I just walked back into the house after dropping my son off at school. As I opened the door and walked into my mudroom, I realized I was talking to myself. Out loud. I’ve always talked to myself in my head. It’s been a near constant monologue for as long as I can remember, but this talking out loud stuff is new.

I suppose I should be worried. Have my brain scanned or something. But I’m not going to because I’m okay with it. It’s okay if I talk. It’s okay if I am heard.

I don’t need to please you with my silence.

***

A few weeks ago my son’s kindergarten teacher put a call out to the parents of the children in her class: would one of us be willing to come and speak to the incoming parents on information night about why we chose the half-day option for our child?  I had specific reasons for why I had chosen this option and feel like it has worked out well for us and so I immediately volunteered.

I was not particularly nervous about getting up and speaking in front of this room of 50 or so people. I’m a happy public speaker. I enjoy it. I enjoy being on stage. It’s a familiar and comfortable place for me as that was my familial role as a child–the clown, the people pleaser.

But when it was my turn to speak, I lost my breath. My chest became hot. I choked out the words. I said what I needed to but my voice–the strong and confident one–was gone.

I was frightened.

It was back again. I had lost my voice.

***

Twelve years ago, my mother died. At the small outdoor service, I read a eulogy I had written for her. I read it strongly and confidently and with my own voice.

A week or so later, I was back at work. I was in a meeting that I had been in many times before when I was called upon to do what I had done many times before, get up and speak in front of the 50 or so engineers I worked with. They were friendly and familiar. They knew me and I knew them. But right there and then is when it happened: I froze. Choked out a few words. Sat down in utter humiliation.

In the five or so years that followed that, the fright clung to me whenever I was called upon to speak in front of a group. It wasn’t until after my son was born nearly six years ago, that I worked through my fright. I spent the time figuring out where it came from and why. I talked it down.

I practiced deep breathing. I told myself that I was having fun.

I let it go.

But then a few weeks ago, it was back again and there it was at the next thing I was called upon to do. It was there and there. It was there.

***

Last night, I had the honor of reading in front of an audience at Literary Firsts. I was going to read third and so I made sure I got there as early as I possibly could to give myself time to decompress from the drive and to give myself time to breathe.

In through the nose and out through the mouth.

In through the nose and out through the mouth.

In through the nose and out through the mouth.

In through the nose and out through the mouth.

In through the nose and out through the mouth.

Let go of the complexities of your fear and fall into the rhythm of breath.

When it came time for me to read, my fear was gone and I was able to read my words in my own voice. As I had in the past, I found the experience of sharing my words–in reading them aloud–entirely pleasurable. It was an opportunity to become one with the audience. We shared our breath.

It was intimate.

***

When you are dead, the thing that will first be forgotten will be the sound of your voice. When the person who loves you accidentally hears your voice in a video or on a forgotten voice mail, she will find herself very small and wishing to be in your arms. To be comforted by you. By your smell. By the sound of your voice.

***

A few months after my mother died, my husband and I were in Death Valley. We had just gotten back into the car after walking out onto the salt flats at Bad Water, the lowest place in the Western Hemisphere. It felt a holy place to me. I was right there down closest to the core. I was farther from the sky than I had been while still being able to see it. There were no caves walls around me. There were mountains. There was sky.

As we drove up out of that valley, our cellphone came back into reception. We had a voice mail from an unfamiliar number. I listened to the message. It was a woman’s voice I did not recognize. She said, “Hi. It’s me. I wanted to let you know that I’m okay.”

I knew that the message wasn’t meant for me but also that it was meant for me alone. I did not know that woman’s voice, but her voice knew me.  We were there together in that moment and she was okay.

She was okay.

I was not alone without her.

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