I wanted to be Maria in West Side Story. Forever. From the first moment, I heard the songs playing through my mother’s speaker and then saw Natalie Wood so sweetly beautiful, I sang along and dreamed. I created a niche in which I danced and sang and dreamed of a boy like Tony, but in my drama, he would live and we would love each other until the end of time.
In my senior year of high school, it was like a dream come true. The spring musical would be West Side Story. Hadn’t I spent the past seven years living this dream? I couldn’t imagine that it wouldn’t be mine.
The ladies auditioning us though didn’t let me sing. I wasn’t petite enough to be Maria, I wasn’t feminine enough to be Graziella and I couldn’t dance. I wasn’t girly enough to be anyone other than Anybodys.
I was Anybodys.
The auditioning ladies are like everyone else. They divide us. Pretty girls, passing girls, ugly girls and ungirly girls. The auditioning ladies were all once pretty girls or passing girls.
No one knows heartbreak quite as well as a high school teenager who isn’t allowed to even try out for her dream. You’re told for so long that you can be anyone you want to be. Then someone places their palm on your forehead to keep you from moving forward and says, “But, no. You can’t be this.”
So I am Anybodys, the androgynous, lurking in the background. I feel like the Phantom, the Hunchback, the Beast. But I am quiet and learn my role.
One of the auditioning ladies suggests that I have my hair cut to look like a boy. I hear snickers behind me.
“Thanks for the suggestion,” I say and then walk away. Martina, the Maria, laughs and turns away rather than look at me.
Someone told me that high school is a rite of passage. Something to be gotten through, not thought about too intently, and forgotten once the doors of freedom open up to you. I keep repeating that in my head.
The night of the play I dress in jeans and a t-shirt. My hair is in a bob. I don’t look like a boy. I look like a tomboy.
One of the auditioning ladies sends her voice around. “Who knows Maria’s roll? Which one of you knows Maria’s roll? Kennedy? Noelle? Morgan?”
I stare at the Instagram images on my cell.
“You. You wanted to try out for Maria.”
The auditioning lady is standing next to me. There’s a layer of sweat over her lip. I wonder if she knows. I glance back at my phone.
“Please, Martina’s ill. We need a Maria,” the auditioning lady pleads.
I look her squarely in the face. “I’m too big to fit into her dresses.”
The auditioning lady’s face squeezes together. “If we have something you can wear, can you do the part?”
After all of the crap I’ve put up with, I would like to make a stand, make proclamations, make someone feel as bad as I’ve felt, but I don’t.
I can only imagine that they must have been desperate to put a girl they hadn’t even bothered to audition on as Maria, although I heard later that my choir director said I was the only who could do the part, even better than the petite, pretty Martina.
That night I sang. Tony pretended he loved me. Bernardo pretended I was his petite sister. The audience exuded love. And I pretended that I didn’t care that the auditioning ladies thought my talent was only good enough for Anybodys.
The facts are: I had great write-ups. I received a scholarship to an arts school. I received recording contracts. I am a big girl. But no one ever asks me to audition for Maria on Broadway.
The other facts are: the auditioning ladies even now only let pretty girls audition for Maria.
On special days, lines crimping the faces of the auditioning ladies blossom into smoothness. They are pretty, oh, so pretty.