As soon as I walked out front, the space under the sofa lost its allure. There was nowhere else in the world I wanted to be.
I stopped at the left side of the bima and opened my siddur. (I worked out that part of the choreography beforehand; this rabbi always stood on the right.) Everyone seemed very far away; I tried to find my friends in the crowd and noticed only darkness beyond the first row. And the back wall of the sanctuary appeared to buckle like it was painted on a balloon, a distortion of my visual field that I knew was a sign of my mind attempting to make sense of stress. Maybe this was its way of pretending all those people were even more distant than they really were, like the warning on the side mirror of a car.
But I could see the prayer book just fine, although the microphone obscured half my view. The cantor had told me to make sure it was directly in front of my mouth and not on an angle, so I moved it over and hoped I didn't look like I was strangling the thing. All I got was a bigger shape across the page, as if someone had drawn a line with a thick black marker. I remembered that the cantor was just a few feet away and able to manipulate knobs and dials to make sure I was heard, and decided to stop wrestling with the goosenecked shadow.
The music began and the rabbi and I started singing, a wordless niggun. The next prayer was in unison, as well, and then it was my turn to begin alone. I heard a voice coming out of my mouth, although not loudly; there were no monitors to send back the sound. But I knew it was going in the right direction.
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