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My friends signed me up for it a month before it happened. It was an interschollastic talent show, and it would take place in one of the city's largest theatres. More than a thousand people were expected to attend.
It fell on a Sunday. Mother's Day Sunday. I was seventeen, and flat broke. I promised my mother a trophy, weeks before it happened. That would be my present to her. But as luck would have it, I caught a bad cold days before the event. By that weekend my throat was shredded. I could barely speak - everything came out in guttural bursts, fighting through the phlegm.
I was entered in the soloist category. Nobody up on stage except me and my guitar. It was potentially disastrous!
I went to bed early on Saturday, with a bit of an ear ache. Took a few shots of firewater before hitting the sack. I decided to postpone any final decision until the following morning.
When I woke up, the house was filled with the smell of pancakes and bacon. My sister always made our mother breakfast on Mother's Day. I had nothing to give her. That made my mind up. I would go up on stage no matter what. If I made a fool of myself, so be it. At least I would be able to tell my mother I tried.
My head felt a little less congested, but my throat was still pretty raw. I showered, got dressed, grabbed my guitar and headed out there. Participants had to be there two hours before it began.
My friends were there for me that day. Even one of my teachers showed up. You had to pay to get in, so it showed a lot support on their part. One of my buddies smuggled in a flask of brandy, so I could soften up my throat. It worked wonders. It helped me build up my courage as well.
The competition began with vocal groups. There were at least a dozen of those. Then the bands went on. Then duets. Finally, the soloists.
I think there were about ten of us. I was called up somewhere in the middle.
The world is a very different place when you're standing alone on a stage. It's like there are a million spotlights on you; like the whole world is looking just at you. The crowds of young people were messing around, mostly there to party. But all in all it wasn't very unruly, and you could feel most eyes upon you. I was nervous.
I set the microphones up, for my guitar and myself, and did one quick final tuning off to the side. Then I began to strum my guitar. It was the only thing I could hear in that immense auditorium. I was playing one of my own songs. "Why," it was called, and it was a protest song. When my voice broke in, I could've sworn it cracked. But as I went on, I felt more confident and sang stronger. Though I was looking out at the crowd, and alternately glancing at my chords, I couldn't really see the people. It was all just one blurry mass of humans. I had no idea what kind of response I was getting.
When the song ended, the sound of applause filled my ears. I walked off the stage, only to find groups of people standing and cheering in my direction. A choir of female singers ran out to the passageway to scream and cheer at me histerically. People were cutting me off to shake my hand, and pat me on the back. It was a little scary, actually. But all in all, it was the most rewarding and exciting feeling I've ever come across. It was right there and then that I decided I wanted to have a future in music.
After the performance, we waited around for the awards ceremony. I wanted to get home so I could at least spend a little time with my mother. It wouldn't be much longer.
I took the bus home. Carefully cradling my guitar, because I didn't have a case for it. I knew my mother would be waiting for me, concerned that I would be feeling bad if I hadn't won. Concerned that I would be worried that she'd be upset because I didn't have anything for her.
I raced up the steps to our apartment building, and rang the doorbell for the guard to open. My mother must have heard me arriving, because when I approached our door I found it open. She was standing there with an inquiring look on her face. I made a sad look, an apologetic one, as if to say "I'm sorry, ma, I tried," and she nearly broke into tears, as she was stretching her arms out to comfort me. And right then, from behind my back, I pulled out the first place trophy and placed it in her hands. No expression on my mother's face has ever pleased me more. She was overjoyed, and hugging and kissing me, the trophy gently set off to the side, now only an afterthought.
I have fond memories of those days, now so many years later. I know they'll never come again.