When I was about six I was tied to a tree on top of a hill. I was left there for at about an hour and within that hour I experienced a lot of emotions. Firstly, I was in disbelief, as I was certain that my friend who had tied me to the tree wouldn't really leave me there. And then as time ever so slowly crept by ( as it does when you are tied to trees) it became clear that I should redefine the term 'friend' and that I should start believing that my 'friend' wasn't coming back and that I was in fact being left for the birds ( you know, like every child does...) I then went into survival mode and started to scream and violently shake the tree to break free from the rope. I probably only did this for about 2 minutes before giving up and resiginging that I was stuck and was going to die a slow, lonely death...and I cried. Dear lord did I cry .
I remember that moment in my life so clearly. I remember how harsh the grass felt on my legs. I remember how tight the rope felt on my arms and how the tree's bark felt rubbing against my back. I remember how sad I was and how final this moment felt for me. It was the end. But what I don't remember is how I broke free. I don't remember the victory and only remember the struggle.
I remember the first time I performed like it was yesterday. It was a played called Virtue, Victorious (not to be confused with Victor Victoria. I had just moved to a new school, had no friends and was constantly referred to as 'new girl' even though I had been at school for over a year.
I remember getting to school one morning and hearing everyone talk about auditions for the fall melodrama. I had never auditioned for a play before and I really didn't know anything about theatre but for some reason I felt like I needed to audition for the play as well. Seeing as everyone was talking about who was going to play what part, the auditions seemed kinda pointless because the student body had already decided who was going to be cast. I don't know if knowing this lowered the stakes for me and gave me the courage to walk up to the sign up sheet after lunch and write my name down...but I did.
I spent the next couple of days perfecting a monologue. I'm sure if I saw my younger self working on this monologue, I would have a lot of laughs.
So the audition day came and I got up on the stage and I gave it my very best.
I straight up surprised myself. I was auditioning for the part of Morgana Crook. The evil side kick to the classic villain in the show and I was killing it. They gave me a whip to scare people with (I went to school in Texas.)
And I felt like I really gave a good showing.
...I didn't get the part....initially.
I was a little bummed because I had so much fun in the audition and then Mrs. White, the theatre teacher at Staly Middle School, came up to me and told me the girl who was originally cast failed Algebra and could no longer be in the show and just like that I was in the play. I wasn't the new girl anymore...I was the theatre girl.
I continued to pursue theatre all through high school. I formed a close knit group of friends, friends whom I still love and see to this day and mostly, I fell in love with stories. In high school, like everyone my age I was going through my parents divorce. It was messy and it was hard...but I always had a play to work on to distract me from what was going on at home.
I was in love.
I wanted to pursue theatre in college but because of the messy divorce there wasn't a lot of money to send me away so I went to a junior college for two years. Luckily, the local JC was the best kept theatrical secret in all of Texas. I was challenged by beautiful scripts, new and old. I was inspired by brillant teachers and amazingly talented classmates. It was there that I grew into a theatre artist. It was there that I really realized that this is the life I want. The theatre had chosen me and there was nothing I could do about it.
I wanted more though...I wanted to be in NYC. The most thrilling theatre city in the world.
The plan was to go to a really fancy NYC acting school, get an agent and immediately have a successful career.
...You know like ya do...
But that didn't happen for me. (Whaaaat?)
After alot of hard work and money saving I got here.
I went to Circle in the Square, trained with more amazing teachers, met life long friends and made a home here. After graduation I joined a group of artists and together we create new work every month, something so important to my artistic soul.
My artistic life was coming together in a way that I was proud of and that fulfilled me. But my personal life, my love life more specifically still remained stagnet and ignored. For some reason or other I just couldn't allow myself to take a risk with my heart. I would take my clothes off on stage, I would jump from a 30 foot balcony but I just couldn't take a risk in my actual life. I've been writing a blog, joking about how I am an old virgin and how weird and quirky that is but behind the jokes there is something very real I am scared of dealing with, scared of facing.
I did a play called How I Learned to Drive when I was in college. It's a beautiful piece about a woman who is dealing with a past of sexual abuse. This play is hilarious. This play is honest.
I remember delivering the final monologue of the show so clearly. I remember saying the line "That was the day I stopped living in my body and I have lived in the fire in my head ever since."
I remember the moment I stopped living in my body. I remember the moment when I joined the ranks of the women who have endured rape. I was a kid. I had no idea how to deal with it. But I do remember the overwhelming desire to hide from the pain, the confusion and the fear and pretend like everything was okay. Even though I was just a kid, I knew that I didn't want my life to be defined by this one moment. This one moment that wasn't in my control. I've spent most of my life hiding from this part of who I am. I've spent most of my life convincing myself that I don't need anyone to protect me, that I don't want anyone's pity and knowing in my core, that I am not a victim.
That I can write my own story. That I can laugh at my struggles. I can learn from them and that I can stop living in the fire in my head and get back into my body and set fire to my heart.
We all have shit. We all have stories. And we can all tell our versions of them. And they can be light even when it's dark.
I have a review of that production of How I Learned to Drive, hanging beside my bed. One morning not too long ago I woke up and decided to read it for the first time in a long time.
At the end of the review it says:
"O'Connor makes the character more than a mere victim. She makes her a free and independent spirit to whom terrible things have happened."
I have the gift of story to help me heal. To help me realize that we are all in this together. We all have trauma's. We all have healing to do. The things that make us feel damaged and different are the things that connect us. We have the power of stories to act as little links in a chain that holds us all together.
And the stories, have saved me. They have revitalized me. They have given me hope. They are healing me. They have showed me that I am worthy of love, that I can love and that I won't settle for anything I don't want and that I know what I want. And I am finally ready to take a risk with my heart...and my vagina.
I wonder what Colleen now would say to that sad little 6 year old Colleen tied to that tree.
I would tell her that in a few years things are going to get even harder. But you are strong and you must remember the struggle to break free. The struggle is the victory. And you're strong enough.