I couldn’t do it.
My knees wobbled. The ground shook. The audience in front of me swooped in an unearthly way as the spotlight shone in my face.
` “Sing, Carolina,” whispered Lance, my fellow performer and closest friend. He made hand gestures, trying to make up for the awkward silence that had fallen upon the stage. In desperation, I opened my mouth, but my vocal cords seemed to have closed themselves. No sound came out.
The audience started to mutter to themselves. “What’s going on? Is this part of the show? I want my money back!” which finally pushed me over the edge of falling apart. A guttural sob tore loose from my throat and I raced off the stage.
* * * * *
I plunked down my fork as I sat at the dinner table. My “celebratory” dinner of chicken enchiladas, specially prepared by my mother, no longer seemed appetizing to me. I was still wearing my Dorothy costume, the front wet from tears. The rest of my family ate in silence, not wanting to provoke me further.
BANG! The silence suddenly was broken by the sound of the door flying open. Papi! My heart leaped. If anyone could make a bad day seem better, it was Papi. He always seemed to know the right joke at the right time.
“Papi!” I raced to the door, only slowed down slightly by my uncomfortable dress. I flew into his arms, grateful for the warmth he emanated. I had been feeling cold ever since that botched production of The Wizard of Oz.
“Hola, mija,” My father chuckled. He still smelled like woodsmoke from his job as a millworker. I know, not the greatest profession, but we got by.
“Hola, Papi,” I answered. I stared into his shirt, not wanting to let go, until he pulled me away from him. That was when he noticed my bloodshot eyes.
“What’s wrong, Carolina?” he asked. When I didn’t answer, he asked again. “Carolina… que tienes?”
“The play,” I snuffled reluctantly, my voice hoarse from crying. I was worried I was about to have another breakdown. As if the first two hadn’t been humiliating enough.
“What?” Then, as if someone had flipped a switch, understanding dawned in my father’s eyes. “Oh… the play. Mija, what happened?
“Well- I was f-fine-until-well, my solo-and then- I kind of broke down and-” Fresh tears welled in my eyes. “Well- then I-couldn’t do -it and I ran of the stage and-” That’s when I started crying again.
“Oh.” My papi said, as if he could find no more words on the matter. Then he wrapped his arms around me again as I sobbed, which slightly comforted me. Maybe all wasn’t bad in the world after all.
* * * * *
That night I tossed and turned in my bed, dreading the upcoming school day. What would people say? Would they tease me about my inability to sing in front of a crowd? Would I became the fool of the grade? Not comforted by these thoughts, I finally drifted off to a restless sleep.
The next morning, I boarded the bus as usual at my bus stop. No one had brought the subject of the play up yet, (though no one really talked to me in the morning, as none of my friends rode my bus.) but I was still nervous about the forthcoming day that loomed ahead of me. I climbed aboard the bus and took my seat near the front. Soon we were driving along the streets, the dull roar of the engine pacifying me with its rhythmic tone.
That’s where everything went wrong.
“Hey, guys, look! It’s Dorko-lina!” a boy called from the back. “Hey, Dorko-lina, I loved you in last night’s show!”
I sunk down in my seat, feeling a mixture of emotions so complicated I couldn’t even begin to describe it. My cheeks turned a shade of fiery red, and it seemed now that everyone was looking at me.
“What’s wrong, Dorko-lina?” the same voice called. “Cat got your tongue? Just like last night?”
As a half-hearted laugh emanated from the seats behind me, I realized I couldn’t handle this problem alone. I looked at the bus driver in hope of help, but he was wearing headphones and seemed immersed in his own affairs. Desperately, I searched around the bus. There had to be someone that would stand up against these tyrants. And sure enough, a voice piped up from the back of the bus. “Hey, leave her alone!”
I whirled around, trying to glimpse my savior, but I couldn’t see anyone. Under closer examination, however, I could see a tiny bit of blond hair peeking up from a seemingly empty seat. I bit back a groan. There was only one person this could be: Diana.
Diana was a “popular girl”. She had perfect blond hair, a perfect tan, and an entourage of wannabes that always followed her around. I was surprised she had even just acknowledged my existence, much less mentioned me by name. The reason why she was standing up for me eluded me as well.
The boy teasing me seemed equally surprised. “What did you just say?” he questioned, looking in Diana’s general direction. Uh-oh. Diana was not known to control her temper. This could get ugly.
However, just as it looked like Diana was about to snap back, our bus lurched to a halt. I looked out the window and saw we had arrived at school. I almost sighed with relief. Hopefully there would be no more fights concerning me today.
* * * * *
“Hey,” said my most distinguished friend and fellow performer, Lance, as he sidled up to me in the hall at school. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, I suppose. Just… a bit embarrassed.”
“I can relate,” he said, his cheeks flushing slightly. “Just three years ago, about the time when we met, I was involved in a production of Hamlet.
“I remember that!” I exclaimed. Lance had been so busy practicing at that time, he could hardly remember his off-stage name.
“Yes, well, it was one of my first shows, so obviously I was a little more nervous than I get now.”
I nodded. This was understandable.
“Well… saying a little nervous is a bit of an understatement.” he sucked in his breath. “The first showing, I was terrified. I physically couldn’t move onto the stage. They had to perform without me.” He smiled. “Imagine Hamlet without King Claudius!”
I laughed. King Claudius was Hamlet’s uncle, and the main antagonist in the story. What the would have been like without him, I didn’t know. Just as I was about to respond, however, the bell rang. A worried look fell upon Lance’s face. “Uh oh. Got to go. If I’m late to math even one more time, Mrs. Harrison will have my head!” He started to race down the hallway. “See you at lunch!”
“You too!” I called back, hurrying as well to get to homeroom. But still, I felt better. Now I just had to make it through the rest of the day.
* * * * *
I plopped my backpack down on the floor of our mudroom and heaved a sigh. The school day had been productive, but also exhausting. Luckily, there had been no scenarios like the one on the bus, save a small incident at lunch which I won’t get into, but involved a piece of pizza, a fan, a lunch lady, and Lance’s face (He still has sauce in his hair.) However exciting the day may have been, though, I just wanted to sit down and do my homework.
“Hola!” My mother smiled at me as I entered the kitchen. “How was your day?”
I answered halfheartedly. “Masomenos. How was yours?” When there was no answer, I lifted my head and started. “Mam-” That was when I noticed the giant banner above my head. It read Felicidades, Carolina! I gasped. “Oh - Mami, what did I do?”
My mother laughed. “You got let back on the show, mija. The theater group is letting you perform in tomorrow night’s production! I know you were sure you were being replaced, but this will be such a great opportunity to-”
She couldn’t finish. She didn’t have to. The arms that I flung around her expressed my joy much better than words could have.
* * * * *
BRRRIIIINGG!!! The final bell rang and I burst out of the school, running for the bus. I couldn’t wait for tonight’s performance. My chance to redeem myself! Sure, I was a little nervous, but, hey, at least it was something! I climbed aboard the bus, deep in hopeful thoughts. So deep, in fact, that I almost didn’t notice when someone slid into the spot next to me. I looked up to find the familiar face of Diana staring at me, her mouth moving slightly. I soon saw that this was from the gum she was chewing.
“Oh - hi!” I stammered. I had not been expecting any visitors.
“Hey,” she said, chewing her gum. “I heard you were going to be performing tonight, so I guess I just wanted to wish you good luck.” She popped another stick of gum into her mouth. “I mean, I’m sure you’ll be fine, anyways, but, you know, just in case.”
“Oh!” I said, heartened. “Thanks!”
“Yeah, well, I just hope you do well.” She grinned and motioned her head towards the back of the bus. “Otherwise ol’ Matt back there will be yapping his head off about what you did again.” She shook her head. “Poor boy really needs to get a life.”
I laughed. I supposed Diana wasn’t so bad after all. “Truly.”
We chatted for a little while, my like for her growing with every second. Soon, however, the bus halted to a stop, and my blond-haired newfound friend jumped up as well. “See ya!” She called as she ran off.
I smiled and waved back. I knew I was ready for the show now.
* * * * *
“Carolina, you’re up,” whispered the stage manager. He motioned toward the stage. I heaved up my uncomfortable dress, a smile plastered on my face, and walked onto the stage.
The light from the spotlight was blinding, but it hardly bothered me. The lace on my dress was itchy, but it didn’t annoy me. The heat that was a result of so many kids running and dancing was sweltering, but I could have cared less. I was surrounded in my personal bubble of happiness.
As I walked toward the microphone, I thought about the last few days. I thought about Lance, who had embarrassed himself to cheer me up. I thought about Diana, who had stood up for me when others were teasing me and encouraged me. Lastly, I thought about my family, who supported me and cared for me throughout this whole ordeal, and gave me the courage to be here tonight. Unlike the Cowardly Lion, I needed no elixir to be brave right now. I thought about all of this as I finally reached the microphone.
I adjusted the mic and stood up tall, remembering all of my failures and accomplishments. The last two days swam before my eyes, and then left, leaving my sight clearer than ever. I knew what I needed to do.
I closed my eyes and began to sing.