Vulnerability at Best

October 13, 2011
By , South Riding, VA
That familiar acidic taste and suffocating flame fought their way up the back of my throat; with each breath that I took, it got painfully harder to swallow. Through the rolling tears, which I tried to hold in, I rushed off the field with my head downwards and the intensions of being unnoticed, but the pressure within me lunged forward, and I nearly fell. Naively, I had thought I could go on the rest of my life invisible and overlooked, but that night, when I made my debut under the name Freedom Colorguard, I felt exposed.


Gathered with my team to reflect on our performance, I peered around to my other six teammates, absorbed the visages of disappointment among their sweating faces, but averted my face once they caught me staring. Using the back of my worn glove and hiding my actions behind the flag that was still waving slightly in the September air, I fanatically wiped away the evidence of shame. My spectator friends tugged at my arm, and overwhelmingly they spoke all at once. I received the generic “Good job!” and “I could hardly recognize you!” but the whole time I looked away, trying to disentangle myself from them; I had thought failures were easy to cover up, but this one lingered in the air and mocked me. I couldn’t bear another meaningless compliment and made my way through the dense masses of spectators. I pushed through many faces and noticed how dart-like their eyes were. Desperately, I sought after the outdoor bathroom for privacy. That night, no one comforted me; even my instructor didn’t tell me that it was okay, because my performance couldn’t be erased.

Admittedly, I had never done anything as physically and mentally demanding as guard. Originally, I was fooled into thinking that guard connotes girls waving flags at football games; little did I know that it’s a sport of the arts, and that it’s as fierce and exhilarating as other sports. So I received a rude awakening during band camp, for each mistake I made was castigated with countless laps around the parking lot. Each count I was off, I had to do push-ups. Each time I apologized, I was told to stop apologizing and to get it right. Each time I was on the verge of tears, I was told that they didn’t matter. I wasn’t used to being told that my flaws weren’t okay; I never once had been judged for the precision of my work. The blunt truth of reality was unbearable, and all I wanted during those sweat and tear-stained laps was to stop and go home.


I knew I was crazy, but I found myself at auditions the next season. Then it struck me; I came back because there’s something beautiful behind all the blood, sweat, and tears. It’s me.

Three seasons later, I huddled with my team as we got ready to walk in and perform our final show for the AIA Championships at Chesapeake. The crowd’s enthusiasm for the preceding guard was apparent by the resonance of their cheer through the cinder-block walls. Their show was at its climax and nearly over. Among each other, we whispered a few words of strength to chill our pre- finals anxiety. I didn’t understand why that flaming lump in the back of my throat formed, but I burst into tears once my instructor concluded, “This is it.” My teammates noticed my involuntary cascade of emotions before I did myself; I was about to face the largest crowd I’ve ever seen, yet I merely stood weeping. However, those waterworks were of a different kind, because this time I didn’t run away; I wanted the judges’ eyes to watch, and to never forget me.





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