Do You Love Me?

Red heart balloon on floor
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You were so happy that year, the year that everyone saw what you’d been keeping to yourself, that you could sing like fire and act competently and dance moderately well, but most of all the singing, so good that you snagged the Bye Bye Birdie Rosie Alvarez role in the senior class play, and then, when you tried out for the all-school production of Fiddler on the Roof, Ms. Garcia said, “You can have any part you want—any one—but I really want you for Golde.”

You got more attention when they found out what a capable seamstress you were, and you were flattered into making your costume and your stage daughters’ aprons (just like a real mother would), and when George, the football player who was cast as Tevye, got mad at Ms. Garcia—after she yelled at him three days before opening night for not knowing his lines—and threw his unfinished costumes on the stage and walked out, you quietly picked them up and took them home to fix them. The next day, Ms. Garcia called you out for your selfless costume-finishing and made George thank you in front of the cast, so he stood and gestured and boomed his appreciation in character and called you “Golde” instead of your real name, which you weren’t even sure he knew. At dress rehearsal, when you and he danced and he swung you around, the rest of the cast roared with laughter, and you didn’t understand it until someone said you looked like a little rag doll, all five-feet-two of you, lifted off the ground by George’s six-four frame. Later, when you both were in your twenties, you ran into him at a bar, and he bent to sing his part of your duet—“Do you love me?”—into your ear, his beery breath ticklish and hot, talking in his Tevye voice, saying he was your first husband, which was true, in a way, and wanting to take you home. To your home, of course, not to his, where his real wife was.

But that evening, your first of four nights of performances, when your mother and your aunt were in the audience, your aunt who tap-danced into your house every time she and her family visited, trilling out her current age (“forty-five years old,” “fifty-two years old”) and expecting us all to ooh and aah over her youthfulness, your aunt who was the hands-down beauty in her family, so stunning your pretty mother told you once she always felt like the ugly duckling, your aunt who sang and danced and traveled with the USO to entertain soldiers during World War II, who landed a dentist for a husband, and when you ran to find them in the crowd, flush with the victory of a standing ovation, stopped on your way by other kids’ parents gushing over your voice, your skill, your perfection in the part, when you finally stood before them, hungry for more praise, for their praise, your mother smiled and hugged you, and your aunt, gifting you with her vast experience, said, “I saw three things you did wrong.”

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