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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

I See You. I Hear You.

Oct 01, 2021 06:00AM ● By Genevieve Kim

Photo: Genevieve Kim

The San Diego Opera audition would be my first after the divorce. Less than a year prior to that, seven months into my marriage, I was packing as quickly as I could so I could leave my husband while he was at work. There were many red flags, even before I got married, but I foolishly stayed in the abusive relationship, which crushed nearly all the spirit out of me for three years. During that period, I experimented with self-destructive behaviors, including cutting and hitting myself, and had my first major depressive episode. One morning, I looked in the mirror and couldn’t recognize the person I saw in the reflection. That’s when I knew I had to leave.

Nine months later, I received an invite to audition with the San Diego Opera. It took me by surprise. My confidence was still fragile, yet I felt a tinge of hope that perhaps it would be the fresh start I needed. Halfway through my audition, however, the director stopped me, and, without explanation, he asked me to leave. In less than a song, my hope vanished.

I blamed myself for the disaster of an audition. “If only I had never met my husband, I would not have lost focus and voice.” As I left the audition, I resigned to never singing again.

I spent the next several years of my life getting a “real job.” I graduated from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business top-tier MBA program with a concentration in finance. Before graduating, I had already been offered a job at one of the most competitive management consulting firms in the world.

On paper, my life looked perfect.

But underneath the gold leaf, my self-destructive behaviors were worsening. I was suffocating with eating disorders, more toxic relationships and drugs. Cycles of anxiety and depressive episodes intensified. Apathy sucked me dry and left me wondering whether I should keep living or not. I had become all but mute.

“Is there anything that you do find enjoyable?” the school psychologist asked me.

“Photography,” I said. 

“Then just photograph,” he said.

“Just photograph?”

“Yep. Just photograph.”

That was all the permission I needed to loosen my grip of punishment a little. The next term, I studied abroad in Italy. When I got to Italy, my camera and I became inseparable. We savored more than pasta and wine; we savored design, art, music, history and architecture. On one of our long walks around the city, my camera led me to a side of town I had not yet visited. Across the street, I noticed a photogenic building and curiously walked toward it. We were in front of La Scala.

That evening, I messaged an old friend who used to study voice in Italy and asked if she knew of any teachers in the Milan area. She responded with a “yes” and connected me with a former teacher of hers. A few weeks later, I was taking voice lessons again. Though I had no intentions of becoming a professional musician, I knew that it was time to stop silencing myself.

During one of our lessons, my voice coach said, “You have a beautiful voice. Why did you ever stop singing?” 

“I suppose it was my way of punishing myself. But I’m done with that now.”

When I got back stateside, I signed up for Fuqua’s annual talent show. It was my first time onstage since that disastrous audition six years before. My voice roared throughout the auditorium. Even as the music ended, I kept singing and the audience went wild. I got a standing ovation.

They heard me. I heard me. I am done punishing myself. No more hiding. I am done being silenced. I will not keep silent anymore. I have a voice, and I’m going to use it.

Today, I am very much at home on stage. Whether I’m speaking, writing or sharing my photography, my message is simple: I see you. I hear you. 

Genevieve Kim is a writer, photographer and speaker who coaches artists on how to unleash their creative voice. Connect at [email protected] or Instagram @TriangleFlash.

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