Korean dramas were starting to be all the rage, capturing the hearts of juvenile viewers with every utterance of “saranghae” as if it were them that these towering oppas were saying “I love you” to. My classmates had their eyes glued to television screens; I had mine, too, so much so that every bite of the lip, every teardrop falling down the cheek, and every crack in the voice of a character moved me, leaving me with profound amazement at the art of acting.

It was 2012, and I was 12. We were in school, impatiently waiting out the last few months before our grade school graduation. A representative from the graduation committee stepped in front and announced that we would have to submit our yearbook entries: a quote we loved, whether original or not, and our ambition in life. I wrote an original quote, and my ambition: to be an actress in Korea.

There, on a portion of a page of our yearbook, was my dream, expressed in a 15-word sentence: “This lassie is a left brain who wishes to become a famous actress in Korea.”

My mom, dad, and sister never got to read that. They wouldn’t have believed a word of it if they did, anyway. Eventually, that yearbook would be shoved between brittle brown envelopes and dusty photo albums. Those words, the manifestation of the lion within that leapt at the chance to make itself known, stayed in my mental archive—lost, or perhaps just hidden.

In junior high school, I chose to work backstage during our class’ musical play—to tap on microphones and make sure they were all working, to memorize which lights must be switched on in certain scenes, etc. I had no courage to audition for a role. I was unable to raise my hand and say, “I want to play that character!” I seemed to have forgotten the wonder I had felt toward acting, which I owed to the first Korean dramas I saw.

When our class play ended, when the actors were about to take their bow at curtain call, I peeked from the side of the stage, just enough for me to see the actors and the audience without them seeing me.

My dad used to say that it was the usual shyness that people my age go through, and that I should eventually tear off this veil of bashfulness as I grew older. My best friend always replied with “SAMEEE” whenever I told her how I trembled at every phone call, at every ring of the doorbell. If the call was from an unknown number, I’d just wait for it to become a missed call. When the doorbell rang, its horrific chimes were enough to send me locking myself in the bathroom, pretending to do my business until someone else opened the gate for the unknown visitor.

I took refuge in being solitary. At night, the mirror hanging next to my bed became my camera, and my reflection my audience. When the city was asleep, that was when the actress in me awoke from her slumber. When my sister dozed off, emitting nothing but soft breaths from her side of the bed, my lips would part to perform midnight concerts that only my own ears could hear. But when cars began rolling down the streets again and people opened their eyes to a new day, that lion that momentarily broke off its shackles and relished its mighty roar retreated once again to its cave.

The anxiety I feel is still here, but now I can receive deliveries to our house and say “Salamat po” to Foodpanda riders. While my heart would still beat a thousand times in those few seconds that my phone is ringing, I no longer resort to outright avoidance.

Silently, I’ve been on the lookout for stepping-stone opportunities in the performing arts. I occasionally play free concerts for my sister who, lying in bed, may or may not be listening to me at all. Of course, I still watch Korean dramas with immense awe, and this time with positive anticipation — that in time, I will be in one.

I am not what you may call an early bloomer. At 21, my body is still seemingly hinged with heavy iron chains. I am one of those who grapple with the constraints of their mental cages. We are terrified of never going past the dreamer stage; we desire to reach the stage of the doers where everything good and bad is real. But we are constantly trying. I am constantly trying to reveal once again that page in my grade school yearbook, and bring the words written there to reality at last.

My to-do list still has only unticked boxes, but I have already started working on the first one. Learning Korean is no easy feat, and I know only a few words and phrases at this time. But to all lions out there that are still in hiding, including mine, all I can say is: “Hwaiting!” (You can do it!)

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