Breaking in to find myself

Christmas had arrived quiet and gray in 1987.  The grandfather clock chimed a reminder that lunchtime was near.  My mother cooked the turkey in a pillow case, hoping it would taste as good as it smelled, for once.  It didn’t.

“But what are you going to do with a Bachelor of Music.  What will you be qualified for?” said my grandfather.

“I keep telling her she needs to be a teacher like her Aunt Betty.”  My mother added for the umpteenth time.

Why is it that the excitement and anticipation of the holidays never turn out to be nearly as warm and loving as hoped?

I’d already explained to them that I was going to be an opera singer.  Was this so hard to understand?

By 2:00, I had had enough family bonding to last another 364 days.  I lied and told them I had plans to spend time with my boyfriend and his family, and I left.

I headed for the university’s practice rooms, warming up on the way.  “Me-meh-mah-mo-moo,” I sang with vibrato on every tone, like my voice teacher said.

With a backpack full of music weighing me down, I approached the door.  It was locked.  I listened for the voices of fellow music students, a pianist running arpeggios, a trumpeter cracking on the high notes.  Nothing.  Silence.

I hadn’t really thought this through.

The practice rooms were located in a church that was over a century old, with arched castle doors made of heavy dark-stained wood.  The inside had been renovated to accommodate all sorts of musical aspirations, but the outside remained the same as the year it was built.


Tears came to my eyes as I realized I’d have to return home to tasteless turkey and more questions about my future.  I had a recital coming up–a solo recital–featuring works by the masters: Mozart and Handel and Bach.  All those notes begging to be sung, worked, and reworked.  Hundreds of Italian and German phrases waiting to be translated, memorized and shaped.

Suddenly an idea penetrated the cloud of anxiety that was threatening to halt my fervor.

I could just break in.

I’d seen so many TV dramas where the perpetrator used a credit card to jimmy the lock.

Could it be that easy?

I didn’t have a credit card, because I was only 19 years old, but I did have a hard plastic driver’s license.

As I reached into my purse to locate my velcro wallet, my body responded to the threat of getting caught.  All at once I felt the heat of fear creep from my neck to my cheeks.  With trembling fingers I slowly separated the velcro and freed my license, noticing the family picture my mother slipped in there to “remind me of home.”  A thoughtful gesture that now threatened to smother my resolve.

I took one last look to my left and right.  The street was still deserted.

With my license firmly held between my thumb and pointer, I jammed it into the gap between the door and the lock.

It wasn’t working.

My heart was pounding.

My license was too flimsy against the aged brass hardware.

There must be some other way.

I shoved the license down into my purse, grabbed my wallet, tore it open and pulled out my student ID–the one with the photo that reminded me I should never ever have bangs.

This has to work.

One more look to my left and right.  Still no one.

I shoved the ID, bangs and all, into the gap.

Bruce Willis made it look so easy on “Moonlighting.”  Just a quick slip and voila.  But, not for me.  It took several agressive shoves until finally, FINALLY, the lock was pushed back far enough to allow me to muscle the heavy door open.

Mozart, Handel, Bach and I were in!

I lingered for a moment in the vestibule, reveling in my rebellion and allowing my heart to find a less frantic tempo.

I settled in a small 8’x7′ room, with only a piano and a mirror as companions.  I immediately felt more at home than anywhere else.

The music of the masters poured out of me that night in a way it had never before.  It was as if I had wings.

I didn’t break in just to find a room to sing in, I was breaking in to find me.

Now almost 30 years later, anytime I want to find myself, all I have to do is sing.

8 thoughts on “Breaking in to find myself

  1. I love this story. And I loved that you incorporated dialogue (yay! theme!). The description of the turkey in the pillowcase is the kind of specificity that makes for great nonfiction. Well done, my friend!


  2. This is a great story and very well-written! Breaking into a heritage church… on Christmas… wow… I’ve only every legitimately broken into buildings in video games. But the churches in video games are always open!


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