I can be quiet and shy, but most people will say that, once they get to know me, it’s hard to get me to shut up. I’m very enthusiastic and I love telling stories. In fact, I created this blog as a way to channel some of that energy away from my friends. This way, I can tell as many stories as I like without feeling that I am subjecting my friends to some punishment. Just the poor, unwary readers who stumble upon the blog. 😉
Of course, I haven’t always been this talkative. In fact, there were many parts of my life that I passed by in relative silence, observing from a distance the interactions of others. My field work, also, has sometimes taken me far from human interaction and conversation.
The longest I ever went without speaking was seven days. It doesn’t sound like a particularly long time, but if you think about it, how often does that actually happen? Even when you are quite alone and have a quiet disposition, there are cashiers to say, “credit” or “debit” to, phone rings from telemarketers that you answer with a grumpy “hello?”, and “excuse me”s on the bus or train.
My seven days of silence were spent alone, out in the bush on a remote island off the coast of Australia. I was doing field work and I quite simply did not encounter another human being for the duration of the week, giving me absolutely no reason to utter a single noise.
I was not in the habit of humming or singing to myself. I’m not one to mutter in solitude or whisper in the dark. So, for seven days, I was silent.
At the end of the week, I stumbled into a grocery store in the nearby tiny coastal village, ravenously hungry after living on meagre portions for so long, but very close to penniless. I picked up a can of beans for 35 cents (I’m dating myself, surely) and headed to the register.
“Good morning,” the cashier said.
I opened my mouth to reply, and was stunned when nothing happened. She didn’t notice (too busy ringing up my item), and I massaged my throat for a minute while she gave me the total. After I fumbled for the coins to pay her, she said, “Have a nice day!”
Again I tried to respond with a simple, “You too!” This time, a giant croak made it past my lips. She gave me an alarmed look so I coughed twice, grabbed the can, and fled.
I did eventually get my voice back*, but I will never forget that first moment of trying and being completely unable to make a sound.
*Unfortunately for friends and family.