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Separate Ways

by Kathryn Milewski about a year ago in humanity

How a musical high school girl learned to use her voice, and how a song by Journey helped her come of age.

“I heard a woman becomes herself the first time she speaks without permission.” -Denice Frohman

Everyone knew that when I grew up, I was going to be an opera singer. Close my eyes and I'm back there: thirteen years old, second floor of a renovated garage, a block away from campus. The lemon-yellow walls made her happy tears shine a deep marigold. I had just finished singing the Ave Maria with her. It was the end of another voice lesson.

“Y’know Sue,” she addressed my mother while enveloping me in a warm hug, “she’s the best voice student I’ve ever had. I mean it.”

Mom just smiled, beyond proud. And Miss Cindy planted a kiss upon my forehead.

“I cannot wait until she’s in high school,” she said. “She's going to be a wonderful classical singer someday. She’s going to do great things…”

While other kids in my Catholic school got in trouble for cheating on tests and cussing, I was reprimanded for singing too loud in church. My first grade teacher told me to shut up, lest I desired to sit all alone at the back table of our classroom and write an essay on my misbehavior. Even my friend, Sergio, couldn’t stand the loud wailing. “Can you please be more quiet, Katy? You’re hurting my ear,” he whispered to me once during a school mass. Since she received many concerns about my whale of a voice, Mom thought it best to put me in show choir my second year of elementary school. If I was going to keep singing loudly, best to learn how to do it right.

That’s how I met Miss Cindy. Tall, smiling, jazzy Miss Cindy who donned lilac eye shadow, high heels, and a gift of looking ten years younger than her actual age. An ex-trumpet player, she possessed the brown irises of a fifty-year-old woman who starved for something more in her career. And the same thing went for her students; not a show choir practice passed where she didn’t mention the “superiors” her high school kids won in singing competitions. A whole shelf full of glittering trophies proved it. Miss Cindy had high expectations for all her pupils regardless of age, and although the feat seemed impossible, I was determined to win her attention.

The first year of show choir entailed the performance of a bug-themed musical. My heart yearned to be a pretty ladybug soloist, but because of my rookie status, I was promptly sent to the chorus. There was one girl who never attended any practices, and because she didn’t display commitment to her role as a stinkbug, Miss Cindy’s patience wore thin.

“Does anyone want to try the part?” she asked one afternoon. As expected, a silence swept the room. But I didn’t care how unattractive the role was – it was a chance to finally show my singing capabilities.

“I’ll do it!” I shouted, raising a hand high while marching to the front of the trailer-classroom. Miss Cindy gave me the sheet music, I sang my pounding heart out, and she granted me the part. Our insect musical was a smashing success, and the very next year, she encouraged me to take private voice lessons.

To say it was a dream come true would be an understatement. Years flew by as we laughed and sang through Disney tunes, musical theatre classics, and Leona Lewis pop songs. She taught me breath control, how to manage vibrato, and introduced me to sight-reading. The only thing she wouldn’t teach was belting. “Your vocal chords are still developing. It’d be unhealthy to let you belt so young,” she explained.

Not like I needed belting. By eighth grade, I got paid to sing the national anthem at high school basketball games. Even more, my Catholic school’s parish allowed me to cantor masses after receiving Confirmation. No more was I a little girl shouting hymns from the pews, but a young woman front and center, leading an entire congregation in song.

I knew Miss Cindy personally as well as professionally. She told me about her snowy childhood in South Dakota, and eventually I had the privilege of meeting her second husband: a cool-as-a-cucumber Filipino man named Bryan. He'd tell me, "you have such a gift, that voice of yours," and smiled even more than his wife. I’d watch him and Miss Cindy slow dance during Spaghetti Dinners – annual concerts the high school put on to raise money for their competition trips – and think, wow, someday I hope to have a marriage like that. Everyone loved Brian. Everyone loved how much Brian loved Miss Cindy.

I graduated middle school, and my grand expectations surrounding high school show choir were delightfully met. No more trailers or garages…my voice lessons and show choir practices were now held in a beautiful high school classroom. I was accepted into a tight-knit circle of friends and we all made hilarious Kodak moments while learning dance routines and caroling at senior centers. We got to travel to Boston and Washington D.C. for competitions, and two years in a row, won rousing “superior” rankings from judges. We were leaving schools across the country in the dust. Our tiny show choir’s rising success and happiness seemed infinite.

Until junior year, when Miss Cindy announced her divorce from Bryan.

It wasn’t something anyone anticipated. She burst into floods of tears in the middle of my voice lessons. “I’m sorry…it’s just so hard right now,” she’d sniffle, head in hands.

“Everything’s going to be okay,” I said while wrapping her in tight embraces: the only consolation my teenage brain could conceive. It was painful to watch her suffer. She was like a second mother. What advice could I give about moving on from another failed marriage? I knew nothing about love, about falling out of partnerships. For her, I wanted to fix everything - put a smile back on her face. But although I was twelve months away from eighteen-year-old adulthood, youth limited my ability to comfort.

Fortunately, after each lesson, she’d talk privately with my mother, who would then talk privately with me. One car ride home, she explained the change in Bryan. According to Miss Cindy, he’d turned into an angry alcoholic out of nowhere, and left her alone in their house for long periods of time. Occasionally, Miss Cindy wouldn’t know where he was.

“Isn’t that odd?” Mom shook her head while turning the steering wheel, “I never pictured him as the type to do that…he was always friendly.” Mom wasn't pleased Miss Cindy was wasting time crying in my voice lessons, but I knew she was just processing things...best to cut her some slack. I related to to her emotional instability in my own way. I developed an inferiority complex due to a worsening disfigurement in my lower jaw, which caused chewing problems, clicking pains, and teasing from boys who christened me, "The Crimson Chin," like the cartoon character.

Behind the piano in her classroom stood a rectangular mirror, whose reflection my eyes could not look away from. Because of my facial misalignment, my mouth moved differently from everyone else’s whenever we sang as a chorus. What I wouldn’t give for a normal chin, a normal smile. I lived through a bout of depression and endured anxiety attacks because of crippling low self-esteem. I wholeheartedly believed I was ugly. Whenever I worked up the courage to vent, Miss Cindy said something along the lines of, “Oh stop, Katy. You’re so pretty.” Her responses had caustic edges to them, as if to slap me for thinking of something so stupid.

I developed more interests throughout my high school career...creative writing, as well as filmmaking. As much as I loved them, however, I had a difficult time pursuing them. My school’s entrancing TV studio was right across from Miss Cindy’s room. Because Mrs. D’Anton, the teacher in charge of the studio, knew of my film editing skills from archived class projects, she tried to recruit me onto her filmmaking team annually.

“We could use you, Katy! Just come in and edit some footage!”

But my excuse remained the same. “Sorry Mrs. D’Anton, I can’t. I have show choir practice.”

And then there was the infamous concert band led by Mr. Frazee. Mr. Frazee was the laid-back, beer-bellied, rock n’ roll uncle everyone secretly wanted. As a musician, he was a genius, able to play any instrument from the saxophone to the Appalachian dulcimer. As a teacher, he was incredibly generous. He brazenly believed in the potential of his band kids, and although I wasn’t included in that category, he was a fan of my voice.

“Just you wait, kid. I’m gonna use you in one of my concerts senior year,” he’d say while wobbling past me in the halls. “Prepare yourself. It’s gonna be wild…”

Unlike your typical high school marching band, Mr. Frazee had his kids learn songs from the old-school rock groups he loved. Whether they played a Beatles tune, Pink Floyd’s “Brick in the Wall” or Chicago’s, “Beginnings,” the concert band never failed to receive standing ovations. Everyone loved them. Well, almost everyone. Miss Cindy never understood why Frazee didn’t care about the band receiving bronze medals at competitions. “It’s like he doesn’t acknowledge the judges’ opinions,” she’d remark. To Frazee, that was the point. He wasn’t concerned with musical perfection. He wanted his recreations to inspire people.

My taste in music eventually aligned with his. I desired to wail like Joan Jett, shriek like Ann Wilson, rip a piece of my heart out like Janis Joplin. I wanted a strong, passionate voice identical to the rockin' women I admired. I wanted to be loud again.

“But like I said, it’s unhealthy to belt,” Miss Cindy countered. Not if you do it properly. No, no, no. Don’t say that. I held my tongue. She knew best.

After the divorce, the lines on her face sunk deep into her skin, crescent-shaped sides of her chestnut hair grew salt and pepper streaks, and she became more irritable, more unpredictable, more hawkish than before. Of course, she had always been strict – the reason, I believed, why I and so many others improved under her tutelage. But this was different: this was a Miss Cindy who, at every choir practice, claimed she was disappointed in us. If we didn’t get a note, a single harmony right, she’d yell. She'd make singers line up in groups of four, and whoever "lacked the dedication to miss a note" was out of show choir. Thankfully, I was never called to participate in the stressful quartets. Lucky, considering I'd forget to bring my sheet music to every practice.

She was far harder on the Girls Show Choir: a group exclusively for freshman and a few sophomores until they were older and “skilled” enough for acceptance into the main choir. The lucky boys got to skip this initiate program, but it was where every female upperclassman once started. That’s why it was easy for people to belittle Girls Show Choir: it was full of young bottom-feeders. One rehearsal, while Girls Show Choir was practicing a song-and-dance routine on our auditorium's stage, a group of mean, blonde-haired girls from the main choir whispered scathing remarks about their performance.

“Some of them can’t dance no matter how hard they try,” whispered one girl, Olivia: ironically, the worst dancer in our main show choir. Miss Cindy, tired from pacing below the stage in anger, took the chair next to her. She chuckled at Olivia's remark.

“Oh, tell me about it. That’s why most of them are in the back. I SAID LOUDER, LADIES!!!

Judging from the grave looks the girls wore as they limped off the stage, it was clear they’d heard every word. That year was the first all four of our choirs won silvers or less in competition.

Despite the "disappointment" Miss Cindy continually felt due to our group's declining talent, I was somehow immune to the brunt of her rage. I was still one of her favorites – the senior girl she’d taught since second grade.

“I’m so excited you’re singing the Ave Maria for the Christmas recital!” she exclaimed one December voice lesson. "Of course I’m saving you for last. The best for last.” Her cheeky wink made me giggle. For a fleeting moment, she looked younger.

“I’m happy you’re excited. Mom is too. She’s wanted me to sing that song since grade school. I’m going to dedicate it to her, you know.”

She closed the songbook on the piano’s sheet music stand and gazed upon me with tender brown eyes. Her sigh and smile, both gentle and serene, were comforting. Contagious. Hypnotic.

“So Katy…what are you planning on studying in college?”

The soft feeling dimmed.

“Actually, um…I was thinking of majoring in film.”

Her brows rose.

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Maybe writing or something too, but…” I didn’t need to finish the sentence.

“Oh…well, good luck to you, Katy.”

“Thank you.”

“I definitely think you should consider looking into music as well. Maybe even music education. You could study more music theory. Teach some students. Everyone wants voice lessons nowadays…It pays.”

Nodding, I imagined myself on her stool, going down the same pathways she had taken. Wearing her same high heels, her same lilac eyeshadow. The eyes of the same choir kids staring back at me. My guts hated the long-jawed girl in the rectangular mirror left of the piano, but suddenly, I found myself preferring that reflection to the one sitting before me.

“I’ll think about it.”

“I feel like you and Gabi Hay would be perfect candidates for careers in music education.”

Just then, her cellphone rang. As she picked it up and turned away, I seized the opportunity to roll my eyes. Gabi. Freaking. Hay. So doe-eyed and seemingly innocent, she was the last person you’d suspect to be a psychopath. Adults fawned over her sugary giggles while boys sunk their faces into her Barbie-blonde hair. And that’s why she got away with every horrible thing she did, whether it was making rude remarks about friends and I before junior prom (“We can’t take pictures on the staircase in Katy’s house…mine is nicer!”), or excluding white-haired Rebecca Rosenberg from her Disney-themed sweet sixteen court because she wanted to dress up as Elsa, and Elsa is technically a queen not a Disney princess and how dare she go against the rules of the court at her party.

Gabi Hay was so obsessed with transforming herself into a real-life Disney princess, she became a Snow White soprano. Sure, I possessed a wide range, but Gabi was practically a high-brow opera singer. Her reputation was Nancy Kerrigan’s, and mine was Tonya Harding’s before 1994. She could go sky high, shooting into the loftiest notes of “Glitter and Be Gay” as though she were a rocket touching the heavens, aiming for the moon and planets and galaxies beyond. And because she expressed a desire to continue studying music in college, Miss Cindy carefully watched her performances from the ground, wishing she could fly alongside her.

My Ave Maria was not saved for last during the Christmas Concert. Minutes before it started, Miss Cindy told me I would be the penultimate performance, right before Gabi's finale number. It was pretty confusing for the audience, considering my performance was listed last on the program. But I didn't get caught up in anger: I sang the number as best as I could, and focused my eyes on my mother's tearing face. After Gabi’s performance and subsequent bows, it was no surprise quite a few parents approached me asking what had happened. I just told them Miss Cindy made a switch. Some elderly couples who attended the recital were bold enough to exclaim my performance deserved that last billing, and it was a shame it couldn’t be last. The next day, my friend Courtney revealed that before the recital, she had passed an arguing Gabi and Miss Cindy in the hallway downstairs.

“Dunno what they were shouting about, and I don’t know if it had anything to do with what happened yesterday,” she shrugged, “but still. The timing of it all is curious…”

Gabi Hay knew about my disdain for her. In response to her calling my friends “horrible people” on Valentine’s Day, I stuffed her handbag with dozens of plastic spoons, some of which I licked. The next month, a group of us senior show choir girls hatched a plan to perform Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” – a song we sang and danced to freshman year of Girls Show Choir – for the karaoke contest happening during Spirit Week. Gabi was invited, and she couldn’t stop blubbering about how “freaking excited” she was to be re-visiting the routine. Unsurprisingly, the next week she revealed over group chat her desire to drop out because she’d rather sing “Part of Your World” solo. Vindictive and tired of her antics as I was, I took her message as an opportunity to call bullshit.

KK. Though you made it clear you were ‘freaking excited’ to sing with us, do what makes you happy Gabi haha. See ya around!

Send. Despite feeling guilty for typing the text, my friends, as well as my own mother, found it hilarious.

With a month left until the slough of gigs that orbited around our competition trip to Disney World (you can imagine how “freaking excited” Gabi Hay was about that), it was finally time for Mr. Frazee to reveal what rock songs he wanted me to sing for his band concert.

“And not just the band concert…I want you to come with us when we play at Faneuil Hall in Boston. Don’t tell Cindy.”

“Is that where you’re going for competition this year?” I asked. He laughed.

“Nah, we’re not like you show choir people: we’re not doing competitions anymore. I got out of it this year, thank god. We’re not playing for judges. We’re playing outside, for the people.”

He told me to listen to Chicago’s “Saturday In the Park,” Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Fantasy,” and the song “Requiem the Fifth” from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. “I’m still trying to figure out the last song in our set; the one you’ll be singing solo.” Frazee finished, stroking the white hairs of his prickly beard. “I’ll let you know when I know.”

Thinking about the band performance in Boston kept me going through the brutal show choir practices held in our school's study hall. With competition a month away, Miss Cindy was like a drill sergeant when dealing with the Girls Show choir. “COME ON! ARE YOU EVEN TRYING!” she'd scream. One evening, while disappointed by the Girls Show Choir's "Good Morning Baltimore" routine, she instructed us main choir people to sing one of our songs, "Working My Way Back To You" as loud as we could. I found myself having fun while performing it, but when we got back into the study hall and found the freshman girls in tears, I realized our stairwell practice was just a way to further humiliate them, as we'd been singing over their CD music.

That was the evening I realized two things. First, I had wasted four years of high school performing in a ridiculous show choir like a circus animal when I could have spent those years writing in the school’s literary journal or editing videos in the TV studio. I could have spent those years doing things that would have made me a well-rounded person, things that would have made me happier. Second, I chose to waste those four years of high school because I feared losing a connection with Miss Cindy. Shouting, abusive Miss Cindy who favorited a few, and didn’t give a shit about making the rest cry.

So because of that, me and two friends - Lauren and Abby - gathered the Girls Show Choir in a hallway underneath the study hall. Some were still crying, others looked like they could punch through the blue lockers lining the walls. “I’m so sorry about what happened up there,” Lauren addressed the crowd, “Wasn’t right of her to shout.”

“Wasn’t right of her, period. It’s not your faults,” Abby added. My turn to speak.

“Don’t let her push you around like that. She’s treating you all like crap. Don’t let her-”

The clacking of heels. “What’s going on?”

Miss Cindy didn’t look angry, just confused. After an awkward silence, her brows knitted in static realization. “You three, get upstairs. NOW!”

Abby and Lauren scurried back up the steps. Before joining them, I exchanged an electric glare with the woman I considered my second mother. That was the moment the chord of kinship between us snapped.

Moments later, she yammered at the rest of the main choir. I couldn’t help feeling like I was responsible for the unwarranted scolding.

“I don’t want any of you going behind my back again,” she pointed. “I am the one in charge. I am the adult! Right?” She waited for us to repeat the word.

“Right,” we all mumbled. Save for Gabby Castellanos, the loveable class clown of our group, who scoffed and made a face.

“I saw that!” Miss Cindy thundered. “Don’t you dare roll your eyes at me! I am the adult, right?” But instead of giving her the satisfaction of an answer, Gabby pivoted - zipping past all of us in line. The brown coils of her mane bounced as she left everyone behind. And of course, she slammed the double doors of the study hall on her way out.

I held my tears until the evening’s end, when I told Mom what had happened in the privacy of my bedroom. “Even the security guard said she hadn’t seen so many girls crying before! Mom...I have to quit show choir.”

Concern washed over Mom's face. “You sure? You’d be missing Disney World, your friends. I still think you should talk to Miss Cindy.”

“I can’t! Mom, she’s not the same person anymore! She’s not who she used to be. She’s different and toxic and I hate being around her. I just can’t…”

Mom bit her lip, then gave a single nod. “Okay.” She got off my bed and walked to the doorway. Then paused.

“I wonder if that’s what drove Bryan to it…”

“What?”

“Like you said. She’s toxic and abusive. I wonder if that’s what drove Bryan to alcohol, just before their divorce…”

Like some sick joke, the Spirit Week karaoke contest was the next day. I was miserably sprawled across the bleachers with the rest of the student body while we not-so-eagerly listened to the competitors in the gymnasium. We were scheduled to rehearse “Telephone” the day before the event, but due to the harsh happenings which had transpired the night before, none of us senior girls were in the mood to perform our freshman year show choir routine.

“Hi everyone!” squeaked a voice, “I’m Gabi Hay, and I will be singing “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid!” Whoop-dee-doo. My eyes wandered, trying to find Miss Cindy in the crowd, but she was nowhere in sight. Perhaps she felt guilty about what had happened the night before?

It didn't matter. I decided in that moment I hated music. I'd never be singing again. It was all about judgement. You sang or played whatever the hell you wanted and people criticized you. It wasn’t an art form: it was a game to win. At least, that’s what ten years of show choir taught me.

After the karaoke contest, I decided to pick up my spirits with some coffee. My high school’s library didn’t conform to your standard definition of a library. Exemplified by the piles of costumes left by the theatre department, high-end sofas and silly memorabilia everywhere, it was more a place to hang out and eat lunch than study. It was also where a tiny blue Keurig was kept – a secret only I and a few others knew.

I trudged to the metal filing cabinet where it stood and grabbed a styrofoam cup. Gabi Hay sauntered in. Her face still aglow from applause, The Little Mermaid wannabe swerved around me like a bloodthirsty shark.

“Hi, Katy.”

“Hi, Gabi.”

“How are you?”

“Fine, you?”

“Oh, very good.” She drew closer. “Why didn’t you sing in the karaoke contest? I thought you were all supposed to perform ‘Telephone’?”

"Couldn’t get a rehearsal in.”

“Oh, shame.” She lunged towards my right ear, making the hairs on my nape stand straight. “Y’know, especially since you excluded me and all…”

This was about the text message, of course. “Not everything is about you Gabi,” I braced myself for a response, but none came. My retort wasn’t received. She had already disappeared.

Had it been any other day, Gabi Hay’s attempt at passive-aggressive revenge wouldn’t have mattered. But because I was processing the aftermath of a broken relationship, because a large love of my life, music, had suddenly turned into a hatred, because I felt like I could burst at any minute…my chest tightened. My vision blurred.

When you’re going through an anxiety attack, you feel like the world is crumbling around you. Like the world is flipping upside down, and you’re trying to balance for dear life. That, and the horrible sensation of choking on air. As the Keurig’s pouring coffee began to drip out of the overflowing styrofoam cup onto the carpet floor, I just stood there, unable to catch any breath. My heart was about to combust. Don’t flip out don’t flip out don’t flip out.

“Katy, what’s the matter?” asked my brown-haired best friend, Maria, as she entered the library with a group of other show choir people. I couldn’t respond. I needed to escape.

“I’m sorry, I can’t I can’t I can’t…”

“Wait! What are you-”

My fumbling feet carried me through the doorway to the hallway outside, to my locker. I pressed myself against its metal surface, still gasping for breath. Miss Cindy was a few feet away. She stopped and gazed at me. “Katy, are you all right?”

If I told her how Gabi had set me off, would she believe me?

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” I wheezed. Her brows knitted again – the same scary expression she had thrown at me the night before.

“Is this about what happened yesterday?”

“N-no, I-”

She clenched my left wrist. Against my will, she dragged me towards the choir room. “Come on! We’re talking about this!”

I yanked free of her grip.

“NO! GET AWAY FROM ME!!!”

My blood-curdling cry echoed throughout the long hallway, stopping students in their tracks. I couldn’t believe the large sound which projected from my mouth. It was my voice, but there was a kinetic, tempestuous quality to it; as though it’d been brewing inside me for months and was just now tearing into the world. Something long overdue.

“Oh, stop your crying!” I remember her shouting as I staggered away. Her actions worsened the attack. The crumbling, whirling environment inside my head became a full-on earthquake. Fortunately, Maria was there to scoop her arm around my shoulders and lead me to safety.

When I told my guidance counsellor everything that had happened, and how Maria had witnessed her grabbing me, he told me I could press charges against Miss Cindy if I wanted to. He didn't recommend it and I had no intentions of doing so. But in all my life...I never thought I’d hear the words “press charges” and “Miss Cindy” used in the same sentence.

“I feel like a horrible person,” I told Mr. Frazee days later. We were in the same trailer-classroom Miss Cindy used when I was in grade school. Now it was the band kids’ headquarters.

“You’re not. I had a falling out with that woman years ago. You’re brave to be leaving show choir. This isn’t the first time she’s done something inappropriate to students. You know Devon Santi?”

I nodded. Devon was the son of my second-grade teacher.

“I’ll never forget…during a rehearsal for the Spaghetti Dinner, she got so angry with him. She started screaming right in his face. She was so close, poor kid fainted right there on the stage.” He shook his head, “And that’s when I knew it wasn’t wise to associate myself with her. She’s crazy.”

“I don’t get it. If she’s done all these horrible things, why hasn’t the school fired her?”

He gave a dry laugh. “Have you seen the amount of trophies the choir’s won? Good publicity.”

He stared down at the ground, sighed, then revamped his fake smile into a genuine one. “Anyways, figured out what song I’d like you to sing solo. Ever heard of “Separate Ways” by Journey? You’re going to be my Steve Perry.”

My lips curled high. “Does that mean I’ll get to be loud?”

He saw the excitement stir inside me. “Oh, the louder the better, my dear.”

Mr. Frazee couldn't have picked a better song. "Separate Ways," the first track on Journey's album, Frontiers, is about the singer saying his goodbyes after having a connection with a partner. He reveals that despite the former partner moving on to other people, despite the pain she might encounter in the future, he still loves her. However, they are worlds apart. Their separation is inevitable. Studying the lyrics made me realize...maybe I could still appreciate the many lessons Miss Cindy taught me while knowing it was best to split away. I had my own path to follow, and she had hers.

The white columns of Faneuil Hall gleamed in the afternoon sun. Kids rested on the complex’s steps while adults and elders stood in a semi-circle around our orchestra. Maybe Woodstock had died years ago, but the sense of companionship I imagined happening there was the same kind I found in this crowd. A bright wave of laughter rolled as Frazee cracked his jokes into the microphone.

“And now…Separate Ways!”

The bass rumbled, the drums pounded, the trumpets blared.

Here we stand,

worlds apart, hearts broken in two, two, two…

Singing those lyrics aloud offered a refreshing amount of catharsis. Brand new, I riffed. I roared. I went off the rails, pouring my heart into the sea of people. And they offered their hearts back. It was the first time I wasn't putting on an act while singing. I wasn't pretending to be a graceful classical singer or a show choir girl. It was me: broken, messy, rough, and loud.

After our performance, two young women approached me. “You have such an amazing voice!” chimed the first. “You’re a powerhouse!” added the second. Powerhouse. The word danced around inside my skull. It was a contradiction. A tiny, insecure, eighteen-year-old girl with a misaligned jaw…a powerhouse? Could it be possible? Yes or no, I loved it. I clung onto that word, powerhouse, and told myself to wear it through womanhood. Yes, it was a contradiction. And it was my contradiction.

Although I sang the Ave Maria a few more times after that (mostly at Catholic funeral masses and weddings), I did not become the classical singer Miss Cindy and others predicted. My life took me to NYC and in college, I received much-needed corrective jaw surgery. With a new face and school environment to explore, I majored in film and minored in creative writing. It was through the latter program I developed my passion of becoming a memoirist: a person who candidly writes about their past.

Gabi Hay didn't pursue music either. My best friend, Maria, and her went to the same college in Washington D.C. Maria told me over the phone, "Yeah, she dropped out. She was upset about not getting any lead roles in the musicals or school operas, so she transferred to some college in Pennsylvania. I hear she's studying to be a nurse now."

Whenever I went home and saw Mr. Frazee, he'd invite me to sing Beatles songs and 80's classics with his Irish band at local pubs. And as for Miss Cindy...The few times I encountered her while visiting my old high school, her reaction to my presence, as well as my new face, would be...

“Oh, my pretty girl. My pretty girl. How you’ve grown…” Her hugs weren’t warm anymore, but cold and brittle – like autumn leaves approaching winter. But although we’d went our separate ways, I treated her like an old friend. After all, she had taught me many lessons. Some of them I learned in childhood, others I learned through a rough adolescence. All of them I learned in my own way.

humanity
Kathryn Milewski
Kathryn Milewski
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Kathryn Milewski

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