Even though it's only been a few weeks her name is lost to me, but I can see her face and hear her voice as if she were standing in this room.
The first time I saw her was during her initial audition for American Idol. She was a featured story: a girl from the country, never been out of her small town or her small life, no hope of getting out. Hair the color and texture of old straw, blotchy skin, bad teeth - the possibility of prettiness just beneath the surface. A lilting accent, making music of words that expressed the wonder, the dream, the hopes for the audition.
Her story made me want her to succeed. Her breathy twangy singing made me want her to succeed. My memories of another girl who thought she'd never find her way made me want her to succeed.
And amazingly, she did. She made it to Hollywood - the next step along the path. She was both jubilant and terrified. Had never flown on a plane, been away from her mother, or been in the company of such a wild variety of humanity.
The Hollywood audition did not go well for her. She was less appealing than the first audition - her face was puffy, her clothes ill-fitting and tacky, her voice more fear than music. And while the judges were surprisingly kind to her, it was clear she wasn't ready for the big time, and they told her she wouldn't be moving on.
In her departing interview - and this is the part that haunts me - she said through tears, "I took a risk and it didn't work out." The final shot is of her trudging away down a narrow hotel corridor with her small sad suitcase trailing behind.
I wanted to reach into the screen - I still want to reach her - and tell her her risk did work out. The only way she failed is if she believes she did. I wanted to help her see all she has now that she didn't have before. I wanted to tell her she's so much more than her fear.
I've thought of her this week as I struggle to reframe my own recent risk-taking and the outcome of that. Carrie and I are at the end of our first round of teaching memoir classes. The experience has been as deeply satisfying as falling in love and as painful as any soul-growing transformation can be. To be in the presence of women for whom writing, learning and healing are a priority is as good as life gets. Carrie has proved to be a perfect teaching partner, and together we are that magical gestalt where our whole is so much more powerful than the sum of what each of us brings individually.
Initially I thought our success would be measured by the growth of our classes. That people would be so happy with what they got from us, they'd be dying for more and tell all their friends they had to join us, too. Of course, it's not happening that way. The spring is looking very different from what we originally anticipated. Possibly no classes at all. Possibly coaching. Possibly nothing until fall and then something more concentrated.
As with so many things this year, I choose to find success in what works and to follow that path. The closed doors are not failure. They are guidance. I wish I could offer this gift of success to that young girl. I wish I could thank her for being a reminding presence in my life. I wish her the sight to find the next open door.
photo from Flickr