“Yes?” I said, heart pounding into my throat.
“I just wanted to ask you,” a shrill voice said, her voice intensifying with excitement, “Do you want to be an AcaBelle?”
When the AcaBelles of Florida State University called me to offer me a place in their a cappella group, I said yes. I shouldn’t have.
The AcaBelles are sassy, strong female vocalists that commanded the stage and enchanted me with their beautifully blended chords and kick-ass vocal percussionist, and their phone call was the gateway to my involvement in FSU. I was a real, integrated college student with rehearsals to attend and a set of prospective friends. I couldn’t wait.
Rehearsals began and I found myself falling in love with the world of a cappella. The music we created was bone chilling, jaw dropping and I felt a part of something transcendent, something bigger than myself.
And yet something was wrong. There was a flat note in the chord, an unintended dissonance between the rest of the group and me. The girls, individually, were nice enough. They said Hi, offered slight smiles in my direction and politely feigned interest in my life. Out of the five new additions to the group, I was the only one that hadn’t found her person–someone I clicked with right away, an automatic friend. I spent rehearsals invisible unless I screwed up; my errors were the most noticeable part of me to the other members.
As a wallflower, I observed their hysterical inside jokes and desperately tried to say something that would make them like me, make them think I was funny, witty or quick. They weren’t mean; they simply had no interest in my life. They had no interest in me.
I couldn’t figure it out. In my 18 years of life, I never had a problem getting along with a group of girls. Why were they so different than me that I couldn’t even find one friend?
We went on a trip to South Carolina to attend the A Cappella SoJam Festival, a glamorous a cappella battle of schools around the nation. I knew the 10-hour drive would be grueling, but I humbly took the back middle seat with a cup of coffee in my hand and a determination to befriend some of the AcaBelles. By the end of the drive, I knew the task was impossible.
I started to play a game with myself to see how many times I could speak without acknowledgement from the girls. The result was 11. My voice was caught 11 times and swept away by the hot air blowing through the crack in the window, like I never spoke up at all.
When competition season began, I lost my voice. I lost my voice for four months, as if I wasn’t already silenced enough. I was reduced to mouthing the words to our set of songs, wishing I could contribute to the sound of a cappella I fell in love with just months before.
When the AcaBelles didn’t place at semifinals, their reaction to our loss cleared my thoughts. They were in tears, full of anger and spite for the competition process, bitter over our unrecognized efforts. Though another group from FSU took the win, The AcaBelles walked out before their encore performance, refusing to watch. The lack of support and sportsmanship was astonishing. Disappointed as I may have been, I didn’t shed a tear. “If you didn’t cry when we lost, you never wanted to win in the first place!” one of them said, indirectly shaming me for my lack of visible reaction. I realized that this wasn’t a group of girls I could relate to.
For the first time, the AcaBelles re-auditioned returning members. They re-auditioned us under the pre-tense of “checking our vocal health.” I, the one AcaBelle with vocal health problems the previous year, maintained my hope. I thought, “Give them the benefit of the doubt, Isabella. This can’t be about you.”
After I re-auditioned, I was the only returning member to be asked to leave the group.
I was crushed. The heavy weight of being unwanted destroyed me; I stopped singing. The fall semester of my sophomore year, I ignored the a cappella world, un-liking them on various social media and turning my head the other way when I ran into them on campus. My sister joined a co-ed group, The Acaphiliacs, and begged me to rejoin a cappella. After six months of moping, I ditched my self-pity and auditioned. The Acaphiliacs accepted me into their group, and that’s when I found the group I was meant to be in all along.
Suddenly, my voice came back. The Acaphiliacs embraced my talent and personality. They made me feel like I mattered. I was astonished with their genuine love for creating music that impacted others and ourselves. I realized that the journey I faced with the AcaBelles led me to the place that felt like home.
I still don’t know why I never clicked with the AcaBelles. I don’t know why I was excluded, ignored and disliked. But I do know that exclusion doesn’t happen like it happens in the movies. Sometimes, there’s not a tall, blonde beauty that says, “You can’t sit with us.” Exclusion happens in the small moments, the moments you whisper an inside joke to your friend or stop making an effort to make someone feel welcome. Sometimes, it’s not your fault that you can’t become everyone’s friend. It wasn’t mine. I learned that just because I wasn’t an AcaBelle didn’t mean I wasn’t someone, it meant that I was an Acaphiliac.
Today, the AcaBelles are an entirely different group of talented and sweet girls who may not even know my story. As I continue my journey with the Acaphiliacs, I look forward to an even brighter future in the a cappella community here at FSU–a future that involves loving, accepting and embracing each and every member in this incredible world of singers.