Like an island in a vast sea of freshly mowed grass, it rose like up like a temple. I wonder if it would be accurate to say that I worshiped that place. For the countless hours that I spent there, some might think that was true.
It was a shell, really, of brick and cement. The walls, only on each end, curved in enclosing an open area that consisted of a slab of concrete covered by a roof high overhead. It was mostly empty inside. Except for the stage.
I lived across the park from this magnificent structure. I watched with curiosity as they plowed down trees and grass to build it. Rising from the ground in just a couple of weeks, it became the focus of my summer. Of my life.
It was late at night when I first dared to venture into the mysterious edifice. I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. It was lit in a golden glow from the lone street lamp that had been installed during the construction. This unearthly radiance broke the silence of the dark expanse surrounding it. The light never even attempting to go beyond the borders of the foundation on which the pavilion stood.
I stared at it for hours. It was still, almost deathly quiet that night. I could not sleep. Closing my eyes only left the image imprinted on my brain. I had to see it. That thought overtook any others, even the fears. By midnight, I knew I would not rest until I did.
Shoving my feet into whatever shoes were near the bed, I crept out of the back door. Surrounded in darkness, avoiding detection, I left the house and made it to the edge of the park. The cool grass was wet with water from the sprinklers. This was no surprise, I had watched them come on as soon as the sun had set. I was still watching when they had automatically shut off. It would not slow me down, not in the least.
Though I had expected the moisture, the chill in the air made me shiver. All I could do was wrap my arms around myself as I continued to move stealthily toward the light. It filled my eyes. If I closed them I could still see its brilliant glare. In a determined rhythm that I now marvel at, my feet kept moving.
The hush that surrounded me was heavy with anticipation. The only sounds were my own. I heard my blood pumping, my breath escaping my lungs. My feet continued to carry me along. I was not to be deterred, no matter how my heart pounded.
Suddenly I was there. Standing on the perimeter, staring down at the sharp edge of the light. One more step and I would be exposed. One more step and I would enter another world. Not knowing what to expect, I was compelled to breach the perfect stillness. I took that step.
Once encompassed in the intensity of the glow, I left the world I had known behind. Boldly now, I walked into the picnic pavilion. There it was, partly hidden in shadows. The stage was only two steps above the rest of the floor, but it may as well have been Carnegie Hall. Undeniably is was beaconing me, inviting me in with its magic.
I held my breath as I quickly climbed the steps and moved to the center. My footsteps echoed on the hollow wooden floor. As if I had found my mark, I stopped and turned to face the audience. I bowed down low, my arm flourished and stretched out toward my adoring fans as I slowly stood.
My appreciation of their obvious devotion to me was evident on my face as I smiled down at them. In my mind, I put on such a performance. Gracefully I moved around the stage. In my element now. I was an actress. This was my calling and I knew it in every fiber of my being.
The first act was over when I realized that I had to get back home. Somewhere in the far reaches of my brain, I knew that there was a curfew in place. I had violated it. I had to and I would never be sorry. I had found my world, my passion, my place.
I made it home that night. I don’t really know how. But I found myself back in my bed. Visions of the magic of the stage filled my dreams. I couldn’t wait to get back there.
I never told anyone of my discovery. They just saw a picnic pavilion. A gathering place for BBQs and family reunions. They were still partly annoyed that it had been placed in the center of the beautiful park. They never saw it for what it was to me.
Every day I made my way to the stage. Every day I rehearsed my lines. My performances were magnificent. A whole summer of daring adventures and passionate romances were mine. All mine. Silently, I honed skills that I never knew I had. I nurtured a fascination for performing that surprised me. It became almost an obsession.
But I never spoke a word of it. No one knew, how could they? A shy little twelve-year-old girl could not become a glamorous actress. At least not in their minds, and somehow I knew that. My dreams stayed inside of me. I could allow no one to destroy them. That summer they were tangible and overwhelming, but still very fragile.
Mona Lisa has nothing on me, I am told. The secret smile, that I have when I remember my magical summer, is mine alone. I have never even tried to explain it, what it meant to me. That those feelings defy description is beside the point now. I know that a spell was cast that night.
In every performance, I draw on the mystery and magic of my first experience on a stage. To speak of it might ruin it. I would never do that. So the smile remains, a riddle for my fans to puzzle over. It adds to my appeal, they might say, to my mystique.
The star on my dressing room door belongs to that young, naive and yet savvy twelve year old me. The star on stage is still the actress hitting her marks on a wooden stage. The critics would never understand that. They never need to know.
A lifetime of fulfillment may come from a single moment. That much of my story I will share with them. But the magic I found that summer, so long ago, will always be my best kept secret.