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I Sang It to the Wall

The dream has many versions and elements that interchange themselves over time, but lately the dream has been roughly this:

I inevitably get a letter from the keeper of high school diplomas, whomever that may be, and he tells me that because I missed so much school during my senior year, they have to revoke my diploma, and I’ll have to go back to high school and take half a year of classes in order to get it back. 

So I do.  I go to school and I can’t remember my locker combination, so I have to make my way to the front office, and as I do, I pass swarms of students and realize I don’t know any of them.  All my friends are obviously gone.  At the front office they give me my schedule—I never end up finding out my locker combination.  Depending on the version, I either begin in band, or I begin in chorus.  The iteration that I’ve been having lately starts me out in chorus, where the chorus teacher tells me what the musical is for that year, and that he’s actually really happy I’m back so that I can be in it.

I then have this inner struggle with myself over both wanting to play the lead, but also not wanting to draw attention to the fact that I am 28 years old in high school.  Last night’s musical was Phantom of the Opera, and the dream ended with me resigning myself to the fact that even though I’d wanted to play Christine Daae since I was 10, it wouldn’t be right, and it would make more sense to have me play Madame Giry.

 I have a dream of this sort perhaps three or four times a week.  They used to really upset me, but now I’m more upset by the fact that I still have them, rather than the content.

So the other day I was walking to the train from work.  I veered right off of Central Park South, rounding my way to the top of Columbus Circle, and across the street from the train stop was a man sitting on a stool with a pad and paper and a sign that said “Poems, for any occasion.”

I thought it was both clever and stupid.  Clever because I’d never seen something like this before, and maybe a tourist would think it was cool to have some rando in Central Park write them a poem they could frame or something like that…and stupid because all the poems I’ve ever loved have seemed so carefully crafted and masterfully planned out that it never occurred to me you could just write a poem spur of the moment.

And I began to think about my favorite poem (not that I really know THAT many poems).  But my favorite poem is by Sara Teasdale, and it is called “There Will Be Rest.”

There will be rest, and sure stars shining

Over the rooftops crowned with snow,

A reign of rest, serene forgetting,

The music of stillness holy and low.

I will make this world of my devising

Out of a dream in my lonely mind.

I shall find the crystal of peace –above me

Stars I shall find.

Sara Teasdale

I first heard the poem my junior year of high school when I sang in the All State Mixed Chorus.  There is an SSAATTBB vocal piece written by Frank Ticheli using this poem as lyrics.  And the first time the chorus sang through the piece, I remember wanting to cry.  We hadn’t rehearsed it at all yet.  The director was just having us plow through the piece to see how well we knew it and to hear how it was going to sound with all these hand-picked voices from across the state of New York.  It was incredible, and haunting.

Later that year, we sang it in the select chorus in my high school.  I remember being so proud, using my All-State copy with all my previous markings, already knowing the alto 1 part better than everyone else (yeah, I was that kid).

That kid.  That kid, while plagued by all the insecurities any high school kid faces, had NO insecurities about her talents and abilities.  She had so much confidence that she was going to sing for the rest of her life, sing on a Broadway stage, sing at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Radio City…

I don’t know what happened to that kid. 

I mean, yeah, I do.  She had the rug pulled out from under her and got very sick.

But that was so long ago now.  It’s over.  I know it’s over.

And yet no matter how many times I tell myself I’m well and healthy and strong, there’s a voice inside me reminding me that I’m not her anymore.  I’m not the raw, fearless, HUNGRY singer/dancer/actor I was.

I think lately I’m starting to accept that I may never be, and that maybe that’s okay…so then what now?  It’s been ten years.  Ten long years of recovery, denial, suppression, anxiety, PTSD, guilt, shame, anger…all while trying—and for all intents and purposes, succeeding—to be a functional human being. 

I wrote in a blog post last year about giving my sister my old bedroom.  About how that was “her” room.  Old Jesse’s room.  High school, singing, happy, eager, HUNGRY Jesse.  I wrote that I don’t know her anymore, cannot even remember what it’s like to BE her.  To see what she saw, to think as she had. That she’s gone.

After thinking about that poem the other day, after seeing the poet in Central Park, I got home and put on the recording of Frank Ticheli’s There Will Be Rest.

I sat cross-legged in my black leather chair and I sang it to the wall.  The whole thing, all six minutes and twenty-three seconds.  It’s still there in my brain—that tricky alto line with all it’s dissonance and awkwardness.  Still there in me–every rhythm, crescendo, decrescendo, plosive, cut-off…

I sang it to the wall, and halfway through I began to cry….because it hit me that she’s still in there somewhere.  If I can sing that whole thing ten years later…there’s proof that I was her.  That I’m still tethered to her, and maybe that’s why I keep dreaming about her.  Maybe she’s trying to tell me she’s still there, and not to miss her or mourn for her.

And maybe this is all a crock of shit and I’m just on my period and hormonal.

But I don’t think so.  Call it the power of poetry, or call it the power of music…maybe call it the power of art in general.  But I don’t think I’ve ever felt it’s power so clearly as I did when singing to my wall. It was probably one of my most important performances. 

I shared the recording with my mother, who agreed that it’s such a beautiful piece, but such a sad poem.  And I was kind of surprised because I never thought of it as sad.  Yes, I know Sara Teasdale committed suicide…so if you think about it in that context…yes, it’s very sad.

But I guess—even before being very ill—I always thought it was about the peace that we will find in death, so that we don’t have to fear it.

And if my illness gave me anything worth praising, it is that I have no fear of death.  I fear having to say goodbye, yes, and I sometimes fear the pain there may be leading up to it.  But death…the actual moment of death—I think that it must be very peaceful.  I think there will be the purest, most holy rest, and that’s what Sara was saying.

I sit here and write this and silently scold myself for writing about illness again, but then it occurs to me that maybe that is the “what now?”  Maybe I spend the rest of my life coming to peace with what happened to me.  Maybe that’s my purpose.  And maybe my search for peace with my illness is something that could be helpful to other people, like Sara’s poem was her search for peace, and it helped/helps me.

Have a good week.

By Jesse Pardee

Stream of consciousness blather about my blackheads and mindfulness quest.