The Act

Published on 27 June 2023 at 20:53

I never realized it as a child, but looking back now I see that I learned to be an actress at an early age. Don’t get confused. I am not meaning I have any grand ability or that I am ready for the big screen. I simply mean I learned to play my role. My role at home, my role as a sister, and my role at school. These roles were very different but I played them nonetheless.


You see, I wasn’t aware that over the years of my childhood I had developed a coping mechanism. It was not too long ago that my therapist pointed it out to me. I was sharing with her something traumatic from my childhood and shared it in a flippant way with a smile on my face and a laugh. She pointed out to me that I do this when I talk about difficult things. It is like I almost brush it off as a joke. I could be talking about something awful but share it in a way that made it look like it was nothing. Apparently this is a coping mechanism of mine.


My role in the family, as was all my siblings' roles, was to shut up, sit down, and make ourselves small. Yes we had times of laughter. Yes we had those light hearted days. Yes we had times when we were just kids. But most days we were in the way and too loud. For example, we were not to talk at dinner. Daddy would get his food first and go to his chair in the living room with his beer and T.V. remote. Mommy would be sure we had our food and were sitting and then she would take hers and join Daddy in the living room. If we talked we got told to shut up or be quiet. We didn't sit down as a family and talk about our day or our feelings. We sat in silence and ate, being careful not to upset Daddy. Daddy also had to be full before we had seconds. Don’t get me wrong, we were fed and never went hungry. But, it was Daddy first. 


I wonder if these experiences are where I developed my awkwardness towards silence. I do not like silence at all. I do not like that lull in conversation or just sitting in a group with no one talking. So, I often talk to fill that void. Some say I talk too much. I say I am making up for lost time. It was during these awkward dinners that I began to play my second role. And that was part of my role as a sister. That role was making light of difficult situations.


You see, at dinner I would do things to entertain my siblings. For example, when we would have baked chicken for dinner I would hold a leg in each hand and make the legs dance. My siblings would try to stifle their laughter so we wouldn’t get in trouble. I guess some would say I was ornery in a way. I just hated that tension that filled the room and this was my way of bringing laughter into our lives. I also would make up songs. I had a very famous (well to my siblings and close friends anyway) song about dog food. I am sure my oldest sister remembers the lyrics because she remembers everything. I sadly no longer can recall them. But believe me, it was a hit!


I was also the sister that would smile and reassure my siblings that everything was okay when a massive fight would break out between Mommy and Daddy. We would run upstairs to hide and be out of their way. I would be the one acting like everything was fine. It wasn’t. I was angry and sad a lot. But I rarely let it show. I had to be strong. I needed to make light of the bad situations. 


I was also good at acting crazy! As anyone from a large family knows, you don’t always get along. I had this raging bull routine that always worked. When my sisters were pissing me off, I would pretend to be a bull ready to charge. I would put horns up with my fingers and do this thing with my leg that made it appear I was a wild animal. It always sent my sisters running for Mommy. I found it very entertaining and it got them to leave me alone. Maybe I should try it at work!


Now school…that is where I put on my biggest act. I was the good student. I was the timid and shy student. I did my work and tried my best to get good grades. School was where I felt safe and happy (well as happy as a young girl can be). I didn’t let my teachers or friends know what life was like at home. Even on rough nights with bags under my eyes, I would get on that school bus and put on my smile. I am pretty sure my high school band teacher saw through my facade but he never pushed or asked. He just always had this knowing look. It was the choir and band and my small circle of friends who helped me survive. 


In some ways I am still acting. I smile even when in pain (both physically and emotionally), I laugh off trauma, and not many know me. I mean truly know me. If you are reading this you are among few who have ever heard some of these memories. 

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Linda Hensley
a year ago

I can picture every moment you wrote about. My dad was military and strict but not like this. I feel fortunate that my memories are happy ones. I love you! And...I wish I could see the chicken leg dance and the bull charge! 😁

a year ago

I’ve told these stories to friends and I sometimes wonder if they even believe they’re true because I tell them like some sort of stand up comedian. We laugh because it’s our way to survive. Love you!