When I was eight, I was informed that the mountain behind my town was actually an extinct volcano. A part of me assumed that a mistake had been made and that the mountain was actually going to explode with activity at any time. I would anxiously imagine a devastating volcanic eruption. We would all be swallowed up in lava and ash like the pictures of Pompeii that I had seen in a two-page spread inside a copy of National Geographic.
We would be coated in debris and made into statues. Years later, tourists would take pictures of me spending my last moments eating a PB&J on French bread as a hollow in solidified ash. Gruesome, I know, but that was just the way my brain operated. I was terrified of everything that would leave me dead, injured, or embarrassed, leaving me with a lack of confidence that I equated with caution. This was a mindset I maintained until I was a junior in high school.
Oscar had been given the concert band trumpet solo over me. I was slightly irritated at the time but decided that I could live with this decision when I considered my fairly severe performance anxiety. At the time, I danced with the marching band, played the trumpet, competed in Lincoln-Douglas Debate, was the district champ in oral interpretation, and was very involved in musical theater. Everything I did involved performance or public speaking in some capacity, but I was terrified all the time. In the interest of participating in the things I loved, I would swallow my fear with great difficulty, the same way someone would take a horse pill without water. Only the people who saw me directly before and after would suspect that something was amiss. They could take in my shaky hands and the stress hives that bloomed all over my chest and the lower third of my left cheek.
Trumpet, however, is a different beast entirely. Your fear is projected through the instrument. Your throat closes, so does your sound. The muscles in your body and face become tense, a muffled effect is produced and the air you are producing becomes shallow. High notes are a pipe dream. A concert band competition is not the place for this kind of occurrence. I was aware of this and knew I was better off playing in unison with the musicians around me. Our sounds would all blend together. Everyone hears the collective but no one hears you.
Oscar did not possess my same ideology. He was fully prepared to do the opposite of blend and to do it with gusto. This worked well for him until the day that it didn’t. He had overplayed and was tired. The conductor snapped his baton at the point in the music when Oscar was supposed to enter independently. Oscar’s sound was weak and trembled as he played. The conductor cut him off.
“Anna, have you practiced this?”
I had. I did not have the time to be flooded with the usual horror that came around when I played by myself. I got through the music with few issues. I hit the high note Oscar had cracked. The conductor nodded.
“That sounds better. You can play it from now on.”
The fact that I sounded better than Oscar was validating but also terrifying. I developed a hive that did not leave my chest until after the performance that took place in May.
But before that, a moment without fear had led to an opportunity. The world is a whole lot bigger than a band of fifty led by a conductor, but the same rules still apply. I still get scared and feel unsure much of the time, but I now know that forgetting about the fears that hold you back is the first step toward moving forward. Thoughts of worst-case scenarios have a tendency to overwhelm and suffocate you like the ash from a volcanic eruption. Being buried under the weight of thoughts like “was that sarcasm” and “wait, was that romaine lettuce” always feels like an ominous and real possibility.