by Giselle Renarde
I couldn't remember the last time I'd heard my mother sing. Had I EVER heard her sing? Happy Birthday, I guess. Even then, she sings very softly. She's self-conscious about her teeth, so she tends to cover her mouth a lot.
When I was in Grade Twelve, I remember my mother bursting into my bedroom and demanding to know why I hadn't told her about parent/teacher interviews. Her best friend worked at my school. I guess she found out after the fact.
I was surprised she even cared. I'm not exactly an only child, and my mom devoted much of her energy to the younger ones. I was doing fine on autopilot. I didn't think she was interested in my education.
But that's not why I didn't tell her about parent/teacher interviews.
I can't remember how I answered her question, but she obviously didn't buy it because she burst into tears. My mother isn't exactly dramatic, or even overly emotive (I don't think we've ever told each other "I love you" even though we obviously do), so this was a strange occurrence.
After bursting into tears, my mother covered her mouth and said, "It's my teeth, isn't it? You're ashamed of me. You don't want anyone knowing your mother has such awful, ugly teeth!"
I've mentioned before that I was a pretty steely teen, but in that moment I felt so... so BAD for my mom. It had nothing to do with her teeth. That thought would never have crossed my mind. Not in a million years.
The truth is, I hadn't told her about parent/teacher interviews because I had a massive crush on one of my teachers--a married man who fell for me too, I guess, because I later became his mistress. Our relationship lasted ten years--ten too many, some might say, but I try not to punish myself for my past. (He still emails me once a year to commemorate the anniversary of the last time we had sex. Ummm... gross.)
My mom would have seen it coming. Even if nothing had "happened" yet, she'd have foreseen it when she met him. Moms are like that. I hear they have eyes in the back of their heads.
That's why I didn't want her meeting my teachers. I was a teenager in love. It was a BIG SECRET. If my mom found out, she'd ruin everything.
Nothing to do with teeth.
Have you ever heard of Orchestra Karaoke? It's karaoke where the singer is backed by a full symphonic orchestra. Cool, right? They staged an event this year at Luminato--an arts festival in Toronto that happens to be chaired by Rufus Wainwright's husband--and I went my mom and my sister.
Being a free outdoor event (and also being karaoke), etiquette was a little different than you might be used to. The audience wasn't silent during performances. People sang along. A lot. Not in a way that overshadowed the karaoke-ist, but in a way that supported the soloist--like a choir.
Yeah, like a choir. We're backing you up, good buddy. You sing your little heart out. We got your back.
My sister is a musician and I used to sing
And then Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah came up and my mom jumped in her seat. She said, "I love this song."
Weird. I got into Leonard Cohen at university, as one does, but my mother didn't even go to university. Ergo, thus, therefore, I naturally assumed she'd never heard of Leonard Cohen.
I can't remember which audience member was selected to take the lead. I don't think I listened to her, or him (reaaaaally don't recall). The only voice I heard was my mother's.
At first, I almost felt... uncomfortable, maybe? It was strangely intimate. But my mom had a pretty voice. Reminded me of a bird, or of nature. It sounded like HER. I knew that voice, and I couldn't remember ever hearing it before that.
She sat beside me and sang Hallelujah the whole way through. The lyrics were posted on a screen, but she seemed to know them already. She didn't sing loudly, but she didn't need to. She wasn't singing for anyone else's ears.
And you know what? I didn't see her cover her mouth once. Not ONCE.