This was a time in my life when I believed fervently in a loving God, when I wanted to be obedient, and obedience meant waiting.
The DivinersTwelve Angry MenThe Crucible
The Terrible Truth About Tuna Fish
——Check. Your. Phone.
I know the show.
It’s . . . Waiting for Godot.
What? Is? Happening?Waiting for Godot
Waiting for Godot
We’re the only seniors in the cast. So . . .
Vladimir and Estragon?
“Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful.” That’ll be one of your lines and you’ll be the best at saying it.
All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
“I haven’t had time to assign parts yet,” the director said. “There were some last-minute changes. I’ll just . . . make some decisions as we go.” The play was a revue made up of monologues, skits, and songs. It was meant to be heartwarming. We read it through our teeth.
The next day, I followed Alice’s car to Waffle House, where we sat side by side in the blessed and sticky booth, sharing her earbuds and an order of hash browns (scattered and smothered), listening to Dashboard Confessional on an iPod Shuffle, and pouting.
“It’s got suicide and erections,” she said. “That’s why the administration pulled it. That’s my guess.”
I pursed my lips, thinking. “Can’t they cut that stuff? This play is . . . important, right? We could make a case for it. Tell them it would . . . broaden our minds?” I pushed a forkful of potatoes into my mouth.
She shook her head. “No. And anyway, I saw online—the Beckett people? They sue anyone who does the show with people who aren’t . . . men.” This was—and still is—true. The Beckett estate is notoriously litigious, suing companies that cast women or nonbinary performers in Godot against the dead playwright’s will.
There would be no earnest conversations with the administration. It would have been a hopeless endeavor, and we knew it.
Being denied Godot felt like a strange humiliation. Who knew better than us high schoolers about waiting? That evening, angry, I searched for the text of the play online, reading snatches of it in a frenzy before closing the tab quickly and deleting my browser history. I’d grown up in an environment in which the will of authority figures was something close to the will of God. If the school administration didn’t want me near this play, then surely God didn’t either. Not yet. Not until I was in possession of greater spiritual maturity. I had to remind myself, again and again, that to delay an action was holy. It demonstrated a willingness to endure.
In my bedroom, I found myself listening to Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait” on repeat. After the third time through, I turned to my youth-study Bible. Luke 12:36: “And be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.” But I did not want to be the waiting men. I wanted to be the wedding. I wanted to be the feast.
This continued for weeks—the illicit opening of the internet browser and searching waiting for Godot full text play, then click, and suddenly Beckett’s words were in my mouth: “Hope deferred maketh the something sick, who said that?” This is a question Vladimir asks, and I knew the answer: Proverbs 13:12. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
Rehearsals for the One Act progressed, and instead of building Beckett’s skeletal tree, we put together a small play structure on wheels that tipped precariously when someone pumped their legs too hard on the swing. We wore our hair in braided pigtails and had matching bright T-shirts and colorful sneakers. All this time, waiting to grow up, and we were playing children.
Onstage at the Georgia High School Association One Act Play State Championships, we refused to feel the palpable boredom of the audience and instead gave absolutely everything of ourselves in the performance of Kindergarten. The time would come for other plays. After all, as Saint Augustine said, “The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise of holy desire. You do not yet see what you long for, but the very act of desiring prepares you, so that when he comes you may see and be utterly satisfied.” Utter satisfaction, he said. We shall be filled, he said.
After the performance, there were many hours to wait while the other schools performed and the judges tallied their scores before the awards would be announced. I sat in a long corridor of a sprawling performing arts complex and watched packs of students skipping up and down the hall in matching T-shirts that were either emblazoned with cast and crew signatures on the back or said, I can’t, I have rehearsal. In a nearby bathroom, I could hear someone punctuating her vocal warm-up with bits of “Defying Gravity.” Everywhere, there were teens in little herds, playing Zip Zap Zop or adjusting the placement of mic tape or laughing in awkward and charged massage circles.
All this time, waiting to grow up, and we were playing children.
Across from me was a girl, the only other person by themselves. Sitting tucked beside the vending machine, she had dark hair and enviable eye makeup. I saw what she was reading and my heart thudded in my chest. I retrieved a crumpled dollar from my backpack and purchased a small bag of Twizzlers from the vending machine, lingering beside her. I pulled open the plastic and offered her a piece of red licorice, which she took.
“Has your show gone yet?” I asked.
She closed her book and a scowling man peered out: Samuel Beckett on the cover of a collection of his plays.
“They’re in there now. Kentucky Cycle. I’ve seen it a million times. I designed the set.”
“Can I . . . do you mind if I check out your book?”
She shrugged and handed it to me. Because I knew what was inside, this felt akin to touching a Ouija board or tarot deck or cigarette: like my soul was at stake. I imagined the bright, round faces of the virgin martyrs looking out from my prayer cards and shaking their heads in disapproval.
Opening the book and flipping to Godot, I held my breath and said a line aloud. “Our Saviour. Two thieves. One is supposed to have been saved and the other . . . damned.”
“Saved from what?” she said, smiling. It was a play she knew well. I read on.
“Hell,” I said.
“I’m going,” she said.
We each took bites of our candy, grinning.
“I’m applying to colleges with designs for Godot,” she said. “For scholarship stuff.”
I turned the pages, one after another, looking for a capitalized name. There was VLADIMIR, ESTRAGON, and the others beside the words they would speak. But—I kept flipping pages until I reached the final line—the name GODOT appeared nowhere. It didn’t matter that the character wasn’t listed among the dramatis personae. It hadn’t occurred to me that Godot would not come, that he would never arrive. All this holding off, and for what?
I handed her the book, then spun for a moment, looking for the exit.
“Oh, okay. See ya,” she said.
I walked out into the sunlight feeling like a caricature of revelation, like a Victorian woman recovering from a faint with smelling salts, as if my goth tech-girl fairy godmother was standing over me with a gentle reprimand, Be careful what you wait for. I had not understood that the gift of my restraint could be misplaced, that there was such a mistake as waiting misguidedly.
Sitting on a concrete ledge, I covered my face with my hands and heaved an angry groan into them before tearing the elastic bands from my hair and shaking out my braids.
To wait could be hallowed and pure, but it was not an inherently holy state. My youth-study Bible had many passages about discernment, and I was learning a new kind—when to offer my patience, and when to snatch the object of desire and make a run for it. If I did not wish my existence to be an exercise in endless anticipation, I needed to learn to make mutinous decisions, however small.
I returned to the lobby, my new friend still lounging by the vending machine.
“Hey, sorry, can we . . .” I shook my head. “Will you read this with me? Can we like . . . you take Estragon, and I take Vladimir? No one wants me to do this play, and I . . .”
She looked up at me with fierce, dark eyes that said, Fuck yeah. She moved her bag, and I sat beside her and leaned toward the book as she rested it on her bent knees. A country road. A tree. Evening. She handed the book to me and took her sneaker into her hands, pretending to try in vain to remove it from her foot.
“Nothing to be done.”
“I’m beginning to come round to that opinion.”
“We can skip this part,” she said. “It’s boring.”
She flipped a few pages in the book and handed me a Twizzler. For a moment, I was not heartsick, not stuck in hormonal nothingness. I was dizzy and bright and electric.