Coming of Age Sad

Millie stares right through her mug of green tea. There's nothing particularly special about the day, but she feels off somehow.

Two hours of practice daily from age 10 to 16.

Three to four hours of practice and study from age 16 to 18, daily.

Minimum six hours of practice and two of study from age 18 to 19, daily.

She sees the band room where she first put together her flute and learned to read music, then the bedroom she set up to practice in those first few years. Somehow they had the same wine-colored carpet, though the bedroom's floor was much more plush and friendly to bare feet. 

Without meaning to she feels her fingers tap against the mug in the patterns that would play the single-octave Bb scale.

A smaller room with acoustic padding, stacks of music stands, and wine-red carpet fades into her mind's eye next. It's nearly four-thirty and the band directors are ready for her to leave so they can go home, but Millie's bag of pencils just spilled from her too-full backpack after she rushed to pack up her music. She'd been marking up the rhythms copy of her first audition excerpt–the copy on which she diligently wrote out the count to every bar of the piece no matter how easy it seemed. She crouched to pick up her belongings and came face-to-face with the spit stains from brass students' valves, and somehow this did not bother her. She'd be back at eight the next day to get in extra practice again before rehearsal.

Fingers tap-tap-tap out an additional octave of the same, comfortable Bb scale.

Hundreds of students wander about in the halls of Westmoore High School as they wait to see if they'd made the cut for the Oklahoma Music Educators' Association All-State Band, or at least for the second final round of auditions depending on the commonality of their instrument. This was Millie's third and final attempt to get into this band and she thought her auditions, one for flute and one for piccolo, had gone fairly well. She'd never taken formal lessons and she'd made it this far just by diligence of practice and expression of passion. She had performed in dozens of ensembles before, graded and competitive alike, usually as principal flute, piccolo soloist, or both. As a senior in high school preparing to start a music education program at her dream university, Millie was feeling even more electrified than she'd felt waiting on any other audition results in the last six years, all the way back to her first audition in middle school. Should she be successful, this would be her final auditioned extra-curricular ensemble. 

Millie's fingers tap slower, remembering the pain of seeing the results sheet run out of seats before it got to her name, for the third and final time.

Her mind takes her to her college auditions, then her auditions for specific ensembles, and then–stops. This is where she is able to mentally put her foot down and hide from the dreams she gave up.

Age 19 and on: No practice, and no study.

Her flutes are still in the living room; the older one, a middle-grade Azumi, is displayed on a wall-mounted stand alongside a cherry wood flute with a busted split-E mechanism that she'd never bothered to have replaced. The model she ended her music career with, a Trevor James Virtuoso, is in its case for safe keeping, because she knows she'll get back to playing someday.

One day, she'll find a community ensemble to join. She'll take lessons to regain lost skill. Perhaps she'll even go back to school and continue her dream. 

Millie knows that she might do these things, that the options and possibilities are there, but she is also an exhausted woman who hasn't maintained a regular practice regimen in nearly a decade. She recalls all the times that she has wanted to do something but, due to other obligations, finances, or just executive dysfunction, has neglected to follow through with it.

The tea in her mug has gone cold and still with the cessation of Millie's tapping. She has nothing more to tap out; there are dozens of other scales, arpeggios, memorized excerpts, and even ad-lib solos that live in her fingers, but passion is required in order to make even soundless music. She has passion–so very much passion–but she locked it away years ago, unlike all of the instruments and sheet music in her possession.

Standing, Millie turns her eyes to the wall that serves as a backdrop for the beautiful bones of her past's future. She takes a deep breath and wills the stone in her chest to begin beating again before stepping forward.

Some pieces of her dreams would be very silly to revive. That, she can admit already.

"I would've hated teaching," she murmurs. 

Her fingers brush the cool silver body that was with her through her first years of auditions and ensembles, then the soft wood of a gift from someone who had pure intentions but did not know what to look for in buying used instruments.

Hands now loose at her sides, Millie's gaze roves to a blank spot on the wall and stays there. She needs the nothingness to reflect the feeling in her chest after revisiting the memories of her love and loss.

"I was different then." Was that out loud, or just a thought in her head?

She sits, pulling the Virtuoso out from the cabinet. Inside the faux fur-lined case lay a piece of her heart; it shined so brightly that it must be where all of those possibilities are waiting for that girl to come back to them. It's all within reach, theoretically.

With another deep breath, Millie replaces the flute in its case and cabinet. In another room, her desk holds all of the things that took up the space where the dream of being a career musician once lived. A laptop with folders upon folders of templates, references, and old examples of the freelance editing work she's done over the years is the focal point. She doesn't mind this career, but the plan of her teenage years still rings a sweet song in her mind with each day.

December 03, 2022 04:58

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Allyson Stumpf
22:38 Mar 13, 2023

Being a flute girl myself, I remember us during sometime playing together. I haven’t picked it back up yet but that nauseous feeling of waiting for the all state results and feeling such a crash in emotion. It was so intense. You described it well here. I loved this writing piece.


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Madeline Honig
01:07 Jan 04, 2023

This is such a sweet story. I love your descriptions of music. The details make me think this may be autobiographical? If it's not, you did a great job of digging in as to what Millie feels. Nice work.


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Violet Waters
05:03 Dec 11, 2022

Hello! Violet here. I thought this story was beautifully well written. I loved the way you described her passion for music and the stages of it along the way. I personally know very little about woodwind instruments, but your description was intriguing, and felt even familiar through Millie's eyes. The small details you added, such as the spit stains or marked up music copies, really brought your story to life. It resonated with me in its reality that sometimes things do not work out, but that is okay, and maybe for a different season. Have ...


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AnneMarie Miles
14:33 Dec 09, 2022

Hi Shawn, your story showed up in my critique circle this week so I gave it a read! I will start by respectfully disagreeing with Arianna's comment; I do think it is sad; the prompt itself lends itself to the emotion, especially if the characters are reneminiscing on how they have not fulfilled their dreams, like your character is here. So, it does fit the label. A lot of us know what it is like to grow up and not be who we thought we would be. I enjoyed the descriptions of your MC's passion for flute; that seems like a tough instrument to...


Shawn Wier
16:19 Dec 09, 2022

Thank you for your feedback! I'm glad the story resonated with you. :) Edit: I checked out your profile and see that you are a music teacher yourself, how coincidental! It's pretty cool to me that I was able to get feedback from someone who once took a similar path to my character, ending up in very different destinations though of course.


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Arianna Silveira
17:37 Dec 06, 2022

ita good but not that sad


Shawn Wier
14:38 Dec 07, 2022

Thank you for your feedback, Arianna.


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