Let the Birdy Fly

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During my junior year of high school, our family moved from Gainesville, GA to Athens, GA. This was great news for me since I was a musician and knew that many 80’s bands were emerging out of the hip, little college town, like the B-52’s and REM. My Dad was moving his job to Athens and working on his PhD at the University there. My sister also went to school at UGA for at least a year, I think. I commuted the 45 minutes each day to school in my little, beige ’77 Toyota Celica or sometimes with my mom who was working on a Master’s degree at the college in Gainesville.

Late in the fall, I discovered by adding up all my credits that I was only a few classes shy of graduating one year early and that I had so many college credits, I’d be able to start my college career the next year as a sophomore. All I had to do was convince the Dean of my high school to let me test out of a few C.L.E.Ps (College Level Examination Plans) to get the rest of my credits and I could get out of that crazy school without having to endure one more crappy year. My parents helped me to meet with him and convince him it was in everyone’s best interest for me to finish up early. After all, I was on full scholarship, so technically, I cost them money to teach!

Reluctantly, the Dean agreed and I was sworn to secrecy from Christmas until May, unable to tell anyone that I would graduate early. It was a hard secret to keep because I really disliked so many of the girls there that I wanted to raise my birdy finger and shout a big “fuck you” to the whole school and walk out, but because I was not allowed to tell anyone about it, I missed out on all the senior rewards like Prom, using the senior stairs and entrance into the assembly hall, the senior class trip, the senior pictures and yearbook placement, and more. But, then again, who wanted to hang out with those girls anyway? Most of them were rich, spoiled, and mean. And I was ready to say goodbye to them.

Since I was already in college, getting great grades, and figured I would be staying in Gainesville to finish the 3 years of college I had ahead of me, I did not really care about the S.A.T. It seemed like it did not really matter at all. I drove my sister’s convertible Toyota Celica sun-chaser to the place holding the testing. On the way there, I smoked a big, fat joint with the the girls, while we blasted David Bowie’s Suffragette City on the cassette deck. What a time! Needless to say, I did not score well on the test, but I never suffered any consequences from that bad decision, unlike some of my choices in boyfriends.

During the spring, I auditioned for Fiddler on the Roof in the college and community theatre. I really, really, really had my heart set on playing the middle daughter, Tzeitel. In the play, she falls in love with the young, politically charged man and runs away from home to marry him. In the audition, I nailed the song performance, crying as I sang “Far from the home I love, yet there with my love, I’m home.” I looked around the room filled with fellow actors and there was not a dry eye in the house. I glanced at Ed Cabell and he stared down at his yellow pad never even looking up from writing notes to see my moment of glory. I was about 200 lbs at the time, wearing all black.

The reality was that he had already cast the show in his mind based on the size, shape, hair color, and the pairing of similar couples for the parts. I knew it. But, after seeing all of the other talent, I could not imagine who’d be able to pull off Tzeitel better than me, so I deluded myself for the week that I was a shoe-in for the role. Others who were moved by my audition told me the same thing. I believed them for a moment.

When the casting sheet was posted, I saw that I was cast in the chorus. Big surprise. But, not only was I cast in the chorus, the character’s name was Bluma. Talk about a fat-girl name if I ever heard one. I was standing in dull stunned amazement as I saw the girl’s name who was cast as Tzeitel. She was 5’3″, 100lbs soaking wet, with long, dark hair, quite the contrast to my blonde haired, chubby, 5’6″ frame. I flashed back to her audition. She was a classically trained vocalist, but her acting was as cardboard as the paper the posters were printed on and I remember being completely unimpressed by her stage presence. It was a definite moment of dejection for me and I sighed and hung my head like Napoleon Dynamite.

As I stood outside the office staring at the list still shaking my head, I saw Ed Cabell in his office and he waved his hand for me to come inside. I walked in. He jotted notes and didn’t even look up. “You know why you did not get the role of Tzeitel, don’t you?” “Yes” I spoke softly. “My weight.” “Yes, that’s right. Do something about it. That’s all.” I was dismissed. My urges told me to let my birdy finger fly at him and slam the door on my way out, but I refrained like a good little girl.

I think it was about that moment when I decided to switch majors from theatre to media and communications. I figured, if I have to spend my whole like working with assholes that hold me down like that, forget it. It was too painful. Though I did go through the rehearsals and perform in that musical, I had many falling outs with cast members and friends that year and I slipped further away from the them and into the music scene in Athens. It was my last college show in Gainesville.

In Athens, I met a musical partner, Tony, and began writing songs and performing live at some of the same hot spots like the Uptown Lounge and the 40 Watt Club where the famed REM played. It was a time which solidified my path as a musician.