The Weight on My Shoulders
The Weight on My Shoulders7 mins 21.6K 7 mins 21.6K
Reading through old journal entries can be so, so painful sometimes, I thought to myself, lovingly turning the browned pages of a leather-bound notebook. It’s like looking at your old self through an impenetrable glass - the girl you used to be - and reading her thoughts, almost being able to trace her feelings out with a fingertip, because you are her and she is you. You know how it all ends, she doesn’t. It’s like not being able to hold her back because you know she has to learn these lessons on her own, to arrive at her own conclusions. “I remember the day I wrote this,” I smiled to myself. I was alone, my only company the dancing dust motes in a rectangular patch of yellow sunlight behind the open chest in the attic. Those, and the acute nostalgia that overcame me. Still smiling, I ran my fingers over one page, my diary entry dated May 11, 2010. Pictures, vivid images, memories flooded my train of thought.
Overcoming a phobia is much, much easier said than done. Trying to face a fear so intense it cripples you, nearly always ends in clammy palms, a dry mouth and trembling hands. I remember coming back from the auditorium and shutting myself into my room, pouring out the feelings in my heart and the thoughts in my head onto the smooth, white paper. I remember the thudding of my nine year old heart as I waited outside a classroom with six other people who auditioned with me from my house. I remember the feeling of dubiousness mingled with excitement, bewilderment, and intense shock when the teacher told me, with a smile on her face, that I’d been selected. Warmth bloomed in my chest, and I wanted to jump and squeal and run all the way to New Jersey and back.
All of this went into my diary.
All the practices that the teacher took ended with me giggling, or breathing too heavy to continue because I was picturing the people in front of me and shaking at the knees. It felt awful, leaving another practice incomplete with a teacher who’d had such high hopes for me, because I couldn’t continue it any longer. The worst practice was one where my poor fourth grade self nearly cried, because my mouth went dry thinking of the audience, and I said half my piece, blinking at the teacher through a thin film of tears, and broke down at the very end. Amongst the broken sobs, I admitted to my teacher that I didn’t think I could do it, and she should have chosen the boy who said his piece confidently albeit with a few errors. “He was better”, I sobbed, “than a girl with stage fright and no confidence.” I will never, never forget the words she said to me. She bent down, wiped away my tears, and looked me straight in the eye. “Do you know why I chose you?” she asked me. I shook my head, because I hadn’t expected to be chosen at all. “I chose you,” she said, “because of how perfectly you recited this poem to me the other day. Crying won’t do, not for this humorous poem. The merry twinkle in your eye, the smile on your face, your perfect pronunciation, that’s why I chose you. You didn’t just recite the poem, you felt it.” I stared up at her with wide, brown eyes. “B-but I didn’t have an audience then,” I hiccupped. She just smiled. “The librarian? The girl who came to borrow a textbook? The teacher bandaging the small boy’s knee? All of them were listening, and all of them enjoyed it.” The astonishment those words brought me must’ve been clearly visible on my small face, because she laughed and ruffled my hair. And from that day onwards, I never left a practice incomplete.
I sighed, unable to stop smiling at the page, covered in my untidy scrawl. I turned the next page, to find a diary entry twice that long. To my surprise, I remembered the day this entry was about as well; the finals of the inter-school elocution that the previous entry had been about. Again, my flashback seemed halfway between a memory and a dream. It felt unreal...but somehow, so real.
My stage fright started even before the competition did. I started from home, telling my mom with a firm nod and a tight grip on her hand, “Mom, I’ll win this thing.” Unfortunately, prospects didn’t look as bright or clear now as they did then. My grip on her hand got tighter and tighter, just like my fear gripped me tighter and tighter. Apprehension unfurled like a tendril inside my chest, and got bigger and bigger until it felt like it was weighing me down. My contestants all looked confident and determined, and I felt my will crumble, I felt my posture slouch, I felt my chest deflate. Somehow, I found my seat and managed to pull myself together enough for the junior category to have begun. Their seventh contestant was a small girl, four or five years old, and she looked so frightened, the poor thing. She had to be half led, half pushed onto the stage. She walked over to the centre of the stage, where a single spotlight shone brightly over the microphone, and stepped into the light. But what a difference! Her chin was up, not down; she was smiling, she didn’t look terrified anymore; her mouth was curved up in a half smile and she looked ready to win this competition. You’ve got this, I mentally cheered her on, knowing that she’d never know, but...seeing her transformation increased my confidence, just a little. She started, in a lilting voice, a story about a boy who got teased by his friends
Because he was afraid of swimming. In a way, his story is similar to mine. Both of us were afraid of something, and that fear became a part of who we were. The only difference is that he got over it, and I didn’t know if I would get over mine. But the best part about endings is that you don’t know what they are, or what surprises or horrors they hold in store. When she was done, I found that my eyes had filled with tears. Her story not only affected me in the sore spot in my character, but also spurred me on, reminding me that I could make my ending happy. I clapped as loud as I could. Her story wasn’t the best, and the language she used was simple. I clapped for her because of the way she said it, because she made me believe that my ending was in my hands, not in the hands of my fear.
Before I knew it, it was my turn. All fidgety hands and shaky knees, I climbed the three steps onto the stage. My heart thumped loud and fast, and my blood sang in my ears. The world around me seemed to slow down. I thought to myself, my fear doesn’t have to be the master. Sucking in a deep breath, I shuffled forward in the direction of the microphone. It could control me only as long as I let it. I stepped forward, into the illuminated circle that the light overhead cast on the stage. I was astounded, to realise that I could only see the judges from where I stood. The audience wasn’t visible! I could feel their eyes on me. Plastering a smile on my face, I nodded in the direction of the judges, and began. My voice flowed into the mic like the torrent of happy memories I was thinking of flowed into my mind. I saw them all before my eyes, and my voice carried the emotions these recollections awoke in me, happiness and elation and delight. Before I knew it, my piece was over. I blinked. I felt numb, but the applause I received pulled me back into reality. My senses rushed in, and suddenly every sound was louder, every line was sharper, and every colour was brighter. I slumped happily in my seat, oblivious to the rest of the world. I felt giddy with excitement. I’d done it. I’d really, truly done it.
The next hour is a blur in my memory. I don’t remember much, other than the ecstatic euphoria that coursed through my body as I stood on the highest block of the podium, the number on which was 1. The weight I felt on my shoulders was no more my fear, it was the heavy gold medal someone had slipped over my head onto my shoulders.