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How I Got Addicted
Hanna, Age 13, Fairfax, VA

Standing backstage in a wing, waiting to go on, my stomach was churning. I had a feeling that this was stage fright, but I didn't know because it'd never happened before. I glanced around, trying to distract myself from the terrifying choral concert ahead. An intricate rope and pulley system stood tall and straight against the wall, holding back musty-smelling curtains. Above the stage, the lights and power chords hung down, just out of sight, like jungle vines reaching for the floor. The sharp corner of a table jutted out at just the right angle to bruise an unsuspecting performer seconds before they walked on stage. Sitting precariously on the table, piles of sound equipment were buried under rolls of electrical  tape. A moving sound cabinet door was open, blocking a folding chair at the table from view. Lines of black tape connected the cabinet to microphones on stage, streaking the hardwood floor.

The faces of my classmates seemed to stand out in the darkness enveloping the wings. The girl behind me was gloatingly triumphant, probably thinking about how great she would be. Other faces were concentrating on whispered encouragement or conversations. A few people were bouncing on the balls of their feet and smiling, with expectant eyes looking longingly towards the stage, excited. Then I glanced at one face, hidden under brown curly-cues and just the fight amount of make-up. Her mouth was moving, chewing on her lip, her hands were pulling at the black skirt that hung low on her hips, and her foot was tapping fast, but in no particular rhythm. Seeing her nervousness suddenly brought back the anxious fear that had momentarily left the pit of my stomach.

Why did this concert matter so much? Why did I feel like something would go wrong if I messed up? It could have been tying to please my teacher, at this moment conducting the other ensemble on stage, whom I loved and respected so much. I could have wanted to make my parents, sitting somewhere out in the audience, proud. I could have wanted to prove to myself that I could do this; and do it well. A little bit of everything fueled my fear as I followed the line out on stage. My breath caught in my lungs as we started to walk up the risers. Fruit-scented hairspray reached my nostrils as a long blond pony-tail swung before my eyes. I stopped walking and turned, with some trepidation, to face the audience.

What audience? There was a vast, empty, black auditorium staring at me, full to the brim with shuffling whispers. Taking heart from this, I turned my attention to the conductor. As the baton went up, everything froze. I sucked in a long, low, deep breath and prepared myself for the test to come. I was about to plunge into an unknown, bottomless ravine. Whether a soft landing or certain death waited for me, I knew that I had to jump.

I sang the first notes, loud and clear. Melodies and harmonies flowed through my soul like the ebbing tide. I smiled and I cried, singing every note with feeling. All of a sudden, the music felt beautiful to me and I wanted to share it with the world. Soaring through the measures with an almost tangible freedom, I sang raw emotion, I performed.

The last notes died away, and silence echoed all around and inside of me. Relief and longing created a whirlpool of feelings in my heart. I was glad to be over and done with the concert, but I wished it could have lasted forever. The applause started, and I glowed with pride, all stage fright long forgotten. A feeling of elation flowed through me, like I was drunk from music and high off of performing. The funny thing is, that's how I got addicted. My first taste of real joy left me craving for more.

Later, after I'd found my parents, we walked slowly down the high school hallway, headed for the door. Tall red lockers with sloping tops lined the walls, and old tile flooring settled underfoot. A woman came walking towards us and paused to say hello. She wore a warm-cream-colored sweater and a friendly smile.

“You were amazing tonight, you know.” She said to me, not even bothering to address my parents. “Your face and your body made the music come alive.”

“Wow, thank you,” I said, with a slight hint that I thought she was just being nice.

“No, really, I mean it. Didn't you expect her to have an amazing solo?” she appealed to my parents for support.

Then, without even waiting for an answer, she walked away.

“Bye,” I called after her, but not loudly enough for her to hear.

“Did you know her?” my mom asked, puzzled.

“No,” I replied, “but she just made my day that much better.” And with a pleased smile on my face and a slightly inflated head, I walked out into the parking lot with my parents trailing along behind me. All the way home, I craved that sensation of performing. Yep, I'm definitely hooked.

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