Montgomery Blair High School
Rrrrrrr r r r
I turned the key of the ignition 90 degrees as the rumbling of my battered, old yellow station wagon started.
As I began to backup my slanted driveway, the exhaust pipe dragged against the ground.
At least the poor car still had a radio.
I stopped, adjusted my seat, though no one else used the car, and began to make my way towards the city. My commute to work every day took exactly 32 minutes without traffic, just enough time to catch the radio show Shine and Rise on 92.7 FM.
It was 8:22, eight minutes before the “Sing That Verse” challenge began. I turned up the volume as it neared time so I could hear Bill Williams introduce today’s notes. Today he seemed to take forever as he chatted with his guest Paula Brown, a local florist advertising her spring special. Finally, it was time.
“Welcome, listeners, to today’s edition of Sing…That…Verse!”
My body tensed. I clenched the steering wheel and leaned in as far as I could towards the radio.
“This is how the rules work. We play one measure of a song, you listen, call in, and sing the next verse of the song. The 27th caller to get it right wins $7,000! Now, who’s ready to play?”
I sat at a red light. Both of my hands were on the wheel and my foot pressed on the break as I waited for the notes to play through the worn out speakers and be swallowed by the cracked leather seats.
When the light turned green, I stepped on the gas and listened as the notes of the song rang out.
The notes hung in the air for an eternity, ringing in my car. They echoed in my ears as I searched my mind for any recognition of the notes. After what seemed to be minutes the song came to me. It was Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” an old favorite of mine.
I looked up from my bowl of grandma’s famous mac’n’cheese. I watched as she climbed the steps of a stool carefully, balancing herself on the wall to reach the highest cabinet. She came down swiftly with a heavy black box in her hands and a smile that lit up her face. She moved across the room to a small chest where she placed the box.
I looked back to my mac’n’cheese and continued to shovel it into my mouth. When I turned back, I saw a cloud of dust floating in the air, glittering as it caught the rays of the sun from the nearby window, as my grandma swept off the records she found hiding.
I watched as she lay the needle on it and it began to spin. Grandma grabbed my hand and led me off the chair. She danced and sung with great expression as I moved timidly on the side barely picking up my feet.
“People always told me be careful of what you do
And don’t go around breaking young girls’ hearts,” she sang holding her hand to her mouth as a microphone.
The song played on without her, but she stopped.
“C’mon, sing!” she said excitedly over the dim of the music, “Do you want me to change the song?”
“No,” I responded. That wasn’t it.
I swerved into the far right lane, leaving cars honking and slamming on their brakes in my rearview mirror. I made the sharp turn into the parking lot of the Burger King, scraping my tires against the curb. I pulled my car haphazardly into a spot, straddling two spaces, and dug through my bottomless purse to find my phone.
My hand continued to fish around the black unknown, until I felt the cold screen. I blindly pulled it out, retrieving receipts and wrappers with it. The keypad clicked as I tapped in the numbers I had memorized. 4-1-5… 2-7-9… 6… I stopped.
Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. I had already been late to work two times this week, it was Wednesday, and what were the chances of me being the 27th caller? I gathered my things strewn across the floor of the passenger seat and shifted my car to reverse when I had second thoughts.
It was a Tuesday, that day in 5th grade I had been excited about for months. I woke up and went through my normal routine. I sat at our kitchen window as the sun reflected off of the snow. I ran through my lines and my songs as I waited for the clock to tell me it was time to go. At the bus I told my friends about the part I wanted and ran through the script with them.
When I got to class, I couldn’t focus. My mind wandered until 1:27 when it was time to walk to the music room.
I walked down the hallway looking straight forward with my head high and shoulders back just as my mom told me. My feet, in black mary jane’s, stepped across the school’s contrasting black and white tiles. I turned the brass knob and stepped through the doorway into the classroom.
My teacher sat on an uneven stool facing a music stand with papers balancing on the edge. I walked over and stood behind it. My teacher motioned with his hands for me to begin. I swallowed and took a deep breath but nothing came out.
I tried again. I breathed in, swallowed, and opened my mouth…
I looked up at my teacher. He gave me a blank stare.
At first I felt the heat rush to my head making my ears and cheeks glow, and then I felt it diminish, leaving me in a cold sweat. I knew I was ready for this, I had prepared for weeks, but I just couldn’t do it. I stood staring at my teacher as I saw him mouth the words, “Delilah, go, sing, be brave.” I couldn’t hear him though, I heard an infinite silence.
I just ran. I didn’t have time to think or to try again. I sprinted as fast as my legs would carry me as tears fell down my cheeks dripping off my chin. I made it to the bathroom and flung open the door to safety.
I banged my head against the steering wheel, slamming the horn. That was 5th grade. I was 27 years old and still scared to sing? I tried many new things in the time since, but singing wasn’t one of them.
I switched from reverse to drive and swung out of the parking lot. The traffic had gotten worse and it became clear I would be late. I sat waiting in the long line of cars inching closer, hoping it would make the cars ahead of me move.
I listened as Shine and Rise played today’s top hits, waiting for the winner of the contest to be decided.
I sat on the floor of Mary’s basement as she clicked over from family classics to today’s top hits. It was Mary’s 15th birthday party and she had just set up her brand new karaoke machine on the TV.
Everyone was putting in suggestions and scrambling to find a partner to sing their song with. I stayed seated, looking down at my lap, as I let everyone else figure out the order they would perform in.
The first group went. They really hammed it up with a choreographed dance to match the words they belted out. They continued through the rest of the song and took their unashamed bows.
Mary flipped to the next song.
“Hey, this is a solo,” she said looking around. “Oooohh, Delilah, this one’s perfect for you!”
I turned and walked towards the food pretending I didn’t hear them. I thought I was in the clear when I felt a hand grip my wrist and yank me in the opposite direction. Before I knew it I was pulled in front of everyone with the ticker on the line of the song already moving at a rapid pace. I looked around, my eyes enlarged as I tried to muster up the courage to start. Everyone sat on the couch staring at me expectantly as I fumbled with the microphone.
“Delilah, do you know how it works?” I heard Sophia say.
I waited, hoping they would move on from me and forget this even happened. But I was wrong. Laughs began to spread across the couch like a wildfire. I stood, unsure what to do as my friends pointed and snickered. I tried to start but the tears in my eyes blurred my vision. Combine this with the tight feeling I felt growing in my throat, I thought I was drowning.
I took a sip of my coffee. The traffic began to loosen as we passed the convention center. I felt a sense of relief fall over me as I neared closer to my work. It looked as though maybe I wouldn’t be late. I pulled past the park where the food trucks lined up and went through the traffic circle.
I took the second exit onto the street of the restaurant I worked and found parking on the street. I reached down to pick up my purse and found that my phone had dropped between the seats.
I picked up my phone and stared at it. In that split second, faster than I thought I knew how, I punched a few numbers in. I cautiously lifted it to my ear. It rang three times before I heard the radio station DJ lift the phone and answer.
“Am I the 27th caller?” I exclaimed, though my breath was fleeting.
“Yes, you are! Whenever you’re ready?”
I swallowed and took a deep breath. I opened my mouth and…
the first note escaped my lips.