There’s a voice that keeps on calling me. It’s my voice, a little crueler, a little more sardonic than I’m used to hearing it. I generally try not to pay any attention to it; like many people I find listening back to my own voice an uncomfortable experience. It’s something to do with the way the soundwaves travel to your ears through the bone of your skull–or rather, how they doen’t. The warm familiarity of hearing your voice a certain way–the same way you’ve always heard it–is blocked away and you hear only a croaky approximation of a sound you’ve grown to know over your entire life.
Grab a couple books–okay, a couple of game cases, you heathen–and place them angled outward on the backmost part of your cheekbone ridges. Pretend you’re an elephant if it makes you feel more comfortable.
Now, say something.
Who said that?! Who’s that with the shrieking, grinding, alien voice? Isn’t it horrible? Isn’t it just the most awful thing you’ve ever heard?
That’s how you sound to everyone you talk to, yet somehow they endure that sound–like a handful of gravel gang-raping a pebble–enough to talk to you on a daily basis. Heroes, are what they are. You’d be driven insane if you had to listen to that voice day in, day out.
Okay, you can put the books back down now; you look like an idiot.
I like to think those heroes are immune to the frightfulness of a person’s voice, otherwise I can’t imagine why anyone open their mouth when in polite company. Once you realise how shocking your voice is, if you listen–really listen–you can hear that atonal crow-caw even without a pair of elephant ears flapping in front of your own.
It’s one of those realisations a person carries with them always and tries to ignore–like realising you’re only being kept in place by gravity, or that you’re a simply a machine made from fleshy tubes. It’s all too easy to become absorbed by the feel of muscular sinews in your arms or your veins pulsing, and be reluctant to move in case something is torn or becomes blocked or worse. Since losing weight I’ve realised I can feel my pulse in my abdomen, and push on my intestines, provoking squelches and gurgles where before I’d only poke soft flab. Lifting weights has resulted in cords like power cables sticking out from my neck whenever I strain a certain set of muscles in a certain direction; I make them pop out to gingerly touch them while shrieking, disconcerted, knowing I could dig my fingers into the flap of skin beneath them, tear them out and cripple myself in the process. That I continually toy with doing this sends my wife into paroxysms of despair. Slimming down might have made me healthier, but with all the inner workings of my being protected only by a thin sheet of skin I’m aware of how vulnerable I am, and this terrifies me.
Talking’s pretty scary, too, but I think I’ve figured out a way to talk to other people: I’ll pretend to be someone I’m not. It’s one of those elementary tricks demanded of people who suffer with anxiety that sound more like Peter Pan’s instructions on how to fly: take deep breaths and think happy thoughts and you too will get to Never Neverland. If you smile for long enough and say nice things about yourself–or so the theory goes–you’ll come to believe in yourself and grow confident.
I don’t believe it; I can’t trick myself into believing I’m something I’m not, but perhaps I can trick people who don’t already know me. I’ve been experimenting with eye contact, which involves looking slightly past a person’s gaze and–in my mind’s eye–seeing the inner workings of their brain. I worry my stare’s a little too intense as people seem taken back by this strong, confident guy staring them down, seemingly reading their thoughts.
Or maybe it’s my eyebrows they’re afraid of. They are rather bushy.
Pretending to be a different person–Campfire plus, if you will–involves changing the timbre of my voice, sounding as if I’m on the verge of laughter, being terribly sympathetic and apologetic while at the same time being peppy and bright. If you’ve ever talked to me for more than a sentence at a time–one sentence isolated in a sea of awkward silence–you’ll recognise this description instantly. Don’t be offended: it means I’m trying to talk to you! For the longest time I wouldn’t have done even that; I’d have been silent before making some excuse to leave, then tearing the mic off and yelling “AGH AGH, I’M THE WORST AT TALKING!”
A lot of people have a problem talking to others–people on the phone, people they don’t know. I’ve never met anyone who’s suffered to the same degree I have, but that’s probably because anyone worse than me is locked away in a mental institute or so housebound nobody knows they exist. It’s sad knowing there are people like that out there, whose voices will never heard because they’re too scared to speak. I’d like to liase between them and the outside world–an interpreter perhaps; a speaker for the socially dead–but in my experience such outreach programs rarely work: they’re awkward occasions endured in false hope something better might come out of them. Attendees falteringly try to find a middle-ground through games of darts or pool, or by sitting at a table with a cup of tea and staring off into space. These drop-in groups are so unnatural it’s hardly surprising there’s little in the way of conversation: those who’ve dropped in wouldn’t interact with each other in real life so there’s little reason to interact here, in this mental healthcare bubble hosted by a psychatric nurse who doesn’t care one way or another, to whom this is a hobby at best, a vocation forced upon them at worst.
But then, I’ve never seen the lines that connect together people in any kind of gathering. The thought of an ‘Internet meet’ terrifies me. Actually, just seeing pictures from meets–or any gathering of friends–terrifies me. They always look like some greater force had selected the attendees from a diverse grab bag of humankind and flung them together to fight or bond like in an episode of The Twilight Zone. Roller-coaster enthusiasts meeting at Alton Towers; board game geeks rolling dice in the corner of a pub; a house-warming party–those are the worst. People getting drunk and singing karaoke in an undecorated appartment looking more like an industrial disaster zone. I know these people are supposed to be friends or share like interests, but they might as have been Photoshopped from their disparate lives into a single frightening collage. I swear, their bodies aren’t even of a consistant scale and their heads are all lit from entirely different sources. I’ve seen quite a few ‘shops in my time; I can tell from the pixels.
Everything seems like a fabrication; once more I feel compelled to reach under that tender flap of skin, pulling the cords like guy-ropes and bringing reality crashing down.
It’s for the best, then, that I don’t feel comfortable hanging around the same set of people for too long. As reticent as I am to speak, I still leak too many details about myself–like everyone else, I want my voice to be heard. In the next couple months my life will be going through such major upheaval that this probably doesn’t matter, but at this point in time, through our interactions online and the things I’ve said on this blog, people feel they know me.
They don’t. I’m putting it bluntly here, not because I’m scared they do know me and this makes me feel vulnerable but because I’m scared in time they might know me, and won’t be happy when they do.
I warn people time and time again but they never listen. It’s always sad when they change their minds about me and react with shock, as if I hadn’t warned them in the first place.
Hopefully, with a new life on the horizon things will change for the better: hopefully I’ll change for the better. But the dawning of that new day is still ahead; today I’ll languish in my self-indulgence with yet another half-veiled blog post that means little-to-nothing to anyone.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll want to settle down. Until tomorrow I’ll just keep moving on.