My family has always been religious and involved in our church. When I was younger, my parents helped the priest give the host, my sister was an altar server, and my grandmother arranged bake sales. This was about the time that my mother, to my great distress, felt I needed to become involved too.
I was dragged kicking to the church. It wasn’t so much that I despised it, but I was only ten and wanted to be doing more exciting things like watching TV and eating Cocoa Puffs. The first group I was pushed into was the Altar Server Society, where my sister belonged (as if she didn’t have enough chance to boss me around). I tried getting out of it; I whined, cried and screamed. I even threatened to call Child Protective Services and inform them of my mother’s blatant violation of the child labor laws, but in the end I submitted to her iron-fisted oppression.
Fortunately, I was a klutz. My first service ended in shattered glass and I was never allowed to help again. I don’t know if they were trying to punish me or save what little china they had left but it was definitely safer for the church.
My next assignment was helping the nursery school teachers during mass. This didn’t seem too bad. I have always enjoyed little kids and would get to miss the droning sermon. Plus, I heard there was snack. I figured the children would be six at the oldest, but most were actually seven or eight with a couple of nine-year-olds! And the other helpers were teenagers who saw me as just another little kid. Between the kids being too close to my age and the helpers too old, I had little power. I hate having little power.
Because of the circumstances, this also ended in disaster. By my fourth week, I was dismissed for leading a rebellion against the teachers because they refused to give us extra animal crackers. I still believe that I was in the right. The next Sunday it seemed the sermon was especially long and boring. It just happened to be about “Responsibility” and “Serving the Church.” I could feel the priest’s eyes piercing me like daggers. My mom made things even worse; as punishment for my behavior, I was forced to sit all alone in the front row, the row of shame. All through the service I thought about coloring books, jump ropes and animal crackers.
By now my mother was getting very annoyed. She wanted my cooperation and I wanted to be left to my cartoons. Unfortunately, Mom was determined to find something for me to do and came up with choir. Choir was different because I had no idea what was coming at me. I suppose my mother was surprised that I didn’t raise hell but truth be told, I was almost excited.
When I entered the choir room the first time, it was neither shocking nor frightening and when we began practice, I fell in love. I already knew most of the songs and singing made me feel amazing. The only problem was that I didn’t have much talent. It frustrated me that I wasn’t as good as some of the others and I became disappointed with myself. While at first my parents had rejoiced over my good temperament, they were now mourning. Every Saturday evening, I would come stomping home in an awful mood. Then things grew even worse.
When my sister saw how easy I had it, she quit the Altar Server Society and joined the choir. This wouldn’t have been a problem if she hadn’t been so naturally terrific! The director would compliment her on every note while I only received criticism. I had always lived in the shadow of her talents. Each week I loathed choir more and would beg my parents to allow me to quit. To them, though, finding choir was like striking gold, there was no way they would let it go.
Things became overwhelming when my sister was given the solo I had been praying for. When she was congratulated on her superb singing, I politely excused myself and ran to the bathroom. She tried to comfort me, but strategically withdrew after I threw a roll of paper towels at her head. I may have overreacted but it hurt. Of course, my sister told on me, and, of course, my parents made me the object of their disappointment. Wanting to know why I freaked out didn’t make me feel better and I spent the next week in my room. I didn’t know what to do, so I sang. I sang all the time, which did not please my sister. Every so often she would come and bang on my door with a shoe, telling me to shut up.
As I was singing “On Eagle’s Wings” for the seventy-sixth time, I came to a profound realization: choir was different. It wasn’t about beating my sister or getting solos. The feeling I got there couldn’t be taken away. Choir was an excuse to sing at the top of my lungs. Choir made me feel special. I was proud of myself for realizing that because for a 10-year-old, that was pretty insightful.
As time passed I became more and more dedicated to choir and I did pour my heart and soul into every note. My sister, though still better than me, did nothing more than what was expected. She didn’t have the passion I did. And so I began to get more solos than her and finally I was asked to join the adult choir, leaving my sister in the dust. It felt good, to say the least.
When my mom became much more relaxed about church service my sister quit choir. I could have too, but I was much too infatuated. It has been years since my parents tore me away from my Cocoa Puffs, and I’m still singing.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.