Hi friends :)
I hope your November has caught more of a break than mine. As we speak I'm finishing up a major project that has probably taken a good couple of years off my lifespan but I'm gritting my teeth and holding tight the knowledge that I am stronger than I have ever been.
That said, I'm diving into my archive today to share an unpublished essay I wrote about six months ago. Enjoy (and as always, THANK YOU SO MUCH for reading!)
The first thing to go was the sound of his voice, sings Hayley Williams in the opening line of her sophomore solo album, FLOWERS for VASES.
But what if his voice was the only thing you ever knew? What if their sound waves, punctuated by lightning lines of frequency, were your only proof of their existence at all?
What if his voice was the first thing to go, but also the last?
Then what are you left with when they are gone?
When I give *Adam my phone number, I am not expecting a voice note to land in my inbox the next morning. No polite finger-taps making words and sentences; a contrived introduction. But an actual human voice. And an expectation for me to use my actual human voice in return.
I pour myself a glass of water and head to the spare bedroom in my parent’s house where I burrow my fear in the acoustic-friendly memory foam and quiet. The nerves in my stomach do not flutter like butterflies but are electric like eels. I take a sip. I press play.
I am immediately surprised at the intonation of his voice — which is somewhat redundant given I do not know him at all. I know he likes game shows and claims to make good mashed potatoes — hardly enough to warrant a preconception at all. But in the 30 seconds of that first message — his Yorkshire accent seeping through the microphone — I know more about him than I do about men I’ve spent weeks getting to know in the past.
Voice notes, of course, are not a new phenomenon. They’re certainly not revolutionary after a pandemic year where we mostly had only our own voices for company or relied upon technology for communication. In lockdown the premise was simple: pick up the phone or enjoy a locked jaw. But voice notes have always been out of my comfort zone — a source of anxiety that have left me avoiding my phone for days.
I’ve always been conscious of my voice. Of speaking up, of being heard. I grew up shy, which is not to say not confident, but more than happy to observe others rather than run lines myself. My accent is strange. My friends from the south parody my northern twang and my friends from the north mock my poshness. A Midlands girl with a 5-year stint in London to her belt, I am a crescendo of both and neither. I am at once croaky — like I could use a good cough and misleadingly assertive. Sometimes when I answer, I bark. Which is unintentional and sometimes makes me wonder whether I am in control of my voice box at all.
As an adult I stumble, I stutter. I can’t quite spit out what I am trying to say. Sometimes, I can’t quite coordinate my brain to deliver thoughts to slide off the edge of my tongue. There is brain fog, there is low rising panic.
It is not lost on me that Ariel — the mermaid who lost her voice, was my favourite Disney princess growing up.
Where I am most comfortable expressing myself then, is on the page. I like the way I figure things out about myself through my relentlessly recorded prose. The way my curiosity has made itself a home amongst a personal essay collection. I like the way I settle down to reply to a string of text messages. I’ll make a cup of tea for the occasion and want to put my all into what I type. I’ll want to put my best self forward, to sculpt something the other person will be impressed by. And in the process, I’ll occasionally smile, at how lovely I can be, at what meanings I can mould from words; good words.
Where typed words can be delivered with eloquence, with precision; without brain fog silences or word-vomit rabbit holes, a voice note does not offer such a guarantee. They do not offer such control. So when Adam dictates all-bets-off, when he crushes my chances of impressing him with a perfect turn of phrase, my one guarantee, I am forced to throw out my most impressive self in favour of my… self.
The electric eels shuffling through my insides never truly dissipate, but I am surprised at the ease with which I fall into talking to Adam. Not texting. Talking. I hear between the lines. Where there is a flatness to text, an inability to decode a tone, a heavier cognitive load — the voice bears it all. Within a week I can pinpoint the phonetic pull of late-night longing from a little white lie. Within two I am no longer embarrassed by the real-time slowness in which I piece together a thought or how I stumble over my words. That just makes you human, he says. By week three I am singing to him, quite literally.
On the handful of occasions he’s out with mates or can’t speak, he’ll send a text and I am struck by the impersonal nature of it. Letters and symbols that make up a sentence, make up a meaning, but do not have his gruelling charm undulating underneath. That do not pass contextual clues the way his breakfast sizzling on the hob in the background does, or the very many ways he’ll pause a sentence when distracted by a task he’s completing on the other end of the line.
For the first time in my dating history, anxiety is not a prerequisite to liking someone because there is no such pondering over what they’re really thinking, over subtext, over who they really are. The context of a line of exclamation marks do not morph from excitement to anger in a matter of seconds — his voice offers up his intended feeling freely. Where I cannot hide behind a string of emojis, communicational errors are eradicated. Where I’m forced to be less curated, a connection can flow.
Writing is, on both an intrinsic and deeply personal level, vital. It will always be the love of my life. The place I return to; where I’m able to forge meaning when I’m so desperately trying to make sense of the senseless. It’s a neurotic chase for permanence — how I’m furiously attempting to leave traces of myself that will long outlive me. Where a spoken sentence dissolves the moment it has left your lips, my scribbled down words become relics with no expiry date. They encapsulate a fleeting moment in time — provide the receipts, a channel to all the buried versions of myself that are nice to check in with every once in a while.
When it doesn’t work out with Adam, when we cannot convert our relationship of distant whispers to ones that echo face-to-face, I don’t hold it against him. Writing may have been where I bred my confidence but our exchanged voice notes brought me something else. The trying opened me up to something irreplaceable: that I am not just pretty great on the page, but off the page too. That I am worthy of witness, of being heard. That it is perfectly normal to speak without the flawless punctuation of an essay or to mispronounce the words you read and write frequently.
That there are people out there who’ll encourage you, rather than silence you. Where speaking out isn’t met with consequence but with celebration.
The first thing to go was the sound of his voice, but what came after was the sound of my own.
As always, I love to hear from you. If you liked today’s newsletter, want to carry on the conversation or have any thoughts or feedback at all, do hit reply. Thanks for reading x