Copyright © 1987 C. A. HOCKING
She was alone, even though shadowy forms moved slowly, almost reverently around her. Muffled voices, incoherent whispers, anxious glances – she was oblivious to it all. She was locked into her own private hell and she was quite alone.
She was intensely aware of her body and her inability to control it. Small bubbles of pain moved restlessly through her lower abdomen, seeking release. Increasing nausea demanded another involuntary swallow, but her mouth was dry and her throat could only make useless, spasmodic squeezes. Her heart beat rapidly, painfully against her chest wall, forcing her concentration away from the artificially lit rectangle before her.
She whispered, “What I learned was of…”
A film of perspiration was forming on the palms of her hands, under her arms, on the soles of her feet. She would have liked to wipe her hands on her garment, but it was spotlessly white and she knew she must not mark it.
“What I learned was of little use to me…”
Her knees and fingers trembled uncontrollably. She tensed her thighs and clenched her fists against the trembling and tried to steady her breathing, but that only brought on a wave of dizziness. She closed her eyes and let the dizziness pass.
“What I learned was of…”
The bright rectangle suddenly became a brilliant glow, making her enclosed, private space seem even more of a forbidding black shadow.
Fear! Unimaginable, paralysing fear!
Her heart was pounding in her chest, her throat, her ears. She must concentrate.
“What I learned…”
She took two deep, slow, disciplined breaths. Surely this must pass? But it was no good. Perspiration dripped from her nose and chin, collected in the creased outer corners of her eyes and ran in trickles from her armpits, drawing the cotton of her bodice against her damp skin.
“What I…what I…what…”
What? What was it she had to remember?
Panic gripped her. She tried desperately to bring her thoughts together, to remember, but she could not focus her mind on the words she must say. Her left knee cap began to jerk spasmodically, painfully, and she locked her leg into a rigid position until it eased. Then she flexed her shoulder against the muscle spasm in her neck. A hot flush suffused her body. She tilted her head back and blew a gentle stream of air over her face.
Suddenly, she was aware of voices in front of her. Loud, projected, articulate voices. And other sounds further away – shuffling, coughing, murmuring, uncertain laughter. She tried to focus on the voices immediately before her, but even as she did so, they moved away from her.
“What I learned…”
“What I learned was of little use…”
She suddenly remembered what it was she must say, but was unable to say them. There was no saliva in her mouth. She must swallow. She ran her dry tongue across the roof of her mouth, behind her bottom teeth and made a superhuman effort to swallow and draw saliva to the back of her throat, but only succeeded in gulping.
A gentle prod in her back made her turn slightly in response. A low voice murmured, “You’ll be fine, just fine.” She acknowledged with a small nod and turned back towards the light.
The voices before her were growing louder again and she realised that they were moving towards her. Confusion swept over her and for a split second she allowed herself to wallow in despair and self-pity. It was too much. Pain, nausea, palpitations, muscles spasms, dizziness, dry mouth, trembling, cold sweats, hot flushes, confusion, fear. She thought, “What am I doing here? I could have prevented this, I don’t need this, I don’t want this, it isn’t worth it, nothing is worth feeling this bad, nothing!”
The voices were almost next to her. Panic stricken, she wanted to scream, “I’m not ready to go yet! I need more time! I’m not ready!” But no sound escaped her.
Another light touch on the shoulder and a whispered, “You’re on.”
She hesitated, lifted her head, exhaled slowly, waited for the cue word and stepped firmly out of the shadow of the wings onto the spotlit stage.
“What I learned was of little use to me if I am ever to assist my…”
She could not continue as a cacophony of sounds thundered over her. Applause, cheers, stamping feet, her name repeated over and over. The house-lights were brought up to reveal a standing ovation.
She dipped her head graciously, modestly, knowing that this was an opening night she would never forget.
The house-lights went down. She paused, waiting for silence to resume and continued with her opening line, “What I learned was of…”
Was it worth it? The agony of stage fright?
Yes, of course it was worth it. She felt wonderful!