A Deep Dark Hole
I always think that I know what I’m supposed to learn from any given experience. That’s right. I always know what’s coming, and why, and it’s just a matter of time before I get my life lesson gracefully handed to me on a silver platter.
I was certain about the lesson that was waiting for me this past weekend, when I performed in “The Vagina Monologues” for the fourth time in five years. If you’re not familiar with the show, it was written sixteen years ago by author and activist Eve Ensler, and it’s about…vaginas (you can read more about it here). The show holds a special place in my heart. Five years ago, when I decided to audition for the first time, I hadn’t been in a play since high school. I was newly single, somewhat lonely and figured I’d develop my acting skills and push myself to meet a new challenge. Little did I know that I would finish the run with a serious crush on the show’s director. This year, we celebrate our fifth anniversary as a couple, and our third wedding anniversary.
Think that silenced my “certainty?” Never…and so I walked into this show prepared to learn something, expecting it would come from the monologue I was given. Titled “Then We Were Jumping,” the monologue is a 2014 “Spotlight” piece, meaning that Ensler wrote it specifically for this year’s show and it will only be performed in 2014 (you can read the poem and see an animated version here). The monologue is written from Ensler’s point of view about a dream interaction with her father, who molested her. There are powerful, thought-provoking images of justice and forgiveness, and for weeks I was unable to read it without crying.
I assumed (ha!) that the learning experience would be in processing my own childhood grief and pain, and dealing with my issues with forgiveness and letting go. Each time I performed the piece, I grew more confident in my ability to tell the story. My emotions were still raw, but they worked in the context of the piece itself. After my performance on opening night, I felt emotionally exhausted, but I was sure that my piece had powerfully impacted the audience. I expected that people would push their way through the crowds to find me after the show, to tell me that I’d been amazing, that I’d changed their lives. When that didn’t happen at the theater, I went home and waited for it to happen on social media. Nothing.
It is humiliating for me to write that. No one should have to do anything to prove to my pathetic ego that I did a good job. I know, intellectually, that no one else is supposed to make me feel worthy. I’ve heard all the talk about how I am worthy simply because I am here, because I was born.
But there is this hole, somewhere inside of me, that constantly needs to be filled with validation and compliments and reassurance that I am worth anything at all. It’s always been there, as long as I can remember. It’s dark, and strong, and it swirls impatiently as it waits for the words that will finally fill it, close it, so I can be whole. It has a voice, quiet but powerful, that constantly reminds me that I am not enough, that no one has noticed me or cares about me and that I was wrong, so horribly wrong, for subjecting myself to criticism by performing in public. This voice says I will never ever be at peace, that I should never have been born in the first place.
I am so ashamed of this part of myself. I don’t know how to make it stop. But as I sat on my bed on Sunday morning, frantically checking my phone for emails or Facebook posts that would satisfy the hole, tears came to my eyes. A tiny voice within me said, “This is when you should write. You should write about this.” For a moment I saw the hole for what it is: a lie, the creation of a little girl who didn’t know why she was so unhappy, and shouldered all of the blame and responsibility herself. The hole isn’t real. It isn’t something that will ever be filled. It will never be satisfied.
For a brief moment, I was able to remember Saturday night a little differently, remember my daughter hugging me and saying, “Mom, you did such a good job!” I was able to remember my fellow cast members, who turned in amazing performances of their own, graciously congratulating me on my piece. I was able to recall the conversation with a co-star about how my monologue changed how she felt about her own relationship with her father. These moments flitted through my consciousness for a few moments, and I was able to feel a tiny bit of peace.
Nothing will keep the hole from coming back. It is there, and it may always be there. But for a few minutes, I was able to see it for what it is. It lost its hold on me. I see it as a lesson offered on a silver platter. I’ll take it.