Because of Annie

a memoir from Hilton Head

By Sarah Synk,


When I was little, my favorite musical was Annie, a musical about an orphan named Annie who wants to find her parents. Although she lives with her evil foster parent named Ms. Hannigan and endures many struggles, she is very strong and optimistic. Eventually, she adopts a dog and is taken into the care of a millionaire named Mr. Warbucks. One of the famous songs from the musical is “Tomorrow.” I love Annie because I too dealt with many struggles like Annie, including bullying and low self-esteem, but without her strength or perseverance. This is due to the fact Annie dealt with a lot of struggles and is very strong. I even share the same birthday with Annie (October 28) and, as a child, I wanted to sing songs like Annie.

One day, my grandad said that I should perform at Harbour Town in Hilton Head. Hilton Head was a retirement community in South Carolina where my grandad and my grandma lived. We visited them every now and then with my cousins and my extended family. I thought my grandfather was talking gibberish, so I said to him: “Grandpa, you gotta be kidding me. I’m not ready to perform.”  He said, “You can do it. There’s a performer named Gregg Russell who invites kids onstage. I think he’d love to have you help him sing.” My grandad had to be pulling my leg. But for the next few weeks, Grandpa helped me practice and perform. “You gotta project your voice and have confidence in yourself.” Confidence is something I struggled with and still do. I couldn’t figure out how Annie did it.

“Papa, you’re joking,” I said. He wasn’t joking. He made me sing in front of my extended family several times. I was shaking and sweating with my pulse racing. I started to sing, but my little mouth became so dry from nervousness that it felt like it was full of cotton. I projected the best I could, and I sang a few lines from Annie. The only line that I could think of was, “The sun will come out tomorrow! Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there will be sun!” I felt that I was doing poorly, but he said it sounded fine. I didn’t believe him. Afterwards, we made a banner that said: “Please choose me!” So I kept practicing and did my best to improve my voice.

On the day of the Harbour Town performance, my hands were trembling. My grandmother made me look extra pretty and dressed me in cute clothes. Harbour Town was swamped with people, and the shops and music were booming. I started crying when I saw all the little visitors. I envisioned people talking about me and calling me bad names like “fat” and “ugly.” My grandfather kept encouraging me, so we went to the stage.

We worked our way through the crowd to see Gregg Russell. It was the largest crowd I had been in at that time in my life. “We’re going to sit in the very front so Gregg Russell can choose you,” my grandma said with glee. I didn’t want to sit up front next to the screaming obnoxious children, but I also didn’t want to be upfront so that I didn’t have to be chosen. I kept hearing children before me singing, and they all had better voices than me. I knew little old Sarah was in trouble.

After Gregg sang a song called “People Purple Eater,” a local Halloween classic, he stared down at me and said he thought my sign was sublime. I completely lost it and burst into a sweaty mess. “Why don’t you come up on stage little girl?” I don’t know why I agreed, but when I was on stage, a rush of adrenaline hit me in the chest. I thought I was going to faint. “So little girl, what are you gonna sing? The stage is now yours,” Gregg said. He helped me hold the microphone. I had an uneasy feeling swoop over me as I saw my family in front of me, but I remembered my grandfather’s words about confidence and projecting my voice as best as I could.

In what felt like two seconds, I sang and the performance was over. Thank the Lord. I heard the audience clapping, so I was assured that it wasn’t so bad after all. Actually, I kind of liked it. “Thank you for letting me perform,” I shouted. “And thank you for performing little girl,” he said holding his guitar.

When I visit Hilton Head today, my grandmother always wants to see Gregg Russell for great memories. She still wonders if Gregg remembers me, the little girl who sang “Tomorrow.” I always bring Nana down to Earth and tell her, “Nana, that was many moons ago. He couldn’t possibly remember.” But I guess Nana and I still remember him.  

Nowadays, when I see Gregg Russell invite children on the stage, a form of nostalgia shelters me. I wish I could go back to that time when I was a kid so that I could go back onstage. At the time, Gregg gave me a lot of self-confidence. I was still uneasy after undergoing open heart surgery at birth, and I was made more uneasy as a child after undergoing regular surgeries and medical procedures. But during that performance, I felt great about myself. I felt that for a moment, people didn’t bully me or look down on me.

I wish I still had that confidence today. The voices in my head still call out “ugly,” and “bad singer.” People can be mean, but I don’t want to let it stop me. Even when people are honest with me about my singing and rightly critical, I can never stop thinking about being ugly. Although my muscle jerks and speech impediments are beyond my control, I blush whenever people compliment me on how good I am at singing. I have yet to build my confidence by just accepting and saying “thank you.” Though I can never become Annie, I can always try to sing like her. Even if I lack the skills for center stage, I can be content by being with other singers. Because of Gregg, I had the confidence to keep singing. Because of Annie, I kept singing to boost my confidence. Some people may write or draw, but I keep music close to my heart.

With edits by Luke Cai @lukecwolf

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