Photo by Jason Rosewell via Unsplash
Mama’s voice is flat and smooth, a raised flower bed where beautiful trillium and violets and bloodroot spring forth from her warm breaths. Syrup sounds like surp and darn sounds like durn. She speaks tiredly, as if all the cookin’ and cleanin’ and worshin’ and lovin’ us kids has given her a wearied disposition, and it can be heard in the way she speaks. Still, mama’s voice is lovely. It’s comforting, and full of hope.
Dad’s voice is strong, and sharp, a steel sword which escapes his mouth and pierces the air around him. His words are prolonged, as if he wants to give them a little more time to live in this world. Porch is pourch and now is nouw. His voice demands attention, and his whispers sound like the feedback on a turned down AM radio. When he’s angry, his syllables become wrath; we dare not speak back for fear of vocal retribution.
My sister — her voice. It’s like a cluster of baby tadpoles, all hurriedly swimming, the water gliding by their little bodies made of consonants and vowels. When she speaks, her words move quickly, a rapid tut-tut-tut, high pitched and seeking notice, as if she were forever singing King-Kong-Kitchie-Kitchie-Ki-Me-O. Like is lyeuk and used is youst. Her voice is heartening in its familiarity, though her constant whirlwind of words — a machine gun of vocal bullets which never seems to run out — is the bane of my present reality.
Then there’s me. My voice. An ebb and flow of broken words, rising and falling and rising again like a string of mountains with barren trees, brown and dying at autumn’s end, no sign of beauty remaining. My mouth opens and out pops a word and each set of vowels-turned-diphthong slides up the vocal scale and shatters haltingly, ending each word higher than it first began. Not that it was always this way. Once my voice was smooth and steady, a flowing creek that I could splash merrily in. Mama says this too will pass, it’s just a part of growing up. That I am developing — that’s the word she uses — progressing earlier than my peers. That the other boys will soon sound like me.
I have a hard time believing her. I know it to be true that every voice is different. What if mine decides to permanently stay in this vocal purgatory, never reaching its final destination? What if I am forever endowed with a larynx that can’t quite make up its mind whether it wants to produce sound at high or low frequencies? What I want is a voice like dads — strong, and sharp, steady and prolonged. A voice that doesn’t get ridiculed in school.
What I want is a voice of my own.
I hope you enjoy this creative nonfiction piece that is a part of Mike's series on coming of age in rural Appalachia. You can find more of the series here.