“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou
Our stories connect us. They make us who we are, and what we will become. But for many of us, our stories go untold, unheard, unappreciated.
For three nights, ten of us told our stories at the UW The ______ Monologues. We told them through feelings that had been withheld, hidden, and ignored. We told them through fear. Our stories were only ours, but now they are yours.
“In fact, [your story is] your best gift to the world because it’s exclusively yours. So be proud when you tell it to someone who wanted to listen. But more importantly, be engaged when someone wants to tell you theirs. I honestly believe that even if things don’t work out the way that you want, it’s necessary to be kind, vulnerable and honest anyway- because that is how YOUR story gets better.” – Alyssa Cruz, excerpt from her monologue
In November, I received an email about the 2017 UW show, The _____ Monologues, calling for auditioners. On a whim, I submitted my application. I hadn’t performed on stage since high school, but it sounded fun. Feeling a bit adventurous I walked into auditions with a topic in hand. I wanted to share my birth story, but I wanted to do it combined with a monologue I had performed as a senior in high school, one about a young girl helping birth a cow. It was quirky and meant to be fun. When I thought about other topics, they seemed bland and ordinary.
Six weeks ago, at the beginning of January, when I walked into the tiny office of the Women’s Action Commission, I immediately felt out of place. About a dozen people sat in that office, and I stood out as the only white, cisgender, heterosexual. Over the next few weeks, I would spend countless hours with the other performers, hearing their stories – stories that opened up their pain, confusion and despair.
Each time, I left that group questioning my presence. What right did I have to stand beside them? Why had I been chosen to share the stage and stories with them? For weeks I despaired, wondering if I really belonged.
As rehearsals became more frequent I felt a divide growing. Here I was, almost 10 years everyone’s senior, attempting to engage in each conversation. I had to learn the meaning of Smash and Bench, all while trying to keep my motherly advice to myself.
At each rehearsal every performer would pair up, and we’d walk through our stories. I’d hear the struggles they faced, and wonder what could my story offer compared to theirs? Each pushed me hard, helping make my story more clear, more defined. Their help allowed me to dive into the issues I had with society’s expectations of mothers, and my own pain around not having the natural birth I had planned. But I was stunned by their stories, feeling weak and inadequate in giving them feedback.
Even after 2 nights of performing, I still had no understanding of what purpose I served. I sat down with friends to discuss that evening’s performance – and they asked me point blank, ‘Why was I included?’. I admitted, I had wondered the same. As people of color, they saw themselves reflected in all the pain expressed on that stage. They couldn’t see how I fit into the conversation.
Yeah, my feelings exactly.
As the 3rd and final show came to a close, I gave out hugs and words of encouragement. I had no one to run out to see, as family and friends had come and gone. As I started to leave, a young man stopped me. Over 6 feet tall I had to crane my neck awkwardly to look him in the eye – eyes that were watery and red. He told me the story of his own birth, how his head had snapped his mother’s pelvis in two. And he thanked me. He’d never understood his mother until now.
I didn’t know how to respond. I felt awkward and unsure. His mother had blamed him for not giving her the opportunity to have the natural birth she had dreamed of and I wasn’t equipped to offer words that would bridge that 18 year gap. So I thanked him for his story. We shared a hug. And I walked away.
I cried that last night. Thinking about this young college boy who’d found solace in my words. I finally understood my purpose. I was there to share a story, my story. Just as each one of the performers stood on that stage to share their story. Stories of validity, hope, pain, and fear – I too, was meant to share mine. Was my pain any less valid because I was white, cisgender, and heterosexual?
No. We all have stories to share.
As performer Sarah Nishikawa said in her monologue “you are all valid. You all matter.” But what mattered more was how she ended it by asking the audience to “listen for the “me” in these words that come from my heart”.
So in the aftermath of The _____ Monologues, I ask you to take a moment to listen for the stories, the stories that come from each of our hearts – the ones we share with you, if you but listen.