Chapter 2 | Tissue issues

Updated: Oct 28

JANUARY 9th, 2018 One hour later


I am a woman who spits.


I have just spit on the manicured grounds of a school which has a yearly tuition that’s more than the down payment on my home. I teach singing lessons there. And surveillance cameras are everywhere.


The security guard buzzed me in and I prayed he wouldn’t say anything. I put on my name tag, kept my eyes down, and ran up seventy-six stairs to the music tower. The music stand was tucked beside the piano exactly as I left it. My favourite chair hadn’t been stolen, blonde strands of hair were stuck on the back. I had to pee. I had to spit. The phlegm was suffocating me. I locked myself in the bathroom and stared into the mirror. I tried to make a sound. It was raspy but almost normal. I took a breath and swallowed. I grabbed the box of tissues and brought it back to my room.


“You look fine,“ I coached myself. “You sound like you have a cold.”


My student showed up in a huff, “Dance class was brutal last night and now that I’m finally getting my driver’s license, guess who’ll be in charge of driving her brothers to hockey practice? So unfair.” I laughed and started to choke. Her jaw dropped as I raced past her to spit in the sink. “Ok. Whoa. What is going on with you?” she said, as I sat back down. I explained that I’d had a procedure done and, “Everything’s fine.” She raised her eyebrows and stared down at me. I met her stare. “OK,” she said. “Whatever...” We started the lesson. She sang. I choked twice. And as she packed up to leave, she chirped at my next student, “She can’t sing. But she’s still bossy. Byeeeeee. Thank you!”


The next day I woke at five and tried to hummm before opening my eyes. All I could do was hiss. I headed to the bathroom to see what a hissing person looked like. I knew I couldn’t vocalize for my students so I had to compensate somehow. I wondered if I should dress up or throw on my jeans. Technically, private music teachers aren’t allowed to wear jeans, but I’d been doing it for eleven years and if I wore them while I sounded like crap, at least I’d look like my normal self. What does normal look like? It reminded me of a time at my former church choir when Marjorie brought in a batch of gorgeous gooey brownies that she’d baked with salt instead of sugar. The point is I wanted to be the brownie that my students were expecting. My career as a singer was fucked. I could not lose my students.


In the middle of my coffee and eggs, I ran to the sink to hork out a ball of phlegm. An hour later, every time I went into downward dog on my yoga mat, I needed to spit into a tissue. Before heading out, I shoved that tissue box into my backpack. As I walked to the subway, Alicia Keys assured me that I was a girl on fire. When I arrived at school, I could hear one of the other voice teachers warming up. I waved and headed to my room. After blocking the window of my door with a sheet of music, I put my binder, pencils, and lip balm onto the piano. Because I couldn’t speak without choking, I taped slips of paper on the front of the piano with instructions that, normally, I would’ve said to my students.


I heard Abby rushing down the hall. I said hello, or tried to. “Oh my goodness, Marcia. What happened? Are you ok?” She said with wide eyes. I pointed to my throat and tried to tell her that I was fine and that I would sound like this for three months. I didn’t tell her that I had paralyzed my vocal cords, or how terrified I was that I might never sing again. Instead, I smiled. I swung my chair around and pointed to the paper taped to the piano that had an [a] vowel written on it. I played a scale and she sang. As the lesson continued I realized I needed more paper.


Later, I checked my inbox and stared at my phone. I worried that parents would complain, or my girls would switch teachers, or I’d be asked to leave the school altogether. On my break, I wore headphones but didn’t bother to press play so that no one would try to talk to me. I rehearsed what I’d say to my students until it sounded like no big deal, even to me. I needed to feel normal. My mother died 2 months ago. I’m already an insomniac but since the death of my mother, I have become an insomniac on sleeping pills. They could have been Smarties for all the good they did to help me sleep. Worse than not sleeping was the realization that I missed my voice more than my mother. What kind of person feels relief when their mother dies? I found myself drowning in shame. My mother had no boundaries. I am an only child. My voice was her voice. Now I'm free but at what cost?



visit MarciaWhitehead.com



Photo Credit: Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash