“Hey Betty, another night in the books; Patti was on fire, huh?” “Sadly, I don’t know: I’m just getting here. Economies 321 may hinder my early graduation. If I don’t pass it, I won’t be able to get into Julliard next semester.” “There you go, Julliard or bust. Don’t you know God gave you that voice, your determination, and a praying grandma for a reason? Julliard or not, you’re going to make it, girl! But these cups, candy wrappers, and programs need our help before 8 AM.” “I know; see you at the time clock.”
I put on my headphones and enter the elevator with the #3-cleaning cart, as I have done for the past twenty years. I own G. C. C. (Gail’s Cleaning Company LLC) and have held the contracts for UVA concert venues for the last fifteen years. Many of my employees are mostly temps who usually only stay until they get that first paycheck when they realize they will need two more jobs to survive. There are about four “lifers,” people who have already retired from somewhere and enjoy being able to attend a concert, play, or lecture that interests them for free and get paid for it.
And then there’s Betty, the eighteen-year-old songbird who’s been with me since her mom’s death two years ago. Her mother and I had been friends for decades, classmates in college, sorority sisters, and thick as thieves from day one. So, when she became ill, I moved them into unit one on the ground floor. They lived next door to me in my small four-apartment rental unit. I gave them the three-bedroom unit, and I moved into the efficiency. I didn’t charge them any rent. The two Penthouse units sustain the mortgage on the building. Karen’s friendship for a lifetime was payment enough. Her daughters have always called me Momma G even though I am only their godmother.
Betty graduated high school at fifteen and changed her Julliard plans when her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2020 and was gone before Christmas. My mom’s transition derailed my life also, so I understand why Betty is just going through the motions and not living up to her potential. She can’t defer any more time because she’ll lose the rest of her scholarship. Piedmont, Virginia Community College (PVCC) allowed her to use two years of her $50k award for her associate’s degree in Liberal Arts while caring for her mother. Julliard was expecting Betty this semester, but she asked to wave one more until her sisters’ eighteenth birthday. The twins started PVCC three months ago.
Julliard’s next semester starts on July 5th, and the twins were born on Independence Day, 2005. So, we purchased a train ticket yesterday. Betty shipped her belongings to her aunts in a neighboring city months ago, except three pairs of jeans, four T-shirts, two pairs of sneakers, and a jacket. Everything she kept will fit in a carry-on.
Humming from the center stage promptly at 4:00 AM when Betty works. She starts cleaning the lobby and works her way down from the cheapest seats on the lower level to the stage. I’m sure she’s probably singing the whole time, but I usually don’t hear her until I have worked my way down to the front of the nosebleed section. This morning I just walked out of the men’s room, in the far-left corner, and it’s barely 1:30 AM, so it’s more than humming.
Hopefully, this means she’s looking forward to Julliard, her life, and the future…
(muffled conversation) (nosey, I want to make sure she’s all right) Trying not to be detected, I ease my broom to the floor. I walk down one step at a time until I can see over the balcony.
Patti LaBelle and Betty are conversing through song. Betty finishes any line the mega-star challenges her with as if they were long-lost friends who have just found each other after being apart for years. I knew our girl could sing but didn’t know how to restore her compassion, confidence, and love for her gift... Pitch Perfectly!
I know she was pitch perfect because I was a music teacher in a previous life when I was married in that previous life. I once had a chance to be the diva on center stage, but the “Ike” to my “Tina” broke my spirit and killed our unborn child. I filed a restraining order and had our marriage annulled from my hospital bed. After being discharged from the hospital, I moved and never looked back. Karen, Betty’s mom, was the only one who knew I had moved to Charlottesville and soon followed, dragging her husband and three children kicking and screaming along. We knew her “momma’s boy husband” wouldn’t last long away from his overbearing mother.
Don’t say aww…I have been happier here. Karen and the girls made me realize that motherhood was not for me. I would panic when one of the girls coughed. When Karen named me as their godmother, I made her promise never to leave me in charge until they were old enough to be independent. I could pick up and go whenever I wanted. I didn’t have to prepare a meal if I didn’t want to. I love the girls and could spoil them and return them.
I sometimes wonder why I gave up on music after my rehab. I used to say I would sing or teach again when my voice strengthened. I went on four interviews with schools, but PTSD kept me from returning to the classroom. That short marriage ended in the auditorium of an elementary school in Florida on the Wednesday night after the World Trade Center fell. One thing had nothing to do with the other, but they both changed me. Every time I tried to get over the feelings that stemmed from being attacked backstage. I was offered a gig with a band and would be traveling over the summer. The band liked my voice but disapproved of his treatment of women.
I don’t look back anymore. It’s Betty, and the twins turn now!