In elementary school I perfected the art of the chubby best friend. I wasn’t popular, but I was popular adjacent. Invited to birthday parties, had seats saved for me, and rarely picked last. I did just fine. Actually more than fine for a new kid with braces, an overabundance of freckles, and largeness.
When I heard about the school talent show I felt it in my bones that I should enter. I was bold! I was daring! I had a mother who told me I could do ANYTHING. And at the age of ten “anything” looked a lot like getting on a stage and dancing to the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian”. I recruited my friends Penny and Susan to join me and we spent our afternoons rehearsing and perfecting our moves. We discussed costumes and hair. We daydreamed about how awesome it would feel to hear the sound of applause from the entire school.
But the week before the talent show Penny and Susan decided/realized they could not perform. I was crushed. I was heartbroken. I felt like my shot at fame was ruined and I was afraid this also meant I no longer had best friends. The world was a mess.
The teacher who was coordinating the talent show told me I could drop out, perform the dance on my own, or quickly come up with something else. I could feel the hard plastic of the cassette case in my esprit purse. I knew what I should do. I had to take this moment, step into my spotlight, rise.
I informed the teacher I would be performing by myself.
I have no idea how I didn’t talk myself out of it, but it’s a wonderful thing that I didn’t. The moment needed to happen. Me, on a stage, in front of the entire school. Me and Whitney. Believing that the children are the future.
I firmly planted my feet on the stage and emoted with so much passion and power. I lip synced Whitney as only a 10-year-old chubby girl in Birmingham, Alabama could do – with ALL of my heart, with ALL of my soul. I felt the heat from the rented stage lights on my face and it brought me life.
When the song was over there was a hush in the audience. I stumbled backwards out of the light and looked over to my 5th grade teacher in the wings. She wiped away a tear and began to clap. And then everyone was clapping.
Turns out most people thought I was doing a “dramatic performance” – but I know I wasn’t performing. I was feeling. And my feelings were simply too much to process for those kids. I get it.
When Whitney comes on the radio now I still feel a rush in my heart. I have to sing. I have to experience it.