I blamed the demise of my marriage, as I knew it, on three things.
My brother’s wedding. Chilled Rosé Champagne.
It had all started so innocently. Zoe had insisted on going shopping with me. She had forgone traditional bridesmaids, but still envisioned a certain color scheme and wanted to make sure I matched. So a month before the wedding, I let her drag me to the city where she spent an afternoon dressing me up. I didn’t mind. She made my brother happy. If picking out what I wore led to her smiling, then so be it.
"You have such a great figure, Dyana," Zoe had commentated as we left one more store empty-handed. "Why do you hide it?" she continued, once I rejected another low-cut number.
"I don’t hide," I answered. "I spend my days at home. Cleaning." I shrugged. "What's the point in buying things I won’t wear?"
Zoe sighed, a long-suffering one I laughed at as we rejoined the walking crowd. She put her arm through mine and pulled me close. She was a hugger. When Luther started bringing her around five years earlier, it was hard to get used to. But I'd grown accustomed to her.
We eventually compromised on a short blue contraption that really did look nice. My usual jeans and t-shirt felt like a long-forgotten memory.
Zoe was the cliched definition of a girl. She wore a lot of pink. And makeup. And always had her nails done as she modeled cute little outfits with high heels. So she didn’t understand someone like me.
I dressed up for the fancy events, like when my husband’s band played at a party and I was going along to watch. Or when we went to a nice dinner. Or the occasional wedding.
While the kids changed that day, after I threatened physical harm to get them to stop sneaking television and shower, Eli and I met in our room. I’d glanced into the mirror and cringed. My hair was not behaving. I’d planned to leave it loose and curly, framing my face in a strategic way that would merely seem casual. But my usual curls were flat, which I didn’t have the time or patience to fix.
"I’m gonna have to wear it back," I said, fishing for reassurance.
Of course, Eli complied. He loved when I wore my hair up. For some reason, he was obsessed with my neck. "I think that would be perfect."
"Thank you, baby."
He stepped forward and hugged me from behind, squeezing until I giggled and wrestled to get free. He didn’t let go, so we ended up kissing a while, until I gently reminded him we needed to hurry. Still, we hugged a moment more. I tucked myself under his chin and turned my head to the side, catching our reflection in the mirror.
By most standards, at 5"7’, Eli wasn’t tall. But since I was barely 5"2’, he was the ideal height for me. We were a cute couple. I could admit that. We liked to cuddle and weren’t shy about it.
Our kids complained often.
"Come on," I said.
"We can’t be late to my own brother’s wedding."
"I suppose," he said in a dry voice. I chased him out of the bathroom so I could get ready without an audience. I started with my make-up, expertly lining my face until every blemish was covered. Then nylons to suck in my stomach, then my dress. I saved my hair for last so I wouldn’t mess it up.
Eli came back just as I was searching for jewelry. As I put on the diamond earrings he bought me for our tenth anniversary, his face appeared behind me.
I gave myself another quick glance. "I look good don’t I?"
He stepped forward and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
"You’re always beautiful, my little goddess. I’m a lucky man."
During the reception, while Eli's band was playing, I might have had a little too much champagne. I blamed Simone. She kept handing me glasses and of course, I couldn’t resist something thoughtful from my daughter. She’d wait until I wasn’t paying attention to finish the rest herself.
"Who keeps giving you these?" I asked after the third one.
She shrugged. "The bartender thinks I'm cute."
I scowled, not liking the reminder she somehow had started turning into an actual woman. "You’re a child," I reminded both of us. I was only forty-one. How was this now my life?
Simone glanced down at her body, then raised her eyebrows. "I think they would disagree with you."
"They? Do you mean your breasts?" I laughed. I accepted the next glass of champagne eagerly.
"I get them from you."
Unlike me though, she didn’t ensure she was properly covered up. "Where’s your brother?" I asked.
She gestured toward the stage. "With Dad."
I glanced over and shook my head. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’d been enjoying the music. I always did, knowing Eli was happy. He always was behind his beloved drums. What I wasn’t used to was hearing Jayce instead of him. Our son, at just fifteen, was almost as good as Eli. I shouldn’t have expected less since he’d begun begging to go with his dad to the studio since he was three.
They were all musicians. Eli, Jayce, and Simone.
Everyone but me.
Eli came to sit with us while we ate. Stevie, his piano player, was the only one who stayed up on the stage, playing soft, classical music. Anyone else might have complained over missing out on the food, but I knew to Stevie, performing the songs he loved was his favorite part of working a wedding.
"Will you dance with me later?" Eli asked, flirtatiously.
I scooted closer to him and smiled. Seventeen years together and he still made his requests like a perfect gentleman. And I still got embarrassed like a teenage girl with a ridiculous crush. "I’d love to," I answered.
Eli and his band had another set after dinner. They were good, as usual, despite worry the new lead singer wouldn’t work out. Adam already had a lot of opinions and attitude which was never a good sign. I didn’t expect he’d last too long.
I was able to dance with Eli as an iPod took over. I laughed at his antics, as he jumped into the middle of the circle that had begun. Even Zoe and Luther succumbed, as did my parents. I ignored everyone’s attempts to drag me inside with them, especially my husband’s and children’s. No one in my family had a shy bone in their body. I got them all.
That’s when someone started up the karaoke machine.
"You should go up and sing," Simone said, sashaying over to where I stood, laughing as I watched my distant family members make idiots of themselves.
I choked. "No way."
"You’re better than all these clowns."
"You sound like your dad." Though Eli would never use those words to describe me and singing.
She’d harassed me ever since she caught me pretending I was onstage while mopping the kitchen floor. I thought I’d been alone as I pirouetted across the room. She’d come home early from school and instead of interrupting me, she had hidden in the corner and watched until I was done.
Then, like the annoying child she was, she began clapping. "I didn’t know you had that kind of voice!" she’d exclaimed.
I’d been so embarrassed. I was caught. Whenever I had the house to myself, I put on music and remembered a time when there’d only been one career I imagined having.
Since that day, weeks ago, Simone had demanded answers. How long had I been a singer? Did Dad know? Why didn’t Dad know? I only answered her when she promised not to tell him. She eagerly agreed.
"How is humiliating myself tonight keeping my secret?" I asked Simone as we watched our cousins drunkenly demolish another song.
"Don’t you miss it?"
"Of course," I said, softly.
When my brother came over and gave me a sloppy kiss, I was glad for the distraction. He talked on and on about how beautiful Zoe looked. Simone and I agreed she really was too good for him. He just laughed, too delighted with his fortune to be upset.
"Uncle Luther," Simone started. "Don’t you think Mom should get up there?"
His eyes snapped to mine. He’d been a witness that day in school. He also knew I hadn’t sung in public since. "I don’t think that’s a good idea," he answered.
I loved my brother. He was honestly the best.
"Come on. I want to see. I dare you," Simone said with a challenge.
"Oh, no." Luther knew I had a hard time backing out of a dare. It gave me, and everyone I guess, an excuse to do things I normally wouldn’t ever try.
"Simone. I can’t."
"Please?" She gave me her big eyes and held her hands out in prayer. "I’ll go with you," she offered. Simone loved singing the way I had once, though luckily, she didn’t inherit any of my stage fright.
"I’ll go, too. Let’s make this a family performance," Luther said.
They still had to drag me, but I was kind of playing with them at that point. As long as they were with me, I wouldn’t get too nervous.
I remember the look on Eli’s face when he saw me. He was completely delighted as he pushed his way to the front of the crowd to see us clearly. Jayce was right beside him, heckling his sister, but smiling just as much as his father.
Someone was recording us on their phone. I ignored that as I let my brother and Simone start off, laughing at their theatrics. When they thrust the microphone at me, I accepted without hesitation and sang the chorus with ease, no nerves in my voice.
I saw my parents laughing as they cheered. Watched Simone’s and Jayce’s eyes light up.
It made me feel good, I can admit. As did the hug Eli gave me when we were finished. I eagerly exchanged the lights of the stage for his arms.
By the time we got home, my head was buzzing, the way it usually did after going to one of Eli’s shows or Simone’s plays. Jayce didn’t perform regularly yet, but I knew we were only a few years away from that. If he’d chosen a different instrument than the drums, he would probably already have a permanent spot in Eli’s band.
Too busy listening to the kids talk and laugh over themselves about how much fun they’d had, and how we should do karaoke every week, I didn’t notice until later how quiet Eli had been. I ignored them for the most part but was grateful for the noise as Eli and I made our way to bed.
We undressed quietly before I went through my usual nighttime routine of taking off my makeup, brushing my teeth, and taking my hair down. Putting lotion on my feet. It all took a little while. By the time I finished, sometimes Eli would already be asleep. Sometimes he’d be waiting up for me, his intentions evident by his naked body under the covers.
I knew he wanted to speak. I could tell by the way he watched me as I made my way to my side of the bed. I felt like prey he was tracking.
"What?" I finally sighed.
"Your range was incredible."
"Yeah, well… I took lessons when I was little."
"I just didn’t realize you were that good."
I dropped my eyes and smoothed out the blanket, embarrassed. "Thank you, baby. But you’ve never heard me before."
"I have. You used to hum to the kids when they were little. And sometimes you’d have your headphones in and every once in a while, you’d sing a line."
"I had no idea," I said, ready to change the subject. "Bedtime?"
We watched each other a moment. I knew he wanted to talk about it more. Just like he knew I was done with the conversation. I’d have to be pushed before I came out and admitted that. Maybe once upon a time he would have done so, but now he understood me much better.
"Sure," he said, settling back and holding out his arms. I eagerly went to my spot, pressing my cheek to his chest while his hand rested on my waist. We usually watched television, often talking through a show we’d already seen. But I was tired. Within a few minutes, I fell asleep to the sounds of his laughter and his heartbeat, the memories of that night, and the singing, banished to a distant part of my brain.
I rolled over hours later, too awake to sleep anymore. That happened to me sometimes. I’d be too tired to read, too tired to do anything but let my mind race. The only thing that calmed me down was when I closed my eyes and pretended I was on a stage. I know I’m a contradiction, but I still had some secrets, since, apparently, everyone had known one of my biggest.
I imagined myself on a stool, acting nice and serene as I stared out at a faceless crowd and sang. Sometimes I played an instrument, but mostly I just picked a song and repeated it over and over until I eventually calmed down enough to fall back to sleep.
I always imagined I’d be too embarrassed to actually do it in real life. And honestly, karaoke with my family watching wasn’t exactly the same thing as being alone in the spotlight.
I couldn’t imagine ever willingly putting myself in that position again.
I’d barely opened my mouth that night.
But it had been enough to gain someone’s attention.