On Writing Se Llama Cristina, by Octavio Solis

Octavio Solis #2The title character of the play is invisible. But Cristina is very present in every choice that is made on the stage. As she is present in every decision I make in my life. After all, she is based on my daughter. Or so it seemed to me at first. Now I think not. I think she is based on my terror.

About 20 years ago, when I learned that my wife was pregnant and that I was going to be a father, I began to write this play. I was feeling scared at the prospect of this new little life coming into our home, and I had paralyzing doubts about my ability to carry out my fatherly duties, and even wondered whether I deserved her. So I started to write this strange play. In it, I meant to express all my fears and anxieties about becoming a dad. I thought I might be terrible at performing my duties; I was afraid that I would be cruel and violent or, at the very least, cold and uncaring. But my greatest fear was that I would abandon my daughter, that I would on one final disheartening occasion wish her away. The world is filled with too many accounts of men who are done in by the challenges of fatherhood, and I wondered if mine would be one of them.

At any rate, without knowing what I was really writing about, I found myself in a bare room with two people waking up from a deep sleep to discover that they had forgotten everything they knew before. I made the discoveries as they made them, I saw the crib when they saw it, I found their memories when their bodies remembered. The play was vague and unruly and I didn’t know where it was going; I only knew I needed it to help purge me of what I called my “night terrors” (yes, parents have them too.). At some point, I hit a wall. I didn’t know where to go next, I couldn’t write any further, and so I put the play on a floppy and consigned it to my Fail File. I guess I was in the belly of the beast, where my perspective was necessarily skewed.

A few years ago, Kent Thompson of The Denver Center for the Performing Arts offered me a commission to write his company a play and I accepted. It was then that I took that disk off the file and read the play again and suddenly I knew what the play was about. I knew how to finish it. I knew how the story would resolve itself because I know how mine turned out. My daughter is grown into a beautiful young lady with a bright future and she is the evidence that it turned out okay. Fatherhood simply required me to be there when she needed me, and though, I haven’t been perfect, this play is poignantly telling me today, as it attempted to do so twenty years ago, that I didn’t do too badly. But Se Llama Cristina is also reminding me that the terrors of fatherhood never go away.

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