• Laurel Abell

The Great Pretender

Updated: Mar 7, 2019

When I was a kid, all I wanted was to be an actress. I watched all the Academy Awards and practiced my acceptance speeches in front of a mirror, hairbrush mic in hand. I was always acting out some scene, complete with dialogue and staging. I can’t ever remember being bored because there was always a story going off in my head, sometimes triggered by the flames in the fireplace or the rapid fly-by slide show of looking out the window on our long drives to Maine every summer. I made up stories all the time, once even telling a neighbor with a newborn in her arms that my mother had just lost a baby! She avoided my mother for fear her child would reignite heartbreak. None of it was true.

Look how dramatic I was! Mom & Dad called me Sarah Bernhardt.

I pretended everything.

As I grew into an even more dramatic teenager, pretending literally became a coping mechanism. I pretended that my family was whole when it wasn’t. I pretended that I was outgoing when I was desperately shy & lonely. I pretended that I was strong and confident because deep down I was only very afraid. And when terrible things happened to me (#metoo), I pretended they didn't occur. I even forced myself to forget.

And I wore costumes as protection. Not make up and wild outfits like Lady Gaga (Stephani Joanne Angelina Germanotta).

But I wore a smile. I wore laughter at jokes that offended or confused me. I wore silence and pretended not to hear the kids tease me. I wore an invisible shadow over my eyes so I could hide how awkward I felt. And under all that, I buried the sadness and shame I was feeling, for things that were not my fault. I did whatever I could to go with the flow, fit in, and be accepted. And look normal, whatever that was

As a result, I learned to hide my true self. I entered adulthood so afraid to speak the truth that I sort of became someone else altogether. Someone who I thought I was supposed to be. I looked to others for guidance and approval. The collective “They” knew better than me who I should be and what I should look like. I craved this acceptance, needed it like a body needs nourishment.

Because I did not believe in me.

And the truths that I buried roiled in my gut, trying to get out. So many things I wanted—no, needed—to say. But I could not say them. Not ever.

That’s where all my stories come in. So many people either ask me outright why I write or they look at me with a mix of pity and disgust, as if I am wasting my life. What they don't know: I can’t NOT write stories. They are as much a part of me as my blue eyes or my love for Nøkkelost.

Nøkkelost equals Christmas for Norwegians. Even the cheese is dramatic!!

So, as fifty stared me down through the windshield of my life, I went back to school and reinvented myself. Getting my degree was something I started a long time ago and needed to complete, a major bucket list item. But going further to grad school and earning my Master of Fine Arts in Writing? I did that to learn how to believe in me. To take all the truths roiling in my gut and find a way to finally say them. Every piece of me that I've hidden, every way I've pretended, finds its way to be real and even alive on the page. This is where the truth sets me free.

So, what have I discovered? That, yes, I am a story-teller, a pretender. God made me this way, and I'm so glad I figured it out before it was too late. I've always been me all along. I just didn't know it.

Shakespeare said it so well: "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." I guess I am an actress after all. We all are, really. But the pretending is so much a part of who I am that I should have earned an Oscar by now! I mean, seriously.

Wow, talk about dramatic!

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