Sternly striding through Summit, New Jersey, my shallow breaths are transformed into crystalline clouds.
I’m walking less than half a mile before I see the sign for the coffee shop. Boxwood.
My concern for my company having arrived first is eclipsed by my motivation to source warmth from indoors. Jeff, my husband, and my mom will get here eventually. I just need some green tea.
Glass sconces dangle from the exposed brick wall on either side of a framed abstract art piece. No more than 10 people are gathered around a single stool hosting the sign-up sheet.
Microphones, speakers, and instruments are assembled in front of the exposed brick, facing a symphony of mismatched chairs. Tiny black bistro tables, velvet green armchairs, and cozy leather booths cohabit the cramped coffee shop. Blenders billow their cries announcing balanced beverages while utensils clack against delicate glass plates.
My mom stations herself in one of the bistro tables between the assembled stage and the cash register. I slide into the chair next to her without letting out a word or a breath. Green tea. I need something to clear this throat.
By the time I mumble my order to the barista, Jeff and his guitar saunter through the shop. The sight of his guitar case reminds me of our looming performance. I’m committing to a promise that in the year 2020, I’ll challenge myself to not only sing in front of people, but to perform one of my original songs.
The imminent bearing of my soul paralyzes every one of my body’s functions aside from my convulsing legs. I’m fine. Everything’s fine.
How does this work? Do I say something? Who’s running this thing?
A man with salt-and-pepper hair and square-rimmed glasses appears to be the one in charge. I get up and check in with him to see where I am on the list of performers. Number two. Deep breath.
Sweat bullets are firing on all fronts of my body underneath my grey turtleneck sweater. I sweep a shaky smile on my face while I wait to hear further instruction. Oh, my tea. I take a sip.
As more patrons pour in, the organizing party takes to the stage.
“All right, everyone. We are going to get started. Thank you for coming to Open Mic Night. We’ll start with the performers who signed up and any impromptu people can fill in along the way,” he announces.
A girl, no older than 17, bravely plows her way to the microphone. Her bangs hang just below her eyebrows as she looks down at a sheet of lyrics. You got this. I whisper to myself.
Korean lyrics float ethereally from her soul while I try to speculate on their meaning. Why are we the only unilingual country?
Although her timbre is soft, she stands fiercely in front of the crowd. Okay, I can do this.
We vigorously applaud her as she sings her last note and returns to the leather booth to join her family.
“Kaitlin May—you’re up!”
Okay, I can’t do this.
The mismatched chairs and their tenants direct their gaze toward my little corner of the coffee shop. My stool screeches as I stand abruptly, nearly knocking over my green tea. Jeff unzips his guitar case while we silently sashay over to the exposed brick wall.
“Hey, uh, everyone. I’m Kaitlin and this is my husband, Jeff. I’m going to be singing an original song: Weight of the World,” I shudder and smile simultaneously.
The first chord strums, and I know I’m locked in. The harness is on. The escape door is shut. The sweat is saturating my sweater. Why did I wear grey?
I stare into the crowd of harmless humans and notice the indifferent baristas proceeding to make drinks while I lift the weight of my own expectations off of my throat. I can do this.
I begin to sing:
You must be tired,
Putting out fires,
Wish you could retire,
But you’ve got the whole world on your shoulders
The blender lets out a resounding shriek.
When you were younger,
Always had that hunger,
You were never outdone you were—
Holding the whole world on your shoulders
A plate drops to the floor. Everyone looks to assess the damage. I continue:
You go out and break the mold,
Defy the images that are sold,
You teach your children to be bold,
While making sure they protect their souls…
Smiles. I see smiles. Wide eyes. Attentive stares. Strangers. Soul mates.
I want you to feel lighter,
Because you are a fighter,
I’ll go sit beside her,
And share the weight of the world on our shoulders.
Applause embraces me.
Unconsciously, they are echoing my lyrics back to me—lifting my self-doubt so that I can, at least for a moment, be authentically me.