The cacophony of applause evoked a churning, visceral feeling within me. Two years ago, I would’ve never fathomed standing on this stage. After I finished the last frenzied flourish of my flute phrase, I finally found my footing. Though the moment was fuzzy and transient, bowing under the hazy stage lights felt surreal.
Music has paved the way for me to find my voice. Prior being a musician, I’d felt disconnected from others. I was a puzzle piece that tried to fit in with others but was too small to click with any grooves. My quiet disposition and crippling insecurity regarding my foreign accent made it hard for me to communicate with others. However, music doesn’t discriminate. Although every musician has a distinct tone, nobody sticks out like a sore thumb. Each unique voice comes together harmoniously.
In sixth grade, fate forced me into band. It had shown up on my schedule even though I didn’t initially sign up for it.
The band director asked what I wanted to play. I tried every instrument but discovered that I couldn't make any of them sing. I picked flute on a whim because I'd figure it out eventually (or at least, I hoped so)
After two weeks of aimlessly huffing, I sought help. I still couldn't produce anything reminiscent of a note from my instrument. Although I was stubborn and vehemently opposed to approaching other people, I began to realize that I couldn't tackle this on my own. With the aid of a high school flute player, I took my first baby steps into flute playing. Two lessons later, I finally coaxed a steady, melodic note out of the flute.
As time progressed, I faced an assortment of other musical challenges. However, I already tackled the most challenging one: getting started. So I took on more. After my first band concerts, I started to participate in a solo musical performance assessments.
However, there's a stark difference between performing for an impassive judge and an anticipating audience. When my friend took me to watch my first concerto competition, I was awestruck. The fluidity in each performer's movements and the passion they drew forth with each note felt profound. I wasn't checking off criteria boxes in my head like my judges had done during my solo performances. I was simply relishing the experience. The following year, I finally participated in my very first concerto competition.
I sought to replicate the inspiration that the performers had instilled in me. I also wanted to help others with music. This year, I became a section leader and I've done everything in my power to assist my section. Working on others one on one with musicians cultivated their skills and honed their potential. Sectionals brought each musicians' strengths together and coalesced it together.
Playing flute was unplanned and sheer serendipity. However, the lessons I've reaped from playing flute sprung from the seeds I've sown. It wasn't just luck. It was the result of perseverance and struggle.
An advisor and a friend.
"What now? What did you want to talk to me about that couldn't be said in front of the council?"
"The Janushirians are a strong enemy, many have gone before them and fallen. I believe you're underestimating them."
"Yes, many have gone before, but they were not us. We are strong too, almost stronger, and we have better numbers. I am not underestimating them, I just know we can win. Why delay the inevitable?"
"The numbers we have, yes, but numbers aren't everything. Look at them, look at your army. They barely survived the ambush in the mountains; most have seen their dearest friends torn apart by wyvern riders. They have walked far from their homeland, their marching songs stopped after the plains of Etaryia. I even overheard some of them talking of desertion.
These are not the hungry dogs of war you started with, my friend. These are battle weary soldiers who can barely hold a sword. They miss our homeland, the mountains, their families. The Janushirian's haven't yet reached the borders of Unstaulk, marching out to meet them now would be a death sentence. I implore you, let your army rest."
"Absolutely not. I will not adhere to cowardice within my ranks. We may have called each other friend once, so I will warn you, you are treading on thin ice."
"Why? Why wont you listen? Would you march them to their deaths?"
"I would march them straight to the gates of the deep myself if it meant victory!"
"Dragging ten thousand soldiers to their deaths will not bring your father back."
"How dare you!"
"How dare I indeed. You are not the leader I knew you once to be. Your heart has gone cold inside of you. You are 'Icellinor', one of the living dead."
"If you do not keep your tongue behind your teeth, I will strike you down here and now!"
"Do it. I would rather die then see you turn into something your father would detest. I would rather be eaten alive by the birds than see my oldest friend throw away their life and the lives of their countrymen for such folly."
"Folly? You would dare call this folly? They killed him while he was eating at their table! They slit his throat during peace talks and then sent me the declaration of war signed in his blood! I would see every single Janushirian on a pike before ever thinking of retreat."
"Yes, they did, and it was despicable, may the darkest halls of the depths be their house when the long sleep comes for them; but do you forget I was there? Do you forget that he was like a father to me also? How he raised me after my own parents perished? Does my heart no also grieve for his loss? You've taken your revenge tenfold; you marched us through their banner lands, torched their farms and their innocents. You made us pull down their temples, we have destroyed their gods, none of their cities are left standing.
I helped you execute the lords of their fields, I stood and watched you burn their seers at the stake, I looked away when you hung their princelings. But no more. I refuse to continue, i refuse to avert my eyes any longer. You have spilled more blood then you were owed, and every single soldier, from the lowest pike-men to the highest knight, knows it.
Do you ever walk through the camp at night? Do you realize how many of them have nightmares? Most dont bother anymore, they know sleep has pulled her blessing from them. It's not too late to lead us home, to end this, to give your soldiers hope again. Please, I'm begging you."
"Leave me. I need to think."
Roy, what happened?
We have been investigating a series of bombings in the Capital. We had gone to the abandoned warehouse, went inside as Major Hacket pushed me out towards the door and a bomb went off. We were both caught in the blast.
That is horrible, but how did you get only a burned arm?
Major Hacket took the brunt of the blast, she is in surgery right now.
They are saying I can leave here in an hour, want to go get some lunch?
Sure, I have some more pictures of my little Alicia.
I thought we could talk work, I want to figure out who did this so that we can take them down and make them pay for hurting innocent and military persons.
I guess we can do that. What are you wanting to eat?
There is a small Chinese place just two blocks from here.
That sounds good.
"Why are you asking me that?"
"I just thought-"
"You thought what?! Oh. this girl that was arranged to be married to me and barely got to get off of the carriage before being abandoned in this seemingly war-torn country would know what to do when faced with famine, destruction, sickness, and disaster?!"
"I saw you die. Then I was killed after you. Maybe your eyes were closed, or the curtain obstructed your view but we're not on Earth anymore. You got here first, and I am highly confused. So again I ask, what now?"
"Are you telling me that we're done?"
"That is what I'm telling you. I'm surprised it took you this long to figure that out."
"I just can't believe that you could leave me here like this, after all we've been through."
"What have we been through that's worth this? Sam, honestly! I've hated you since the day we met."
"How could you say that? I know that there's no way you could mean such a thing. If such a thing were true, I would hate you. Hate you more than this life itself!"
"I really don't know what you have to do with hating this wonderful life you've been given, or hating me for not loving you. But I know that in time you'll understand why I'm saying the things I am. You'll be saying the same things to someone new in a few years time. It's not hard. Just think."
"Stop speaking in riddles! You know we're meant to be together. Do you think I would have done such terrible things if you weren't at my side guiding me?!"
"If they were so terrible, I was never worth smudging your ego."
"My ego? My ego?! Will you never understand the simple basic morals of the average person and the reason for them being so coveted?!"
"Ah, yes, morals. Sure. You could go from that angle. But no, anyone who puts stock in such fallacies really just has an ego problem. Like you."
"So you don't care? You don't care that you've done this to me, and that you're leaving now?"
"I never did anything to you. You chose to help me. It's not like I put a gun to your head and told you to dig. You just caught me at an unfortunate moment."
"What is one to do when they find their lover to be a killer? They turn them in or they pick up a shovel! There's no in-between darling, and I chose this one because I love you!"
"Love is also for those with a big-headed temperament."
"How could you say such a thing?"
"Why would one need love if he could provide all the love he needed, himself alone?"
"Maybe, but I'm fine with that.
You're still wrestling with the blood on your hands."
"Well, I'm not going to be for much longer. Unless you stay here. With me until the day we die."
"Oh, Sam. Just as flighty and air-headed as usual."
"What are you doing?"
"Nothing. Why does it look like I'm doing something?"
"There. They always say that women are just not worth it. And I believe they're right. Not worth it. Not at all."
what it means to live
“Have you ever been hurt, Madam? And I don’t mean hurt in the physical sense, and I don’t even mean the light sting of a smarting pride. I mean real, raw hurt that becomes a tangible thing inside your chest. It's the kind of pain that makes you feel like you can’t breathe, the kind of pain that makes you rethink every single decision you’ve ever made. It's encompassing, it's dreadful, it's incredibly lonely.”
“Goodness! I’m glad to say that I very much have not.”
“Hm. I’m sorry for you, then, Madam. That is very unfortunate.”
“Unfortunate?! That sounds dreadful! I’m extremely fortunate to not have that kind of pain anywhere in my memory.”
“Ah, but that means you haven’t lived. I pity you for that.”
Quarantine: Day 1
Preface: Today I tested positive for covid. In order to keep my sanity, I’ve decided to write each day because I have no idea how long I’ll be in quarantine. They told me it’ll be anywhere from 3-14 days, but realistically things are leaning towards the later. This writing is also going to be largely unedited, so I’m sorry for any typos!
A day ago I had gotten an email saying that in one of my classes (not sure which one, that’s confidential) one of my classmates (not sure who, once again, that’s confidential) had tested positive for the dreaded Covid-19 and that It was highly encouraged that I get a test myself, just to be safe.
So today I headed down to the sparsely furnitured room. There were 6 tables all together, each with a small testing kit on each far end. I had never taken a test before, so one of the workers walked me through it. Stick a cotton swab up the nose, rotate 3 times, and repeat in the other nostril. Swirl the swab into some sort of clear liquid in a vile, drip three drops on the test and wait 10 minutes. Sure enough, within 5 minutes a faint blue line appeared on mine (indicating positive). My heart sank a bit, but it was so pale that the worker deemed it “inconclusive” and sent me to a different office to get a more sophisticated test done but to treat me as positive, just to be safe. I later learned that they took my test to someone else, and they confirmed that I was positive.
This test was a little bit different. This worker had a longer swab, and had to do the test for me. She stuck it much further up and had to rotate it 10 times. The feeling was unlike anything I had felt before- she prodded into a crevice I didn’t even know existed, and drew out a feeling akin to a sneeze that just wouldn’t come. The moment she removed it, a flood of mucus dripped down my throat. “The test result will come back anywhere from 3 to 10 days, but honestly that’s a generous estimate,” She informed me. I would have to quarantine in an isolation room till then.
I marveled internally as I headed back to my dorm to begin gathering my stuff about how quickly one can become ‘other’. People with Covid had sort of always been ‘other’ to me. Numbers were just that-- numbers. I never knew anyone who died because of Covid, or even officially gotten diagnosed. There was only one case where they thought they might have gotten it at one point, “but then again”, they said. “It might have just been a cold.”
A couple of hours later, I got my key and instructions on how to get to my new room. I ended up packing two bags. One with my clothes, toiletries, and similar items, and one with all of my school supplies. I actually ended up getting my laundry basket to carry the last and more bulkier of items- my bedding and shower supplies. The room itself was nice for the most part. The main room was much larger than my regular dorm. It has two twin sized beds, one fitted with sheets, a thin blanket, and a surprisingly comfortable pillow. It also has a higher ceiling, and bigger space in general. two oak desks sat in the corner with matching chairs, and odd cabinets reached to the ceiling with cupboards that I couldn’t reach, even with aforementioned chairs. I was also happy to see that my room also included a microwave and a mini fridge! The best thing by far, however, was the bathroom. In my other dorm there was a community bathroom that often had at least one other person showering. Here, however, the shower was much larger and the shower head had different settings. The water pressure was still a little weak, but that’s to be expected. There are a couple of other downsides as well. For one, I’m at ground level just by the sidewalk so I can’t open the windows if I want any privacy. And the other main thing is that the walls are very thin here. If I try hard enough, I can hear what other people are saying on either side and above me. I’m beginning to appreciate how lucky I was living on the top floor.
Already I’ve settled in some. My things are strewn across the striped carpet (I’ll pick it up tomorrow. It’ll give me something to do). I put away the food that was delivered to my door into the fridge and shelf. I had a mushroom sandwich with mustard, lettuce and tomato for dinner along with chips and pineapple juice. I miss being able to choose my meals already. I took a nice long shower. The constant sounds of people talking, walking, and driving by are slowly becoming background noise. The fridge’s inconsistent humming is a bit harder to get used to though.
I emailed my professors and rowing coach to let them know what’s going on. While I’ve only heard from one so far, they’ve been incredibly supportive. Coach let me know that I shouldn’t feel guilty and that it wasn’t my fault, which was very nice to hear. I was supposed to race in a couple of days but now I won’t be able to. The season ends soon and I am very disappointed that I won’t be able to participate in any races this time around. It was supposed to be my first one too! My teammates will do great, I’m sure of it.
I think writing will keep me sane. It’s like cleaning up a dirty room- or at the very least, moving all the mess somewhere else for someone else to deal with. I plan to write every day I’m here (however long that is) just as some sort of record.
The Bridge in Rainfall
"It's a long way down."
"That's kind of the idea."
"Still...Seems like an awfully painful way to go."
"You don't even know me. Why do you even care?"
"I know I don't know you. But I can't really walk away now, can I? I'm involved."
"Yeah, well, you don't have to be. I don't need some rainy day savior. What I need is to be left alone."
"I might be overstepping...but I think that might be the last thing you need. I think that's maybe how you got here."
"And why are you here?"
"I'm going on an adventure."
"What's that got to do with me?"
"Well, you can't really go on an adventure alone, can you?"
"Are you insane? Do you really think I'm just going to get in a car with some stranger? You could be an axe murderer for all I know."
"You're standing on the edge of a bridge. What difference does it make if I'm an axe murderer or not?"