As she stood there repeating herself, she wondered if she should have spoken louder.
She was fresh out of college when it started. She didn’t think much of it at the time because it happened too frequently to be noticed. Whenever she heard the inevitable What? she would clear her throat and repeat louder, never blinking twice. She was an only child, a shining emblem to carry her bloodline forward. She had to be heard. So she scoured the internet for free voice lessons because singers are always heard.
Somewhere around high school, she gained the confidence to say what she had to say. The repetitions became less frequent but were still unavoidably there. It was like a giant bug on her back; she couldn’t see it herself but she knew it was there and that others could see it. She sang in a few talent shows and brought her guitar and sang alone or with a couple of friends during study hall. Although she knew she wasn’t the best singer, couldn’t even reach those high notes without her voice cracking, in those moments she was happiest.
Then she took a year off after high school to pursue her interests. Her voice boomed louder than it ever had. Colors and ideas and inspiration came oozing out of her eyes, ears and mouth, she almost drowned in herself. She got so lost in the noise that she forgot about the future until it came and there was radio silence.
She found she could barely speak in college. She had to repeat herself more than twenty times a day. She knew this because she kept score of every single defect in her speech in the hope that she could concoct a cure somehow. Then she turned to writing; surely her words would leave an impression on people’s minds. And it made a difference, but only a slight one.
When she fell in love for the first time, she felt a sharp pain in her chest and her voice was too loud and out of control. She broke it off because it was too much to handle.
On the day that she graduated, she hugged her parents when she received her degree. They congratulated her heartily and she said thank you. She went about socializing with her fellow graduates and she knew now, that maybe it was the atmosphere of euphoria that intoxicated their senses. They drove home after lunch and the first thing she did was turn on her laptop to a headhunting website.
“I’m sending out a bunch of resumés,” she said, completely pleased with herself.
“What?” her father asked.
“I said I’m sending out resumés,” she cut her sentence short hoping he would piece the words together easily. He gave a warm smile, gave her a pat on the back and went back to reading his newspaper. She shrugged it off but when she received a job offer the next week, her parents were taken aback. To every explanation she gave, she received an even bolder What?
The job she accepted was a writing post in a local magazine. Her boss told her that she wrote exceptionally well but he asked, “Why don’t you ever speak up?” Then he turned around and left, her lip quivering in silence. So she became that one employee who never spoke, never said hello or goodbye or thank you or sorry, that one employee who had no manners.
She moved out of her parents’ house and rented a small but quaint apartment that was closer to work. She would visit them every month and every month, she would catch her mother unabashedly changing her clothes, adding a little too much rum in her Rum ’n Coke, or her father scratching an itch underneath his belt buckle, taking out an inexplicably large wad of cash from a safe box, looking at pictures of pretty girls on the internet. On Christmas Eve, she went over to their place, her old home, and rang the doorbell almost 21 times before she gave up. Her mother called the next day asking why she wasn’t there for the dinner party.
“But I was,” she said. “I rang the doorbell so many times and left because I thought you went out.”
“Hello? Sweetheart, is something wrong? Why won’t you answer me?”
The phone dropped from her face. Life was at a standstill and suddenly she was struck by lightning. It occurred to her that she was disappearing, turning into a simmering heap of ashes. She stepped outside of the apartment building and waited for a wind to pick her up and carry her away. She thought, no one will ever know.
And life went on without her.
And as for me, I didn’t know her, didn’t even know her first name. Yet, as my fingers urgently race across the keys, she comes back in flashes of memories. I hear her voice, I think that’s her voice, when they say What?
I’ve been repeating myself a lot lately. Could be I’m not loud enough, could be everyone else is deaf.
And then I thought, what if this wasn’t just about my voice? What would happen if you slowly disappeared out of other people’s senses? What if it was more than voice but actually you that disappears?