Tuscaloosa, Alabama

I stood in the crowded room where more people were spilling in by the minute and felt the walls closing in, felt the deafening roar as the blood rushed to my head and the nausea washed over me. That old familiar feeling right before I hyperventilate. Laughter swirled around me as the wine flowed freely. Another party, another night shooting for the magazine’s society pages. In an effort to remain standing, I clawed my way to the wall, wishing desperately to find the door.

Then I saw her — across the room — looking as miserable as I felt. She was backed into a dingy corner, hair falling into her green eyes, playing her heart out to the seething mass of Italian suits and silk dresses which neither heard her nor cared.

Switching lenses, I kept my eyes on her, watched her watch the room, watched the emotions cross her face despite her efforts to hide them. When she finished her song, I made my way to her and asked her name. She was a university student, a violin major. Polite. Reserved. I shot a few more frames as she played her next song, then told her it was a shame that most of the other people in the room would never hear her over the cacophony of voices.

“I don’t mind,” she said softly. “I’m just wallpaper.”

Wallpaper. Not meant to be seen, not meant to be heard. I understood, but I sensed a double meaning in her words. It made me sad. How many people do we pass every day, looking through them without ever seeing them? How many people will never know the comfort of being truly listened to, the joy of seeing their own reflection in someone else’s eyes and knowing that person really “gets” them? Sometimes the loneliest place in the world to be is in a room full of people.

NOTE: In the interest of disclosure, this photograph is fairly heavily Photoshopped and would not be admissable under the ethical guidelines to which photojournalists must adhere.

Music of the day: Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad by Meatloaf

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