I stood there naked. I let a small smile tickle the corners of my lips. I watched several people’s lips do the same. These were people who came because they understood what being naked meant. These were people who were here because they liked my craft. Knew about my craft. These were not people that I was nervous in front of. They had explored my work and enjoyed it and were here because they wanted to see it and be part of it. I liked these events. I liked sharing my nakedness with them. It was easier to be voluble to strangers.
“Your mom tells me you finally made it big.” A distant relation says to me and I noticed the emptiness of my drink. Family events are like this. Graduations, holidays, and even some funerals had one of them cornering me. I hadn’t told anyone about my side profession for years. Rejection after rejection had made it clear that it was a secret for me. My nine to five was respectable and required a four-year and no passion.
When I had booked my first gig I made the mistake of sharing it with some family. Now they wanted to talk about it every time they saw me. “No, not exactly. I do some small shows here and there.” I say eyeing the ice in my drink and then scanning the room for a refill spot.
“I’d love to see it.” The distant relation says. This was the next part. They hear you have a very small amount of success and want to see it. It is one thing to stand naked in a room full of strangers, but quite another in front of people who have known you your whole life.
I smile and say, “excuse me,” and walk towards the drink station. I fill up and take some down, then top it off again.
“Mae!” I hear my name again and a closer relation, one I know I can’t put off, walks up. “Mae your momma told me all about you. We are so proud!”
“Thanks, Auntie,” I say in my sweetest voice hoping to pacify her and try to move from the conversation.
“We all want you to show us your work.” She says loud enough that people near me turn. Several nod and before I can make heads or tails of it I am being brought along to the family room. The relations, both distant and close, take seats around the room as I stand in front. They all want a piece.
I slowly take off my top. This is much worse than doing it in front of strangers. The room is silent. Each face familiar. They sit in their pearl-buttoned cardigans with their long-stemmed wine glasses and look at me. I am a child playing an adult. Their faces plastered with indulgent smiles.
I take off my bottoms and stand in my unmentionables. I will not give them the satisfaction of seeing my full act. That is reserved for strangers. I strike a few poses and then start to pull up my pants to small applause and whispers.
I have my blouse in place, only a few snaps from the top and my aunt rushes me. “Just beautiful! I loved it! There was that part at the end.” She starts and I turn my ears off and go somewhere else. I know what is coming, everyone is a critic. They all know the best way to strike a pose or a better way to slip out of my pants. Everyone knows the best way to be naked.
When she finishes I smile and say, “what a good idea, I never thought of that.”
She beams. They all like to think I will take their idea.
When I take the black of my bra off slowly and let it fall to my bare shoulder it is for me. When I let the lace of my panties slip off my toe and fall to the side it is mine. I do not share my nakedness, except with strangers.