For weeks of what was my freshman year, I and however-many other students rehearsed after classes and on weekends for the school musical tryouts, learning song lyrics and dance steps for Bye Bye Birdie. I'd been singing in chorus for the past few years, but picking up choreography was new to me. After hours and hours spent practicing in the school gym and cafeteria surrounded by so many other students, though, I felt as ready as I could be when Audition Day rolled around. Up on stage, the school musical directors grouped the first group of students into maybe four rows before taking their seats in the auditorium. I was in the back row as we began, and it all felt just like it had in rehearsals: People dancing to either side of me and in front of me. After the students in the front row were judged, they would be dismissed, and the next row's dancers would move up for their official audition. My row was finally front-and-center, and as soon as the music began and I found myself looking at the judges and the high school auditorium seats for the first time, as opposed to the dancing students I was used to, I realized I didn't know the choreography at all: I had just had been keeping up with everyone around me before. I stood frozen as students on either side of me continued to dance, and my choir director called out, "Val! Just find your place and keep going! It's okay!" I nodded and apologized and actually laughed, still thinking that surely, the steps would come back to me, but no, they never did. I really didn't know the number at all and remained frozen in the otherwise-dancing front row throughout it. I remember wondering if it would be any less embarrassing just to walk off the stage, but I decided to stay up there instead.
After what seemed like an hour, the song ended, and my next memory is of standing in the girls' restroom cringing from the almost flesh-eating mortification one can likely only feel as a teenager. Jolene was in there there too and asked me what was wrong, and although I barely even knew her--it was her brother with whom I would graduate; I only knew Jolene from the bus rides to and from school--I spilled out the whole humiliating story, telling her I felt so stupid, just so stupid. This kind and wise-beyond-her-high-school-years girl snapped, "Val, don't you ever let yourself feel stupid! You don't have anything to feel stupid about! You tried to do something, and it didn't work, that's all. It's okay! A bunch of people probably wanted to be in the musical and were too scared even to sign up! At least you tried!" She was right, of course. I still blush when I remember it--I was the only student who froze like that, after all--but my appreciation of Jolene's kindness and wisdom has always outweighed that embarrassment. And finally, more than twenty years later, I got to tell her how much that has meant to me all this time. She thanked me for telling her--and admitted that she didn't remember the story at all--then made me and Mom laugh when she gloated, "It's so funny because I tell my kids all the time that it doesn't matter if you win or lose as long as you do your best--And now I can go home today and tell them someone said I was right!" Dear Jolene. :)
Working on Bye Bye Birdie would provide me with some of my happiest high school memories. I ended up in the chorus as one of the singing-but-decidedly-not-dancing "townspeople," right where I belonged from the start. The following school year, I knew from the get-go to sign up as a "villager" and not as a potential dancer for Brigadoon. Both my choir director and Jolene were right when they said it was okay: This is just how we learn sometimes. Jolene's generosity that afternoon is one of the best of all my high school memories, and how sweet that I got to tell her. ♥