On my first day of community college, I didn’t have my voice. I’d come down with a cold and my voice completely disappeared and I remember thinking it was a good thing before I walked into my first class because I was shy and didn’t know a living soul on campus and losing my voice was a good excuse not to have to talk to anyone. But it was bad. An isolating feeling that only amplified how alone I was after all my high school friends left for universities around California. I remember a student body member in front of the bookstore asked me how I was doing. I just smiled. For three days I couldn’t talk to anyone and for two years I didn’t make a single friend.
Since I began working in an early childhood classroom, I find myself telling the students, “Use your words” on a daily basis. While tying their shoes, working on a puzzle, fighting with a friend, they tend to escalate to emotions quickly and that engine wind-up whine of crying can be heard in all corners of the classroom. My first response is to walk over and remind them to talk. Use your words I will say again. Or if someone tattles on or complains about another student I ask if they have talked about it. Did you tell him how you feel?
After I transferred to a 4-year university I declared my major as English. I spent years reading and writing. I started studying creative writing. I took my first poetry class. I wrote I wrote I wrote I eventually went to graduate school for writing. Like all my fellow classmates, we love words. I think we tend to place ourselves high on a shelf of people who are able to tap into their feelings and are able to put them into words and find new ways of exploring them. I like knowing how I feel and I like shaping that into some kind of art.
Last night I started crying instead of talking. I felt anxious about my relationship with my significant other. So instead of maturely talking about it, looking step-by-step at my various feelings and perspectives, I started crying. My communication skills are no more advanced than the 3-year-olds I work with. My emotions were doing the talking. At one point I even answered “I don’ t know” when asked what I was thinking. It makes me feel embarrassed. Un-evolved. Worried it’ll happen again. For someone who prides herself on her mature ability to communicate, I kind of suck at it in intimate relationships. It makes me wonder how many people in intimate partnerships revert back to the habits we had in kindergarten. Going to a second party to whine. Pouting and hoping someone else notices. Pretending we don’t see the mess we just made.
My grandmother has Alzheimer’s and is losing her words. It’s like this: I once saw a flower girl at an outdoor wedding walking towards the aisle with the basket of petals in her hand. The wind was blowing petals out, sweeping them away. The girl didn’t notice. The thought terrifies me. No longer having the words you used to. It is bad when you can see fear in her face and all you can do is try to offer her a word or drink some more sweet tea she made you with one too many packets of artificial sweetener. She will stop mid-sentence. And I can see her rummaging like someone stooped at a closet, throwing jackets and shoes and scarves behind them looking for the one thing they can’t find.
During my first semester at community college I took Speech 101. I remember sitting in the class on the first day listening to the other students. Everyone started making the connection that they’d all waited until their very last semester to take the pre-requisite. Everyone dreaded taking speech, they’d rather take math again haha yeah this was the one we kept putting off. One of the students in our class, sitting near the front, was deaf. He had an interpreter. He was unable to speak verbally. For our mid-term we had to stand in front of the class and give a persuasive speech. I don’t remember any other speech except for the deaf student’s speech, who talked about the importance of donating blood. Despite being unable to give a speech with his vocal chords, his was the loudest speech. I can still remember how he started the speech: sitting in a chair at a desk, slamming his forehead onto the table, reaching up in shock at his forehead and pulling his hands away to reveal fake blood dripping down his face. He tore off his plain shirt and revealed a blood donor shirt. I remember all of this even though it was 9 years ago. Something happens to us when we lose the ability to talk.