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Laurie Markvart's Diary of Nothing Left Unsaid

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Chapter Two from “Somewhere in the Music, I’ll Find Me, A Memoir”

2 – FILLING THE GAPS WITH MUSIC

Waterloo, Wisconsin, the 1970s

By Midwest farm country standards, our two-story red brick house on one of the main drags, Madison Street, was in the hustle and bustle of little Waterloo.

Waterloo had two thousand people. There was one stoplight in the whole town, and it marked the four corners, town center, where the two main thoroughfares of Madison and Monroe Street met. I could see the light blink from my front yard.

Our town center consisted of a pharmacy, bowling alley, shoe and clothing store, bank, movie theater, fire station, diner, and six taverns. Yes, six. And all walking distance from our house.

As well, our town had four churches, also all walking distance from our house and town center. Occasionally, the clergy from those churches patronized those six taverns. Mom would say, “The best sermons are on a Saturday night to a bunch of drunks then on Sunday to the hungover.”

Waterloo was not much different from other small towns in Wisconsin. Still, I thought Waterloo was beautiful, with soft hills making up Fireman’s Park that was filled with tall Oak, Ash, and Pine trees forming canopies over summer’s deep green lush grass. The tree branches turned to icicles twinkling like diamonds in the sun when we used the hills for sledding in the winter.

The chocolate brown slow-flowing Maunesha River ebbed through the park, lined with Pussy Willows and marsh shrubs. A dam at the Mill House forced some of the Maunesha up into a large-sized pond, which in summer was home to ducks, geese, and the occasional fisherman frustratingly hoping for a catch. When December would come, the pond became a frozen sheet for childhood shenanigans of snowball fights, hockey, and ice skating.

If it wasn’t for the strong smell of manure that would waft through the town from the many nearby dairy farms, as a little child, I thought Waterloo was damn perfect, until it wasn’t.

Everyone in Waterloo knew each other, and they didn’t just say hello in passing on the street or at the local diner. Long conversations would ensue about family, friends, and the latest happenings about town or, God forbid, national politics or worldly events. In the 70s, those conversations were curated from the Sunday newspaper, evening news, the radio and spiced up with small-town opinions.

My mom would always direct the conversations to local gossip, which she found more attractive, even though she sometimes was part of the story. And my dad, having grown up in Chicago, served 20 years in the military through World War II and a year in Korea during the Korean War, would never engage in the gossip that he called “small town nonsense.” Still, he’d willingly debate politics with the right person.

A typical grocery store run was the excitement of the day for Mom and she conversed with everyone from the entrance to the exit. Amongst the vegetable aisle to the meat counter, she never missed a chance to “bullshit.” When I was a pre-teen, I’d usually bide my time waiting for her by looking at People and other entertainment magazines hanging near the checkout, fantasizing about a more exciting life.

But by the time I was in high school, Waterloo was isolating and boring to me. Although I was not the popular type, I had good friends and enjoyed school. But with only 70 kids in my class, popularity was not my priority. Variety was.

Every day around Waterloo, I saw the same people repeatedly, and while my mom found this comforting and enjoyable, I was restless. The folks of Waterloo were genuine, caring and the sense of community was strong, but I yearned for diversity and excitement.

The closest city where I believed the real action and activity happened was Madison, twenty-six miles to the west. Madison had nearly two hundred thousand people, and I could feel the energy every time we visited for shopping or birthday celebrations. If we approached the city at night, the thousands of streetlights lit up the dark sky, and it was a beacon to something more thrilling. The city had various ethnic restaurants, the state capital, indoor malls, an airport, people of different colors and religions, a university, and giant lakes, Mendota and Monona, that looked like oceans to my adolescent eyes when I first saw them. But Waterloo did have a quaintness that my mother loved. And at times, I embraced it too. Primarily for her sake and especially when I was young and yearning for her attention.

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As a young child, every Sunday morning, I pleasantly woke in my upstairs bedroom of our house to the sound of needle scraping vinyl on the downstairs record player. Classical music boomed from Pioneer floor speakers in our living room. My dad—that ex-military early-bird, predictably rose at 6 a.m. (when the bugle sounds!) and played his favorites after he poured his first cup of coffee. I assumed that this was part of my father’s routine to wake up my brother and me: a friendly pronouncement, the head of the house was up. Or so I thought at the time.

As the years progressed and my parents’ relationship grew more strained, I wondered if he might have done it to piss off his typically hungover, depressed wife.

But I loved the music. As I rested on my white eyelet canopy bed, surrounded by stuffed animals, I listened to every note with anticipation and memorized every lyric, even in French or German. I’d fade in and out of sleep, content, amused by swells of the music, the sudden lulls, the dramatic operatic vocals. My father had said, “In every opera, someone always falls in love, and someone always dies, but in between, there is a whole lot of beautiful music.”

My dad had a small-framed body and carried his shoulders back with poise and confidence, especially when discussing opera. Even though his weekend attire of a grey sweatshirt and white Converse high-tops wouldn’t suggest, he was an opera enthusiast. Nor would his machine shop green coveralls from his day job. No matter the attire, grease lingered under his fingernails and his hands smelled of machine oil, as did what was left of his hair. But I liked the smell. It smelled like him.

Many times, on Sunday mornings, my brother David slammed his door shut in response to Dad’s orchestral onslaught. However, the door to my parents’ room—with my mom presumably sleeping–was always closed, although a closed door wasn’t enough to silence the music. My door was left open. The cacophony told me I was not alone. Dad was there. I was safe. My father was the stable force in our unpredictable home.

I could assume my dad’s mood, and my mom’s likely condition, by his musical choices. He was in a pleased, carefree mood if he was listening to piano concertos, like Tchaikovsky’s, or operas like Tosca or Carmen. He’d be enjoying the Sunday paper. Sometimes he’d be humming as he made his way around the house, and the sound would bring me great pleasure. It also meant my mother was sober, happy, and up making breakfast. On these days, I would not linger in bed; I’d rush downstairs to join them.

Beethoven, especially Moonlight Sonata, meant he was stressed. I would find him amiable but unhappy. He was busy doing my mother’s chores: making breakfast, cleaning the kitchen, disposing of liquor bottles from the night before. He was an old-school man who’d say, “These are the duties of the wife, not mine.”

Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor meant a dark mood. I would find him unapproachable, further evidenced by deep furrows on his brow and puffy eyelids. I could only assume he and my mother had fought the night before. He had every reason to use Mozart to insulate himself from her. Thankfully, I was confident that he loved me. Even if he was not incredibly welcoming, as he sat with legs crossed tightly against the base of the living room armchair, his hand wrapped tightly around a cup of coffee, offering a reduced smile for me. I would head to the kitchen, hoping my mom was preparing breakfast before church. However, when Requiem was playing, she was never there. She was still in bed.

I was angry at my mom for putting my dad in such a state. Also, I was lonely, the only one to sit at the breakfast table with no one to make food for me, provide comfort, and ask if I slept okay.

As a ten-year-old, I could put Lucky Charms in a bowl and pour milk on it. Then again, compared to my mother’s good Sundays, when she would prepare pancakes, waffles, bacon, toast, and fresh juice, cold cereal was disheartening. Until my brother would join me, these quiet moments of eating alone were sad and crushing, especially with Requiem in the background.

On Mom’s good Sundays, when she was not depressed or hungover, she was engaging, loving, caring, and had an outrageous sense of humor. She dished out hugs, back rubs, and kisses to our foreheads and cheeks and never missed a second to say, “You mean the world to me.” She had pet names for us: sweetheart, darling, honey bunch, pumpkin, kiddo. Her attention was devotional. But also confusing. How could she be so unavailable on some days and emotionally stifling on others?

My mother was a pretty woman with pleasant straight light brown hair that would curl into her neck as it reached her shoulders. Her clear blue eyes and high arched eyebrows were probably her most delicate features. She was of average height and weight but slightly taller than my dad. She’d put on weight when depressed and then lose some when she was in a good state. She would dress in contemporary clothes and shoes if she felt mentally well, but nothing fancy or flashy. She loved clip-on earrings and long-chain necklaces, and she incorporated purple, her favorite color, into her wardrobe every chance she could. But the most constant part of her attire was a cigarette. A Salem was her fashion statement. And her comfort.

When Mom was in a good state, she ran the stereo on Saturday mornings; it was rousing fun. She’d play upbeat music, popular on the radio: Candy Man by Sammy Davis Jr. or Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head. Those Saturdays would not be complete without Johnny Mathis.

Mom spun Johnny Mathis vinyl like his voice was an oxygen tank for her lungs. She owned every album he recorded. She documented her collection on ruled school paper, with columns drawn with a ruler in pencil to section out release dates, album and song titles, duets, and she placed it all in a 3-ring binder. The spine simply labeled Johnny.

Much to my dad’s displeasure at the cost of Mom’s obsession, every time a new Johnny album arrived in the mail, Dad would say, “Johnny put out another album?” Mom also belonged to Johnny’s international fan club and swooned like a teenager when she received an annual birthday card with his photo and replica autograph. She’d tack it to the bulletin board in the kitchen for all of us to see. Johnny’s tender chocolate eyes and apparent genuine cheerfulness made me adore him too. Along with his smooth, charismatic velvet voice, I understood Mom’s attraction and wished I could sing like him. Mom told me she heard he gave up a successful shot as an Olympic high-jumper to be a singer. I often wondered why he had to choose between the two.

Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Stevie Wonder, Glenn Campbell, Joan Baez, and Carole King were also Mom’s favorites. She’d tout, “Laurie, did you know Carole King writes her music? That’s a big deal, kiddo.” Those words stuck with me. Even as a very young child, I would stare at the cover of Carole King’s album Tapestry and wonder if I could write a song.

When Mom played musicals, like South Pacific or Oklahoma!, I was inspired to sing along, happy because I wasn’t alone. Sometimes Mom and I’d dance around the living room; afternoon sun rays shining on us through the window like a spotlight. We’d twirl and spin like novice ballroom dancers; rug burns on our feet. Holding hands, we’d lip-sync until the end of the song, and on cue, Mom and I’d fall dramatically onto the couch in an embrace of sweat and laughter.

“Laurie, someday I’ll take you to New York City, and we’ll see Broadway!” she would exclaim, throwing her hands in the air for a loud clap, her eyes dancing. She would quickly fall into the fantasy world show tunes offered. I had no problem joining her. Nevertheless, the song always ended.

© 2022 Laurie Markvart

Chapter One from “Somewhere in the Music, I’ll Find Me: A Memoir”

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

Synopsis for Somewhere in the Music, I’ll Find Me: A Memoir

The book Somewhere in the Music, I’ll Find Me: A Memoir will be published in Summer 2022.

A coming-of-age story told with raw honesty, suspense, and dashes of humor of a woman’s journey in finding self-acceptance and healing in the face of grief and devastating loss.

Musician Laurie Markvart was adrift in life. In the wake of the untimely deaths of her father and preemie baby, her family life was in anguish, and her music career stalled.

Music was the remedy for anything in Laurie’s life. Looking for a quick fix, she attended an open audition in Los Angeles for X-Factor’s reality TV singing show. During the demanding two-day audition, Laurie reflected on her lifelong music journey.

As a teen, she fled her isolated Wisconsin farm town and her greatest supporter, her loving but mentally ill mother, for the famous music scenes of Minneapolis, Austin, and New York City.

In rock bands, on tours, and with Broadway auditions, Laurie had many highs and lows, successes and failures, some humorous, some dangerous. At the center of it all was a stormy relationship with her mother and Laurie’s growing anxiety disorder that plagued her most. The despair she thought would be extinguished with marriage and parenting, and for a time, it was, but it shattered with the profound loss of her father and baby.

With mounting pressure at the X-Factor audition, Laurie must push through her anxieties and heartbreaking reflections. Against all odds, with an unprepared performance, she must not only find herself in the music but a way to move forward and heal.

© Laurie Markvart. Cover art image by Jesslyn Bundy.

“Karma Burrito” from “The Cut Collection” – Scenes, scenarios, and passages cut from my not-yet-released memoir.

This is the first post in my “Cut Collection.” A group of scenes, scenarios or passages deleted from my not yet released book, Somewhere in the Music, I’ll Find Me: a Memoir.

I kept these “cut” pieces in case they’d go back in the book, but at this point they’re scrap. But not the kind of scrap you throw. They’re saved like a baking spice, used once and then shoved back into the kitchen cabinet to maybe use later. Expiration date: unknown. 

I think karma is a “thing.” It’s defined as A powerful action bringing upon inevitable results good or bad in this life or the next. Yup, that’s a big “thing.” If you believe. I don’t practice Hinduism or Buddhism, but I respect both and dabble with some of their concepts and beliefs. Especially this one. I do think what we put out, we get back. It’s the whole “universe” thing. So, if I see someone in “karma peril” (I just made that up, I think?), I’ll mention it to them. This happened in my life, and I wrote it into my memoir. And then I cut it. But, I cut the scene only because it didn’t move the full story forward. Yet, the situation did happen, and I do believe it’s worth sharing. If anyone can learn from someone else’s “karma peril,” good karma then!

Cut Scene from the book: “Karma Burrito” 

Who:
Laurie Markvart – a forty-something singer – waiting to audition
Stephanie – a forty-something friend of Laurie, along for support
Trey – early twenties singer, fresh out of college – waiting to audition
Jacob – early twenties friend of Trey, along for support
Jackson- thirty-something, experienced singer – waiting to audition

What: A group of five acquaintances (including a pair of two good friends) is waiting with over 8,000 other attendees, to audition for the reality TV show, X-Factor. The group is in their third hour of waiting. The scene is told from the perspective of the author, Laurie Markvart.

Setting: Los Angeles Sports Arena parking lot. Warm weather, in the upper 70s, but comfortable. Most people remain calm even though everyone is packed in like sardines within galvanized safety/police type barricades. There has been no announcement from organizers. There is tension in the air for the pending audition, but most of all, excitement is prevalent – just like the energy of a crowd waiting to go into a major sporting event. Except, those who are waiting are the sporting event.

When: May 2011, Los Angeles

“KARMA BURRITO” FROM “SOMEWHERE IN THE MUSIC, I’LL FIND ME: A MEMOIR”

“I am starving! I’m gonna look for food,” Jacob announces to our group. He departs and makes his way through the crowd, tapping people as he slithers through the shoulder to shoulder attendees.

“I wonder if we’ll ever see him again?” I say with a laugh.

“He better come back. I’m his ride!” chirps Trey.

A mere five minutes’ passes and Jacob appears from the crowd, right back to his stance at our circle. He hasn’t broken a sweat nor lost his breath.

“Whoa, that was quick,” Stephanie says.

“Yeah, there was no line for food. The worst part is getting in and out of this crowd. But I got an awesome burrito. Check it out.” He shows it like a prized turkey he shot for Thanksgiving.

I must admit; the burrito looks damn good, beans, cheese, and chicken oozing out of the wrapper. I’m getting hungry. It’s almost noon, and we’ve been standing here since 9am.

Jacob takes a big bite and in between chews offers, “I don’t know when I’ll eat again. And I’m low on cash, so this is good!”

“How much was that?” Jackson chimes in.

“Eight bucks,” Jacob slowly replies his mouth full. After a gulp he continues, “But check it out, I gave the girl a ten, and she must have thought I gave her a twenty because she gave me twelve back. So, hey, I got this badass burrito, and I made ten dollars.”

With a quick snap of my head, I say, “You didn’t tell her?”

Jacob eagerly stuffs another bite in his mouth, cheese dripping off his lip, “Nah, I need the money. Oh, well, too bad for her.”

“Wow, that is bad karma,” I reply like a school teacher.

He lifts his head, sheepishly, “What do you mean?”

“Well, you just put something dishonest out into the universe. You lied. Don’t you know that what you put out comes back to you?”

After my brief rant, I look around for support. The rest of our group have their heads buried in their phones, or they’re not listening.

Stephanie looks up, eventually, with a snicker, “Laurie, it’s bad karma to call someone out on their karma. It’s like double karma.”

I shift my attention to Stephanie annoyed she may be killing the point I’m trying to make to the kid. Tapping my foot, I reply, “What are you talking about, Steph? If that’s the case, you just called me out on my bad karma by telling Jacob about his! Isn’t that the same? Are we now at triple karma?”

Steph looks at me with a blank stare, wrinkles her face in confusion and looks back at Jacob. “I’m confused now. Whatever’s,” she says, diverting her gaze back to her phone.

I adjust my footing and unfold my arms. I’ve been holding them tightly against my chest ever since Jacob disclosed his shenanigans. Maybe I need to lighten up.

“Look, I’m not the karma police, and I shouldn’t call you out on it because I don’t know the true deal with karma, but my point is, that girl is now short ten bucks, and it could get her in trouble,” I say. Stephanie hums the Radiohead song Karma Police. The entire group chuckles, except me. I nudge Steph’s arm with my elbow. She stops.

Jacob squirms a bit in his stance. He takes his final bite of the burrito, rolls up its foil wrapper and shrugs, hesitantly smiling in my direction.

Maybe he didn’t get my point, or he really needs the money. I do remember being that age. Short on cash and common sense.

©Laurie Markvart

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