November 10, 2013 § 1 Comment
Mrs. Gallagher couldn’t hear. She obviously couldn’t see either, since she had those plastic owl eye glasses. They were huge, even if it was the eighties. Her steel gray hair was short and she wore sensible pantsuits when Hillary was still wearing mini-skirts. She must have been 100. Ok, I guess she was maybe late fifties, early sixties, but when I was thirteen, she was definitely 100 plus.
I knew she couldn’t hear because every time I spoke in English class (and though I was extremely shy, I was confident in English) she looked at me a little funny, like she had to study me to understand what I said. Like she might be a lip-reader.
Turns out, she thought I needed speech therapy. Now, I am the first to admit my voice is high pitched. I was called Minnie Mouse in elementary school more times than I can count, but that didn’t mean I needed speech therapy. I wasn’t even sure what speech therapy meant. I just knew I’d be pulled out into the hallway to talk with some lady during class, so I might as well go ahead and die of embarrassment to get it over with. I piped down in Mrs. Gallagher’s class, and I talked to the lady in the hallway, who didn’t find any kind of speech impediment for me, except maybe Mrs. Gallagher.
I wonder now if she might not have just asked me to speak up. I could really belt it out on the cheerleading squad and I could have done a good rendition of D-E-F-E-N-S-E to prove it. I took great pleasure in shocking people with my volume. I wonder if it was my twang, my hillbilly heritage, that made Mrs. Gallagher think I needed fixing, especially since I was a good student. Maybe if I could talk right, I’d achieve something. Mrs. Gallagher clearly wasn’t from Kentucky.
The thing is, my voice has always been like this. It’s different from my sisters I guess, because I hear the world differently. I liked the way my mom’s mountain words came out; I didn’t like how loud she was. I made mental notes of both. I could always do impressions, especially of teachers or parents.
Maybe I’ve adapted to this voice some, chosen the way I talk over time. I can flatten my words or stretch them in different company, can’t we all? Still, I can’t change what’s at the core of it. Now that I’m closer to 100 than 13, I let my twang loose, rarely try to hold it back. In college, when my roommate Julie and I would each call home, I’d get more Kentucky and she’d veer up toward that place she called Lowngisland. Neither of us could stay in our neutral tones.
I like to hear the home in my own words. I like to hear my mom or dad or grandmother slip out of my mouth every now and then, as long as they’re saying something nice. Sometimes even when they’re not. I aspire to the sourwood honey of George Ella Lyon’s voice, for example; I despise Mitch McConnell’s mouth full of marbles. I love the rhythm of language and the way each of our voices makes its own kind of music. I love that Jeff and my mother say Massatuchetts.
I heard a man on the radio the other day say that voice recognition is the next step in network security. We each have a voice imprint, he said, that can’t be imitated. We have a unique shape to the wave of our voices. Mine’s shaped a little like a mountain, with flat stretches of academia, rolling stretches of Carolina. It would be a miracle if Mrs. Gallagher had made it this far past 100, but if she has, I hope she hears me.