I sat on the cold stone step outside, and listened for the applause that would signal the end of the first song. My heart was beating quickly from my speed walking and the adrenaline of being late. “I should blow my nose before I go in there,” I thought. “It’s too cold out here, and my cold isn’t totally gone yet.” I shoved my hand into my backpack to feel for the small tissue pack that I had been usually liberally lately. My fingers closed on the slick plastic and the applause sounded at the same time. My brain was still in ‘hurry you’re late’ mode, and it propelled me up the remaining stairs before I had time for another thought about my nose.
It was a small living room- too small to contain the two couches. One sofa looked like it belonged, and indeed I had sat on it before in that very same location. The other was juxtaposed in front of two doors, each opening to a different room. No matter, the side rooms were not important. The main room held the home’s 11 guests. Somehow, they all fit comfortably. Somehow, they all had their own space. Somehow, they were all in perfect position to stare at me as I opened the door, 5 minutes late.
I fumbled to remove my shoes as quickly as possible, without messing up the other 11 pairs already neatly lined up in the small doorway. Muttering sorry into the silence, I kept my head down in embarrassment while the host (one of my duo of employers) took my jacket and bag, and motioned toward a seat obviously saved for me. In the front. In the center of that oddly placed sofa. And in the center of the room. Of course. I took my place as quickly as I could and finally looked up to see… Where was she?
I looked toward the piano- the upright that also magically fit into the room- expecting to see the performer. The piano bench was empty. She started to say something, and my eyes followed the sound of the microphone up, and there on the stairs I found Siwa (pronounced she-wah), kindly smiling down.
She was speaking and I forced myself to get rid of the remaining adrenaline and embarrassment, so my brain could concentrate on listening to the foreign language. As she spoke to each person in the room, they introduced themselves and how they came to be there. All too soon, it was my turn. “And the person who just arrived?” “케이티,” I answered with the obligatory head nod of hello/sorry for being late/respectfully introducing myself. To my surprise, she continued to introduce me by herself, saying that I was one of the tutors on staff of Spoon English, our current location. She finished by directing a statement to me, the only foreigner in the room, excusing all the language. It’s okay, I said, as I didn’t expect any English solely for my benefit.
The introducing didn’t take long, and the concert continued. I settled in and was soon unconsciously breathing in time to the music. Although I didn’t understand all the speaking in between- or all the song lyrics- I took note of Siwa’s authentic stage presence and how she made her small audience feel enormously important.
My thoughts wandered a little and I suddenly felt myself tearing up. I shut off my thoughts and tried to tune into the music to stop the tears, only to realize that the music itself was a major contributing factor.
Then I had a sobering thought. What if this is not a sad song- what if it’s actually happy? Or a love song? Oh god, I better stop before anyone sees. This thought had adverse effects: I was afraid of being embarrassed of crying for nothing. I was also tuning in to the song more to discern a clue about it’s intention. Consequently, my teary eyes were confused and remained the same. Besides, when I am congested, my tears take longer to clear anyway.
Finally, I caught a single word. The word stood out to me in the lyrics and validated my feelings. The word “sad.” How could a happy song contain that word?
I was feeling so musically validated that I understood the meaning without understanding the words that I forgot the implications of crying while getting over a cold. The damage had been done and my nose that had previously been only sniffles was no longer plugged. The congestion was beginning to run, due to the excess water in my eyes. In a second, I would have all faucets on. I took a deep breath, hoping my couch neighbors wouldn’t hear the catches in my inhale. That and a quick swipe to the nose with my hand did the trick. I finished out the song- still feeling the deep sadness of the lyrics but focusing on figuring out the meaning kept my brain engaged enough to prevent falling apart again.
But the runny nose that had been external changed to internal, and a few songs later, the urge to cough rose from my chest. I made the mistake of letting a few feeble coughs out. But the feeling was not satiated. I decided if letting it out didn’t help, I would hold it in, and soon the urge to cough debilitated my whole body. (How many times have I applied the exact same to cough or not to cough logic? Try try again.) I tried concentrating on the happy tune. The guitar’s beat coincided perfectly with the rhythm inside my throat, desperately trying to escape. I let a few more out before resolving to holding my breath. At least they were in time to the music.
At the song’s end, I exited to one of those rooms that was being blocked by my current seating arrangement. It wasn’t easy or inconspicuous but I had to let it out. By this time, my eyes were watering again- but for a totally different reason.
One of my employers was in the room and I requested some tissues, to which she handed me a fistful of napkins. I tried to blow my nose quietly, therefore ineffectively. She noticed my watery eyes and mistook them for tears. I might have been ok in a normal concert venue but this was a small house concert where the artist had asked everyone to introduce themselves. Before I was done composing myself, I heard Siwa’s voice from the other room. “Katie, come out. Don’t cry!”
Being a quiet, struggling listener who can’t understand the language but can feel the music is one thing. Trying to explain my inappropriately timed emotions in any language is another. Let the record be set straight that Katie knows the correct emotions! Maybe it would be okay to let those emotions out honestly, with sincere timing.