Today is my mother’s birthday.
It’s a date that will probably always hold significance in my head and for reasons of compassion and humanity she will always own a piece of mental and emotional real estate in my life.
Last Thursday I took the stage at the Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso, Indiana along with thirteen other storytellers for This Is My Brave Chicagoland.
For a little background on This Is My Brave, check out their website here.
In early April my introduction video was shared:
And as I mentioned, this past Thursday, I shared a story of my own. I began the presentation wearing a suit (this is actually important). Below is the text from my performance:
How often do you look at yourself in the mirror and think, “Yeah, I like what I see.”? Now how about when you’re naked? Right. It’s a little different. It’s a little bit easier to say when you’re dressed up. Like right now, I’m in a suit. I like suits. But to be honest, even though I like what I see, I see more than a suit. The first event I wore this for was when I got married…to my eventual ex-wife. After the divorce, I didn’t wear it. Until the second time I wore this suit–in the first play I acted in here in Indiana. I played a Japanese guy who didn’t speak English. Classic. Fun Fact: I’m not Japanese. I’m Filipino, which is often identified as Asian. In any case, I’m about over this suit. (removes suit and long-sleeved dress shirt to reveal next layer of clothing.)
In the spring semester of my senior year, I was 17, and I wasn’t going to college because, with “only” a 3.5 GPA, who would accept a failure like me? Thanks, Mom.
So I enlisted, because I needed to get out of that house for multiple reasons. Yes, I joined the Navy to give young teenage Marlon some freedom. (indicating second layer of clothing) These are my summer whites. They are my favorite uniform. I actually got to wear them in a musical when I was in college. I proudly identify myself as a veteran, and overall my enlistment was a positive experience. Yes, I live with PTSD. No, it has nothing to do with my deployment. After my time in the Navy I moved back to California and started at a community college. One of the courses I elected to take was Women’s Psychology. A topic that stood out to me was sexual harassment and rape. Sex was something that was often joked about among an all-male crew aboard a submarine. (removes uniform to reveal black t-shirt and jeans) Sex. I’m SUPPOSED to want it, right? I’m a guy! Why wouldn’t I want sex? The attitude was testosterone-filled and misogynistic to say the least. Stereotypes of drunken sailors were often fulfilled.
Well, there was a time when I didn’t want sex. And I DID know her. And years later, when you learn it’s actually ok to say no. And that consent is a real concept whether you’re a woman OR a man, it changes everything.
When I was about 10 or 11 years old I got punished for a less than stellar report card…being Asian, that means I got B’s. True Story. So at one point, when I’m getting my beatdown, my mom stops. I think I’m catching a break. Except she brings me into the bathroom, and tells me to stand on a stool and look at myself in the mirror. This doesn’t seem so bad, except for the fact that she also ordered me to strip down and stand there naked. She stood next to me, fully clothed, and she asked, “Do you like what you see?”
Facing my reflection, naked and sobbing, salty tears were running down my cheeks, falling down my chest and onto my feet. I told her what she wanted to hear, but it was also the truth, “No.” But that wasn’t enough for her. Still naked, she made me run laps throughout the house. Each time I returned to the bathroom, as I stood on the stool and looked at my naked body in the mirror, she would ask me, “Do you like what you see? Do you?” The answer was always, “No.” This had nothing to do with my report card. Or my body. Eventually I learned from it. For years I hated looking into mirrors. I feared being naked in front of other people. But over the last twenty years I’ve learned to love myself.
And I’m still learning.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had my bouts with depression, addiction, or self-acceptance, and I don’t want to ignore those battles. What’s good is that I’ve learned from them. I’ve learned to accept who and what I am, and that’s a huge step for me. I’ve also learned how to forgive, and that it’s part of healing and growing. (removes t-shirt, jeans, and socks and is now dressed only in underwear) To remind me to forgive my mother, I got a tattoo that says “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” (turn around to display tattoo on back)
Now when I get ready in the mornings and I see myself in the mirror, I can honestly say that I do like what I see.
I see a man that has grown from a fiery childhood.
I see a man that lost some battles but is still winning the war against depression and addictions.
I see a man with stories and scars and tattoos, and I can cover up as much or as little with whatever I choose to wear that day, but I know who and what I am when those layers are gone: the suits, the uniforms, the abuse, addiction, insecurities…all of it. Do I like what I see then? Yes. I do. Some days it’s hard to say it. Some days it’s harder to believe it. But I’m still learning…We’re all still learning.
ValpoLife.com’s Anna Hanson covered the event and published an article to feature this important event. In the article is a photo gallery of all the storytellers, myself included, along with a few photos from after the show. Did I panic after seeing the photo gallery which included a clear photo of my less than athletic body standing in nothing but my underwear (and a mic pack belt)? You can bet your ass I did. Did I hear multiple, judging voices in my head feeding on my insecurities as soon as I saw that image load on my phone as I viewed the article? Hell yes. But it’s not like I knew I was doing this. This had been the concept for my piece since the audition. And it isn’t for attention, or for some weird exhibitionist fetish. It’s a statement of acceptance, acknowledgement, and (as cheesy as it may seem…) bravery.
So I say again…Today is my mother’s birthday
But this post isn’t about her, or what she did. It’s about me. It’s about growing. And it’s definitely about learning. It has been a few days since I shared this story in front of a live audience and did what I did. The days that followed can be likened to an emotional slingshot. The highs were high and the lows sank deep down. The voices of fear of retaliation and notions of “family honor” and all these things flew through my mind, but this was not about her, me, or my bloodline. This was about everything that This Is My Brave stands for.
When I was driving to the opera house on Thursday afternoon before the show, I turned off my radio and just listened to the wind and the road and my thoughts. Since then, If I’m in the car alone I haven’t been playing any music. This is a huge change for me. I love music, and I always will, but right now, I have come face to face with so many things I have side-stepped and dodged for so long, and that ended this past weekend. I am not afraid of living with PTSD. Or anxiety, or the smoldering remains of depression or addictions. I will face anything inside myself with an unwavering stare.
This weekend was a rebirthday for me. This is my blog. This is my brave.