ACT ONE – on the verge

1 – Pride

Los Angeles Sports Arena, March 2011

  “Tickets and wristbands, please,” the daunting security guard in black jeans and t-shirt repeats like a drill sergeant straight out of Central Casting. As I get closer to him, my heartbeats speed up.

           With a trembling hand, I show him my seat ticket and the purple wristband that’s been attached to my wrist for the last 36 hours. He glances and waves me on. Grasping the railing to steady my wobbly legs, I descend the stairs to the arena floor, realizing that- –I beat the system.

           My group from Section 12—30 strangers—gather around a show staffer, a twenty-something gal. Half my age, she’s petite but assertive, waving her arms above her head, drawing everyone to her like she’s presumably done with hundreds of previous singers on this audition assembly line. We cluster in closer. An intense aroma of makeup, hairspray, and body order permeates the group. A contestant directly behind me forcefully sighs, and her breath smells like stomach acid. My gut lurches in response. Well, this is Round One for X-Factor.” Keep it together, Laurie. This is just an audition. You’ve been through far worse than this.

           On the arena floor, it’s apparent how loud the upper arena is: packed full of contestants, families, friends, cheering, talking, clapping. The clamor radiates off the concrete floor, like at a sporting event.

           I fumble in my purse for my iPhone. I need to listen to my music to gain perspective, even as my eyes remain deadlocked on the staffer. She’s still wrangling people, so I have time to get it together. I roll back my shoulders and stretch my neck from side to side to calm my nerves.

           A fellow contestant taps me on the arm. I pull out one earbud.

           “You, okay?” he says. He appears in his late fifties and looks like a street magician from Venice Beach. He’s scruffy, has a drastically receding hairline, and his thin ponytail is a too dark for your age shade of black. He wears a faded black tux tail over a ragged floral print Hawaiian shirt. The only thing on him that looks current is the purple wristband, just like mine.

           I’m surprised by his curiosity and attempt to interact. If anything, I’m annoyed. What does he care?

           “Hey, I’m in my zone, and you just messed it up.”

           He gapes at me, lifting an eyebrow. His face softens. “You just look really nervous. Relax. You’re about to be discovered,” he says with sparkling eyes. “Be proud you’ve made it this far.”

           “Proud?” I shake my head, then smile remorsefully. With my head hung low, I stick my earbud back in. I’m such an asshole. As well, I’m lying. I’m not in my zone. The only zone I’m in is one warped with anxiety and confusion.

           However, proud? My husband Neil said the same thing this morning as I left our house to go on this wild goose chase. As I paused at our front door, Neil followed closely behind. I sensed the warmth and calmness of his tall body behind me. I assumed he had something to say. In a somewhat uncomfortable but sweet send-off, he muttered, “Good luck today or break a leg or damn, which is it?”

           “It’s break a leg.” I chuckled and turned to him. He kissed my forehead. I reached up for a hug and melted into his strength. I wish things were better for us. If only we hadn’t suffered so much. I whispered, “Thank you. I’ll be in touch throughout the day.”

           As I walked to the driveway, he added, “I’m proud of you.” That comment stopped me in my tracks.

           “Why are you proud of me?” I said, turning to him, a quiver of curiosity in my stomach.

           Leaning against the door frame, Neil removed his hands from his PJ bottom pockets and folded his arms across his muscular chest. “Well, I mean, the last few years have been tough for you. I hope this is what you’re looking for. What you need.”

           I hesitantly nodded in return, got in the car, took a deep breath, and let out a loud, satisfying sigh. I reminded myself, again, I’m someone who is getting the chance to audition for a reality TV show. Finally, there is no age restriction. I can no longer complain or hide behind ageism. However, I also can’t hide behind my anxiety and all that has happened, or my mom’s long-held expectations of me becoming a famous singer or mine, for that matter. Proving it might be enough to fix things. To fix me.

           Backing out of the driveway, I realize that no matter how stressed, frustrated, or ill-minded I’ve felt leading up to this, I desperately miss this part of my life—making music, auditioning—the apprehension, energy, and the full-on engagement of the moment. It’s an instant of being fully alive, too mentally and emotionally high to be touched by heartache or loneliness.

           Now, standing with aching high-heeled feet on the cement arena floor next to Venice guy, I’m no longer worrying about my song selection or how I look. It’s too late for that. I’m next in line for the audition booth. While I try to ignore my sweaty armpits, I steady myself with deep breathing. I got this. Of course, I do. I’ve been singing since I was a kid. My first performance was at church. A duet of “Jesus Loves Me” with my only sibling and older brother David. We were barely six and seven years of age.

           I revert to thinking of my song choice. Which one will I do? I hum each one in my head. Does one feel better than the other? Ignoring all around me in our tight group, I hum the songs out loud to check how my voice feels. My humming turns into words, louder and louder, with no concern of who can hear me. I can barely hear myself, muffled by the intrusive sounds of the arena and those next to me doing similar vocal warmups.

           My voice is cold and unsteady, restricted and tight, like any muscle until it’s warmed up. Nice as a warm glove is how I’d like my voice to feel. Instead, it’s as frozen and unforgiving as the winter pond I skated on as a child growing up in Wisconsin.

© 2022 Laurie Markvart