I am sitting on a flimsy plastic chair and I don’t think it can possibly hold my shaking body a second longer. My palms are sweaty. My heart is beating faster than my chest can contain it and I know I will burst.
And then there she is.
She stands on the stage. She comes up to the shoulders of her co-stars. Her eyes are huge and I can see the slightest flutter in her fingers.
I know how her tiny belly felt all day. The knots twisting inside my gut are shortening my breath and plummeting towards my toes.
I take in as much air as my lungs allow as she opens her mouth.
I am with her on that stage and I am here on my knees in the audience and I am so scared and so proud and so ready for her to blow the roof of this crowded community center auditorium away.
And the audience is…
…because she is singing and she is looking out at them and her eyes are huge and her voice is bigger and she is Matilda and she is on Broadway and her voice is echoing through my soul and I can fly, even as my body grows numb as she pulls me closer to her and rips away from my womb with the power of a flock of birds, one million strong.
‘And though the people around me…their mouths are still moving…the words they are forming…cannot reach me anymore!’
She was in first grade and my heart was perfectly still when she stood in front of the school with a microphone in her hand and sang her little heart out. I smiled and she smiled and all the other parents smiled and she ran over to me and asked, “Did you see me? Did you hear me? Did you? Did you?”
I spun her around and told her she was a star.
She was in second grade when she skipped onto the stage and she was full of confidence and nothing could bring her down. She stopped for a moment, looked out into the crowd and said, “ooof! Shachachti!” and the whole school laughed and then they clapped and encouraged her and she looked into the wings and no one prompted her and she looked into the audience and everyone was smiling and her eyes welled up and she ran from the stage and I ran to her and nothing I could do or say could shake that feeling of shame from her shrinking little body as she swore she would never do this again.
In third grade she wouldn’t sing.
In fourth grade, she went to drama. Once a week, she trudged down the block with her head down and her shoulders slumped and came back with a straighter spine and a firmer chin. I held my breath all year and waited for her to get back up and prove to herself that she is a star.
I held my breath and prayed for her aunt to live another week so she could hear her sing.
On June 6, 2017, my beautiful baby girl got up on stage with her wobbly knees and her trembling hands and her face painted green and her mother melting a little in the audience. She channeled all her fear, planted her feet firmly on the ground so that they looked welded to the stage and opened her mouth and sang…
‘It well may be…that we will never meet again…in this lifetime…so let me say before we part…so much of me…is made of what I learned from you…you’ll be with me…like a hand print on my heart…’
My heart stopped. My eyes filled with tears and I saw my legs shaking, although I could no longer feel them.
Her voice got stronger and louder and her confidence grew and I could feel the crowd moving in towards her as she thundered up there on that stage as her star grew bright.
‘And just to clear the air…I ask forgiveness for the things I’ve done, you blame me for…and none of it seems to matter anymore…’
My soul traveled across an ocean to be at my sister’s bedside.
Hold on…wait for me…
I could feel her with me and I knew she wouldn’t go until the song had been sung and she had heard it.
‘Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? I do believe I have been changed for the better…because I knew you…because I knew you…I have been changed for good…’
The audience applauded and my heart settled back into place but my soul tore a little inside.
She jumped into my arms and she caught her breath. She looked relieved and grateful and a little more like her younger self.
I sent the video and they played it for my sister and they said she heard…but I could read between the lines.
She went to bed and then to school and she was confident and sure…and then my mother called.
I hugged her tight before I left and I promised to play the loving goodbye messages she recorded on my phone, but just in case, I sent them ahead and made sure they were played into my sister’s ear.
‘I love you so much. I’m going to miss you.’
I arrived on June 8, 2017. My phone rang and they put me on video and I told her I’d be there soon and please don’t go and she didn’t.
At 7:00pm we pulled up to the house and I leapt from the car and I ran up the stairs and I stormed into the room and I wrapped my arms around her and I told her how much I loved her and that my children loved her and we were going to miss her.
And then my sister took her last breath and died.
Later, I played the song my daughter had sung two nights before across an ocean and I wept.
My star is asleep with a smile on her face. My body has returned to me and I am sitting in the silence and her voice is reverberating through me on what should have been my sister’s 19th birthday.
‘And it is quiet…and I am warm…like I’ve sailed…into the eye of the storm.’