Tuesday, April 9, 2013

We are Damaged but It's Okay

During my hiatus from the blog, I experienced one of the coolest moments in my professional life and one of the most life changing moments in my personal life and now I get the chance to share it with you all.

Over the past year, I’ve had the honor to do quite a bit of freelance work with Savannah Magazine. They have been very good to me as a writer. With the help of one of the editors, Amy, I decided to pitch a story about The Lady Chablis.

If you don’t know who she is, let me explain. She is a real-life character from John Berendt’s book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” She plays herself in Clint Eastwood’s movie version of the book and she headlines at the infamous Club One here in Savannah.

I’ve been fascinated by her since I read the book and watched the movie when I moved here over 10 years ago. I remember seeing her face plastered on the brick wall on Jefferson Street near the entrance of Club One and I thought, “Holy moly, she’s real.”

Robby’s former-roommate and dear friend Dan was kind enough to get the Grand Empress’s email address for me. I emailed her about the story idea and never heard back. My editor told me to try again. The whole idea began to seem silly to me. Why in the world would someone like The Lady Chablis want to talk to me?

I emailed again and got a response and her cell number. My stomach did a flip flop and I thought, “I guess I’m gonna pick up my phone and call Lady Chablis now.” More stomach rumblings followed.

I sat at my table for hours writing down questions and avoiding the inevitable dialing of the phone. I finally called her and got her voicemail. The pre-recorded voice told me that the mailbox was full and I couldn’t leave a message for “Superbad!” I froze when I heard her voice yell, “Superbad!”

After more emails and missed calls, I finally spoke to her. All I could say was “I’m sorry to bother you…”
She told me to meet her at Club One for a performance and we would chat there. I had no idea what I would ask and more importantly I no idea what to wear.

I knew she was a diva and that I might only get a few minutes alone with her. I narrowed down my questions to a few, but looking back I can see how stupid those questions would sound to her—what’s your favorite kind of makeup? Yeah, I wrote that down….

I had no idea who she was and it never occurred to me that she was anyone besides the loud-mouthed diva I had heard so much about. I never saw her as a person—only a celebrity who was too good for me.
Me hanging out backstage.
Photo taken by Beau Kester.

The owners of Club One were excited for me to visit. I had to admit to them that I had never been to the club before. Tickets to shows are out of my price range and hanging out in a gay bar was too overwhelming for me—I knew I had nothing to wear. Still not sure why I thought gay men cared so much about what I wore?

I met the photographer at the club and we walked around to check everything out. We were told we would do the interview in the dressing room. I was excited. I imagined a glamorous den full of movie posters signed by John Cusack and big mirrors surrounded by glamour and glitz and lots of champagne. Perhaps cool swag to take home? Yes, please.

The owner let me kill time backstage with the ladies from the cabaret show (notice I don’t use air quotes for ladies.) I got to watch them go from regular guys to flawless-skinned beauties. Gorgeous doesn’t begin to describe these performers.

I walked around the dressing room looking at the dresses and the wigs and I noticed the rack of sparkling stilettos. I asked how they found heels in their size.

“You can find anything you need on the internet, honey,” they said in unison.

Everyone laughed and took a sip of their drinks.

“Where are you from,” someone asked me.

“I’m originally from Texas,” I answered. “But I moved here with my ex-husband about 10 years ago.”
Their faces got sad and someone asked, “Was he military?”

I nod my head.

“Honey, my ex-husband was in the military, too,” she said. “He cheated on me and left me all alone.”
Hanging backstage after the interview

The surreal nature of the moment struck me hard. Here I was talking to a group of drag queens/gay men/beautiful ladies/trannys/whatever and we were bonding over shared experiences.

I realized that my story was not special. My pain was not special. Lots of people share my story—even people that don’t look anything like me.

We continued to talk about everything from divorce, how to find sexy stripper shoes, and cooking up chitlins.

I began to relax a little but my suit was too hot for backstage. I chose to look professional with the one pant suit I own, but I tried to sex it up a little with a low-cut navy tank. I couldn’t take notes and carry my jacket at the same time, so I opted to sweat it out.

I went to the meet and greet at the bar to wait for Lady Chablis’ arrival. Sonny Seiler, also a real-life character from the book, arrived in his trademark black suit and red shirt (Georgia colors). My stomach rumbled and I realized I’m not good around celebrities.

The owner offered me a drink again, and I finally took him up on his offer. Lady Chablis walked in and grabbed her fresh vodka cranberry off the bar. I ordered the same thing and guzzled it down as I struggled to find the courage to approach her.

My suit had become a sauna and I could feel a steady stream of sweat dripping down my back and rolling through the waistband of my slacks. The champagne fountain was calling my name but I had to focus.

I approached Lady Chablis and introduced myself as her stalker. Her stern look faded and she laughed out loud. “You have been stalking me, haven’t you?”

She began to explain to me that I couldn’t come to her dressing room. She wanted to meet for lunch. I envisioned us sipping vodka cranberries and chatting at her hotel.

Reality set in and I realized that the chances of getting to interview her were slim at this point. Maybe that would be my story—the interview that never was…

I started to walk off and she grabbed my arm and whispered, “Please don’t leave me. I don’t want to talk to all these people.” I noticed the line of people waiting to talk to her and then I looked at her eyes.

I realized I knew nothing about this person. It had never dawned on me that she was a real person with real feelings. Perhaps she had insecurities like me? Maybe she hated the outfit she picked for the night, too? Doubtful. She looked amazing.

All I knew was that she and I had a connection and I had to figure out what it was.

The next part of the story is here.

After the story was published on March 1st, I sat and waited to hear something from The Lady Chablis. I felt a true connection to her and I worried I made it up in my head.

I thought the publication of this piece would be the turning point for my writing career in Savannah, but it wasn’t. My phone never rang and no new jobs came my way. I felt like a loser. I had no job. No money.
And no one wanted to hire me.

Then out of the blue, I got an email from Lady Chablis. She loved the piece. She wrote that I saw the “real” her.

It was the validation I needed. I realized I hadn’t made up the whole story in my head.

I could see the “real” her because she and I are the same on so many levels.

Meeting again for hugs at Club One
We are both so full of love and we desperately want to share our love with people, but we tend to keep it to ourselves. Most people never get close to us or get to know the “real” us because we are afraid they will reject us—and we both know rejection hurts so badly.

But for some reason, when we are together, something clicks. I can tell her I love her and she says it back and it’s not weird or forced or watered-down. It’s real.

She’s real. I’m real. She’s damaged. I’m damaged. She says, “Two tears in a bucket, mother fuck it.” And I say, “Amen, sister.”

I confessed to Lady Chablis that I was scared to talk to her at first.

She looked at me and said, “I knew from the moment I heard your voice on the phone and you said you were so sorry to bother me that you didn’t believe in yourself.”

I shook my head and felt embarrassed.

“Keep your head high, baby,” she said. “Don’t let nothing stand in your way.”

Maybe most of us are damaged. Maybe somebody did something so horrible to us that we may never feel good enough again. Maybe? Who cares? It’s time to let it all go. Everyone has a story. The trick is to make yourself believe you have conquered your story.

I have to remind myself that I will conquer my story and leave it far behind. I have to keep moving forward and I have to quit listening to that voice in my head that tells me I'm stupid.

My head will be held high and I will walk this catwalk of life like I’m a diva in a sequin dress in four inch stiletto heels and a vodka and cranberry in my hand.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so happy to see you blog again! I check periodically, just hoping.

    What a wonderful story! The article was every bit as fantastic as The Lady Chablis herself.