Monday 6 March 2006

The rest is silence/the silence is rest

Today I’ve lost my voice. Yesterday it was husky, this morning it was a croak and now it’s hardly a whisper. I have a meeting this evening at which, luckily, I don’t have to speak at all except socially afterwards; I will just smile a lot.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been unable to speak. I used to work at the local library and the same thing happened one Saturday. By lunchtime I was silent and, unfortunately, was due to be at the little branch library 3 miles away for the afternoon. It’s not easy being in sole charge of a library when you have laryngitis – this was long before the days of computers and swipe cards and we needed to talk to our customers. Though librarians are universally lovely people and still talk to us even though we can now bypass them altogether by using the electronic equipment.

The next time was when I’d had an operation on my vocal cords. I was not, in truth, unable to speak but forbidden to do so, warned that vibration would cause scarring and permanently affect the sound of my voice. It so happened that my mother-in-law died suddenly while I was still in hospital (the last thing she did for me was to buy me a Roberts radio as a consolation present) and this meant that I couldn’t simply lie low for a few weeks as planned but had the social publicity of a large funeral.

It was the first time that I began to understand what it is really like to have a disability. Mine was trivial of course because of its short duration, but I became a non-person. I was not physically excluded from groups of people, but if I started to write a comment during the conversation no one ever waited to see what I wanted to say. Not my family, not close or distant friends. A few people talked to me, politely, but I felt that I no longer mattered. More, I realised that if I was so easily disregarded, I had not mattered in the first place.

There was one exception to this, my nephew (my husband’s sister’s son) who made a casual point of sitting down with me after the funeral for a long chat, unembarrassedly making most of the conversation but leaving opportunities for me to write my notes and then responding to them as if I’d actually written something interesting. He was only in his early twenties but demonstrated more understated understanding than anyone else.

I have always rather regretted having the operation in fact. I liked my husky voice and it was the only time I’ve ever been able to attract men simply by uttering a few words. Several men, otherwise reserved and unflirtatious, said, ‘my god, you’ve got a sexy voice’. What a pity it only lasted a few months.

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