January 11, 2022

I Had So Much Potential

Sometimes I wonder how far I could've gone, had my parents just supported me a bit more.
My Grammy always said I had so much potential when she was teaching me how to play piano. She died when I was 10—and that was the end of my piano lessons. 

By then, my sister and I had already been strong-armed into playing the French horn for a year for the school band. We loved playing music, but we hated the instrument and feared our band teacher. 

When we quit the French horn a year later, that was the end of music for my sister. But I knew I had a song in my heart, though I was scared to let it out. 

See, my mother had a huge hang-up about singing in front of people and was terrified of being recorded. If she thought someone was listening, she could only sing funny. 

That neurosis transferred over to me, but I nevertheless tried out for musicals in high school and got cast in the chorus because they needed bodies. I could read sheet music and learned songs quickly, so that allowed me to bypass the terrifying audition process and got me into the school chorus—something I loved so much, I skipped my lunch period just so I could sing. 

My mother balked at every after-school rehearsal and evening or weekend performance. "I guess they must like the way she sings," she told my father. "I just don't get it. I don't like the sound of her voice."

I didn't overhear this conversation. I was sitting right there. 

It's like one time when I'd been dancing in the living room with my sister along to Grease 2, which was showing on cable TV for the umpteenth time. I had the LP soundtrack, so we knew all the songs by heart—but we watched the movie to learn the dance moves, especially of the "Cool Rider" number performed by Michelle Pfeiffer. 

My mother walked in from the dining room and interrupted our routine—or, rather, my routine which always entertained my sister, a lonely girl without a lot of friends who needed a lot of entertaining at times during our childhood and teenage years. 

"Wait, go back," my mother said to me. "Let me see that dance again."

I protested but she was encouraging—or at least seemed encouraging. 

I did the dance without a soundtrack—just me kind of singing along a cappella, enough so I could nail the choreography. 

After I was finished, my mother said, "Oh, never mind. I thought I saw that you had rhythm, but I guess I was wrong" and walked away. 

Eventually, she stopped going to my shows—even when I was doing community theater, which was a big step up from high school plays. Even when I had the lead in a college play, just an hour's drive away, and I specifically asked my parents to come. 

That time, neither one of them showed up. 

I wonder how much I could've accomplished if I'd had just the least amount of encouragement from them. If my mother hadn't tried to sabotage me at every turn. 

Don't get me wrong—I'm a full-time writer now, and in many ways, I'm living out my dream. I wanted to be a writer before I could even sign my name with a pen. 

But I had to overcome so many obstacles just to get by. 

I had to earn a full scholarship to college and then work multiple jobs just to buy books and deodorant and food and pay my family contribution—the amount of money the federal government determined my parents would be able to pay, despite the fact that they refused to contribute anything. 

I had to find places to sleep when school was out of session. 

I had to move myself to New York City by myself. And when I ran out of money before I got my first paycheck from my first job after college, and I asked my father to deposit $20 in my bank account so I could buy a Metrocard for subway fare to get to work, he deposited exactly $20. 

I guess I should be grateful for that. 

But all these years later—so many years after the last time I spoke to them or even heard from them—I'm still learning what other parents have done and still do for their kids to support them and help them live up to their potential. 

I haven't lived up to my potential. 

Sure, I've done a lot. But I'm capable of so much more. 

I'm working on it. I'm in a little singing group that's part of the Los Angeles Breakfast Club, called the Scrambled Egg Sisters—and that's helping me get over my crippling stage fright and self-consciousness when it comes to singing. 

There's only three of us in the group, so I can't always hide behind the other two eggs. 

And I have a ukulele that I need to teach myself how to play. I think it'll make a big difference for me to play an instrument again. 

The thing that really gets me is that my parents could've supported or encouraged me more. They were both alive and around. 

They just didn't. 

My mother was cruel about it. My father was just absent. And complicit. 

I've got nothing left to prove to them. The only time I ever impressed them is when I won a car on a game show

To everything else, they were indifferent.

Which tells me nothing I could've ever done could've ever made a difference to them. 

So now, the only things I've got to prove are to myself. 

And I'm still not enough for me. But maybe one day I will be. 

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  1. Everybody wants to impress their family and peers. It's the social animal in all of us. The key is to remember to impress yourself first; If others don't or won't see it, there is nothing that can be done about it. That is not a failure on your part, it's on theirs.

    I appreciate the work you do, exploring places that in some cases I missed when growing up in Southern California, but also seeing these places through your eyes.

    Keep up the great work!

  2. Their loss. You're a spectacular person.

  3. Sad that they had to take out their own inadequacies on their daughter. And glad you found your own way(s) to say "I'll show you."