When the Heart Speaks, Or that Time I was Falsely Accused of Racism
Lyme Disease gave me heart palpitations. Random intervals of the kind of pitter-patter that is cute in cartoons, but unnerving IRL. The doctor said they stemmed from bacteria weaseling its way into my aortic valves, fucking with the rhythm of my being. Or maybe it was drugs—antibiotics, antimicrobials, antidepressant, antihuman pills that promised to right the wrongdoings of my disease.
At some point, when the treatments were over, and the symptoms really were a distant memory, I realized my heart rhythm was steady as can be. Thank God. There’s nothing worse than the inability to trust your heart.
In the fall of 2017, I suffered from a few palpitations. I chalked it up to severe exhaustion from participating in the development of a new broadway-bound musical. There is no excuse for art that breeds this level of exhaustion, other than the promise of a bottom line I will never see.
A few weeks ago, in the midst of yet another broadway-hopeful musical, the palpitations came back. In those moments when “symptoms” appear, the ghosts of diseases past whisper “did you miss us?” While my heart pounds pitter-patter in my throat, I worry the fairy tale is over—Prince Charming was a beast all along who can never be loved, changed, cured, or remedied. Miracles do not happen. I will always be broken, and the disease never left at all. Just another set of lies I like to tell myself in moments of doubt.
These palpitations were different. A simple cough no longer reset my rhythm the way it did in the good ole days of Lyme. So, I did some digging. This new pitter-patter was not my heart at all. It was my esophagus, spasming from allergic reaction. Of course, just another allergy.
I often worry I will grow allergic to everything I eat. With each allergy, intolerance, and reaction, my body perceives a potato, and tomato, and bagel, and berry, and peanut, and mushroom and all of their friends as the enemy. I bloat. I barf. I cry. My esophagus spasms as each new morsel becomes the enemy. But, what if food isn’t the enemy at all?
First, the spasms only occurred at work. Must be stress skyrocketing my body into fight response. As they escalated, my voice would waiver and eventually crap out, leaving me speechless. The spasms came when I needed to speak up for myself. Speaking to designers. Speaking to production management. Saying the difficult things to our crew. My body literally shut down at confrontation. On Christmas Eve, my esophagus contracted when I attempted to confront my mother about something silly, like who would juice celery in the morning, or what time we would eat pie.
My body was no longer willing to stand up for itself. I drove myself to speechlessness. The message was clear.
I took some time, and worked out the foods that were probably exacerbating the spasms. They calmed down a little. The New Year came. I made a bajillion realizations about who I am in my work, and let go of some of the deep stuff. And just like magic, the spasms were gone.
And then, there I was, the better-zener-calmer-super Amy, trimming a beautiful actresses weave. The spasms reared their pitter-pattering head, as she put me on the spot about my place in this work, and the real nitty-gritty-bottom-of-the-stomach-sludge-of-life spilled onto the fitting room floor.
Last year, amorphous, complex, blatantly false accusations were make about my character, ethics, and work. The were so vague I almost believed they were true. It crushed me. I bawled for days. Hysterical, uncontrollable tears. The kind that society characterizes as a woman’s weakness. The kind that leaves eyelids so raw you’re afraid they’ll never recover. The lies came with no specifics, feeding off of fear of things I couldn’t remember because they never happened at all.
Part of my soul was ripped from my center. I worried, I would never be whole again; the guilt of not knowing consumed me. Who had I presented myself to be? Had I transformed from inherently good to inherently bad without looking in the god-damn mirror? What had I done? And how did I have no idea what had happened.
When we allow other’s to shake us, we take stock in who we believe ourselves to be. And this version—cold, petty, smug, thoughtless, lazy, non-team-player with questionable motives in regards to race could not be further from my identity. The more people I told the story, the more absurd it sounded, and the larger the pro-Amy mob grew. The more support I received, the more I realized these false beliefs did not define me. In fact, they weren’t even about me.
Other people opinions don’t have anything to do with us.
We lie about others from a place of fear. Fear of their power, potential, and popularity. We see this pattern every day across the American landscape. We lie about others to build up ourselves, bury our fears, and get what we think we need. No matter what, we do not trust. We do not give the benefit of the doubt. And we do not believe that people are inherently good. Or, at least, no one did in this situation.
I was falsely accused of racism, but not blatantly. Because I was frustrated when a black man did not do his job—letting down the team, preventing other’s from doing their job, and negatively affecting the work environment—the assumption was made that my frustration was related to the color of his skin. I have a love and tolerance for all people, it’s laziness and neglect I don’t tolerate well.
Not once was I asked for my side of the story. Because, as women, we are not allowed to make demands, look unhappy, or berate men for their shortcomings. As women, we are to take it all, with a smile and a nod. We do not get opinions. We do not get power. We get lies, stories, heartache, and esophageal spasms.
Like all lies, inflated beyond their expiration date, this absurd accusation popped when the liar was caught in their own web of false news. And just as these Amy-shattering stories had built—bubbling up from the whispers and tales of theater gossip—they faded into the background. Forgotten by all, except me. Because I took it. I sat there, more than once, and listened to the lies that drenched me in shame, confusion, and self doubt. Not once did I say, “not true,” “I beg to differ,” or “Get the fuck out.” Because I am a woman. And I let others’ take my power away.
We are built, cell by cell, of stories. Some, are the stories our parents told us at bedtime. The myths and legends of families, cultures, and religions. The framework of our thoughts and belief systems. Others, are the stories we tell ourselves. Many of them negative. I am not enough. I am too much of this. I need more of that. I am not who I want to be. And then there are the stories, everyone else tells. The their perceptions of who we are. But, the thing about perception is that ours will never be the same. And the truth about stories, is that they are all lies until we make them a truth. Or maybe, they’re all truths until we prove they’re a lie.
I would like to think my esophagus spasms because I’m allergic to another stupid plant or animals my body cannot digest. But, I’m pretty sure the intolerance is to myself, and those moments I hand over my power, physically unable to speak up for who I really am.
And for those moments, I ask myself, do I choose to make this a truth, or let it live as a lie?