My voice first failed me nine years ago. I was 17. It came on slowly at first. I would have trouble pronouncing certain sounds. Words beginning with vowels became more difficult to say than words starting with consonants—“apple” was harder than “window.” When I tried to talk, it would feel as if something was caught in my throat, or an invisible hand was pressing against my Adam’s apple. Then the hand would let go and I could speak normally again. Over the course of a few months, this phenomenon became more frequent, but there was no pattern to the voice breaks and no indication of what brought them on. My voice became shaky and strained. I sounded nervous when I wasn’t. Sentences weren’t fluid anymore. Instead, words stopped right before they left my mouth, breaking off and falling into dead space. It became an effort to speak, and soon I didn’t want to anymore.
The moment when I realized that something was undeniably wrong with my voice happened in my eleventh grade World Cultures class. I was giving a group presentation. I was never nervous in front of these classmates, or my pleasant teacher, Mr. Saveikis. But on this day, my voice broke off. I cleared my throat, started again. But my voice didn’t recover. I couldn’t control what was happening to the sound that escaped my mouth. I couldn’t pick up where I left off. I panicked. I could hear Mr. Saveikis asking me what was wrong. I wanted to yell out, I’m fine! But my voice wasn’t fine. I wasn’t fine. The voice that finally came out of my mouth wasn’t mine. I finished the presentation and left the classroom in a hurry. My cheeks burned hot with embarrassment. Tears welled up in my eyes. I made it to the bathroom, shut myself in a stall and cried.