I'm going through one of those times in life when new things hold great appeal. I'm reading new books, discovering new parks and places to eat, trying a whole plethora of new things. (Example: using the word "plethora" more often. Awesome word.)
Tonight my friend Lindsey, a fabulous 14-year-old budding music star, decided to sing in front of a local karaoke crowd. She did this sans her beloved guitar, of course, which put her out of her comfort zone a little. Which is another reason I admire her. She challenges herself. Her instincts are good, and she knocked her first song out of the park, and I got goosebumps as I often do while listening to her, and I cried. I don't cry when everyone sings, but there's something about Lindsey. The night went on and she performed three more songs, and I think I was as proud as her mom. And humbled.
The only time I did karaoke- 20 years ago- I was with a big group of women from work and there was alcohol involved. I sang "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" with my friend Chris, and it went well because almost everyone in the room was buzzed, drunk, or busy shoveling nachos into their mouths.
I planned to stay part of the crowd tonight, to enjoy Lindsey. But there was something infectious in the air, a lighthearted momentum, and I knew I could actively participate. Even though I was drinking lemonade!
Did I mention that I'm also into active participation lately? I'm not the same girl who hid behind all the other girls and was picked last for softball in middle school. And basketball. And kickball. Okay, I was also picked last because I sucked at those sports. (Not floor hockey, though- I was freakishly good at floor hockey. Take that, bitches!)
I grabbed one of the song binders and started cheerfully flipping through titles and artists. So many choices. What fun! I could join the legions of people who love karaoke, who stride to the microphone and belt out their favorite tunes as loudly as they do in the shower.
And this particular night, I mean "legions" in the literal sense. As in American Legions. And the particular Legion where we sat surrounded by older folks who shared rousing renditions of "Paper Roses" and "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." Including the dreamy white-haired guy with the Barry White voice. But I digress.
I searched for the perfect song, buoyed by the friendly crowd. I used to work as an Activities Leader in nursing facilities and knew many of the old songs. Sing-alongs were a highlight of my week. So I'd pick one of the golden oldies and everyone would be tickled that I- still surely a "spring chicken"- knew how to tug at their heartstrings. Never mind that Lindsey was performing current songs, beautifully and to great applause. I wasn't taking chances- I'd stick with a known crowd-pleaser.
Minutes turned into an hour and then two, and for some reason, hundreds of titles and artists weren't enough. The perfect song had to be there. If only I could find it.
My best friend Michaele, Lindsey's mom, noticed the flipping, flipping, flipping of pages. And maybe the biting of my nails. And maybe the jiggling of my knees.
"You don't have to do this," she said kindly. Which was especially generous since we spend a lot of time embarrassing each other in public.
"I really think I can, though," I answered. And meant it. As soon as I found The Song, I'd hand the music host my selection and eagerly await my turn.
I excused myself to use the restroom. This was really a secret mission to rehearse a song, quietly, in the stall. Twice. It went well. The toilet clapped.
Back at the table, I told Michaele and Lindsey my choice. Not an oldie after all. Lindsey inspired me, and I was going to sing something current. I wrote the title and my first name on the little slip of paper, tiptoed to the front table and handed it to the host. Now all I had to do was wait for my magical moment.
And make Michaele locate the lyrics on her IPhone. And sing them in my head. And hand her the phone. And ask for it again. And again. And again.
Because every time a performance ended, my song fresh in my head, I expected the host to call my name. But he called Arthur! And Lena! And Margaret! And Harry! And Edna! And Phil! And I started to lose my nerve, and then to silently freak out, while clapping overly hard for Arthur! And Lena! And Margaret! And Harry! And Edna! And Phil! Because then maybe they'd clap for me!
In case you're among those who wonders what could possibly be so intimidating about the American Legion crowd, they're a tight-knit bunch. Friendly and supportive, sure, but they have all these in-jokes and established routines, and you get an urge to fit in, to be welcomed into the fold. At least I do.
So strong was my desire to feel their support that I approached the female bartender (who loved Lindsey) and told her I'd finally be singing but might throw up before it happened.
"Oh, honey," she said. "Have you heard some of these folks?" She leaned close. "Some of them are just BAD. You'll do fine! I can't wait to hear you!"
I went to the restroom again, followed by a woman in a purple floral shirt (who also loved Lindsey).
"Oh my god," I said from my confessional. "I'm actually going to sing soon. I'm so nervous. I might change my mind."
"Don't," she advised. "You can do it. It'll be wonderful."
"Promise me you'll smile even if I sound bad."
"I promise! But you'll do fine!"
Secretly, despite my nerves, I knew I'd do fine. I knew I'd make them all smile. And applaud. And mean it!
Did I mention that I live for magical moments? Moments you always remember? The ones that make you teary-eyed as you recount them for friends? This was going to make the list.
A hundred hours later, as my mental pom-poms were fraying, I heard my name. I looked demurely at the floor and made my way to the front of the room. Microphone in hand, I listened to the opening notes of the song and prepared to blow everyone away.
"It's that other girl," I heard someone whisper. (Old people whisper quite loudly.) I was thrilled that they placed me alongside Lindsey in estimation, and felt anticipation in the air. It was time.
To really, truly suck.
To suck so bad that you know you suck ten seconds into the song, and your stomach turns to lead, and no desperate efforts to distance yourself from the Microphone of Shame or to channel Lindsey can save you.
My only goal, then, was to finish the song. No, I was not a triathlete with a freshly broken leg who nevertheless hopped toward the finish line. But I was going to stick it out, and leave with my head held high for that reason alone. I would not crumble.
The song became The Song That Never Ends.
And I became the girl in the middle school gym who burned with shame, head down, acutely aware of her unworthiness.
But I did not crumble.
Until the song ended. And the Pity Applause filled my ears.
And I rushed back to the table in the corner, and crushed my plastic lemonade bottle between my hands, and tried not to cry. And willed everyone to stop. looking. at. me. Me, the other girl, who did not amaze and delight. Who did not even earn membership in the Paper Roses Club of Velvety Pipes.
I stood and snaked my way along the wall to the exit, bursting through the doors to freedom.
And there was the woman in the purple floral shirt. My bathroom buddy.
She smiled. "You did great!" she said.
And I regained my composure, and sense of humor. Except that was later, in my car. Right then I ran. I ran away from the woman in the purple floral shirt. I sprinted through the parking lot and jammed my key into the car door lock and turned it and yanked the door open and averted my eyes from the American Legion and got the hell out of there.
And I can see the humor in all this, of course I can.
And I intend to actively participate in life despite this little setback. To keep trying new things. A plethora of new things, just less scary things, like juggling fire torches or tightrope-walking across Niagara Falls.
And when I stop cringing, maybe I'll feel good about finishing my song, even though I sucked. Because there is value in sticking things out. In holding the hand of your inner middle school loser and telling her that you're proud of her for doing her best. And telling her that you love her.
And that she never, ever has to do that again.