11 Sep

By Edie Tavel
7th Grade

When I came out of my mother’s womb, it came as quite the surprise to the doctors that I didn’t cry. I took my first few breaths, and still not a noise came out of those rhubarb red puckered lips searching for the comfort of my mother’s breasts.

A couple of days later the doctors sent my mom home with her little mute daughter, assuring her I was perfectly fine.

By three, I had been nearly pickled with homemade remedies and solutions. Anything Mom could do to get some sound out of me. As if an annoying child would be better than a silent one.

And every night, once Mom and Dad thought I was sleeping, they would talk. That kind of adult talk in dangerously low and serious voices that makes you think someone’s dead. The kind of talk that drifts through the house like carbon monoxide; silently, until it reaches your lungs. The kind of talk that makes you shiver because you know the subject of conversation is you.

I’ve lived a decade like this. Today I turn ten. Which means ten years of parents with worried expressions and a throat overly pickled with quack ointments.

I hear a knock at my door. My mom enters quietly but squeals as soon as she sees I’m awake,

“Happy Birthday, Twila!” She hurries over to my bed and, before she drowns me in hugs and kisses, she pauses as if expecting something to float out of my mouth.

I remain silent.

“Oh my baby!” she continues. “My ten-year-old girl!” Mom coos and plants her kisses all over me. She’s gone quite overboard for the occasion. I cannot detect her usual scent of musty old-lady vanilla perfume, but rather a lovely scent of tropical flora. Although it is pleasing to smell, she is unrecognizable in the scent.

My mom also wears a fuchsia color on her lips as if she’s prepared for more than just a birthday. As if I would ever be able to speak.

“Come down when you’re ready, dear!”

I gradually creep out of bed and follow her sleepily to the kitchen. Despite her attitude, I know deep inside that Mom thinks of me as a disappointment. My chest tightens with sorrow. I am not the child she dreams of having, a child who speaks.

The cliché birthday includes balloons, cake, parties, and people, lots of people. I suppose you could call my birthday anything but cliché.

By five, I knew that I wanted no party, no decorations, and especially no people. People mean socializing, socializing means talking, and I don’t speak.

Last week, Mom disturbed me with her usual birthday question, “Are you sure you don’t want a party this year, with friends!

I returned her question with a stare, and she backed right out of the room. She got my message, No, no party this year, no party next year. And I don’t have friends.

But Mom always ends up sneaking in some of her “birthday surprises” every year anyway.

“Come down, Twila!” Dad hollers from downstairs

“You’ve got to enjoy turning ten, sweetie!” Mom chimes.

I’ve been reading up in my room. Sometimes I like to imagine I am a character in a book, maybe someone with courage, someone who’s known their voice front to back their whole life. I like to imagine I actually have the nerve to use my voice, to express myself, and I mouth the dialogue from my books to myself.

“Someone is here to see you!” my parents say.

Groaning, I head downstairs. They just don’t understand, but I can’t blame them. Their minds just don’t run into obstacles at every thought like mine does. Though I wish they could understand, I guess the minds of simple people are quite limited.

I enter the living room, and before I can tell what they’ve got in store for me this time I am nearly suffocated by an enormous hug. I am stuffed into a large lady’s chest and held there for an uncomfortably long time. Now this could only be one person, “dear” Aunt Susie.

“So, lil’ Twila, yer ten. So have ya bucked up the courage to talk to yer Auntie Susie yet?”

I’ve forgotten how irritating her outrageously strong southern accent can be.

Aunt Susie captures me in another embrace and as we pull away she says, “Oh if only you were like us, lil’ Twila, only then could you really feel ma’ love!”

I could never imagine wanting to be like her; all chatty and annoying. And not in a million years would I ever ‘buck up the courage’ to speak.

I catch my Mom’s eyes and maybe she sees my discomfort or something, but anyway, she says, “Oh Susie, can I help you with a drink?”

“Oh course ya can, Beth. Ya know, I’d really like some lemonade. Ya don’t mind do ya?” Their chattering voices trail off as they leave my proximity.

Now I’m just left with Dad and Uncle Tim.

“What about you, Tim,” Dad says, “Is there anything I can get you?”

Eyeing me, Tim notices something in my eyes that tells him I’d like my dad to leave. “Actually, that would be great! How ‘bout a beer,” he says,

“Coming right up,” Dad replies, and he exits into the kitchen.

“So how are you Twila, having a fun birthday?” Tim asks once the room has been vacated by all except us.

I sigh, and look up at him drearily. Tim’s the only one who’s ever understood me, the only one who knows why nothing’s ever come through my dry and cracked lips.

“I know,” he says, giving me a half smile, “Family can be tiring.”

I nod, and return his smile.

“Twila, you really gotta know that all they want is a daughter they understand. Got to admit you’re pretty confusing.”

I roll my eyes.

After a pause, he asks, slowly at first, “Twila, today’s your birthday, so I want you to try, please just try to talk.”

By now it’s 2 p.m., and from my room I smile contentedly to smell cardamom drifting through the air, but I soon return to reality and remember what Tim told me to do. But he didn’t tell me to begin speaking today. I remember, he told me to try. And I find myself making my way downstairs to simply “try.”

“Well there you are, honey,” Mom says.

I inhale, preparing my vocal chords to speak, but no sound escapes my lips.

“So Twila, I still need to grab some icing for your cake, so I’ll be back in a bit. I’m sure you wouldn’t mind spending some time with Susie and Tim.” I don’t respond, but she continues jabbering on about the cake.

I try for a second time to make some sound, but again nothing happens. Mom, preparing to go out, has not even turned to face me. This time I am determined to get her attention. I inhale deeply, but instead of a voice protruding from my mouth, I let out an odd sounding gasp.

“What, what is it!” Mom turns around to face me with one shoe on and her purse over her shoulder.

I am in such shock I just stare at her, mouth gaping open.

“If there’s nothing you want to say, leave me alone, Twila, I’m busy preparing your birthday!”

My Mom’s ignorance is so irritating I want to scream, a sensation I have never, not once in my life, truly felt; the desire to simply make noise.

“Whatever, honey,” Mom continues. “As if I have ever done anything for you.”

At these words, my anger bubbles over and I clench my fists so tightly they want to burst. I feel the bones in my hands becoming stiff, and my blood vessels pumping so incredibly fast they could explode from my palms. Anger rockets through my body, and as I swivel around to head back to my room all the air is released from my lungs in one single elongated breath, one so strong I almost scream. Almost.

I hurry back to my room, gasping for air, and I throw myself onto my bed. Once the initial shock has passed, my stomach drops and I feel weights tugging on the muscles of my heart.

I tried, and failed. And Mom doesn’t even have the slightest inkling that I might find my courage. She thinks of me–everybody thinks of me– as incapable and much, much less than them.

I am no longer so sure I truly will ever be able to speak; maybe I simply just can’t and never will talk. I cover my head with my pillow and dread ever socializing with my family again.

Suddenly I am hit with a surge of some sensation unfamiliar to my bones. My face clenches, brow furrows, and every cell in my body tingles with something I believe is called revenge. With adrenaline pulsating through my arteries, I head downstairs.

Everybody is seated at the dining room table when I enter. Aunt Susie, Tim, Mom, and Dad. They’re heads all spin around in unison as I take a seat. They’re stares are uncomfortable and they look at me awkwardly, as if I am nothing but a little newborn dud baby.

However, instead of staring at my feet and waiting for their attention to return to something else, I stare back.

It is then when Aunt Susie perks up. “Well Twila, hello…?” She says this with a certain tone as if expecting me to answer. I don’t. “Well of course, you little wimp, Twila, it’s simple, ya just talk.”

Yeah, sure, I wish it were that simple.

“Come on Twila! Uh, I’m sure you can do it!” Mom says, with an uncertainty to her voice I’m sure everyone in the room can sense.

I look towards Uncle Tim, he has a glint in his eye, trying to egg me on, but I can tell even he doesn’t believe in me.

This angers me past belief. My face turns red, but I still can’t speak.

“Okay,” Aunt Susie says to my Mom, “Where on earth did you go wrong! If I had a daughter, I would have raised her with every bit of courage I have in me.”

At this my Mom interrupts, “Sue! I hope you realize that I am an amazing Mother!”

“I agree,” Dad says.

Ignoring Dad, Susie continues, “You may be an amazing mother, but you failed this time around!”

“Now Sue, a quiet daughter is–“

“You can’t possibly have a defense for yourself!”

“So Twila doesn’t speak!”

“’So she doesn’t speak.’ So she’s a dud! Beth you’ve got yourself a dud girl!”

Their argument escalates into shouts and screaming words I cannot make out and I shrink back into my chair. All I can hear is the noise, trumpeting through my head like fists against my eardrums. The noise becomes part of my circulation, pumping louder and louder within each vessel.

I cringe, and press my palms against my ears, but nothing stops the noise that keeps resonating through my body. I close my eyes as tight as possible, unable to escape. My entire life has been about making myself smaller, finding ways to escape so nobody notices, but today I want to be bigger.

I feel the noise on each side of me, above me, below me, and inside of me.

It finds it’s way into my body, capturing my muscles, freezing my bones, and making my brain tingle with electric nerves. My heart swells, and suddenly, I explode.

All the noise I have held inside of me for ten years pours out of my mouth in one word.


And all goes silent.

“Stop.” I repeat, “Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop.“ I feel the words protruding from my mouth, “Stop.” I form an S, then a T, an O, and a P, “Stop.”

The words feel not uncomfortable, like I would have expected, but oddly fitting, as if I was always meant to speak. My voice sounds, if possible, confident. This brings a wide grin to my face, and I look up to the utterly shocked expressions of my family.

“Well darn,” Susie says, “she finally spoke up,”

I look to my mom. She has the proudest smile I have ever seen her wear. It suits her. I smile back.

I look To Tim’s grinning face and say, “Thank you.” The words escape my mouth with ease. “Thank you very much.” As I speak, I feel my voice ringing from deep within me. By now my grin is nearly tearing my face apart.

I have found courage. Who knows what I could use it for? Everything, possibly. I don’t need to pretend anymore. For once I feel complete. As if all it really took was a word or two to finish the puzzle. I now have parents who understand me. But most of all, more important than parents or courage or anything in the world, is that a girl named Twila has found her voice.


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