I don’t want to go to the first rehearsal after therapy; I’m exhausted.  Still, I said I would sing with the small ensemble.  I go to rehearsal.  The 11 of us sit at the front of the sanctuary.  He talks us through the section divisions in the music, which we flip through until the end.  “Who’s got those high notes?” he asks looking in my direction.  I check; it goes as high as an A.  I glance at the other sopranos who are silent.

“Yeah sure,” I say, “Got it.”

We start singing Don MacDonald’s “When The Earth Stands Still.”  It is lovely and haunting.  We read it well.  I’m anxious and tense, my voice is strident.  I don’t like it.  I pause to massage my masseter between phrases.  Every now and then I gasp for air; I can’t breathe.  It’s a love song and the lyrics are brutal; if I wasn’t fighting to read the music I’d be sobbing.  When I get to those high notes at the end I’m surprised to hear myself shrieking–I have at least another third of range higher.  Still, I choke out my part, singing exposed at the end; “Stay with me.”  He asks me to make sure I insert a couple breaths to sustain the notes; I try a few more times and I’m not pleased with the sound I’m producing.  Neither is he, which he expresses gently by suggesting I trade phrases next time with a singer who isn’t at this rehearsal.  I nod, frustrated and resigned.  When rehearsal is over I can’t get out quickly enough.  I drive home fast, my jaw painfully tight.  It’s late, but I’m irritated and it takes a long while to fall asleep.

Before the next rehearsal I take out my music in the car and work on that piece until the minute I need to go in.  I don’t want to go to rehearsal–and I’m still shrieking.  It’s ugly.  I’m a better singer than this.  I feel my jaw; rigid with tension, but it’s time so I leave my car and march into the sanctuary.

On the Saturday night before we sing in service I take the music into my friend’s piano room and work.  I massage my jaw and breathe, and it comes out better–but not perfect. I work the phrase with lip trills.  With more focused use of air, I try again.  Better.  I sing louder.  I’m getting tired.  That’s going to have to be good enough.  I pull the lid shut over the keys, take my music and go to bed.

In the morning I’m gentle with myself in my morning practice.  I carefully work away my tension as much as I am able and then dress in my long black skirt and crimson sweater.

I apply makeup briskly in the morning light.  My cake of blush is broken and my mascara nearly totally depleted, but makeup is expensive.  I think how I can buy more when I book another corporate client.  My anxiety spikes.  I gaze into my own eyes in the mirror and reassure myself; I know you’re scared.  You can do it.  I blink away tears and do the best I can with the nearly dry mascara wand.  My lips are white from pressing them together.  I color them gently from a faded tube of lipstick and look at myself.  My eyes are wide and clear.  You are lovely, I tell myself.  It’s going to be all right.

I take my choir folder and go, even though it’s early.  I arrive at 7:45 am.  There are three cars in the lot.  A soprano sits on the bench outside checking her phone and another in the car next to me.  I’d like to sit at the piano but I am not going in there alone; I sit in my car and wait.  My choir director goes out to his car to get something.  I sit very still.  The singer with the car next to mine follows him in.  I watch until she goes into the building, where I see Reverend Brett has also arrived.  I exhale, and open my car door.  I walk swiftly into the building and sit close to another singer.

We assemble, warm up, and rehearse.  My work paid off; the final phrases of the piece are fine.

We stand before the congregation in a semi-circle.  I keep my eyes to the music and look for Kevin’s hands peripherally.  I catch our cue and begin singing, noting that our entrance is hesitant and it takes a couple measures for the sound to solidify.  I both need and dread to look into the face of our choir director–a paradox I’ve never experienced before.  I watch the music closely.  I make a mistake.  I notice that he has glanced in my direction.

Come listen in the silence of the moment before rain comes down.
There’s a deep sigh in the quiet of the forest and the tall tree’s crown.
Now hold me.  Will you take the time to hold me and embrace the chill?
Or miss me.  Will you take the time to miss me when the earth stands still?
‘Cause there’s no use running ’cause the storm’s still coming
And you’ve been running for so many years, for so many years.

Come listen in the silence of the moment before shadows fall.
Feel the tremor of your heartbeat matching heartbeat as we both dissolve.
Now hold me.  Will you take the time to hold me and embrace the chill?
Or miss me.  Will you take the time to miss me when the earth stands still?

I flinch as I turn to the last page of the music.  It takes tremendous focus to read the music, remind myself to breathe well at all the marked breathing places, and register the movement of his hands without looking right at him.  I begin to shake standing before the congregation.  I push my toes into my shoes firmly and keep singing.  I don’t try to stop the shaking, I just make sure I get one last breath and then it’s just me singing above the staff.  I hold my choir folder for dear life but I hear my voice clear like a bell.

‘Cause there’s no use running ’cause the storm’s still coming
And you’ve been running for so many years,
So stay with me, held in my arms.
Like branches of a tree, they’ll shelter you for many years,
So many years,
Stay with me.

There is a moment of hush, and then I exhale.  I close my choir folder quietly, turn and walk away.  When I get to the bench I stand blinking a moment before it registers that the singer next to me is sitting.

I dissociate repeatedly as Reverend Cayer speaks.  I feel heavy and tired, and I can’t focus.  I catch myself a few times, about to collapse.

The next morning I can’t get our music out of my head.  Anxiety and grief come in waves.  I feel my fear; of failure, of my choir director, of the enormity of my attachment issues.  I feel the memory of resting together in Kevin’s bed for the first time as a hurricane approached–and the lingering ache of missing him.  I feel disbelief that it hurts so intensely after all this time.  Finally liberated from the expectation that I’ll need to perform the music, I feel the deep pain of it. It reflects back my loneliness, deep and agonizing and profound.  It takes my breath away and I sit, weeping, battered by the tide of my emotional turmoil, buoyed by the faint understanding that this storm must pass.

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