I’m sitting with a group of people, not a huge group, but maybe 4 or 5 others. We’re chattering, or at least, they are – they’re chatting, talking, conversing. I’m listening, I have no other choice.
I hear a door open and shut. I hear their breathing. I hear the girl across from me shift from side to side. I hear their Words, and each Word means something, makes me think of something else. I put the Words into my brain, and try to organize them. Sometimes I even hear the sentences, but there’s so much going on that I have trouble figuring out what is being said.
I hear their Words, fumbled and confusing, with most things unspoken, nonverbal cues that are not Heard. I miss a Word, and lose the sentence.
Was that a joke? They’re all laughing. I guess I should join in, since they know I’m listening, and I don’t want them to think I’m stupid. I’m not stupid. I’m smarter than all of them. But I’m a beat late. The sound of my laugh is wrong, different from theirs, and they stare. I try to unravel what was said in the moments before the laugh – the laugh is a verbal pause, there’s a chance for me to catch up on what is being talked about, I know there is.
But they’ve already started up again, and I’ve lost my train of thought. But it sounds like they’ve switched topics, so I listen. Maybe this is something I know about.
Oh yes I hear a Word. They’re talking about dogs. I don’t like dogs, I got attacked by one when I was 3. Dogs are scary. Maybe that would be something interesting to say. Someone else just said they don’t like dogs, I can agree with them. That is an appropriate thing to say. OK, now what should I say?
*Bang* a door is shut down the hallway. I jump. I wasn’t expecting it. There’s some laughter. What were they saying? Oh yeah, dogs. I hate dogs, I got attacked by one when I was 3. Plus they bark and make me jump, just like the door just did.
Yes, I finally have something meaningful to add to the conversation, but what Words should I use? I shouldn’t say ‘hate’, I was taught not to hate things but ‘dislike’ is a good Word. Ok, so I’ll say ‘I dislike dogs. I got attacked by one when I was 3. Plus they jump and bark and it’s scary’.
No, ‘scary’ isn’t the right word. I’m not scared of dogs anymore. But they startle me all the time whenever they do their doggy things. Plus it’s hard to say ‘dislike’ in my head, I can’t wrap my brain around it. How about ‘startles’? Ok, ‘startles’ is good. So I’ll say ‘I don’t like dogs. I got attacked by one when I was 3. Plus they jump and bark and it startles me.’
OK, now I’m waiting for a pause in the conversation. I know it’s rude to interrupt, I’ve been taught that since I could understand English, so I wait, even though I’m burning to say the Words. I’m practicing my sentence, trying to keep hold of those Words.
I can’t do anything else, not even listen to their speech, except repeat my sentences over in my head so that I don’t lose the Words. Practice until I’ve said them aloud, or else they’ll leave again. Keep my mouth moist, use my hands to tap out the pattern the Words make. Practice my sentence in my head. I rock a little, just to calm down. I can’t lose those words again.
Ok, there’s a pause, the pause I have been waiting for. It’s my turn. Ready? Go!
“I don’t like dogs. I got attacked by one when I was 3…”
YES, I got the first few Words out, and now I can finish my sentence. They all turn to look at me. They have that look most people give me when I speak, between surprise and annoyance. There’s more silence. And glares. The conversation must have moved on while I was sorting out the Words. But I can’t stop.
“… Plus they bark and jump and that startles me” I finish up.
There’s a pause, but not a very long one, and then they just start up again. They’ve completely ignored it. So I say it again, a little louder.
“I don’t like dogs. I got attacked by one when I was 3. Plus they bark and jump and that startles me.”
That’s when the conversation stops, and they tell me how they don’t care, they heard me the first time, and how it’s rude to say such things about dogs when one of the people just got one. Then it’s back to whatever they were saying before. I swallow down the urge to repeat my Sentence, head down, fingers twining.
I’ve put so much thought and effort into those Words, is it any small wonder that when I finally have something to say, I want to make it heard?