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Pip-squeak

By @ThePrincessScribe

Pip-squeak

I have stunted vocal cords. At least that was my theory. As kids get older, their voices deepen from their elongating cords, especially boys. So I had hypothesized that the treble in my voice was simply due to me being a girl and having petite cords. It was perfectly, scientifically and biologically normal to have a high-pitched voice…right? 

My theory was refuted when a boy in high school started calling me “mouse.” At first, I thought it was a term of endearment like Minnie Mouse or Smalls, as in “You’re killin’ me, Smalls!” I had my very own Sandlot moniker. Sweet! 

Then my friend heard the boy hurl this flyby pet name when we were walking to class. She goggled at me as though I had never cleaned the wax out of my Minnie ears. “Uh, what he said was really mean,” she informed me. I felt the embarrassment burn a path through all the wax and scorch my eardrums. 

That was the moment when I stopped hearing my voice the way I knew it to be (i.e. soprano in range but nowhere near as ear-popping as The Sopranos) and began hearing it the way others did—or the way it sounded when it was recorded and played back. Cringe.

“You sound like a little girl” classmates, relatives, telemarketers and, yes, even littler, younger girls would say to me by way of greeting. No longer did I take it as a cute compliment, but as an acute dig that would always render me speechless. So, in a way, I did become a mouse—as quiet as one. 

Then the Great Equalizer of 2003 happened: College, where it’s not about fitting in, it’s about sticking out and owning it. During my first year as an undergrad, a girl told me, “Your voice is so beautiful! You should do audiobooks.” I felt like the mouse inside me could finally crawl out of her soundproof hole in the wall. 

And I did. I found home sweet home in my major, swam with the motliest shoal of friends and descended into deepest love with my future husband. I wasn’t scurrying from building to building, hoping not to be seen or, more appropriately, heard. I was connecting with others and with my long-lost loquacious self. 

For graduation, I was chosen to be the student commencement speaker. I had to practice my speech in front of the dean and student council, who didn’t have issues with my writing, just the delivery. Not my pace or intonation, but how my voice sounded. My short vocal cords triple-knotted. It was “mouse” all over again.

They suggested that I meet with a counselor (or whoever that lady was at the dean’s office) to work on my “delivery.” We didn’t talk for very long until the lady said, “There! Just like that.” 

“Like what?” I asked.

“Speak like that.”

“Okay,” I said. I was confused because it was how I normally spoke, but I didn’t protest since I felt smaller than my voice at that moment. How was I going to present my speech to an entire soccer field of spectators? Would they lend me their ears or plug them?

I decided to confide in my favorite professor, who was also a soprano speaker. She told me that during her earlier years of teaching, an educator who had sat in on one of her classes had written in his comments, “I find her voice a bit irritating.”

But what could she do? Steal someone else’s voice like Ursula did with Ariel? No, she rose as high as her elevated voice instead of compressing herself into a low-key, pitch-perfect mold, and now she spoke to lecture halls full of captivated acolytes. She taught me that a person’s voice goes so much deeper than sound. 

So on that June morning when I marched up to the lectern to address my graduating class, I didn’t hear the timbre of my voice. I heard the rapt quiet, laughter and applause of thousands. Most importantly, I heard me. 

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