My birthday is coming up, and with each year that passes I think a little more about how far I've come and what choices in my life have led me here. In light of this, one story I've been fond of telling lately bears repeating here.
To give a little background, I grew up reading things that may have been beyond my scope as a kid. My mother always tried her hardest to get me to experience anything and everything possible in this world, and the same went for the books she lovingly thrust on me. When I was very young she would often read parts of Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein to me before bedtime. I don't know how much of it sank in, but it got me into the habit of trying to understand things that maybe I wasn't really ready to understand. I now see that a scope of understanding is an asset, but when you're a kid, trying to explain things to other kids (like books) that you don’t really understand is one prime way to get made fun of. Being a showy, chubby, red-headed girl doesn't really help the coolness cause either...
Anyway, of all the things that my mom exposed me to, I really took a shine to this Encyclopedia of literature that we had in the house, flipping time and time again to the Edgar Allan Poe section. One poem in particular caught my immediate and unfaltering attention. Why, as a ten year old, did I love such a dark, weird, sad tale? I guess because it's beautiful, and I was a total weirdo. I even once dressed up as Annabel Lee for Halloween when I was a kid, complete with wedding dress covered in seaweed.
A little more background:
When I was ten, my brother joined the Navy and left his music collection behind, and while he didn't really leave it to me, I helped myself to it, coveting all of his 1990's metal albums. Among other bands—his collection included the likes of Sepultura, Danzig, and Slayer—I found a particular fondness for Guns 'n Roses. I probably listened to Use You Illusion I & II a hundred million times, (note: I understand that no one really likes these two albums anymore, leaving Appetite for Destruction to be the classic G'nR album, which I respect and understand, but hey, I was ten). Of all the songs on that double disc-ed album I found that my heart was drawn to one song in particular.
On with the story.
During fourth grade, my elementary school hosted a talent show. This talent show, I thought, would be the perfect time to showcase my (nonexistent) singing abilities, and rock the school with my vocal rendition of Don't Cry by Guns 'n Roses. Did I have a karaoke version of the song? No. Did I have any ten-year-old friends in a band good enough to back me up while I blew everyone away with my amazing vocal range and secret talent of holding a note for far longer than my small stature and therefore tiny lung capacity would dictate? No. Was I planning on just singing over Axl Rose while he told all the girls in the room not to weep? Yes. Yes I was.
I practiced for weeks, using a white and gold post from my canopy bed as a microphone stand. I perfected my serpentine dancing maneuvers, and made sure I could sigh audibly and authentically during the pause after the lyrics "Give me a whisper/give me a sigh." I didn’t have anything cool to wear, but that didn’t matter, I was ready to rock.
Except, I wasn't. I was a fat-cheeked, red-faced dork, who couldn’t sing and those facts were apparent every time I looked into the mirror and tried to match note-for-note Axl Rose's melody. I was no female Axl Rose. I was undeniably uncool.
But, the talent show was in three days! I couldn’t drop out. I had to come up with a back-up talent FAST. My mind raced–what was I good at other than clumsily imitating Axl Rose and causing all the dogs in the neighborhood to howl along with my singing?
Reading. Of all the things that I was good at (the list of which was frankly embarrassingly short and included things like vacuuming), I chose reading.
The day of the talent show arrived and I donned one of my mom’s vintage velvet hats, which was beaded on top with a design shaped like a spiderweb, and sat in a chair in the middle of the huge old polished wood stage and read, quickly and nearly inaudibly, Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe.
When I was finished, the crowd neither laughed nor roared. I’m certain that no one understood what happened. But I’ll tell you what; I definitely lost my chance at being cool. Still, I was ahead of the game when it came time to read Lolita in high school.
Courtney Algeo, as evidenced before and now, was seriously never, ever cool. However, if you find her in a silk dress at the VFW doing a drunk karaoke rendition of Welcome to the Jungle, you now know that she's trying to recapture something lost.