It was this time last year that I was in
Public speaking isn't my jam. On any number of previous occasions when I'd have to introduce myself to a few people my heart would pound. I would state my name in a shaky voice and relate some fascinating tidbit about myself to an audience who smiled back mostly in pity.
Friends, not-yet-friends, dearly beloved.....I am about to have a heart attack. Can you hear that pounding? If I drop dead here tell my husband and kids I love them and this was probably not at all how I thought I would go. Scratch that. This is exactly how I thought I would go in the same nightmare over and over.
But I decided that telling this story was worth the risk and so I submitted my work, auditioned and made the 2014 cast. For weeks before the big day I watched youtube videos on how to publicly speak, how to calm your nerves before publicly speaking, how to successfully speak before an audience without humiliating yourself. Some videos were so dumb that I spent mere seconds listening before I moved on to the next, but every night I diligently did my homework assignment. Even with all that information when I dared to imagine myself on stage I would dive headfirst into a full-blown panic attack.
You cannot pull this off I told myself a thousand times.
"You'll be great," my husband said. The husband who has spent a career publicly speaking about what he does.
The morning of the show I practiced at home once again. There was one part I choked up at every time. This time a new part caught in my throat and three paragraphs in I flung the pages of my story across the room and wondered why I thought challenging myself like this was ever a good idea.
And then a funny thing happened. Hours before showtime we all arrived at the venue and I was the calmest I'd been in weeks. I did another practice on stage with the microphone and I didn't fumble, lose my place or get emotional.
I was ready. I had spent plenty of time practicing and when my turn came I stood firmly at the podium, shushed my loudly pounding heart and read my story.
"We're going to send you home with some pain killers and instructions to get rid of that kidney stone," the ER doctor said. "But what is more concerning is the mass we see. You need to get that checked out."
"Mass? I have a mass?"
"Yes, on your kidney. It could be a cyst but you need to see a urologist about that."
"Your Dad decided to end his treatment. I'll put him on the phone so you can talk to him, okay?"
"I'm gay, Mom."
"Honey, can you tell Mark? I can't do it. I can't tell him."
"She seems to have come out of it okay but you'll have to watch her closely. Wake her up every couple of hours and ask her some questions. If it's a concussion you'll know. She'll be confused and then you need to bring her back in. Don't wait."
"Terry's procedure went fine. Now it's a wait and see to find out if his heart is going to go back to a normal rhythm."
"You can wait in the car while I look. I'll just be a minute."
"Mom, I've been in an accident."
"I can't accept this," she said as we both looked at my resignation letter on her desk.
There were many things I wasn't sure of in that moment. How much the accountant was going to tell us we owed in taxes. How long we could go without my paycheck that covered living expenses for the last kid in college. Whether state budget cuts were going to affect the only stable salary in the house. What in the hell was Plan B.
But I did know that I could stand before hundreds of people and tell my story, that the cyst was benign, Dad died but not before I told him how proud I was of him, my daughter had no lasting effects from being knocked unconscious after a fall on the ice, my son is gay, that I did break the news to my husband that his dad had suddenly died, that the brother were all crazy about would need two procedures before his heart would beat normally, that I could stuff down a paralyzing fear of heights to get out of the car and look out onto Glacier National Park, that the sight of the crushed driver's side of our youngest daughter's car would make me gasp, and that despite a lot of "what ifs" I was ready to leave a job that was no longer healthy for me.
"You're going to have to," I said.
Then I adjusted the velcro under my chin, fluffed my cape and did what I have done every time I've been afraid.
I put my faith in the wind and jumped off the edge.