Silence. Moths flutter around my neck, lava slides through my arms, and my stomach plays a game of rugby. The adjudicator sits with his pencil, expectant, waiting. The audience dances across my peripheral vision, and my pianist stares down my back. They all wait, as did I, for the climax of my life, the spectacular breakthrough of talent and recognition. The performance that would earn the awe of my competitors, and grant me the self-worth of a talented virtuoso. The accomplishment that would secure honorable college admittance letters and the pride of my parents. My fingers tremble with anticipation and my cello buzzes with exhilaration. I pause, then bring my bow down on the string with great fervor.
My muscles tense, streams of sweat flow down my face. I fly through the phrases, my fingers dashing down the strings, my bow gliding across the cello. The adjudicator maintains his poker face as I crease my forehead in concentration, trying to express musicality. Then a mistake. A muddy phrase. A missed note. A wrong entrance. I watch with horror as hours of practice and years of experience suddenly dissolve, leaving only a wishful teen and his cello. I shake my head, but my brain is trapped a toilet, stuck in the downward swirl of disappointment. Finally, the last note comes, and I manage a feeble bow. The applause I leave unacknowledged, believing it to be purely out of politeness or pity. The adjudicator comes on stage and congratulates me on various aspects of my technique, but my focus has fled the room. My face is burning red, the tips of my ears have already melted away. The judge finishes talking and I take my seat; I should listen to the next players but I am already dreaming away, imagining my next performance. The improvements, the increased effort in practice, the pride that would come in the next performance. I am lost in a future without defeat. The next girl begins her performance, and she is good. In fact, I later found out she went to win the competition. But in that moment, I cannot hear her. I am in my alternate universe, telling myself I will play even better than her. Next time.