This is the third chapter of Peter’s story. For the previous sections, see below!. I promise it’ll make more sense that way.
My experience with Peter, now a few months in, continued to be one that was best characterized as interesting. He continued to eat his bowl of plain spaghetti noodles, not bathe, and now was living in a new apartment. After a while, he and his roommate had a falling out, and he was basically homeless. With some help from his payee, I was able to help him find an apartment- just in time for winter. Holidays can be especially difficult for the mentally ill- a reminder of what they want, and often don’t have. The office staff and administrators came up with the idea of doing a Christmas choir. It served as a tool for the clients to do something nice for others, while having some sort of purpose themselves. Peter was very involved in the choir. In fact, he requested to have a solo. When I discussed the idea with him, he explained, that he was an amazing singer. So amazing in fact, he deserved to be the star. I obviously didn’t think he was telling the truth, but what the hell. What could go wrong?
Peter had some difficulties with performance anxiety. He really wanted to earn others’ praise and respect, but had a difficult time with actually performing. This was rooted in a lifetime of wanting to belong but always being ostracized. Being a part of a company that was there for him seemed to give him the courage and support he needed to actually take the risk. I felt he needed to try; for his own sake. I proposed the idea. This was a contested point. Especially against it was the leader of the choir- an employee who felt their calling was music and now had their “big shot”! There are various types of stereotypes in office and professional environments. This particular employee- we shall refer to them as Jackson- took the task too seriously (he was that employee, we all know them). He didn’t think Peter would able to perform his solo- I argued he could. I have to be honest, in retrospect, I feel embarrassed to admit that, I, too, didn’t think he’d be able to perform all that well, yet seeing Peter openly wish for a moment of glory, praise and respect made me be his advocate (plus I enjoyed making Jackson stressed).
All week long, I encouraged Peter to practice. “I got this” he’d say. The time for the first concert came. We were to go sing at a local mental health hospital, spread some cheer to the patients in dire need. We met there, each employee with their client, and the concert began. “Do you hear what I hear?” A cacophony of out of tune singing, screaming, whispering and lip-synching. Solo time. Peter stepped up. I was standing behind him, proudly. He froze. He didn’t make a sound. He simply looked down at his paper, periodically shutting his eyes tightly, never looking up. Holding his music sheets in one hand, the other hand pointing out, fingers outstretched, each moving one by one- thumb to pinky and back again. Jackson stared at me annoyed. I simply shrugged.
After the singing, we were walking back to my car, not speaking. He still couldn’t look at me. I just said, “It’s okay. Maybe next time.” He didn’t respond. Any time I’d bring it up, he’d shut down in shame.
Peter never returned to choir.