It was a late Friday afternoon in early March, exactly one hour after I had entered my counselor’s office. She always gave me the full hour when I needed it. This time of year, I always needed it – far enough away from the holiday season that its festivities were no more than a concept and far enough away from Portland spring that we all knew it would be months before we could rely on the sun shining. Only this year I needed her time more than usual.
Things were shifting. Dave still hadn’t found a job and his mother was started to lose weight, barely tipping the scale fifteen pounds lower than what her doctor recommended. When she got back home, she set the microwave for thirty minutes so that her ice cream would soften. Dave and I woke up one Saturday morning, dark from the overcast sky, and he declared his intention to move back Sacramento.
My therapist quizzed me about all the symptoms of depression and I passed with flying colors –I slept and ate too much, was irritable, couldn’t focus on anything, and had lost joy in anything I did. I told her that while I could distract myself with work and exercise, as soon as I stopped and sat still, the emptiness returned. Baseline was a stone heart my soul tried to fill with surrender. Nothing I tried held off the depression for longer than the time I invested in the task. I believed I was telling the truth but was lucky enough to discover I wasn’t.
Seven blocks down the street from my counselor’s office I entered my second therapy location. I had wanted to try the new karaoke bar with its unique set up for some time, and this was the day I committed to doing so. Since karaoke is typically available at night, I wasn’t doing much of it lately, unable to leave my house once the dark settled in. The Capitol was different; past the brightly-lit cocktail lounge with its pristine glass wall of bottles perfectly sorted into an alcoholic rainbow, was an unmarked door painted black. Behind it was a room lined with a bank of vinyl seats, two monitors on opposite walls, and a remote control to operate the karaoke machine. As long as the bar was open, anyone could hand over their ID and credit card to receive a microphone or two and start singing.
People could come and go as they pleased; the room was not available to reserve. Instead, you sang with whomever entered the space, entered a song into the queue via cell phone or remote, and took the mic. At first, I was alone. The revolving green dance lights and disco ball were completely out of place in my solitude. For the first time in a while, I felt awkward taking the microphone and choosing a song; I didn’t see the point of singing, mostly because I wasn’t seeing the point in anything.
I sat in the corner and punched in Olivia Newton John’s Magic deciding its haunting, soothing tones were a good match for the moment. I thought about how I sang this song in Arkansas when encouraged to sing my passion. Within a few bars, I felt the warmth of song fill me like a Buddhist breath. I was healing.
Moments after I finished a group of four women came in and looked a bit surprised they didn’t have the place to themselves. I smiled meekly and introduced myself, doing my best to let them know I was going to do my best not to ruin their party. An extroverted one shook my hand, then punched in her first selection: Dreams by Fleetwood Mac, a song I sang three times while on my journey, tied for the most frequent song choice, a quintessential karaoke tune no matter where you are. A friend of hers grabbed the other mic and joined in.
When it was my turn, I re-learned that nothing feeds my soul more than singing Tainted Love to an intimate room full of strangers. Soon the space filled with more of their group and a couple my friends. Our two parties melded together. Microphones were shared, song choices were lauded, and everyone sang along. Words of encouragement were everywhere:
“You got this”
“Of course you can sing that!”
“Oh! I LOVE this song!”
I learned I was among a group of elementary school teachers, there to celebrate the birthday of one and to honor all. It was two short weeks after the shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead. Songs such as Give Me One Reason and Hold On were dedicated to teachers everywhere. I choked up listening to the off-key rendition of the Wilson Phillips classic:
Don’t you know things can change
Things’ll go your way
If you hold on for one more day
Can you hold on for one more day
Our small crowd started dancing when a young teacher picked up the microphone and sang Faith. Her short hair and stature, rounded features, and red plastic glasses betrayed the bravado in her voice. With one hand holding the mic, she let the other sway over her head as she spun around, jumping to the beat. One of her older colleagues with grey hair and a short flouncy skirt leaned in to yell in my ear,
“That one there? She never sang before so I took her last month for her first time. She’s never been the same since.”
I knew exactly what that meant.