Birthdays. Bah. At least I get cake out of this whole thing. Sugar can make anything better! I dunno what it is about this birthday, I’m a young adult now. School’s over and I’m officially not grounded any more but I feel so… So unprepared! I should be excited and ready to meet the future head on. Time for success and life and all that jazz. I’m just nervous and uncertain, I don’t know where to start and I haven’t really thought about this at all. I spent so much time feeling sorry for myself that I’ve done no planning and I am not going to be unemployed all my life like my mother!
As I eat my cake alone in the dark, my family chatting merrily by the fire, I make my resolution – music. It’s what I’ve always loved so it’s what I should do, right? I just haven’t played in… I can’t remember the last time I played my piano and it’s been even longer since I last performed. Even thinking about auditioning has my heart racing and palms sweating… Maybe I’ll put off this job thing for just a little while longer.
They say things improve with age, I know, but some habits are really hard to break! I’m not going to lie to you, it’s the crumbs that taste the best… And the crunchy almost burnt bits… I’m trying to appreciate the small things in life, even if they cause my perfectionist, snob of a father to ‘harumph’ and shake his head in disappointment. So! The crunchy burnt delicious bits, lying in the sun on the trampoline with the radio, picnics at the park, hiking to the waterfall. These are things to live for!
I guess? I’ve been playing piano again, and for a while I would still freeze when people came near to listen. It really shook me, but I’m getting more confident. I like to think I am at least. It doesn’t bother me anymore when mom or dad or whoever hang out to enjoy my music or when Laurie asks for a beat to ‘boogie down’ to. The last couple of months have been really wonderful, lounging around and feeling relaxed but the world is moving on around me. Conrad and Laurie are frantically planning a wedding while Conrad’s being steadily promoted at the studio and Troy? Troy’s registered himself as an author and is already working on his third children’s book. He’s even illustrating the “Botty” series himself. Everyone around me is always doing something and I’m stalled. Mom’s painting or sculpting or cooking – for someone who can be so lazy she really stays on top of her hobbies and dad? No one rushes the way he does. Every move is designed to exercise. He’s nearly in his 80’s, already a sports legend and he’s still in the starting line-up of every game the team plays. No one is idle in the Clarke household, no one but me and it’s time for me to get my act together. I’m not ready to audition at the theatre yet, but I feel nearly ready to perform. I think. Perhaps? We’ll find out.
Everytime I go out now, I’m shocked by how much the community has changed. During my (rightly deserved) imprisonment in my room things… happened. I heard about everything, everyone did – a missing person here, strange occurrences there, inexplicable deaths – but I didn’t pay much attention. I never put together a pattern and no one else has either but people around town are still just a little bit angrier and a little more closed off ’cause there has been no progress on any of the cases. Everyone is suspicious of everyone, just a little. The last protest here was so long ago that it’s called the “Anti-Legacy March of… Back Then” and now people are picketing City Hall to increase the police force. I never saw it coming, I really didn’t.
The protest is taking place on the day, at the exact time, that I’ve decided to try and play for the public. It’s time to test my strength despite the seagulls that have plagued my stomach since I got out of bed this morning. My knees have been shaking and my head occasionally swimming but I’ve pressed on, certain that it will be a quiet day at the park but instead their angry voices drift in the air. And the people! All the people milling about, chatting in groups… Locals, tourists, I can feel their eyes on me as I set up my keyboard, having to place the stand three times before I get it sturdy. I can’t do this. Yes I can. They’re waiting, watching, judging... My vision blurs, just a bit and when I shake my head to clear it it just gets worse. My fingers press against the keys but they’re jittering. If I had the keyboard on it would sound terrible. Everyone will hear, they’ll cringe, they’ll notice… They’ll think I can’t play. Maybe I can’t play. I can’t breathe! Oh no… I… I can’t… They’ll see… They’ll tell… I’ll never… I can’t see! I have to go. I have to get away.
With a strangled gasp I launch myself from my seat, I think I hear the bench and my keyboard topple. I run, or lurch, or stumble, I need to get away, my world is narrowing to a pinpoint, my ears are ringing, I’m hot, I’m cold, I’m crying? Everyone will see, my lungs won’t fill, I can’t feel my fingers, hide! run! hide! run! my mind is racing, my heart is pounding. So fast. The bathroom! run! hide! run! hide!
I can’t stand. I can’t breathe. I can’t! I can’t! I’m… I’m dying. I’m dying, help! I’m dying I’mdyingI’mdyingI’mdying. Oh no I’m sorry. Mom! Mommy! I’m dying!
“Lee? Lee It’s D.C…. Lee? Lee? Oh jeez….”
“She’s in here… I didn’t… I…”
“Thanks, David. Lee? It’s Troy… C’mon sweetheart, let’s get you home. You’re OK. It’s OK, I’m just gonna… Up you go. It’s OK Lee, you’re gonna be just fine. We’re going home… It’s OK…”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No… Not really…”
I’d been surprised when I woke up later that evening. Surprised I woke up at all. I was still exhausted, every part of me felt like it was aching and gosh I felt gross. I felt clammy and gritty and acutely aware that I’d been collapsed on the floor of a public bathroom for… Well, it felt like years. I have a high tolerance for mess and dirt but ew! I have a feeling Troy snuck me into the house since no one else has brought up my little… Incident. Troy’s been walking on eggshells, treating me like I’m fragile and I guess I am. I’ve done some research and I think it was a panic attack. It sure felt like one to me. I do owe Troy an explanation though, he did save me.
So I tell him, I spill my guts and I start from the beginning. From the first flutter of nerves when I auditioned for The Mighty Huge through Jackson and the drugs at our first concert. I include the break-up with Berjes and my uncertainty and each and every detail of that day at the park. By the time I’m done, we’re long done with the video game. Troy looks shocked and I’m just plain drained.
At Troy’s suggestion I’ve come to visit auntie Vi. It’s a good idea, obviously, or I wouldn’t be here. He was right, Vi is a rockstar, she has been on stage and performed in front of hundreds of people. She has to have some advice for me on how to conquer my now crippling stage fright. With far fewer details than I gave my brother, I explain my situation to her…
“… and I just want to be in the industry so badly but if I can’t perform, if I can’t audition… What do I do?!”
“Oh my dear… I’m so sorry.” she sighs, after hearing my story. “You’re a brave young lady Lee and it will just take more courage but you can and will get past your stage fright. You are talented enough to go a long way in the business and you have time. Oh yes, dear.” A wry smile plays on her lips.
“When I started at the theatre all those years ago I thought I’d be on stage right away too. I had stars in my eyes and like you, I had the talent. But no one, Lee, no one is on stage right away. You have to work hard, you have to practice and learn the business. You have to know every angle from the equipment to the managing you’re going to have to prove that you want it and that you deserve it. And my dear, you do deserve it, you will deserve it when you get it because you will have to work twice as hard. You won’t have to only battle against the other people who want the things you want, but you’ll have to war against yourself, you’ll have to master your fear. And you absolutely are capable of that. I promise. Now wait here just one moment.”
Leaving me gaping, my elderly aunt hobbles back into her house and comes out lugging a guitar case.
Violet nods at me to open the battered case and when I do I find the most gorgeous guitar I’ve ever seen. “May I…?” I want to hold it “Of course, dear.” It’s beautiful, the wood bleached to white, silver and pale blue hardware… It feels like it was meant to be in my hands. My fingers whisper over the fine metal strings, strumming gently without actually playing anything at all. “It’s lovely!” “It’s yours.”
“I found it in Champs les Sims during my second world-tour… I had hoped that one day I could give it to Millie but she’s not a musician, she’s a surgeon and I’m very proud of her but she wouldn’t appreciate this, not the way you will. Take it, Lee… Take it right to the theatre and audition in the morning. Promise me you won’t let your fear keep you from this.”
With tears in my eyes I pack up the guitar, nodding. “I promise.”
“Good. And I wouldn’t worry about getting the job”
“Oh… You’ll see.” I don’t quite trust that glint in her eyes.First thing in the morning, just like I promised Auntie Vi, I’m out the door and headed to the theatre to audition. Despite her assurances I am shaking in my cute little sandals. Rattling me even further is the fact that I’ve just caught sight of the ghost catcher. Everyone has a friend of a friend who has had to hire him in the last couple months and things are only really deteriorating faster around here… It’s like living in Sunnydale instead of Sunset Valley.
I’m terrified by the time I walk into the lobby. It’s like, the millionth time I’ve done it but today is most certainly different… And it has nothing to do with ghosts. By the time I’m walking into the room in which I’m auditioning, I’m shaking like a leaf but when I see who I’m auditioning for I freeze. Every single muscle. Now I understand why Vi said I didn’t have to worry about getting the job, now I can relax. Jess – my sister-in-law Jess Clarke – is sitting in the room, an empty chair in front of her.
Jess has never been my favourite person, despite being my brother’s wife and my ex-boyfriend’s (thinking of him still makes me ache a little, it’s been so long) sister and now she’s my boss as well. Swell. Vi said I’d be working twice as hard, but she didn’t say anything about being at Jess’ mercy as well. She called me to babysit while she napped the other day! Seriously! At least Ramona is adorable, I love my little niece.
I’ve been working hard too, at everything. I’m a great fan. It’s harder work than you think, always having to be so supportive of musicians who I kinda don’t like. SURE I’ll get you a beer, you were GREAT out there tonight. And tone-deaf! But I understand why I have to do this work and I’m really trying my best I just don’t seem to be getting anywhere. No promotion in sight. I’m getting much better at the guitar too… My only problem seems to be that the only time I can really bring myself to practice is when I get back from work at night, all alone in the studio. I know it doesn’t help my promotion chances but it’s not like anyone’s asked to hear me play…
I keep waiting and waiting for so much as a glimmer of hope that I’ll be granted the position to lug the speakers around as a roadie. Some aspirations, huh? Nothing though. For months and months nothing and then after dinner at Jess and Adam’s Jess corners me to talk about just that. “Don’t want to be seen playing favourites” she says “have to remain impartial” she claims and then… the icing on the cake “you look too prim and proper” wow “maybe you should consider a make over?”
A month and several hints later I’m furious to be at the local salon, letting a bright pink woman assure me that she’ll make me look like a “kick-ass confident rock goddess.” I can’t believe I was pressured into this, I love my hair, I love this dress. I am comfortable and I feel like me but I’m not ‘rough and tumble’ enough or something to be a rockstar. Why does everyone keep thinking I want to be some diva? I just want to play the music I love and I just want to be me but instead I have to look like someone else while I set up someone else’s microphone. I stand and stew while the bright pink lady fusses around me, tugging at my hair and handing me outfit after outfit to pull on. Finally she steps back and looks decidedly proud of herself. “Done!” she proclaims, twirling me towards the mirror. She hasn’t touched my hair or makeup and what l am I wearing!
I rent the room, the station, the wardrobe for the next couple hours and give myself my own makeover… Hating every second of it. I don’t mind my new outfit, it’s comfortable and I feel pretty good in it but most importantly there’s no way Jess can hate it. I’m refusing to be held back my anxiety so there’s no way I’ll be held back by my wardrobe. Maybe this is my opportunity to be a better, stronger, new Lee. I run my hands through my new hair style and sigh. Sure. Better. Stronger. New. Sure.