Driving to my favorite coffee shop in Seattle this Winter Solstice morn, I was suddenly hit with a memory. An unwanted, painful, and invasive memory. I felt sucker punched right in my solar plexus. The yellow chakra. The place of self esteem.
I struggle(d) with self esteem growing up. Many of us do, in one way or another. As a child I was reserved and quiet. Often this solemn observance was mistaken for shyness, but I didn't cower from friends or adults once trust was established. I had to feel safe, or at least the semblance of safety, in order to open up and share and laugh. I had a sweet childlike laugh. I know this because I've watched old videotapes of me laughing and being cute. This innocence would be broken one day, as it is for anyone who is able to grow up. But my innocence was shattered, not softly broken, in one small act when I was 11.
In 5th grade, my school had an after-school program that offered a variety of classes. I took two. A computer class and a drama class.
I was thrilled to be taking a drama class. Secretly, I always felt destined for the screen. I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to see myself becoming characters like the ones I looked up to. I loved adventure films like Indiana Jones and Star Wars. I wanted to be the 4th Ninja (3 Ninjas). I remember once hoping that I would be discovered by Mr. Spielberg himself and he would cast me as Indiana Jones' daughter. I was 8 and living on an army base in Yongsan, South Korea, when I had this daydream. I'm not exactly sure how I thought that would happen. Maybe it was my faith absolute in serendipity.
So here I am, at an elementary school in Western Washington, in a drama class that I am truly excited to be in. On our first afternoon together, our instructor, an older white cisgendered male who is in charge of the Children's Theatre in Bremerton, tasks the five of us enrolled in the class to pretend that a piece of fake fruit is a phone. We're supposed to have conversations "over the banana" with each other. I felt shy in that moment for sure, and quiet and silly. We were on the bridge between childhood and adolescence after all.
But then it got weird.
A session or two later, we were re-enacting a fairy tale. Rumpelstiltskin. I was the King. And, aside from my friend, Kelly, who was also in the class, I didn't yet feel safe or comfortable with the other students or the instructor. And I was soft-spoken, so I clearly wasn't demonstrating the kingly behavior required for this role.
Mr. Campbell, the instructor, was not pleased. He demonstrated how I ought to stroke my chin, as if stroking my beard, as a way of showing the king's contemplation and/or disgruntlement.
I got it.
But he was insistent.
And he put his hand on my thigh.
He wasn't trying to be sexual, I don't think. But who knows. Maybe he was. Regardless, his way of explaining the character and his clearly inappropriate touch made me numb. Seized me right up. He may have even stroked my chin to show me how to do it. I don't remember. There were other students there in the room. Nothing else happened physically. But I was traumatized.
I remember sitting around the small dining room table later that night with my parents. We said grace. We ate spaghetti. I drank a glass of milk. My dad asked me about drama class. I probably muttered a "fine," as I would, which at once says nothing and says everything.
I felt slimed. Gross. Vulnerable. I thought I did something wrong.
I was 11. That was over twenty years ago. And this morning, this memory was drawn up again, causing my stomach to recoil. Causing tears in my eyes and an old ache in my heart.
As a child, I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to at least try to be an actor. My wings were clipped, so to speak, by that instructor, who took too much from me in one brief moment. (And he was an asshole besides the inappropriate physical touch too.)
I didn't try to act again. At least not consciously.
I sat in on a meeting in high school about try outs for a non-speaking role in The Wiz but I left it there. I did spoken word poetry as a twenty something. I took a voice acting class two years ago (but that's not a visible role). I took a dance class that ended in a sold-out public performance.
When I was 8, I wanted to be the daughter of Indiana Jones. I wanted Harrison Ford to think I was strong and admirable and worthy of adventure with him on the big screen.
I wanted to be seen.
I cried this morning because a dream was shattered at a young age by a man. A gross and irresponsible white cisgendered male. And this unwanted memory, drawn up again as we see, as a country, the rise of a white cisgendered male who would sleep with his own daughter if he could, who has denigrated and abused and vilified women, to the position of President of the United States. Of course these unwanted memories would be drawn up. Remembered. We are at once both unique individuals and part of a collective. This experience was mine; these kinds of experiences are being recalled across the country, across the planet.
But I am not 11 anymore. And I no longer want to be the daughter of Indiana Jones. I am writing new heroines who have their own adventures, who are themselves the star, not the daughter of, sister of, wife or partner of. They hold their own story on their own. Because they can.
I think I will take an acting class again. I know I will. I owe it to myself no matter what the outcome. I hope to have fun. I want to be silly and playful. And I won't be condensed into a small nothing by anyone again.
All of the unwanted moments, internalized. How much we hold onto, the things begging for release.
So now, twenty years later, I say goodbye to Mr. Campbell and his physical touch; for all of the ways he made me feel small and insignificant and definitely unworthy of being seen.
I will act. I will dream. I will create.
And so it is.