By Allison Stein
“We’re here,” Mom announced.
I swallowed hard. This was the moment I had spent so long waiting for, worrying about, dreaming of. I already knew I’d never forget the night, one of the first times I would read my poetry aloud. Sure, my mom would give the main presentation, and I’d only chime in with a couple poems to gain experience and transition into speaking, but the five minutes I would stand at the podium were daunting in themselves. While I was still discovering the person I am today—still becoming the person I am today—how could I be expected to share that journey with others through my work?
Yet two years ago, I did just that. I barely had time to listen to my reverberating heartbeat, pulsing through my skin in fear, as Mom and I entered the Sleeper Public Library in Ubly. For a blissful moment, I was too awestruck to be scared. That evening, my dreams were coming true. My name was flashing on a sign, my picture was displayed in the library, and best of all, my mind was filled with images of making a difference.
Words crashed like waves against my daydreams. “You’ll be in this room,” the librarian told us with a smile. “Oh, do you mind if our library cat joins you? His name is Booker.”
I glanced at Mom. She wasn’t a fan of cats but reluctantly said that Booker would be fine. She had no idea what she was getting herself into.
The minute the librarian left, the sleek, black cat climbed onto the table. “Uh, Mom…”
Once we shooed him down, we went back to setting up. But as I reached into our bag to get some books, I was surprised to see Booker inside!
Sharing a room with this cat just wasn’t working. When the librarian reappeared a little while later to check on us, we sent Booker back.
The mischievous cat was soon forgotten. With the passing of each second, my heart beat faster. The event would start at 6:30, and as that suspenseful minute approached, my nerves were all I could think about.
Maybe that’s why I took so long to realize that nobody was going to show up. Before we’d left home, Mom had delicately assured me that no audience was a real possibility, but I had struggled to believe this. “Surely at least one person will come,” I had told myself.
But I was wrong. No one wanted to hear a novice like me read her rudimentary poems. No one cared what I had to say. Suddenly, my soul felt heavy. Mom was already talking about getting ice cream after this mess was over, but I was too devastated to think about dessert.
All we could do was look out the windows, look at the people passing by in happy ignorance. An elderly man strode through walking his dog; with all my heart, I willed him to come in, but he, too, moved on. At that juncture, I remembered the unruly cat. Why had we been thoughtless enough to kick out our only audience member?
How helpless I felt! And how wrong I had been! Had I truly expected my community to pay attention to someone like me? Deep in my heart, I confessed to myself, I’d been foolish enough to hope so.
Mom’s voice interrupted my doubts. “Allison, listen!”
My faith returned. The steps came closer, closer…
“They’re in the bathroom,” Mom realized with disappointment.
My optimism had nearly faded when, at the last minute (actually, five minutes after the last minute), the door opened. Relief poured over me: We only had an audience of one, but we had an audience! And I had a chance to share the poems I’d injected my soul into.
As Mom and I chatted with the woman, we heard footsteps coming from the bathroom. We exchanged a glance. Sure enough, two more ladies walked in with a couple of elementary-age kids. Mom and I looked at each other again. It was time. It was now or never.
Once again, fear rose inside me. Once again, my heart palpitated. Once again, insecurities crippled me.
But I had come too far to be defeated by the voracious self-doubt eating away at my confidence. I found the courage to believe I could do this.
Then I proved myself right.