I hate loud noises. I sleep with earplugs or I don’t sleep; and when I was teaching I could hear a whisper from a classroom away. If you have had the pleasure of attending a movie with me, then you know I don’t wear earrings because I use my fingers to press my earlobes into my ear canals to mute the sound. It tends to make for uneventful dates, as I can’t hold hands and no one wants to make out with the girl who may accidentally give you “The People’s Elbow” when you lean in for a kiss. Also, I will eat all of your Junior Mints. As a movie date, I am pretty much a wash.
My freakish hearing hadn’t really affected me much, until I had my daughter. Then the pot banging, excited squealing, and cabinet door slamming, wild rumpus began.
My daughter discovered her voice box had a volume dial while we were shopping for a fish in PetCo. We passed by a glass case full of Guinea pigs and she gleefully exclaimed “MOUSE!”, at the top of her lungs. I pleaded with her to use her “inside voice”, which she understood to mean we were inside a giant cave that she must frantically shout across. She chanted “inside voice” loudly as we made our way to the cashier with Fishy I*. The irony is strong with this one.
Last week, my husband drove us all over the state. I had an appointment at M.D. Anderson (no sign of reoccurrence, scans in April), family to visit and a book signing. He ended up exhausted and with a fairly severe allergic reaction. I volunteered to drive us home.
Secretly, I love driving on roads like the ones back to Lubbock. Long, lonely expanses of highways let me talk to myself. I’ve told myself stories since I was little, and I went 3.5 hours before my husband woke up told me we were listening to static on the radio.
I can only create this type of quiet sometimes, and I treasure it. It allows me to work out ideas about life and writing. Lately, one story just won’t leave me alone. Just thinking of it makes tears spring to my eyes, because it’s so very mine. It’s a story my heart sings to me, and in my wildest dreams it is the one that lets me stay home with my daughter, but still take her on trips around the globe.
In the back seat, my husband sleeps. My daughter has just awoken and she’s yelling excitedly about windmills, the last of the trees before west Texas, and just words in general.
I start to correct her. To instruct her to speak softly—to use her “inside voice”. But I stop myself. Instead, I watch her in my rearview mirror. Her and her sleepy daddy.
And I think about the stories I tell myself. That this cancer sprung up because I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do and the Universe tried to kill me. That once I started writing all the scans have been negative, the surgery was successful. That the chemo worked.
It was my “inside voice” that told me that story. My “inside voice” that told me I had to write–everyday and as though my life depended on it. My “inside voice” tells me to be risky. It tells me no matter how impractical and crazy it seems, that I am on the right path. That I am so close to being able to tell this story we both hold so dear.
I say a quick prayer for my daughter, as she softly sings the steps to a dance she learned from Mickey Mouse. I pray that she uses her “inside voice”. When she’s scared or unsure, I hope that voice sounds like her parents, and her friends, and all the people who love and believe in her. I hope she lets it guide her, even when others think her dream is stupid, or selfish, or without a shot in hell. I hope she trusts herself enough to go after exactly what she wants, and I hope it doesn’t take her 30 years to do it. I pray her “inside voice” is kind and encouraging and will one day be loud enough to drown out all the doubt that comes with being different. And when she feels the pressure of the outside world, and the naysayers come calling, I hope she can find the volume. Because, maybe, “inside voices” aren’t supposed to be quiet after all.
*Yes, there has been a Fishy II. I killed Fishy I while cleaning out his bowl. I accidentally placed him in hot water to wait. I’m basically Mark David Chapman; except he had Salinger and I have Dr. Seuss.