Then tragedy struck. While rolling silverware one night before the big dinner rush, I saw on the TV in the corner that Whitney Houston had died. Everyone gathered around as we heard the sordid details of her final moments. Ethan was devastated.
When Dennis arrived, he announced that he wanted to add a song to the show in honor of her passing. He looked at me.
Dennis: We're going to add "I Will Always Love You" to the show and you're going to sing it.
I told him that long, ballad-y songs were not really my strong suit and - also - I'm not Whitney Houston so please don't make me embarrass myself trying. But Dennis believed in me and started getting the track ready.
I'll be honest, most nights it was passable. Some nights it was awful. And I can distinctly remember 2 or 3 nights when it was really good. Nights when my vocal cords were loose, strong and soulful. Below is a video that a good friend took of the beginning of it one night.
The crowd enjoyed it and always had nice things to say, but they always had nice things to say about everything. Drunk girls drinking out of phallic straws love everything and everyone.
In Summer of 2012 my aunt got sick. Aunt Jackie is my mom's closest sister and was, at times, like another parent in our household. She moved in after my dad died to help ease my mother's burdens. She helped with science projects, hairdos, and taught me about Janis Joplin and Pink Floyd. She loved when I sang and always made a comment about how it made her cry.
When I lived in Provo, she lived in Lehi and I would go to her apartment every Monday night to watch Hallmark movies and eat quesadillas. She thought it was so sad that I had stopped singing when I went to college. "There's no room for another singer out here." I would tell her. She would roll her eyes and tell me that I was the best singer in America. I would roll my eyes right back.
Right before I moved back to Jacksonville, she was having some pain but didn't want to go to a doctor because she didn't have insurance. A little while after I was settled in Jacksonville, Jackie went to a doctor and found out that she had lung cancer.
Her condition deteriorated quickly. She was in the hospital losing her strength and her energy; the same energy that lit up the room like a candle every time she laughed. The energy that had kept us all going during some difficult times in my childhood. Then one afternoon, she passed away.
It was awful. I got the call from my mom one night while I was at girls camp and I sobbed until I couldn't breathe. Major props to Sherry Warner for sitting with me for hours as I incoherently babbled about how I wished I had helped more with the quesadillas or taken her to go thrift store shopping more. It was odd - I know where we go after this life and I have no doubts that Jackie is taken care of by a loving God and other family that has passed on - but that day, for whatever reason, I just couldn't handle it.
Eventually I was able to breathe again and I joined the discussions about helping with her funeral. My mom asked me if I wanted to sing as part of the service. I knew that Jackie would have loved that, but I also knew that there was no way I would be able to get through a song without completely losing it. I volunteered instead to give a brief history of her life.
A week or so later, we held the funeral (memorial?) service. It went well. Lots of beautiful things were said and I felt the love of family and friends. So many people knew and loved her. The sadness was dissipating like clouds after a hurricane. The heft of the loss was growing light and we were able to smile and talk about things of less consequence like lunch and naps and work.
That night, I went to the restaurant to work my normal shift. I sang Mercy without a hitch and, other than the odd contemplative moment, was doing fine emotionally. But then Dennis called my name. It was time to sing I Will Always Love You.
I had sung it dozens of times. I knew all the words. I knew all the notes. And on this night, I knew that I just wouldn't be able to handle it. I took the stage and started the song, but about 30 seconds in, the words began to slur together and air was hard to find as I thought about Jackie.
In a super dramatic moment that one could only find in a Hilary Duff movie (Raise Your Voice, anyone?), I ran from the stage in sobs, leaving Dennis and the band bewildered and alone as the track continued to play.
I went and sat on the gross floor in the back near the walk-in freezer and tried to get myself together. It was extremely unprofessional and extremely embarrassing. The only thing that made it better was Ria kneeling beside me saying, "What do you need? I'll get it." and Ethan somewhere in the background of my mind saying, "I always thought that if someone was going to run off the stage dramatically, it would be me."
Another one of the servers jumped up to the stage and finished the song. It was a little odd to hear someone else sing it, but I was grateful that the show went on.
Once I was up again, I took a sharpie and a paper towel and wrote "Dennis, I am SO SORRY. This will NEVER happen again. -Asia." Then I walked up to the stage and set it on his keyboard so that he would see it.
Looking back, it's funny how dramatic that moment was and what little control I had over my emotions. I'm grateful for supportive coworkers and boss who let it roll of their backs like water off a duck. When the night ended (about 5 hours later), people were so exhausted (and some of them drunk) that they scarcely remembered my botched performance.
All of my songs after that night were better and, thankfully, tear-free. And I still sing. In one way or another, no matter where I am or what I'm doing, I try to always find a way to sing. Not because I'm the best singer in America, but because some people like it and, when I'm being honest with myself, I really like it too.