Last week I developed laryngitis. In my world, laryngitis is a seasonal thing I know will show up at least a few times every year. Normally I don’t mind it terribly because I’m not a big fan of my voice, it being rather stupid sounding and all. So having a different sounding voice is always a bit like a nice change as far as I’m concerned.
But this was not that sort of laryngitis. This was the sort that instead of making me sound Lauren Bacall-esque, it made me sound silent. As in I lost my whole voice. And, of course, I was scheduled to be talking on Sunday.
Saturday night I connected with a dear friend, Joelle Charbonneau, and asked her what to do. Being a voice teacher and singer, she told me all sorts of things — some of which I knew and some others I didn’t. Of course, I already knew the most important one: stop talking at once! Followed only incrementally behind by: never whisper!!
You might be surprised (or absolutely not if you know me at all) that while I know those two cardinal rules to laryngitis, I was breaking each of them. Absolutely breaking them until all of a sudden I had no voice. Not even a squeak. One of the things Joelle suggested I try was humming. I tried it. It was so silent I had Mister Soandso put his ear to my neck so as to hear what was not to be heard.
I had the thought, “what if I have broken my voice?” Now, I know I couldn’t actually permanently break my voice by doing all the wrong things for a few hours while having laryngitis. But that thought, it rolled over me like a tidal wave and I was truly worried.
Because I had been silenced, well and truly silenced, and while I hadn’t caused it, I sure had helped it along.
I am a talker. Not because I am so enthralled with the sound of my own voice, because honestly, I really don’t like my voice. I know it’s hard for many ears to hear, I know it’s childish and makes me sound like someone who can’t be taken seriously. I know it’s not particularly pleasant to listen to. But I am still a talker.
I am a talker because I grew up feeling silenced. Like my whole life was telling me to shut up, be quiet, keep silent about what was honest and authentically happening in my heart.
SHUT UP KRISTI. NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY. CHILDREN ARE TO BE SEEN AND NOT HEARD. NO ONE CARES HOW YOU FEEL. NO ONE ASKED YOU. SHUSH, YOU TALK TOO MUCH. THAT’S YOUR LAST WARNING, KRISTI – THE NEXT TIME YOU LOSE MORNING RECESS. JUST BE QUIET. LET SOMEONE ELSE ANSWER. NO, DON’T SAY ANOTHER THING, I DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT.
Silenced. Years and years of my life feeling like what I had to say was either not important or not safe to say. Years where every boy would be called on while my hand stayed in the air. Years of being told that my bruises didn’t deserve their story. Years of being told that my “no” wasn’t as important as another’s “yes”. Years of not being able to explain. Of not being able to speak up for myself. Years. Of. Being. Silenced.
And last weekend, as my voice well and truly disappeared, I was actually scared that I had been literally silenced.
Because in so many ways I’ve stopped speaking these past few years.
I’m not doing stand-up anymore.
I’m not blogging much anymore.
I’m not writing.
Over the past few years, I’ve silenced myself. Perhaps not fully, but enough that it’s taking a toll.
Once I was silent because others told me to be quiet. Now I’m silent because I’m not sure if I have anything that anyone wants to hear. Now I’m silent because the effort is too much.
More than once in the past few years I’ve been asked a question and then the person turns away before I’ve even answered. And that hurts. But what hurts more is knowing the times I’ve silenced myself. What hurts is that once a body goes silent, it’s hard to find one’s voice again. This I know to be true.
And while my voice might be back, it’s still not really back. And honestly, I’m not sure if it ever will be.
All The Silences
The silence from the end of the couch, the cushion still dented;
The silence from the hospital bed, the machines still pulled close;
The silence from the ditch, the overturned car’s wheels still spinning;
The silence from the empty room, the taxi’s lights still shining down the block;
The silence from the phone, the dial tone still saying to hang up;
The silence from gun, the spent casing still spinning on the floor;
The silence from the crib, the blankets still covering a tiny body;
The silence from the back row, the students who still won’t raise their hands;
The silence from within, the words that won’t be, can’t be said.
All the silences, from all the endings, they make such a loud cry to be heard.
On this Veteran’s Day, there are so many veterans who’ve come home and no longer know how to speak about what torments them, continues to haunt them. I hope they find someone they are able to speak to…