Let me tell you a story

Let me tell you a story about how I loved a boy once.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending.

Let me tell you how I almost died before I even met the boy. How I fought my way back to life for him.

This story always comes back to death.

Let me tell you about how I loved a boy before I even knew how to speak. I gave him my first words.

My father scrawled this story in a notebook in a drunken stupor while I formed my love into a deep, dark question and hurled it at him.

This story is a puzzle.

I begged him to slip love around my neck like some heavy leather noose.

This story is my scar.

The only answer was my own echo.

Love is the reverberation of my own voice refused.

This story is infinite.

My son scrawled this story in the dirt on the elementary school playground.

Love is never heavy enough.

This story always snakes back on itself.

Let me tell you a story about a black belt in your hand.

This story ends with your voice in my ear.

Do you mind implication?

Somebody please tell me to shut up

There are some things about me that I can’t tell you.

I’m talking about speech, not secrets.

There are some things about me that I’m not capable of telling you because words ruin them.

I resisted my name for years. Until I was about five, I refused to say my name that is really my middle name, my second name, my mom’s afterthought. It’s only one of many names I’ve had, but knowing it leads you into a maze of incorrect assumptions. Did I know that at age three? Maybe. If I had been named like my preschool friend, Summer, maybe I wouldn’t have been so silent when the other kids asked my name.

I’m the shy kid swinging alone on the playground while the other kids play on the monkey bars.

At twelve, I must have misspoken to my best friend’s rabbi. “Are you Jewish?” he asked me as I sat by her at Hebrew school.

“Yes,” I said.

“What’s your name?” he asked, kind, hopeful.

His face fell when I told him. Confusion furrowed his brow, shock glimmered in his eye. “Don’t you know what that means?” he asked.

Yes, I did. Of course I do.

I’m a Jewish girl who can never say her name in a synagogue.

On my honeymoon, thrilled to be in Paris, I tried out my conversational skills at our first dinner. The waiter turned my question into a little joke, I’m pretty sure a pun at my expense. After that I stopped speaking except in emergencies, preferring to remain still and silent as much as possible. Silent, the waiters were much more polite.

I’m French, but only when I’m absolutely silent.

There have been more times when speech has betrayed me. It definitely did in grad school. There was a night long ago in a crummy motel room. Every time I’m driven to yell at my kids, speech stabs me in the gut.

Yes, it’s true, we’ll know each other better if I don’t speak. Silence never contradicts itself.

Sometimes my voice doesn’t work

I flunked a test once.

I was in undergrad, at my all-girls school. Passing was, supposedly, a prerequisite for graduation.

Flunking it shattered me. I was a great student. I graduated magna cum laude. I never received less than a B in college, except for that exam.

The exam was on speaking. My proctor, an elderly nun who taught public speaking, sat at her neatly arranged desk. I only remember giving her directions, aloud, from the college to my home. I spoke loud and clear, in my normal voice. The directions came easily since I traveled that route often. I wasn’t even nervous.

I just said the directions.

I was sure that I’d passed. I didn’t even bother to worry about my results.

When I checked the bulletin board in the hall a few days later, I was shocked. Next to my name it said “FAILED.” I almost cried.

I tried talking to the proctor, but she refused to explain. I talked to my advisor, who seemed as surprised as me, and promised to get to the bottom of it. Nothing happened. I wondered about it, worried about it for months leading up to graduation. I thought for sure that I wouldn’t graduate, despite my good grades. I was certain that my life was ruined. I asked my advisor about it, and she told me not to worry.

I still did.

A few weeks before graduation, I had a presentation for my Irish lit class. I remember that I was speaking on Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. All of a sudden, my voice disappeared. I could not speak, couldn’t even think. I didn’t know what was going on. I stopped trying to talk, looked at my notes. My heart was pounding, and I couldn’t figure out my thoughts.

“I’m sorry,” I squeaked.

After a few minutes my voice returned to my body. I did my best to finish my presentation.

Graduation day came, and no one stopped me from walking across the stage. The school president still handed me my diploma. No one in the audience knew that I was a fraud. But the damage was done, and by the time I made it to grad school it was nearly impossible for me to make a presentation, to talk in front of a group.

I’ve thought a lot about that day in my proctor’s office. I’ve wondered just what I did wrong. What was wrong with my voice? I’ll never know. But I have set the scene many times. I’ve realized that a young girl wearing a Star of David on a narrow chain at a Catholic women’s college might have never had a chance against an old, devout nun. Maybe the problem was never with my voice at all.

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Her talk

She’s at the seminar table, her heart pounding, breath coming in gasps, their eyes on her, when her voice fails her. Her talk on Pynchon all but forgotten, past and future fade into the irony of Mucho Maas and his love for Oedipa as she knows but doesn’t realize just how much more she wants. Her classmates, clueless, stare at her in silence, but for one: “Killer handout,” he tells her.