Wednesday, January 7, 2015

That Woman

Recently an old wound was reopened. They say when someone does this, it isn’t always intentional. Rather, that person is a messenger telling you to work on a part of yourself that is not yet healed. When the bandage is ripped off, the wound is reopened. The pain returns almost as if it were yesterday, oozing out of your every pour. Then you realize maybe you were not okay after all.

Monday night I had a giant reminder of my past. Yes, I am a domestic violence and stalking survivor. I have spoken openly in interviews and written about it. Heck, I even talk about it onstage in my comedy. Performance gave me an outlet to live through one of the darkest, most horrific times of my life. I maintain if it weren’t for comedy I would be dead. If my ex didn’t kill me, the pain that went with the situation would have. It’s amazing how the ability to laugh keeps people from losing their damn minds sometimes. Laughter isn’t just the best medicine sometimes, it’s the freaking miracle cure.

I had a friend read me the riot act. Mike’s like a brother. It’s not that he did it to be mean. I needed my ass handed to me. Since the relationship that left me invested in a separate mailing address, I have been very slow to trust men. I had a guy several years ago and it ended badly. Very badly. He still hates me, and I have earned his hate. His wife also has my face on a dartboard. I am not being dramatic, she does. I was a terrible partner. I know that much, and I admit it not to puff myself up but because I was. It’s the damn truth. Yeah this guy had his issues but when you’re the one with your former lover stalking you, there is no room to judge. Just saying.

I never set out to be “that woman”, but I was. Then again, no girl ever dreams of growing up and having Prince Charming turn completely psychotic when the relationship ends. No girl plays Barbies and sees Ken trying to kill himself when Barbie has had enough. It’s not the way it’s supposed to go. Cinderella and Barbie don’t have the real life ending where the dolls are damaged goods. If only Disney and Mattel lived in reality.

“It’s me or the puppets.” My ex said. I still remember the conversation like it was yesterday. He was already controlling my wardrobe and telling me who I could and couldn’t speak to. I thought he was kidding. My children were my blood, my life. I wanted to leave, but remembered when I had done so he broke a Vodka bottle, tried to dive on it, and missed. Then he took the remaining pieces of the broken glass and slit his wrists. I was terrified so I stayed.

For months I was dying inside. My friends saw the lifeblood drain out of me and begged me to get rid of him. Yet I continued to sell him like a used car. A shell of my former self, I turned into a zombie who either simply went through the motions, or when I could feel I was angry all the time. Then it was him or my family. The irony of the whole situation is that he wanted me to put away my puppets so I could become his puppet.

I was drinking alone every night, and that’s already a bad sign. To top it off I had stopped eating and lost a ton of weight. He had hit me before. I had seen female relatives walk this path and I knew how it was going to end. It was always a slow and painful demise where the woman got burned and the man walked away unscathed. More than anything, there was a part of me, my craft, my ventriloquism, my children, missing. I knew if I stayed in the relationship he was going to kill me or I was going to kill myself.

I ended it.

Needless to say it was only the beginning of another nightmare. My ex wouldn’t accept it was over. He called me terrorizing me. Sometimes he would send his friends to terrorize me. He would wander my neighborhood looking for me. Then there were times he would casually tell me he was going to kidnap me because if he couldn’t want me, no one else could have me. In the next breath he mentioned he wanted me dead. If that wasn’t getting to me, he doctored up photos of me online and wrote nasty things on them. Sometimes, he would draw photos of a girl who looked like me and she would be gutted or beheaded. The world has changed, but in those days a restraining order was much harder to get and cyberbullying was still a new crime.

I felt alone, but there were people who came to my aid. The ex was banned from several websites, and my neighbors agreed to watch out for him. Through that I was encouraged by those around me to get onstage and talk about the pain, the fear. More than anything, I was told by those closest to me that I had to reach for my puppets again.

Being a ventriloquist and woman is not easy, especially in the chauvinistic, closed minded comedy community. I heard the sexist jibes and the snide remarks that I was a prop act. However, I also had a lot of people support me as well. I knew in order to get where I needed to go my children had to become my life and they did. At times it seems we fortify ourselves against the world but hey, it’s not the worst thing.

My dream before meeting my ex was to become a professional ventriloquist. With work and effort, that has been happening for me. I have done two good shows this week. One was where I was one of over 200 performers that helped shatter a Guinness World Record. The other was for a bunch of children as part of Little Laughs at The Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn. On both shows, I shared the stage with amazing performers who were not only dedicated to their craft but also good at it. Although the adventure left me slightly drained because things kept coming like gangbusters, I wouldn’t trade any second of it.

I have my act together onstage and off more than I ever have in my life. This past year, I have begun doing theatres and even filmed a DVD. I also have made a career enough onscreen to earn my union card, something else that felt like writing in the clouds before. Fans will write me letters and sometimes can spot me in public and ask, “Are you that puppet girl?”

Things have changed for the better. And while I was “that woman”, a title I didn’t want, I am actually quite glad it happened. My life was going down a very bad road, and once I got out of the relationship it made me realize I had some decisions to make. I was 21 and could still change course. Maybe low self-worth and desperation had taught me a tough lesson, but I could still get back on track. I did by getting a goal. Also, because of my experience, I have had other people who have been “that woman” reach out to me. It lets them know they aren’t alone, but makes me remember I am not either. Of course, I now have a spider sense and can spot “that man” from a million miles away. I can also pick out a bully from a crowd, and have a special way of not tolerating that toxic individual. And if that bully chooses to intimidate others, I come to their defense as well.

“You’re no funny and will never amount to anything as a ventriloquist.” My ex once told me. Although my life has changed dramatically and I feel so far removed from those people and that time, the words still ring fresh every once in a while when I find myself stepping onstage to a performance where I headline, a theatre gig, or as I ready myself for a TV taping. Except now those words don’t sting, instead they motivate me whenever the doubt starts to creep in. Yes, that voice that speaks like my ex that tells me I have no talent, will go no where, and don’t deserve anything good to happen to me.

“I saw you on TV and you are very funny. Don’t let anyone make you give up your puppet children.” Another voice says. It’s the voice of a fan. They say never to believe your fans all the time, but you need to listen sometimes. While the ex’s hateful words motivate me, my fans are the ones in the race that continue to cheer me on. They let me know I need to keep running, keep fighting, keep my puppet children by my side.

Over time, I have learned to forgive my ex. For as tough as it was, he was a sick person. He had a hellacious childhood that I would not wish on my worst enemy. How could I expect him to give me a healthy relationship when he had no idea what one was in the first place? Plus he never made a secret of who he was. I chose to stay. In the end, I was just as guilty as he was. I wasn’t a victim but a willing volunteer. I heard through the grapevine he is getting help and his life is coming together. In my heart I hope this is true and only wish him the best.

However, when the wound is open it still feels like yesterday I was wearing running shoes in case my ex would show up so I could make a quick escape. It still feels like I just spoke to my mother, and she requested his info so she could have it in case I disappeared. I am always my harshest critic with my career. Things never happen fast enough for me. Perhaps sometimes it’s good the wound is accidentally re-opened to show me that I need to stop being such a brat, and that things could have gone much worse. It’s a stick it note from the universe that I lucked out, and that I am doing better than I think.

It’s also a sign that while in some ways I have evolved, in others I haven’t. I still don’t have a guy. I can blame the career and puppets all day long, but it is because I am scared to death of being “that woman” again. There have been women who are “that woman” many times over and that terrifies me. I am petrified of him taking my puppets. It hasn’t happened but it could.

There are times when I want to jump inside the radio and bust the heads of rappers and male singers sprouting misogyny until the gold teeth jump out of their stupid heads. It doesn’t make me feel bad because they have millions of dollars and can get them replaced. Then I realize it’s the same thing as getting mad at my male comedian friends. Those are just words. Nothing more. Some of the most ruthless dudes onstage have been my biggest supporters and greatest friends off. It’s not a personal affront.

Still, maybe it’s because while I have forgiven my ex, I haven’t forgiven myself. I was 21 and made a mistake. I didn’t know everything, how could I? Yeah, I needed to walk this path to get where I was. Sure, it totally sucked. That being said, maybe it’s time to try to find that handsome prince who likes puppets. He’s out there. Maybe it’s time to close the wound for good. 

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