In 2015 I found the courage to take a series of short pieces and poems I had written and weave them together into two-hour performance piece. The piece was an exploration of my journey into the dark lands of abuse and the way I found my way through to the other side. But even as some of the writings were my story, there were also other women’s stories who showed up, voices who needed their say, their release.
At 19 I fell in love. And I stayed with him for years. I stayed long after I discovered he was an alcoholic and repeatedly slept with other women. I stayed after I found out he used and dealt cocaine. I stayed even after a night of hell when he carried me to an open window threatening to throw me out.
The writings were exploration, therapy, story telling. They were a way to try to understand why: why I fell so hard, why I stayed, why I went back. And so very important, these writings were how I finally became strong enough to resist the addiction of his call.
“But then somehow it is later, and his body is tumbling into bed. It dips with his weight and the smell of the alcohol on his breath reeks as he reaches over to touch me. My skin is warm and soft and his hands don’t feel right. And it is late and I’m tired. His hands reach up and into my t-shirt. I want to turn away but he moves in behind me curling up into my curves. Mumbling that he loves me and his tongue is wet on my ear.”
I wrote “Skins I Have Worn” because I had to. At first these writings were in secret, just a friend and I huddled over a notebook. Eventually I began sharing a couple of pieces out loud. And then it was time to bring them to the stage, to step out into the light, literally as well as figuratively.
On a dark stage, a light comes up on a single woman. “Come tell me your stories,” she invites. “Tell me your tales.” One by one, six women cautiously step through a doorway and begin circling the stage.
“Some days we just show up. And all this talk of being alive. Of living a life. Some days, all we can do is just show up. Some days, it takes all we have to pull down the sheets and open our eyes. Some days it takes all we have to smile when our baby girl comes looking for her mama.”
“Skins I Have Worn” is a glimpse into the lives of women who have taken refuge in a women’s shelter for domestic violence. At times the characters are anchored in reality and, at other times, in poetry and myth. Revealed through words and dance, this performance explores their journey through the dark lands: how love becomes obsession; how lovers and fathers betray them; and how some find their way to forgiveness and freedom.
Each actress portrays several characters. The dance is woven into the performance as another ‘voice.’ And because the body does not lie, it reveals the truth even as the women sometimes struggle to find the words. This piece is an exploration not an explanation.
“I sit, on a stool. Looking at a photograph. Of me many years ago. In the arms of a man, many years ago. And his lips are against my ear, and my head is tilted back. The smile is huge with loving. His arms are wrapped around me, right below my breasts. Whispering naughty words as the camera clicks.”
Ultimately this work is a celebration. Though dark with betrayal and grief, “Skins I Have Worn” is also about resilience, courage, and hope. We all have our stories, those journeys that took us into our own dark lands. But these stories are the grist for the mill. They are the fire that tempered steel. These journeys through the dark lands are what make us who we are.
The process of writing, directing and producing the show stretched me and grew me beyond what I thought I was capable of. There were so many lessons to be learned, and so much courage and trust I needed to find. There is no doubt but this production gave me the opportunity to exorcise my demons and to finally forgive myself for the woman I had been, who did the best she can. I was also able to see the woman I had become, and a new found confidence that I would not make those same choices again.
“Who is that woman coming out of her cave? On hands and knees she crawls, in fits and starts, like a great beast, she lumbers out onto the steppes. Face streaked in mud, she raises her head to the sky. It has been so long it hurts her eyes. So long that she has been squeezed, she is not even certain she can stand.”
There were days during that time, when I literally had to lie down on the ground I was so scared of what I was taking on. But then, slowing my breath, feeling the solid ground beneath my back, I found the courage to get up and take the next step. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned was to trust. I learned to trust my own vision, my own vision, my own choices. I learned to trust in the magic and wonder of the Universe as gift after beautiful gift arrived. I learned to trust in my own talent and aesthetics. This was my voice, my work, my time to take this vision out into the world. And trust that it would land and touch people’s hearts. I had to believe that I was not alone in this journey, and that it was vital that we trusted that no matter how much pain, heart ache or suffering we endure, it is possible to come out the other side, not necessarily better, but definitely different and potentially stronger for the lessons.
The following year, I took what had become the play and transformed the words into a book of poetry, and with that closing the door on this chapter of my life.
For more details about this magical powerful journey, please read some of the earlier blogs.