One Strong Duck

I stand in front of him, with my hand in my pocket and my heart in my throat. He looks up and gives me a slight nod, signaling for me to start.

How did I get myself into this?

I can’t even sing. Well, I can sing-everybody can--but not in tune, and definitely not as well as the other girls standing around me. When I first decided to try out it seemed like a good, whimsical idea, but now I want to be somewhere--anywhere--ut here. The Gobi Desert’s not too bad at this time of year.

I don’t even fit for the Jeremiah Singers. It was just a fantasy that I carried with me from elementary throughout middle school. I saw the group as divine and superior, singing together in perfect unison. And now, I’m auditioning for it—am I possibly fit for such an honor? A Jeremiah Singer? Me? Impossible!

So what am I doing here?

He looked at me with that “Come-on-now-I-don’t-have-all-day” look of his that I knew so well. I opened my mouth, and sang.

Now, why am I talking about this? What does auditioning for the school choir have to do with college and all? It’s just an audition, right? Wrong. It is my whole life. Throughout the years I try out for things, sticking me head out onto the butcher’s block, waiting for the cleaver to come swinging down. And just as the blade approaches, I duck out of the way. What do I do next? I try again. On a different block, with someone else swinging the cleaver.

College is just the same thing. You try out for it. You give it your best shot, and you show who you really are. You stick your neck out on the block, and just when you’re about to be decapitated you duck out and save yourself, so that you can go and try dodging death again. The same fear of failure attacks you, and yet it is that very feeling, that very same rush of feeling that keeps you coming back for more. Nothing else can produce a high like that, and regardless of the danger you come back. Why? Because you just do.

I sing, and as the notes leave my lips all I can think of is the great mess that I pulled myself into. I feel like a duck—not a swan—on the butcher’s block, quacking and gasping for air. The grasp on my neck is tight, and the notes are strained out. The dark room closes in on me, and my vision blurs. All I can see is the blade as it crashes down—

Questions, thoughts, visions cloud my mind, and the terror of dying swallows me whole. I lose track of where I am, and yet I can feel the hard block of wood under my head. The fear rushes at the most incredible speed, and I reach my high—

I dodge the blade, and it buries itself in the block. I fly out of the room terrified, heart racing and pounding against my chest. Leaning against a wall in the gloomy hallway I slowly recover, but never forgetting that ultimate rush of feeling. I can’t help it. I have to have more of that irresistible high. I have to know who I really am. I have to prove myself.

The next day I walk back into the ghastly room, eyes fixed on the block where I risked my neck yesterday. I stand there again, ready to face the terror of it all. He looks up, questioning my presence.

“Hi, Mr. Jose. How’d I do?”

“The audition results will be posted outside on Monday.”

“I know that, but I have to know now. It’s a….thing.” I just have to know now. The high is just too much to not resist. I have to know where I am, who I am. And getting that rush of feeling was the only way I could really know.

He fiddled with a couple of papers on his desk. The tension built up again, and I could feel my head being slammed onto the block once more.

“You passed. Come in at lunch to practice and make sure you come in for rehearsals next week.”

There is no blade rushing down, but my heart was racing all the same. I finally knew that my efforts were not in vain, that I had achieved something.

I had been accepted into the Jeremiah Singers, and that was all I needed to know who I really was.

I was one pretty strong duck.

. . .

Copyright (c) 1998 by Gemma Truman
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This is also from my Writing for College class, as a try at writing essays for the college application. I based this on a fantastic model essay written by a Jennifer Carney from Rockford, Illinois. Carney's essay, "Claws Scratching at My Soul," reminded me of the hell I went through while trying out for the Jeremiah Singers in my sophomore year, and of the typical open air restaurants you see all around Bangkok, selling Peking duck or whatever with the poultry hanging from metal hooks behind glass.