I watched from the study hall window as they laughed and shoved their way onto the bus, then closed my eyes as it pulled away with the entire school band onboard – except me. I tried to act as if it was no big deal. I would probably have been a nervous wreck anyway, not knowing how to act or what to say at another school filled with strangers. But I had not been allowed the chance to find out. It wasn’t that the required ‘audition’ hadn’t gone well, but I was certain they all thought that was the reason for my absence. Just me, the only one not good enough to participate. My parent’s answer had been “no”, even when the music teacher had called and promised to look after me and let me stay with him and his wife – another teacher. My mother’s strained voice drifted from the kitchen: “We just don’t want her to travel that far away from home, something could happen.” Yes, something could. I could get a taste of what life was like for other seventeen year olds; see a world beyond the trees. The blade of disappointment struck a place inside me already frayed from frustration. Strands of obedience and fear began to unravel as threads of courage and conviction started to weave a new picture. But the muscles in my throat stayed strong, on guard, kept my voice quiet despite the surge of emotions wanting release.
The trip was never mentioned again, never used as a “you never let me…” in the heat of anger. That was not how things were done. There were no tears. I was not a cry baby. I had learned well from my mother, learned to keep the peace, not rock the boat. Maybe it was inherited; this ability to stay silent while air was trying to get in at the same time a scream was trying to escape. Maybe my birth in the back seat of my father’s new Plymouth had been the first practice run. The local doctor, upon seeing my quiet gray body gravely stated I had not survived – but mom had insisted: “she cried – once!”, and the story goes that he swept me into his office, then rubbed my small body so hard with alcohol “it seemed my skin would come off” until I cried again, and then turned the rosy hue of determination.
The band returned from the exchange trip with tales of a common experience I had not shared. Years of “no” and excuses of “safety” had been used to construct rigid boundaries that kept me in and others out. Over protection had been fed into my veins diluting any sense of who I was. Fear of steely blue eyes throwing blame my way, or of crossing an invisible line that would close my father’s heart, silenced protests, questions, and even the simple act of conversation. I practiced being a good girl day after day but was never quite sure if I passed the test. The practices followed my every footstep: skirting eye contact, constant monitoring of the atmosphere, trimming down the words I spoke and retreating before the rapid flush to my cheeks gave away my vulnerability. I hid in the shadows while at the same time I desperately wanted someone to shine a light in my direction. I quit band despite making all-state, despite the way marching with precision in a parade added confidence to my steps. Eliminating the need to ask for a ride to an event, and then listen to the sighs and grumbles before they reluctantly provided it, was the first small snip in a cord of dependency that threatened to strangle me.
To be continued….