escaping “art”

In high school, I poured everything I had and hoped for into art.

Into the plays, the musicals, the improv shows. I kept everything separated from personal experience and turned it into fuel for the friends I found and made on and off the page. Every panic attack, every failed class, it was all kept within those precious seconds on stage, in front of the blinding lights of the house seats.

It was the only time I ever felt free. The only time I could be who I truly was, because as far as I could tell, no one else was really watching.

It was like hiding in plain sight, shrugging on those thrift store costumes and kicking up the decades-old dust of the black-box. Little winks and nods of reality against fiction in between scenes, in the background of big numbers or the star-crossed lovers’ intimate confessions. I was there, sat behind them, pretending to play pretend, and divulging my biggest secrets with the softest of shrugs and sighs that meant more than I could ever convey with words.

There are many things I miss about those moments.

But there is so much more that I don’t.

I’d never been in an encouraging environment when it came to craft. The last time someone had shown any interest in my achievement was when I had first started acting and singing in elementary school, when all anyone was supposed to offer was encouragement and interest. But beyond discovery, and outside of my friends and family, I had never actually known positive and constructive affiliation with anyone in the theater community.

And for what felt like the lifetime between my freshman and sophomore years, I was isolated by cruelty in a company that had said it would embrace me.

It wasn’t until I went to New York that I found out it didn’t have to be that way. It wasn’t all competition. It wasn’t all demolition without any plans for reconstruction. It could be fun again. It could be loving, adoring even. It could be kind and sweet and mending.

There were people in that world who could let it be the safe space I craved for it to be back home. There were people who would let me share my insecurities, my vulnerabilities, and lock them away for safe keeping as if they were their very own, and not new pieces of riches amongst logged and listed blackmail opportunities.

There, I wasn’t hiding in plain sight. I wasn’t scared that a single slip-up could mean that I lost what little dream I had left in me, because of the people who were watching me drown, splashing me with salt-water.

New York and the people who came with threw me a life ring and dragged my ass on the boat and back to shore. They held their breath with me, exhaled when I did, and broke off a little piece of their own dream to patchwork mine back to what it had been.

And when I took it back home, I was too quick to show it off.

“Look what I got in NYC!” I said. “Look who I met! What I saw! What I learned!”

My mentor snatched it from me, threw it into the waves, and I sprinted back into the waters I had worked so hard to escape, searching for the unrecognizable fractures of who I had managed to become on my trip.

I was thrashing for air, grasping for my pieces, drowning in shallow water. I refused to believe there was any other option, refused to believe I could stand up and walk out. I was scared that being able to breath alone, cold and drenched on the shore was far worse than whatever fate awaited me once the water filled up my lungs.

There was a point where it got to be just too much. That final gasp of air before acceptance that this is how you go. It scratched my throat and stung my eyes, shocked my system back to its senses.

Enough to finally stand.

And then, to walk out.

I sat on wet sand for a bit. Waiting for my pieces to float back to me, refusing to leave without getting every inch of skin and soul back into my posession. But it was getting dark, and the tide was crawling up, and I knew that it was time. I had to leave with what I’d managed to collect, and reinvent other pieces to fill the gaps.

When I told my therapist about it, every snide comment and direct threat, every knife in my back and corner I’d been pushed into, she was silent. It felt like pity and I didn’t care for it.

But then she sighed, and like the friends in New York, she broke off a piece of her dream and used it to help me rediscover mine.

I took a two year long break from acting. I failed guitar and choir, I wrote often and shared so very little of it. But art became mine again. It was safe, and adoring, just like it had been the first time I spoke and sang on that little MPR stage.

I was scared to be too quick to show it off again. I kept every inch of myself hidden and was trying to figure out what I could do to mend the gaps left by the pieces I never got back. I dyed my hair and changed my makeup, wore weird earrings and tigther clothes. I chewed through hobbies like gum and spent all my time, money, and effort trying to rebuild a sense of self, and then, a sense of self esteem.

By the end of the pandemic, I had gained the ability to obtain and healthily sustain both of those things. A couple months later, I was ready to show it off.

And this time, I’m too sure of myself for it to be taken again.


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