CONNIE: You’re not broken. I don’t see any pieces missing anywhere or hanging bits. You’re just… sad.
NAN: I don’t know anymore.
CONNIE: I can see that he hurt you. Obviously I don’t know any of the particulars, but I get that it was hell. How did you get away?
NAN: We moved all the time. We were never in one place longer than a year. Sometimes it took longer than others for the neighbors to step in or call the police. The last time, about two months ago, he was drunk and swung at one of them and they arrested him. I was lucky.
CONNIE: If it was that bad, why didn’t you press charges or get out before that for Christ sakes?
NAN: You know I’ve heard the same question from too many people now. Don’t ask me to rattle off my stupid reasons for staying stuck. No one feels worse about it than I do.
NAN: No. No, I understand that that’s the natural thing to ask. It’s fine. You just convince yourself that you’re worthless so it doesn’t matter anymore, you know? And I always asked myself where I was gonna go? To my Dads? One of my brothers? Not likely. They wanted nothing to do with me once I threw my lot in with Felix. We never got married and they were so up in arms about it. They were convinced I was going to go to hell and lead the family to sin – or something. My dad did a great job with Ben and Adam, you know, never miss a Sunday sermon. All fire and brimstone, those two. Never let my faults go without damnation. And there was me. No education, no job skills or experience to speak of, and timid as a mouse. Who was gonna give me a chance? I know, I know how idiotic it must sound to someone like you with a career and a life no matter how crappy it’s going sometimes, but I just died inside, so it didn’t matter. And he had made sure he was my whole life. How do you walk away from your whole life?
CONNIE: Did you love him?
NAN: I don’t know. At first I just wanted to escape what I was going through at home, and he seemed like he loved me, and sure acted like he needed me. So I ignored a lot of warning signs, and just kept buying into crap. I never was in love with him. But I guess I sure talked myself into loving him. When I think about it now, I see how much I also hated him, and I hated myself. It was the only real emotion I could feel. Bitter, resentful hate… And fear. And I was addicted to it…. It was the only time I ever felt alive.
CONNIE: So what are you doing now? Where are you staying?
NAN: With my grandparents on my mom’s side. I’m not even really supposed to be there because they live in a retirement community, but I had no where else to go. I’ve got a job at a restaurant and I’m hoping I can actually get some money to go to school.
CONNIE: What do you want to do?
NAN: Truly? What I always wanted to do, sing… But some dreams are better left behind. Some chances you’ll never get back. I don’t know. I’ll probably just focus on my job and not go chasing rainbows.
CONNIE: Well, why the hell not? You were incredibly talented! God, I was so jealous of your talent! I can’t see you squandering that!
NAN: I’m not so young anymore… seems like I’d be wasting what little time I have to get anything done on something that was a long shot to begin with. I can’t get back those years. I can’t expect to have the same life anymore.
(Both women seem lost in though for a moment)
CONNIE: I can’t imagine the horrors you went through… Honestly, I’d never want to try, but I know the confusion you’re going through and the frustration. When James left, I kept thinking, “Well what do I do now? It’s seems too late for me to start over with someone new, and I don’t even know how to try. Do I even want to try? Besides who’s going to want a single mom of three? May as well just learn to be lonely.” But it doesn’t ever still the longing you feel for what you’ve lost. And no one is there to tell you what you need to do. You have to somehow find direction on your own. There are no compasses or maps in life.
CONNIE: It’s not fair; being left to clean up the mess someone else had so large a part in creating. It’s like life’s equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner. You wake up at the crack of dawn to start the baking and cooking and you labor for hours for everyone to have an amazing meal. You burn yourself, and sweat, and run yourself ragged, and after everyone has had their fill, you’re left with a huge mess and all the dishes to clean, linens to wash, and décor to pack away for the next harrowing year. It’s ironically hard to be thankful on such a day.
CONNIE: But Nan, I have to believe that it is worth it somehow. Just like that dinner that you slave over out of love for the people who’ll be enjoying it, there has to be something beyond the pain.
NAN: Easy for you to say! You have a life! A family even without your husband, you have children! You have a career! You have hope! You have love! What do I have?! I have nothing! Nothing but broken dreams and a broken spirit! Don’t sit there and pretend that you understand anything about me! Where were you when I had to wear sunglasses everywhere and where were you when I was crying myself to sleep every night? Cuddling your children, and schmoosing clients, and being paid fat wads of cash to do it no less. My whole life has been pain! I can’t remember a single day without it. There is nothing beyond it!
CONNIE: Like I said, I’m not pretending to get everything you’ve been through. I’m just telling you, you have a choice here.
NAN: Oh yeah? And what choice is that?
CONNIE: To move on, or sit in your rut. You can keep crying, or you can move your feet. One foot in front of the other. All it’ll take is a few steps at a time and before you know it, that rut will be so far behind you, you can’t even see it anymore.
CONNIE: I’m being serious here. Don’t you think I’ve wanted to give up? Don’t you think I’ve had pain enough that has threatened to swallow me whole? It may not be with the same intensity that you feel, but I’ve had a share in pain. Yes, I have my children. They’re sometimes all that keeps me sane. Sometimes they drive me insane too! It’s hard work! And now it’s all on my shoulders. James has hardly been around these last months and I can’t convince him to even take the kids a quarter of the time. All their happiness, all their cares and woes have been left to me. It’s a weight that crushes me sometimes. But I keep moving my feet. And not just for their sakes. I have to keep going for myself too.
NAN: How can I move in any direction when I can’t even see where I’m going? Life’s not worth living when all you ever feel is pain and loneliness. I have no joy to keep me from wanting my life to be over. The only choices I see are being by myself trying to feel nothing or giving in to nothingness itself so the pain stops and this world can’t hurt me anymore…
CONNIE: GOD! Don’t say that!! Don’t ever say that!
NAN: Why? Because someone will miss me? Because people I care about will be hurt without me? No one I cared about even tried to contact me for more than seven years. You were my best friend! We’ve known each other most of our lives and nothing! Not a word! What difference will it make to you or anyone whether I live or die?
CONNIE: (Quietly) I may not have been the best friend I could have been… I’m sorry. No, I didn’t contact you after you left town. I didn’t know where you were. I couldn’t ask your parents for your number, and you never called me. For a while I was really worried about you, and then I thought you had just moved on. You always told me that you hated this town, but I never forgot about you, Nan. I never stopped wondering about you… or loving you. Seeing you here today and talking with you has given me something I can’t quite . . . put into words.
NAN: (With venom) Feel better about your own life, do you?
CONNIE: I won’t deny that I’ve gotten a little perspective, but that’s not it. Running into you like this Nan is such a gift for me. I think I’m being given a chance to do something that will help me every bit as much as I‘ll be helping you. I’m being given a chance to do something for my friend. I can’t just walk away from you now.
NAN: I think I’d rather you did.
CONNIE: Well, you can just deal with it ‘cause I’m still here, and I’m not going.
NAN: And what if I just got up and left?
CONNIE: You can make that choice… But I don’t think you will.
NAN: You have always thought you were so smart, and that I’ve always wanted and needed your help. I don’t need you, Connie. I don’t need this.
CONNIE: Damn it, Nan! Whenever I was there to help, it wasn’t because I thought you needed or wanted it. Or needed me. It was because it made me feel good to do it! And Nan, I know about pain! I know! I know how it can crush you and make you want to give up! Don’t you think I’m lonely?! Do you understand what it’s like knowing you weren’t enough for the one man you’ve ever loved? Do you know what it’s like feeling like a complete failure? I couldn’t even look in the mirror for two whole months, I was so disgusted by the woman I saw. I wanted to give up every minute! And my sweet daughter would come and hug me while I cried and she would ask me when daddy was coming home. I would think my heart was broken, and then she’d ask me that and it would be ripped out of my chest! I couldn’t even get it together enough to answer her. The pain of it was too much. I had failed my children every bit as much as I’d failed my husband and myself! I hated myself!
NAN: But you had to keep going. You had the kids. I don’t have anything.
CONNIE: Well, I won’t pretend that the kids don’t help in keeping me steady. They need a mom who can keep it together. At first that’s all I had to focus on, and then I realized how unfair it was to put that weight on them. No one else can give meaning to your life, even if they’re as important to you as my darlings are to me.
NAN: I don’t understand. I’ve always thought if someone loved me and wanted me that’s all I’d ever need.
CONNIE: I don’t think you can ever be truly happy and content with who you are if your happiness is dependant on other people.
NAN: I don’t agree. I was happy when Felix would tell me how happy I made him. I was so glad to be wanted and appreciated. It’s all I needed. I didn’t need to have fancy things or be applauded by crowds of people when he made a home for us.
CONNIE: I know how satisfying that can be. Family can be such a source of joy and fulfillment. But what I’m saying is, it’s only a piece of the whole. After James left I had to figure out why I wanted to keep living and it had to come from inside myself otherwise the pain of what others had done and where I felt I fell short would have kept me rooted in one spot forever. I had to make a choice to let go of what I thought I knew… And I had to make a choice to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even if I hadn’t figured out exactly where I was going. I have to admit, Nan, I still don’t know. But I’m figuring it out a little more every day.
NAN: Connie, I don’t know if I’m strong enough for that. I’m not like you, even if I really want to be… And… And I… I do… want to be.
CONNIE: I always saw so much strength in you and it always hurt me to watch you ignore it and just go along with what everyone else wanted you to do.
NAN: But if I do what you want, isn’t that just more of the same? How can I keep from making the same mistakes over and over again? How do I know if what I’m doing is the right thing? What if I just fall on my butt again and I’m stuck for good?
CONNIE: I suppose you can’t ever really be sure of the success of anything you try, but I see how badly you want to move forward. And no matter how dead you have felt in the past or how angry and bitter… The fact is, you are alive. Right now.
(NAN can’t fight her tears any longer)
NAN: That makes me ache inside. I’ve never felt like this. I don’t know what it is. It’s like something is trying to jump out of me. It’s scary.
CONNIE: God, I know.
NAN: I can’t believe there’s so much going on inside me right now! I haven’t felt this much in so long! Connie! How is it that we’ve come to be here today? How is it that you have managed to help me so much after so long? I wish I could tell you how much it means to me. I wish I could give it back to you.
CONNIE: I haven’t had anyone to talk to. Really talk to and connect with in a long time. It’s so good to see you again.
NAN: Why? What’s stopping you from reaching out to the people that love you? Your mom and dad are great people, and you must have plenty of other friends.
CONNIE: Mom and Dad are retired now, and honestly it‘s like pulling teeth going over to their place with the three kids and all my mother‘s figurines all over… and I feel so horrible throwing their time for peace into such turmoil all the time. I have talked to them, it’s just harder because they’re so upset, and truthfully they never really understand. They’ve been together thirty-two years, they’ve never felt the way I do. I don’t think they really understand. And my friends? Well, I’ve never been as close to anyone as I was to you. Who knows me like you do? Most of the time I really feel like they want to hear how well I’m doing, and the bad stuff just drags everything down.
NAN: Well, I’m here now. And I want to be there for you too.
CONNIE: You have no idea how much I appreciate that. As a matter of fact, I have a dilemma that I think you can help me with.
NAN: I’ll try.
CONNIE: I have a household to run and no help to speak of. I’m going to make you an offer that will . . . benefit the both of us.
CONNIE: I need someone I can trust to help out with the kids and the house. I have a nice room that was the nanny’s, that’s furnished and has private entry. I could give you room and board and pay you for your help, and you’d still have time to go to school, and get some job training. You could start singing again. I would need you to do a lot of the housework, as well as help with the kids, and cooking, and you’d need to be really serious about school, but I can work out a schedule that will work for us both.
NAN: I can’t . . .
CONNIE: I’m not handing out charity, Nan. You’ll probably still need to get some financial aid but I’m more than capable right now of getting you going. You’ll be earning your keep with me, and I’ll get something far more precious than an exchange of services. I’ll get my best friend in the world back. Can you really deny me that?
NAN: (Softened) We can still be friends without you taking me in like some sad little stray.
CONNIE: Some of the best pets I ever had were sad little strays. Oh! Don’t go getting offended. I don’t think of you as my pet! But my hand is stretched out to you, won’t you take it? I need my friend more than anything right now.
NAN: Connie, I just can’t feel okay with burdening you with another mouth to feed and another body in the house to deal with.
CONNIE: I’m so lonely… You would be doing so much for me. I’d have someone to talk to… and share with… Someone who will understand when I’ve had a bad day and not expect me to be a little ray of sunshine. Who’ll be able to share fond memories with me of times in our lives that weren’t so complicated. The last thing either of us needs now is another romantic relationship, and why not seek the solace that comes from an old friendship instead? I need someone who won’t think of me as just an employer. Really, I haven’t had the stomach for another professional since, well… Can’t you think of it as a favor to me instead?
NAN: (Pause) You don’t still eat liver right? I can’t cook that for you if you still eat liver.
(CONNIE bursts into tears and laughter)
CONNIE: My kids can’t stand it. Don’t worry.
(They stand and embrace and exit as lights fade.)