“There is a castle on a cloud,
I like to go there in my sleep,
Aren’t any floors for me to sweep,
Not in my castle on a cloud.”
– Young Cosette, Les Misérables
In middle school, there was this pretty girl who sat next to me in my English class named Christina Flores. Christina was different from the other girls. She had this amazing presence for a young lady that hinted at a deeper, unrelenting passion and ambition just beneath the surface. Christina had dreams of becoming an actress. She had even been in a Wendy’s commercial.
It wasn’t like I grew up in a suburb of Hollywood, surrounded by wannabe young starlets with pushy stage parents. I grew up in Charles County, Maryland, a small town where the most exciting prospect for young girls was to be named Queen Nicotina at the County Fair. (God, I wish I was making that up.)
Other kids in my class talked about her and her commercial work with hushed reverence. Naturally, I was impressed by Christina too. She was charming and fun and completely different from the other girls at my school. She laughed at my jokes and never got tired of the constant questions the other kids and I asked her about her seemingly glamorous life.
One day, we had an assembly. As part of it, Christina got in front of the school and sang “Castle on a Cloud” from Les Misérables. I had never heard the song before. I was instantly transfixed by her rendition of it. Christina’s voice was hauntingly beautiful and I knew immediately that I was hearing something special. This wasn’t your run of the mill nervous middle school girl performance. She wasn’t just good for a young girl or good for a kid from Charles County. She was easily the most talented singer I’d ever known.
I don’t want to overstate what this moment was, but it’s easily the closest I’ve ever come to feeling the way Red does in Shawshank Redemption when Andy breaks into the warden’s office and plays that duet from The Marriage of Figaro. (“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”)
Needless to say, the girl and her song had an indelible impression on a young, hormone-ridden Joel Murphy. But just as quickly as she came into my school and wowed me with her presence and her amazing voice, she was gone. I didn’t know what happened to her. Eventually, the memory of this unique young lady and her beautiful voice trickled down to the deep recesses of my brain.
Until years later, when I heard one of Christina Milian’s songs in a record store. I picked up a copy of the CD and to my surprise, staring back at me from the album cover was an older version of Christina Flores, the girl I knew from middle school.
It’s hard to explain the precise feelings I had when I made this discovery. But I think overall I was just genuinely happy for her for leaving Charles County and achieving her dreams. I also felt honored to have briefly known her before she blew up and started starring in films like Be Cool, Love Don’t Cost a Thing and Man of the House. I was there for her origin story, like one of Peter Parker’s friends tagging along on the field trip with him the day he got bitten by a radioactive spider.
I bring all this up because these memories came flooding back to me while at the screening of Les Misérables this week. When Isabelle Allen began singing “Castle on a Cloud” in the film, I was instantly transported back to that unforgettable moment when a future star sang it in the auditorium of Matthew Henson Middle School.
It’s funny the way sense memories like that can hit you. I haven’t thought about any of this stuff in years and now it’s at the forefront of my brain.
Seven years into HoboTrashcan, I’ve gotten to have some amazing experiences. Earlier this year, in fact, I interviewed Alison Brie before her show at Le Poisson Rouge. And I interviewed Matt Smith and Karen Gillan inside the BBC America building hours before their big New York City premiere of Doctor Who. In years past, I’ve gotten to talk to my childhood heroes like Kevin Conroy (the voice of Batman), Mick Foley and the amazing Malcolm McDowell. Along with countless others.
People often ask me what made me start this site and how I had the gall to just go out and start hitting up publicists for celebrity interviews. As strange as it sounds, I can’t help feeling that this bizarre journey I’ve been on for these past seven years was in some way inspired by that mysterious middle school girl named Christina Flores who showed me there was a larger world out there beyond Charles County. So thanks Christina, for sharing your castle on a cloud with me.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.