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Live at The Yarn: A Songwriter

I could taste my music career dying on my tongue, or maybe that was just the blood.

My throat was drier than a stretch of rural California road in mid-July. Forget singing; every word uttered felt like sandpaper scrubbing down the fleshy inner walls of my neck and chest.

I laid in bed, watching the oscillating fan on top of my piano disapprovingly shake its mechanical head back and forth across my bedroom apartment. Everyone’s a critic.

I’d drawn the shades closed to block out the sun—the curtains to my bedroom stage—but kept the window open to let in the December air. It was snowing, but my body stayed a good 90 degrees hotter than anything the gods of winter had to offer.

I heaved beneath my sheets, struggling not to cough again. I’d already coughed twice into the crook of my elbow, splattering my sleeve with bloody phlegm and ruining a perfectly good shirt. My throat was an old desert town and the residential gunfighters were trigger happy.

Lying there, my body burning on the surface of the sun, I determined to use my healthcare plan one last time before planning my funeral.

I remember the doctor’s visit in snapshots.

Shot one: The bright light trained on my face as the doctor forced tubes down my throat, little cameras snapping pictures of any damage the unknown virus did to my vocal cords.

Shot two: Whispering nurses looking fretfully over the results—it’s never a good sign when medical professionals dab away the stress sweats from their foreheads.

Shot three: Sitting across from the doctor, watching words spill from his lips that I knew would come.

They rang within my ear, no more musical than the residual pitch of a gunshot.

I trudged home, the financial hole in my pocket a little deeper and my hopes lower still. Every plan I’d made, every risk I took, every trade rule I’d broken to take my dream with both fists blew away like drifting desert sand.

Three flights of stairs to my apartment, three medications in my hand to lower the fever and swelling, three instruments sitting in the living room that wouldn’t hear a performance again.

The piano demanded an apology, baring its ivory teeth at me in contempt. I had none to offer. I realized I’d have to give up my role on Broadway.

I’d breathed musical theatre for 18 years. I’d practiced for more hours than I’d slept. As I saw my singing career go the way of the Wild West, I fumbled to load one more shot in my gun, one last way to come to terms with a broken dream.

I sat down at the piano and plucked out a song I will never remember; as grim as the dark, empty stage in Manhattan I’d never perform on, as lost and hopeless as I felt in that Godforsaken city but as promising as the sun on that rural California road.

Though the music was medicine to me, I felt sick with irony. My hands fell away from the keys.

Even as I became a songwriter, I knew I could never grace an audience with the songs I wrote.

I felt a tumbleweed roll down my throat as I swallowed away sobs. I heard the scraping pen against paper as my director scratched out my name from the playbill I’d worked so hard to be on. I saw a technician switch off the overheated spotlights on that downtown Manhattan stage.

I heard those damning words from the doctor, still ringing in my ears.

“You’ll never sing again,” he said. “And we don’t take your insurance.”

 

*This true story was read by a Comm 111 student at the “The Yarn,” a semesterly Department of Communication personal narrative night.

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