Every now and then something particular happens that causes me to have a flashback to high school. All someone has to do is to say to me, “Gee I’d know your voice anywhere.” I cringe to myself and there I am back in grade 12 english class over 30 years ago.
We were giving oral presentations in class and I felt pretty good about mine. I’ve never enjoyed public speaking of any kind but I loved english and this teacher was one of my favourites. I was shocked when she gave me my mark, it was much loweer than I had expected. I made an appointment to speak to her about the presentation so that I could understand where I had gone wrong. I was further shocked with her response to me. The teacher looked at me and said, “You have one of the most monotonous voices I have ever heard. It’s flat, nasal and boring. If you were my teacher and I were your student I would hate to come to class and listen to you.”
What do you say to something like that? I left her office hurt and confused. My voice is my voice, just like my eye colour I can’t really change it. How does my voice have anything to do with the content of my presentation? This woman had been one of my favourite teachers and from then on I just considered her a nasty piece of work.
Trying to process what I had just been told I walked down the hall and bumped into a friend of mine from summer camp. He was a year younger than me. We had been in co-ed cabins at camp and I was dating his co-counsellor. We spent a lot of time together at camp and I knew him to be a great guy. He was all tough exterior with an incredibly sweet interior. He had one camper in his cabin who suffered from multiple mental and physical disabilities. He handled this very demanding camper without complaint and with a great sense of humour. I knew that he looked tough, he smoked and did drugs but he was one of the most gentle people that I had ever known.
On occasion I would keep him company while he went for a cigarette in the school’s student smoking area. He was always surprised that I would go there with him, but of course it was about the company not the location.
Anyway, that day he saw me in the hall and immediately asked what was wrong. I told him what happened. He laughed and said, “I love your nasal voice.” he then gave me a hug. His sincere words and his loving hug were the two most perfect things for me at that time.
We were just school and camp friends. The friendship never made the leap beyond. Somehow when I was in first year university I heard that he had cleaned up his act, drugs were no longer a part of his life. I was happy for him and looked forward to seeing him at camp.
He didn’t go back to camp, he took the summer to go to California before university. I’ll never forget where I was when I heard that he had been killed in a car accident while in California. My legs gave out, I sat down and began to cry. Another rough and tumble guy who was near by sat down and put his arm around me. A bunch of us were at a bar on a night off from camp. The news spread like a wildfire.
Yesterday I was at a store with my daughter. I noticed a man looking at me and smiling. I smiled back, he then said my name and then gave me his. I hadn’t recognized him. He works with my husband and we’ve met a couple of times. He told me that he thought it was me but once he heard my voice he knew that it had to be me. Ahh yes the voice.
This morning I went over the whole event with my husband. From being recognized to the death of my friend. We decided that teachers have a limitless ability to dammage their students however, if she hadn’t been so nasty to me I would never have had that soothing moment with my friend. For me, my voice has become inseparable from the memory of a young, sweet and sensitive man who died far, far too young.