Below is Chapter 1 from “Falling”. (Please read the prologue to “Falling” in an earlier post prior to reading Chapter 1).
I spent too much time at home. Once school was over, I’d head directly home and start my homework. I hated being out alone when it was dark. Actually, I just hated being out alone, the dark just compounded my anxiety. Often, I’d get at least two to three hours to myself before my parents would get home. Sometimes, I’d get even more than that because they’d meet up together for golf or dinner or something. Those nights were the best.
Being alone at home was nice. Actually, I didn’t see myself as alone, as long as I had one of my two best friends with me – the television or my music. The noise from my television or MP3 player filled the house and kept me company. The acoustics were better in the family room, so I usually did my homework in there when I was home alone. Once my parents were home, I’d sequester myself in my room to do my homework.
I sat in the middle of the family room and searched through my albums trying to find a song to audition with. Mrs. Marshall, my choir teacher, was holding auditions in two weeks for male and female solos for the upcoming winter concert. I really wanted to get the solo. I had to find a song that would show my vocal range, make me stand out from the others. There were several girls in class that had great voices, some of them had been taking vocal lessons. I never had lessons, I taught myself by just singing along to my favorite songs. I enjoyed choir and wanted to do more.
I hooked up speakers to my MP3 player. I needed to fully hear my voice with the music and ear buds weren’t going to do it. I tried song after song, I must have spent at least two hours trying out songs. I still hadn’t found the right song. I had worked my way through female solo artist songs and was now onto the musicals. I thought I found a song that would work. It showed my range and complimented my voice. I sounded good. Well, I had to admit, better than good. I was happy that I had finally found a song. I just needed to keep practicing over the next two weeks, so I would be at my best for the audition.
I was in the middle of practicing when I heard the garage door open. My mom was home. She walked into the family room, dropped her bag and jacket on the couch. I hope that she would tell me that I did a pretty good job of choosing a song and that you couldn’t really tell I was singing along. I hoped that she noticed that I matched the song well.
“Hello, Elizabeth.” My mom interrupted me in the middle of the song.
My mom would think me rude if I didn’t stop what I was doing and not acknowledge her right away. I stopped singing. “Hi, Mom.”
“What are you doing?” I was surprised that my mom was even interested in what I was doing.
“Practicing. There are auditions in a couple weeks for the solo in the winter concert. And I thought I’d try out.” I didn’t like sharing much with them, unless they asked. When they did, I always braced myself for their reaction.
She shook her head and frowned. “I don’t know why you are bothering to waste your time. You know you won’t get it.” She couldn’t even acknowledge it was brave of me to try out or wish me luck. I was crushed. “You don’t want people laughing at you, do you?”
No, I didn’t. I didn’t think I was bad, let alone bad enough that others would laugh at me… until now. The thought of it hurts, cut to the core of me and my insecurities. I didn’t want to give what my mom said any credence. But she was my mom, what if she was right?
“I was just practicing. You don’t think I sounded… okay? I just wanted to try…” I felt small and like I was shrinking more and more by the second.
“If that’s all you want to do and you have no real intention to singing alone, then why bother and waste everyone’s time?” She seemed annoyed.
“To see if I’m good enough.” I whispered.
“You’re not. Why embarrass yourself and the family?” She said emphatically. She shook her head in disapproval. “And this we wouldn’t be able to shield you from. Everyone would know you made a fool of yourself. Do you want that? Be constantly reminded of your poor choices?”
I hung my head down and stared at my computer. “No.” I choked down my tears. I didn’t want to get chastised about crying over this.
I stopped the song and unplugged my speakers. There was no point in continuing.
“Why can’t you be more like your cousin Leenie? Good. Quiet. Modest. Obeys her parents and doesn’t embarrass the family.” She patted me on the back and headed to her bedroom to change out of her work clothes.
Ah, yes. My cousin Kathleen, who was three years older than me and the family called Leenie, doesn’t aspire for much of anything. Her parents picked her school and her major for her. She’s content to live sheltered and under her parents’ thumb. Kathleen was the classic definition of demure. She does what they say and doesn’t rock the boat. Not that I saw myself rocking or shocking anything. It wasn’t like I dressed all in black, had tattoos or piercings all over my body or dyed my hair in florescent colors. I melted into the background, the landscape at school. I did my best not to call unnecessary attention to myself. But, I did aspire to be the best at anything I did and loved. Sometimes, that meant I had to be in the spotlight. No, I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. That’s why I planned to practice. Why didn’t she see that?
I wanted more than my family’s limited view on life. Sometimes, I guess, that got me into trouble. Why did it always come down to ‘embarrassing the family’? I was brought up to respect my elders and that family was the most important thing. How could I do those things and still be myself? Be who I wanted to be? It was like they couldn’t coexist. There was no way they’d support it.
Some things were better left unsaid. Such as, things I wanted. I might not get the solo, but I wanted to try. Trying didn’t hurt anyone, especially my parents. They didn’t have to know about it. They didn’t have to watch or pay anything, so why should they care? I’d just have to practice when I was by myself at home or in the car. That would be the only way to save myself the grief from my parents.
I opened up my math book and stared at my homework assignment. I needed to escape this crushing feeling. Homework was a good distraction, once I got enough traction in my brain to start on it. I turned on the television. I knew that I drifted from my homework, when I found myself focusing more on the television than on the problem I was working on. It was a backup distraction.
My mom came out of her bedroom and headed to the kitchen to start dinner. I worked on my math homework and tried to avoid any unnecessary contact with her. She called me into the kitchen to make the salad and cook rice. I was in the middle of a problem. It was tough. All I wanted to do was continue to work on it, try to solve it. But, I had to stop to help my mom. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to help fix dinner, it was that I wanted to finish my math homework, at least that problem first. I got up from the couch where I worked. As quickly as I could, prepared the rice and had it going in the rice cooker. I had to be slower in chopping the vegetables for the salad or I was liable to cut my finger. I never understood why she asked me to cut stuff, she knew I was clumsy and putting a knife in my hands, could easily spell disaster. She always yelled at me to be careful, as if I wasn’t. I’ve had so many near misses, I was due for an accident. It was just a matter of time.
When I finished making the salad, I set the table. I wasn’t really hungry, but I knew I had to set a place for myself. I went back to my homework and that stubborn math problem I couldn’t solve. My dad arrived home just as my mom was finished cooking.
The three of us sat down at the table for dinner. I dished out very small portions of the stir-fry, rice and salad. I still wasn’t very hungry. The dinner conversation revolved around my parents and their day, as usual. I didn’t contribute much except ‘yeah’ and ‘oh’ to the discussion. I pushed my food around my plate to make it look like I ate. They were so absorbed in their stories, they didn’t notice. After an obligatory amount of time sitting there, I excused myself to finish my homework. I took my plate to the trash, scraped off the food and placed it in the sink.
I grabbed my backpack, laptop, books and MP3 player and went to my room to finish my homework. I didn’t want to deal with my mom anymore tonight. I couldn’t take much more from her right now.
Once I got in my room, I turned on my television for background noise. If I played music, I was afraid my mom would come in and scold me again. They knew if the television was on, I was definitely studying. I always thought it was funny that studies stated that television and studying didn’t mix. That students who studied with the television on were not successful in school or couldn’t concentrate. It was the one thing that my parents conceded. I got good grades while I had the television on, so they never bugged me about it. I was thankful for any small victory and concession I could get. So, if I wanted them to leave me alone, the television was definitely on. It was on a lot.
I decided to finish my other homework before going back to my math problem that didn’t want to get solved. I was very frustrated to be stuck on the same problem for so long. It wasn’t right. The upside was that it did distract me from my mom’s views on me trying out. Immersing myself in my school work was a great avoidance technique for me. It was my coping mechanism. It had worked in the past, and continued to do so. So, who was I to mess with what worked?
It was around nine when I finished all my homework. I got ready for bed and shut off my lights. I set my television to sleep mode, so it would shut off in 45 minutes. I used the background noise of the television to block out the random thoughts that usually kept me up at night. With it on, I could fall asleep. Without it, I stayed up thinking about anything and everything. Actually, the television or my MP3 player worked in helping me fall asleep, but I didn’t want to think about music right now. I fell asleep hearing the news previewing some carnival that was coming to town for a few weeks.