This was not supposed to happen to girls.
|photo from morgefile.com|
Voice change was, as far as I knew, a boy thing. One day the kid telling you to stop hogging the swings would sound like your sister, then he'd sound like someone had replaced his larynx with a slide whistle, and a few weeks later, he'd sound like your dad.
It's no picnic to be the girl having this kind of boy thing happening to you. Especially if you got one of the leads in the sixth grade musical.
For a while, I managed to keep my affliction secret by telling everyone I had laryngitis and speaking only in a whisper. As long as I didn't try to engage my larynx, the embarrassing register changes and sudden bugling didn't seem to happen. I sucked a lot of cough drops and passed a lot of notes.
The affliction lingered. Salt water gargles did nothing. I tried talking it out in the woods behind our house. Tried singing it out by practicing my upcoming solo again and again, restarting whenever my voice hitched then squeak-squawked.
The afternoons of talking to the trees paid off. I was able to manage play rehearsals, speaking lines clearly. When I felt my larynx hitch, I'd stop, clear my throat, start again. The director thought I needed to see an allergist for all the throat clearing, but he let me keep my big role.
The rub came when we started adding in the songs. But try as I might to hide my affliction from Mr. Farr, the day came when he wanted to rehearse my solo. No more lip syncing, like I'd done in the full-chorus numbers. He played the opening bars, and I began to sing. The piece was a parody song of "Beautiful Dreamer" from the kids' musical "Frankenstein Follies," and I was cast as Liz, one of the villains. I needed to sound conniving and wicked. Squeaking every third syllable just isn't very villainish. Squeaking is for the comic relief, not the bad guy.
Mr. Farr was kind when the first swoop happened. "Relax," he said. "Pretend this is a player piano and you're all by yourself."
His advice was of course rubbish, because the moment I relaxed, my voice betrayed me horridly. It cracked and I could only speak in a wheezy helium voice.
Mr. Farr blanched. "How long has this been going on?" he demanded.
"Weeks." I squeaked.
"Weeks?" He looked at me askance. Surely he was going to kick me back to the chorus with the musically challenged kids, give my part to someone else. Someone with no imagination who had no idea how to be awesomely evil like I could.
"Sorry," I whispered.
"Take the week off, " he told me. "And don't worry. You know the story of the Ugly Ducking? That's what's happening to your voice. Give it a little more time, then we'll work on your breathing."
I went home and sobbed. I was ugly. An ugly-voiced freak. I would have to take up sign language and pretend to be deaf or something. Mr. Farr was picking my understudy. I was finished in theater.
I barely spoke all week, I was so upset. I spent hours in the woods, singing to the trees. The hitching wasn't happening, but something else was. From deep in my chest to the tip-top of my sinuses, things were resonating differently.
When my next scheduled rehearsal came, I smiled shyly at Mr. Farr.
"You doing better?" he asked.
"You ready to try again?"
I nodded again. He played the opening bars, I filled my lungs with air and out came the sound. The woman sound. It poured out of my eleven-year-old self and it was as terrifying and wonderful as magic. The squeaks and hitches and cracks were left behind like the dull, grey down of a cygnet. And I soared.
Have you ever gone through a painful transition? What did you learn from the experience?