At The Opera
The small theatre’s façade, adorned with white columns, has a veranda with couches. While I wait in the shaded entrance for the opera to begin, I observe lots of old folks. A 2:00 Sunday Matinee. I expected to see lots of gray hairs. I don’t like to think of myself as one of them, but I, too, have gray in my hair. A yellow bus arrives and young people stream out, all wearing the same pink-hued T-shirt. A performing arts summer camp has come to see Il Postino, a story of love and poverty and politics and intellectual elitism.
I, who never cry, feel the tears when the tenor, the lead, Mario, the postman, sings. Mario is assassinated at the end. Killed without having met his son; killed without ever hearing again from the poet Pablo Neruda, who befriended Mario, his personal postmen, when politically exiled on this Italian island of want. Mario was shot while reciting his own poem at a communist rally. Struck down in mid-song.
I was so mad at Neruda for never corresponding with Mario, even though the postman wrote to him. This poet seduced the world and women with words and saw the islanders as his servants. He returned to the island of exile years later, on vacation, with his mezzo-soprano wife, and expected the islanders to embrace him, even though when he left, he forsake them. I was confused about the message: Mario discovered his love of words and poetry through his friendship with Neruda. When called upon to share his poetry, he was shot. Would I rather have Mario alive with his beautiful wife and son living in poverty, unenlightened politically and poetically? If Neruda had not befriended Mario, if Mario had not become entranced by the poet, if he had never met Neruda, if he had never discovered the power of words, would he still be alive?
Mario sang his farewell and I thought it was cruel, unfair, that a young man with such a soul had to die. Take Neruda. He’s an old, arrogant guy.
I am in the short line in the three-stall, nothing mechanical (no soap dispensers, no automatic towel dispensers, no sensitive toilet flush) bathroom. A young woman, a student, 14 or 15 years old, wearing the performing arts camp T-shirt comes out of the stall and I push past her for my turn. I see that she is crying.
“Are you all right?” I ask.
She stands in front of the one sink in this very small room
“I dropped my phone in the toilet.” She is sobbing.
I pull down some brown paper towels and wrap her phone in them.
“It will be okay,” I say and hand her back her phone.
She continues crying. She is really sobbing.
I enter the stall but before I close the door, I say: “Wait,” I say. “Is that why you are crying?”
She nods her head.
“Good,” I say. And shut the stall door. What I mean is: I’m glad it is nothing serious and that you will survive this and not be scarred. I mean, my god, child, Mario was just murdered.
I walk out into the lobby. She is surrounded by a group of girls, holding her phone to her chest, telling the story of dropping her phone in the toilet, lamenting, crying. Their expressions, all of them, are horrified. They lean in, circle her, empathetic.
I am amused. And humbled by my judgment of a young person’s loss.