Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Stepping Out

            Music floated across the stark landscape of a gray skyline, weathered gravestones, drifted snow, and frozen tundra.  A mahogany casket rested on a platform above the deep hole in the ground.  The only color displayed, amidst the mourners dressed in black, was that of the bright red tulips in the flower arrangement draped on the box.  As the notes to “Amazing Grace” ended, the minister’s voice spoke of my dear friend of thirty years.  I gazed across the white snow, being transported to the past. 

            We dreamed in the early days.  For Christmas, we received the music and scripts to our favorite play.  Within a few short months, we memorized all the songs and lines. 

             Kari wore denim jeans with the legs rolled up to mid-calf with a plain white button up blouse.  Her brown hair bobbed up and down in a ponytail with a red bandana holding it in place.  I scrambled down the hall after her in a matching outfit hoping not to bump into any of my classmates as I carried my guitar.  Mrs. Eckloft said our audition was right after school with no lollygagging.  At her classroom door, we deposited our books.  I pulled my instrument from the case as Kari opened the door.  Ignoring the students in the room, I strummed the first cords to “Hopelessly Devoted To You” as Kari belted out the lyrics.  After this song, I continued on to “There Are Worse Things I Can Do” while I sang solo as Rizzo. 

“Mrs. Eckloft,” Kari began her plea to produce the musical as I handed the drama teacher the scripts and music, “we have been working on all of this.  Mr. Sawyer says he can help with the music and he will give extra credit for the band kids who will play in the performance.  Mrs. Ludlow said her home economics classes can help with the costumes.”

Thirty minutes later we finished our presentation.  Mrs. Eckloft agreed to take on the project.  Our little community gave us a standing ovation at both performances.  We left high school ready to conquer the entertainment business on Broadway for Kari and on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry for myself. 

As we set out for college, we determined to conquer the world.  Reality struck.  Kari’s father died our freshman year causing her to run out of money.  She returned to our home town to help her mother.  First she worked as a waitress saving her tips for college only to use them when her car broke down or for a wedding dress.  Day after day she trudged through the daily tasks of working and raising children.  Her brown hair turned gray and wrinkles began to form.  We talked often.  She avoided conversations about our dreams.

I finished college with a degree in business.  I justified selling out my dream for the time being to learn how to handle the finances for a future band.  Instead of joining one, I also raised children and trudged to the office. I returned home and worked at the local bank.  Nashville remained in my thoughts but as yet I hadn’t traveled to the fabled city of country music.  The days blended together with small highlights of playing for church.  Raising my own children, I claimed no time to volunteer at the local theater or join a band. 

I watched a hawk fly overhead jolting me from my thoughts.  As the bird swooped down to land on a branch, I remembered my last conversation with Kari over coffee.

My dear friend sat across from me at our table in the back corner of the Java Hut.  She drank her tall vanilla latte as I drank a tall hazelnut latte.  Every Wednesday morning we met to talk about our kids and work.  Her dainty fingers pulled apart the cinnamon roll in front of her.  What happened to her?  In high school she wore all the latest fashions and sported trendy hairstyles.  As I gazed at her drab clothes and twenty year old hair style, I tried to see the actress within.  Instead, she matched the cloudy day.

“They actually put the bright purple sample against the portrait of their family.”  Kari worked in the craft store as a framer for all artwork that came into the store.  “It took me thirty minutes to convince the woman she needed to use a soft gray to keep the formality of the occasion.  Purple, my god, it would have been hideous.  There are days I would love to just quit and do something fun.”

“I have a great idea,” I interrupted, grabbing the opportunity.  “‘Grease’ is playing in the city next fall.  Tickets go on sale in a couple of weeks.   With all our kids out of the nest, let’s go.  It could be an awesome girl’s weekend for us.”

I watched as Kari’s shoulders stiffened.  A wall seemed to materialize between us.

“You know that I work on Sundays in the afternoon.”  She tugged on her grandma blouse.  “I don’t want to be rushed to get to work after staying up all night.”

“Listen to you.  You sound like you are eighty years old.  One tired afternoon would be worth the fun of seeing our play.  In fact, I was thinking it could springboard us into volunteering at the theater here in town.  I could run the music and you the stage.  It would be like old times.”

She laughed.  “Regretting your past lately?  I am too old for that stuff.”

“But Kari, you said you wanted to do something fun.”  Before I could continue, her cell phone rang.  The store called her in to help with something.  Or at least that was her excuse as she left without finishing her coffee. Five days later, she died in an icy car accident never stepping out to live her dream of being an actress. 

As the casket lowered, I realized that I regretted not doing more with my love of music.  I hadn’t been in a band for years.  I never tried to conquer Nashville, let alone go to visit.  Kari and I were artistic versions of Sandra Dee never stepping out on the ledge to grasp our Danny, our dream.

I hummed.  Those closest to me turned.  Softly the words spilled from my mouth.  Look at me, there has to be something more than what they see, Wholesome and pure, oh so scared and unsure, a poor man's Sandra Dee.”  I hummed the notes to continue the reprise when Sandy decides it is time to take her life to the cliff. 

A gust of wind picked up a patch of powdery snow twisting it up in the air to softly settle on the ground once more.  Taking a deep breath I belted out the last lines.  “Sandy, you must start anew, don't you know what you must do, Hold your head high, take a deep breath and sigh, Goodbye to Sandra Dee.”

I raced from the funeral to my home computer; I booked a flight to Tennessee.  A message of confirmation for the plane ticket joined the new message from a local band looking for a guitar player.  My audition was scheduled for later today.  I may not become the next Lorrie Morgan, like I dreamed in high school, but I would begin to live my dreams once again.

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