I was never afraid of anything. As an elementary school tomboy, I would pick up spiders, eat worms, and sleep without a nightlight. As I got older, I wore wild outfits and stuck to my opinion no matter how much ridicule I received. In high school, I signed up for the hardest courses I could, unlike my friends. Failure to me was not marked by bad grades but by doing less than my best. Now, nearing my last year of high school, I have finally found my vulnerability.
It was a Wednesday evening in August. Wide-eyed, I entered a blues club with two friends and sat at the table with the best view of the stage. At 9: 30, most of the regular customers entered. They knew the waitresses' names and the location of the bathrooms, the best dishes and the most comfortable seats. Cowboy boots scuffed the wooden floor and guitar cases hit the chairs; rough hands lit cigarettes and worn hats covered balding heads.
The first band set up their equipment on stage. Preoccupied with tuning, the bassist launched a series of harmonics that made fine ripples in my water. The guitarist adjusted the height of his microphone, a worn Stratocaster bouncing against his round gut. Like a child perfectionist playing with toys, the drummer constantly rearranged his set. Without warning, the band started. The bass provided a steady beat, the drums mixed complicated rhythms with necessary downbeats, and the guitarist's fingers moved as fast as caffeine-injected lab rats. An experienced lead singer twirled flamboyantly on cowboy boot heels, the microphone in one hand and a drink in the other. My jaw dropped and whatever was left of my confidence dissolved.
"We're up next!" I whispered, "What are we playing?"
"Let's do an A funk jam. We'll trade off eight bar solos."
Suddenly, I froze. I could handle playing, but soloing would be too much. I looked at the faces around me and imagined them grimacing at my wrong notes. They were all strangers, but their judgment mattered to me. The shield of familiarity that stood between my usual high school audience and me was no longer there.
Before I could object, the audio technician topped the microphone and announced our names. After tuning our instruments, we were ready to play. The four count-off clicks of the drumsticks sounded like bone on bone, the first wailing guitar note sent a chill down my spine. I felt beads of perspiration drip down my face like tears.
Pushing my fears aside, I started playing. My downbeats were steady, my upbeats pushed the song along, and my percussive harmonies danced with the hollow tom hits and chilling cymbal crashes of the drums. I felt my body relax as I fell into the groove of the song.
All of a sudden, Greg was nodding to me to solo. In a rush to start, I forgot my nervousness. My right hand started slapping and popping; the syncopated notes drizzled onto the guitar chords like Tabasco on scrambled eggs. I floated into my paradise once more, trading solos with Greg for the rest of the song. As we played a few notes, I heard the audience roar with applause. I walked off the stage in a stupor, met by handshakes and words of congratulations.
Sometimes the only way to get over a fear is to force yourself to endure it. If I had not been coerced into facing my fear of soloing, I would have missed out on one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. fl
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.