May 9, 2001
Sing Along With Secra!


I reached a landmark decision in the shower this morning.

Today is the day, I decided, that David is finally going to hear me sing.

You have to understand that this was a really brave, difficult, scary decision for me to make. In the almost-six years that we've known each other  --  including two and a half years sharing the same toothbrush holder  --  I have never sung in front of him. Not even once. Not so much as a Christmas carol or a McDonald's jingle or a ballpark 'Star Spangled Banner.'  (I lipsynched at the Giants game.)

But today is going to be the day we break down this last stoopid emotional barrier, I decided. I'm going to crawl into bed next to him while he's still sleeping, I told myself, and softly croon 'Happy Birthday' into his ear

Talk about your birthday surprises!

I hopped out of the shower, filled with all sorts of spunky resolve, and dried myself off.  I slipped into a robe and wrapped my wet hair, turbanlike, in a clean bath towel ... spritzed a little Tabu into the air and stepped into it, like a barge moving through a San Francisco fog ... and ran a toothbrush around my mouth. My heart was skidding around in my chest, all fast and loose and out of control ...  my throat had suddenly gone totally Sahara ... but I was feeling weirdly excited.

I can do this!  I told myself. I can do this ... I can do this ...

I know what you're thinking. This should not be such a big deal, you're thinking. It's not exactly like I'm auditioning for Broadway here: we're talking about singing in front of David, the person who knows me best and loves me most. What's to be nervous about?  And all I can tell you is: I have no idea. I'm not shy about anything else around him. It's just one of those weird personal hang-ups I can't explain.  I LIKE to sing. I'm no Earl Peterson, Michigan's Singing Cowboy, but I have a passable voice. (Glass doesn't shatter, anyway.) I've been singing all my life. The summer I was five years old, my grandparents plunked me onto a stage in Prineville, Oregon, where as I sang "Red Wing" to an audience of elderly Gem & Mineral enthusiasts. For the rest of my childhood I was known, amongst the Rock Hound set, as "The Little Girl Who Sang 'Red Wing.'" 

(Tragically, no recordings of this epic performance survive ... although I might consider a comeback tour someday.) 

Later in life, the only remotely-tolerable memories I have from my teen years are of singing with the church youth choir. And of course my children all grew up to the sound of my *dulcet tones* around the TicTac house.  Even now, when The Tots come to visit us in California, I love to torture regale them with my world-famous rendition of "The Polen Family Theme Song."

As long as David isn't within earshot, that is.

I still sing all the time. Just yesterday, as a matter of fact, I sat in my office and sang along with The Clique, at the top of my lungs:

I am I am Superman!
And I know what's happening
I am I am Superman!
And I can do anything ...

My boss stopped by my open office door and applauded when the song was over. ("Free Bird!," he shouted.)

So why the big stoopid self-imposed moratorium when it comes to singing in front of David, forcryingoutloud?

I dunno.

Whenever the subject has come up, over the past couple of years, I've usually pointed the finger of blame at my Last-Important-Relationship-Before-*This*-One. (You know: the relationship that I don't write about anymore because it's so ancient history? ... so irrelevant? ... so twentieth-century?) That relationship ruined singing for me, I tell David. That relationship made singing feel like an embarrassing chore. That relationship turned something that used to be fun and normal and healthy into an unpleasant -- and painful -- obligation.

Lately, though, I'm realizing that there comes a point when you've got to take the chicken by the beak and say Hey! I am responsible for my own dysfunction, thankyouverymuch!

To his credit, David has never made it into a big deal. He's made it clear that he would love to have me to join him in the occasional Subaru sing-a-long  ...  maybe participate in an impromptu Sunday afternoon *jam session* at the park, with him and his guitar and an audience of squirrels  ...  but he doesn't press the issue. He knows that, for whatever reasons, this is something I feel stoopid and awkward and uncomfortable about at this point in my life, and that I'll come around when I come around.

And I planned to 'come around' right then and there ... with a surprise wake-up chorus of "Happy Birthday."

But when I walked into the bedroom, David was already awake. He was laying there in bed with his eyes wide open, looking vaguely distressed. "I didn't sleep well," he said, and he squinted at me, bleary-eyed, and did that sad little poochy thing with his lips that says I'm feeling all tired and vulnerable and confused, and I want YOU to fix it.

My musical resolve evaporated instantly.

I leaned across the bed and kissed him tenderly. "Happy Birthday," I said. And I headed to the kitchen to get him a cup of caffeine.

Oh well, I told myself. I can always sing to him at the wedding.

By the time I got to the office, though, I was already feeling let-down and disappointed with myself. David has always maintained that birthdays are 'no big deal,' as far as he is concerned. If anything, he seems a little embarrassed by fuss. But to me it doesn't seem like a birthday unless there is at least a molecule or two of folderol.  

By 1:10 I couldn't stand it anymore. I picked up the phone and, with trembling fingers,  I dialed David's office. My heart was pounding in my ears. My hands were shaking like the lower level of the Bay Bridge. His phone rang once ... twice ... three times. Finally I got his voicemail. Without stopping to think about it  --  without pausing to clear my throat or take a breath or say a prayer  --  without even saying "Hello"  --  I waveringly but resolutely launched into it:

"Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
(my voice cracks here) DAY Dear David,
Happy Birthday to you."

And then: I hung up.

one year ago: gifts & gasbags
two years ago: rice and rice

throw a rock