In a cruel twist of fate, I have been struck dumb. It is not so much that I have lost the facility of language, no, that would be aphasia (go thousands of dollars in private education in linguistics and language acquisition!). What I have is an upwelling of ideas and pending phone calls and social engagements that I simply cannot express, enjoy or attend. I am, in a word, afónica (soundless, as in I have lost my voice).
This is a terrible state to find oneself in, particularly if you are me, from whose mouth issues forth a terrible torrent of words nearly all the time. (Sorry boyfriend, family, friends, people standing on line near me at a store etc, but isn’t admitting the problem the first step?). I’m a talker. Not being able to emit a sound audible to human ears is unpleasant, and, like a bruise that you keep on poking to make sure it still hurts, I keep on squeaking out words here and there just to check. No voice? check. Still no voice? check check. How about now?
The lack of voice came upon suddenly, as I was out showing some gringos I’d met on the road a good time and plying them with empanadas here in Barrio Brasil before their last night of sleep in Santiago. I’d had a warning, a sudden OMG is that my thyroid trying to escape through my mouth sort of choking in the middle of the night the night before. I drank cayenne mixed with juice, did shots of propolys. The cold disappeared (for the most part), but still, I am human voice-free.
The word afónica really bothers me. It’s not really that there’s nothing that comes out, it’s just hideously shrill and requires a lot of effort. There should be a word disfónica (there is not), which instead of no sound would mean wrong, or messed-up sound. The problem with disfónica (at least for me), in addition to the fact that it doesn’t exist is that it reminds me too much of daltónica, which means colorblind. As far as I know, this is not the case, barbie paintjob of my bedroom notwithstanding.
The worst and most injured victim of my afonía is not the awesome hike to the waterfall I missed yesterday, nor the cool play I am missing as I write this. It is not even listening as my phone rings, and knowing I can’t talk to the person on the other end. What really aches is my ego. My poor bilingual ego is mute, and I have become the gringa that goes to the farmer’s market and just points to things, and has everyone all around me speak in monosyllabic words with sweeping gestures. I don’t speak, so you don’t either. I point to porotos granados in their beautiful red and white speckled pods (cranberry beans, they tell me) and you open your hands, as if to say “how much?” Do you want a bag to put your fruit in becomes an exaggerated point and wide-armed shrug with raised eyebrows.
It reminds me just a tiny bit of last week when I was at a hostel in Iquique and had been hanging out with some Argentine women, gabbing and laughing etc. Later that night a spot at a long table opened up and I sat down to eat my dinner. Something funny happened (in English) and I smiled. A well-meaning English-speaking woman said to me, “Entiendes?” (do you understand?) And I said, “yeah, I’m American.”
It reminds me of that except that today I’ve got people asking me entiendes-like questions all day long. And I’ve got no punch line. No voice either.