• I had practiced and practiced and nearly gave up then practiced some more. This was the moment I'd been training five months for. As I stared out at the bleachers crowded with toddlers, parents, and the bands we were competing against, I couldn't find it in myself to throw my rifle on the ground as a symbol of surrender. I couldn't let my friends (and the people I've grown to love as an offset, dysfunctional family) down. Not after they had spent so many hours teaching me how to position my hands to get the flag so high in the air and sat in front of me to form my make-up into perfect lines and blends of colors.

    Sweat stuck to my back and felt as if it were dripping from my palms to the white paint on my rifle, which for some odd reason, seemed so much heavier than seven pounds. My instructor stood off to the sidelines, eagerly watching her girls and nibbling at her nails. I felt her eyes dig into my skin. I was the only one that the rest of us needed to worry about. Besides the freshmen, I was the only new person to decide to join a marching band her last year of high school. What in the world was I thinking?

    This had to be like all the other competitions. We would perform, I would screw up somewhere along the lines, and then we would sit on the freezing bleachers with our guard rifles set securely in our laps to wait for the judges to watch the other schools and add up the points. We would come in third, maybe second, and maybe if I hoped enough and the Christians prayed enough and the first-seat Tuba player talked to himself enough, we would win first.

    But this didn't feel like all those other times. Maybe it was because this was our last performance of the season, or because we were playing on a college campus. I wasn't sure, but suddenly, I no longer had anymore time to think about it. The judges had addressed our school, asked if we were ready, and watched drum major signal her usual hand movements to them.

    I began to wonder if my stomach and heart existed anymore because it sure as hell didn't feel like it. My legs started to quiver, my breath caught in my throat, and my head pounded in stress to perform like all the other girls, the girls who had done this for two plus years.

    Our drum major turned to us, took a quick moment to look us all in the eye to hopefully reassure us that everything was going to be okay, and raised her white gloves.

    And off we went.