When I was little I loved to sing. Some of my happiest early memories involve making up songs about everything – washing the dishes, skipping down the sidewalk, going to bed. We had an old piano on the porch and I would sit on the bench and pretend that I could really play while banging out dissonant melodies, singing all the while.
My brother and I both were extremely stressed as children. We expressed it differently – he acted out, wet the bed, started drinking at a young age. I turned inward, daydreaming, trying to be good enough, praying to any god that would save me. But when my brother and I clashed it was violent and vicious. He slammed my head in the door, I hit him with a bicycle chain. We would fight often, multiple times a day. The screaming, the name-calling, the hair pulling and biting was relentless. One day I must’ve said or did something especially mean and he pulled back, took a deep breath, and, in a measured and triumphant tone said, “Yeah? Well, John said you are a terrible singer!”
Internally I instantly wilted, I lost my breath. But I was in battle and had to forge on. I shrilly replied, “He did not!” and abruptly retreated to my bedroom. John, my mom’s boyfriend, was mean, conniving, and manipulative. But he wouldn’t, surely he wouldn’t, be so cruel as to say that. Later I slinked out of my room and, when I saw John, I asked meekly, “R said you think I’m a terrible singer. You don’t really think so, do you?” He said nothing, but shrugged in a way as to suggest it wasn’t his fault that it was the truth. If I had a better voice he wouldn’t have to be so mean. And then he laughed at me.
What haunted me most was that my family, broken as it was, would talk about me so negatively. I was crushed that they had mean, private conversations about me. They would laugh and cringe together while I was oblivious. The humiliation was piercing and profound.
I was silenced that day. I didn’t sing for years. I can clearly recall my best friend’s birthday party a few weeks later. While all the kindergardeners raucously erupted in “Happy Birthday” I choked back tears as I mouthed the words but let no sound escape. Whenever a singing occasion would emerge, and when I was in the church they came up often, I would mouth the words, or maybe sing so quietly that no one would be subjected to my intolerable voice.
The pain of the deception bled through anything related to music. I was embarrassed not only to sing but to dance, to play instruments, hum, whistle or even admit what kind of music I enjoyed. At various points I’ve taken guitar or voice lessons, but I’ve never gotten very far. My self-consciousness was too raw. I hoped to find some measure of healing in music, but it only chaffed at open wounds.
Last year, on Saint Patrick’s Day, I took up fiddle lessons. I’ve always loved fiddle music. It’s one kind of music that cuts through the ache and sprouts wellsprings of joy. My instructor has a little girl, the same age I was when my brother made those cutting remarks. She sings and dances while we play, floating from room to room. Originally I found that embarrassing, disconcerting. But she doesn’t find my rough music intolerable, and I think her singing is charming.
What human being hates the singing of children?
*Someday I want this to again be a space full of craftiness and cooking, but that’s just not my life right now. I don’t know how long this naval-gazing will go on; however, I have hope that someday my focus will shift back to the beauty of the present. But this processing space is what I need now and so be it. Please bear with me or check back in a few months. Thanks.