The Melody of My Life

My whole life, I’ve thought in music. I associate songs with people, places, and times when things were different. I create playlists in my head and dedicate them to every person I’ve ever loved. As each song washes over me, I feel the rhythm and the energy — the bass thumping, every note in the melody sending shivers down my spine. I feel the emotions of the writer; their sadness, their grief, their anger is mine as well. I sing freely alone in my house, with the acoustics of my shower. My voice has vibrato and power. But outside, in the world, my voice shakes. It is weak, constrained by the gripping anxiety that washes over my body and tightens my chest. Even on video, it is a deafening presence that steals notes from me as I sing and crushes me from the inside out until I turn the camera off and confine myself to the shower. It’s the only place I feel confident singing loudly and proudly. It’s the only place I never miss a beat. I wish this feeling would go away or that it would be as easy to overcome as the scene in Coyote Ugly where Kevin shuts off the lights and it gives Violet the confidence to sing in front of a live audience, but I can’t bring my shower with me and rain is a poor substitute.

The only auditions I can remember not beating myself up over were the ones I did as a child and one where I had gotten belligerently high as a 15 year old girl for the third time in my life. As a child, I did not fear singing. I loved it wholeheartedly. I sang in the choir at my dad’s church from time to time and took vocal lessons with my sister from the choir group leader every Sunday after faithfully for months. I always loved singing with other people — the way our voices swelled to meet each other, the melody mingling with the harmony, every note complimenting each other like they were made for that very split second in each song. But over time, as children grew older they got meaner. By high school, I’d already attempted to take my own life at the age of 13 by swallowing an entire bottle of melatonin — a bottle my father or stepmother never noticed went missing. I was a target of insurmountable bullying throughout middle school and my earlier high school years. Boys tried to touch me inappropriately, girls I don’t recall ever even talking to spread rumors that I was a slut and did sexual favors for money on school grounds. I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 14 and didn’t lose my virginity until I was 16. I was confused and didn’t understand how I could be the target of such rumors.

In middle school I was teased endlessly for having clothing that were from thrift stores; my faded and wrinkled hand-me-downs left me exposed in a sea full of Abercrombie and Hollister clad pre-teens. My haircuts were cheap trims from cost cutters while my classmates floated around with highlights and extensions. I begged my mother to let me dye my hair and she refused me until one day I was texting her with my head in the sink of my friend’s bathroom with purple dye slipping down the drain. Just the tips, she had said. To her dismay, I had colored the entire front half of my head purple. I’ll admit that my middle school days were not helped by the fact that I was enamored by one of my classmates. He had a smile that could light up a room and he was my first friend at this new school, middle school. He was always the first person to be my partner for class projects and we did drama club together. For the first time in my life, I wondered if I could like a boy and he would like me back. The short answer is no. Our friendship slowed down a bit when he knew how much I liked him and even though he was always still very sweet to me, I resigned my insecure and disappointed 12 year old self to watching him “date” the girls I wished I could be as pretty as from afar. Unfortunately, my passion for music and my loud, beautiful voice, was hushed by the blur of middle school — as the songbird within me became confined, my insecurity and self-loathing grew.

It calls to me a particularly keen quote from my favorite movie, Jennifer’s Body. “Hell is a teenage girl,” is the opening line of a film that goes on to use a deliciously dark, twisted irony to explore the darkest parts of what it means to be a young girl growing up in a world where social constructs like beauty and sexual orientation are meant to be boxes to confine them. That quote is true, in every sense. Take the hormones of a teenager and mix it with all the ways young girls are taught to conform — “boys are mean when they like you”, “cross your legs”, “don’t dress that way”, “you’d be prettier if you fixed everything about yourself”- and you’ve concocted the staggering landscape of a seventh grade girl’s mind. It’s no wonder I shut music out when you combine that landscape with the environment of a middle school, ripe with jeering peers and faculty who don’t seem to notice or care.

In ninth grade, I joined the high school musical. It was my first foray back into the music world since I left choir in sixth grade, when I was offered a coveted [by my classmates] position in a traveling regional girls’ choir that was too expensive for my family to afford. I joined the ensemble of the production and my experience left me so excited that I joined the school’s concert choir the following year and auditioned for a lead in the next production. That was the audition I was high for. I’ll never forget it because it was the only audition in my teenage years that went the way I wanted it to. The stage fright washed away and I got my first ever callback — a callback wasted, as my sober self was petrified by singing in front of my equally gifted and talented musical peers. Such was the case, moving forward. I remained shocked at the fact that I even received callbacks at all, but I prepped studiously, enlisting my family and friends to practice in front of and run lines with. Still, it was to no avail — I couldn’t stop myself from freezing.

Amidst that panic, were the show choir and an immensely proud choir instructor who showered the show choir with more attention and focus than he did his concert choir. I understand why — the concert choir was a large group full of wildly unruly students who got dumped in the choir because they needed an elective class and concert choir was big enough to accommodate the extra bodies and didn’t require auditions. It was unfortunate circumstance for the students who loved choir class and strived for the chance to be in one of the selective choirs — their voices remained unheard in favor of the students that were well-liked and better known by the instructors. I did everything to be well-liked by my choir instructors. I talked to them, got to know them. It was never enough, because to them I was just another regular student when they had much louder and more talented students who needed their attention. That never needed to be explicitly said; it was just understood by me and other students. That being said, that’s only the perspective that I remember it from. I’m sure if one were to ask, my choir instructors would have a quite different opinion and that is okay. I’m not writing this to blame anyone or hold anyone accountable, I’m just telling my story.

My teachers are were not all so criticized in my teenage mind — I adored my tenth grade English teacher, one of the teachers I had who recognized my knack for writing and encouraged it — because of her I recognized my own talent and developed more confidence from there. My tenth grade history teacher helped me overcome my fear of standing up for myself inadvertently, as she is one of the teachers I remember as being as vocal and opinionated as she could be as a high school teacher and she took pride in cultivating that quality in her students. She always made her students feel listened to and heard, no matter what their opinion. Maybe their amazing attributes to my growth couldn’t fix my voice, but they helped me find ways to make it heard in other ways.

Ultimately, I remain confined by stage fright still. It takes me a long time to feel comfortable singing in front of other people that I’ve known and loved for years. I still create playlists in my head and I’ve been known to share them from time to time. I still write songs when I get inspiration and sing to my heart’s content in the safety of my shower. Music is still the only thing that allows me to feel my emotions fully and it’s the one thing that has saved me repeatedly from taking myself away from my beautiful, crazy life. I don’t know who I am or where I want to be, but the one thing I know for sure is that my home is in music, on every word and every beat. My melody may not be ready for the world yet — but maybe it’s because the world isn’t ready for me.

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𝔢𝔪𝔪𝔞 𝔡𝔦𝔞𝔷

𝔢𝔪𝔪𝔞 𝔡𝔦𝔞𝔷

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⋆ I wish I could write down every thought in my head ⋆ 𝖘𝖈𝖔𝖗𝖕𝖎𝖔 ♏︎ 𝓭𝓪𝓷𝓬𝓮𝓻 ☽ 𝕔𝕒𝕥 𝕞𝕠𝕞