"My brother's voice is a turkey! Gobble gobble! And just in time for Thanksgiving!" tweeted 11 year old Amy. "My voice is badass. I'm like a tiger. #winninganimalvoice" tweeted 12 year old Jason. "WTF. A fucking cat? Fuck you, mutation. I'm no pussy" tweeted 13 year old Chris. "I'm named after a saint and I sound like a serpent. What does this mean?" tweeted 13 year old Michael.
What does this mean? became the inevitable question on the altered tongues of these boys. And certainly it wasn't only the afflicted individuals who wondered about it, but their parents, friends, teachers, and society at large. Did the voices mean something? Were they each uniquely indicative of something about the character or destiny of each coming-of-age boy? Did they reveal the true essence of a person, either contrary to or in confirmation of what they thought or knew of themselves, or what was thought or known of them by others? Or was it completely random and meant nothing at all, except for what it meant to and for the person who had to live with it? And why was it only in the United States? Were we merely the first location, and it soon would spread? Individual reactions ran the spectrum from pride to embarrassment, from indifference to comedic ease, from exuberant joy to depression and suicide.
It wasn't just the tone of the voice, but the cadence as well, that lent to the characterizing of the voices as animal-like. And it was this lack of control over the speed and annunciation of words that proved to be the greatest stumbling block, the greatest conundrum, and in some cases the greatest victory, for these boys. One boy named Robert, who had always had a lisp, began speaking with the clarity and self-assuredness of the hoot of an owl. Another boy named Jim who had always stuttered, suddenly found himself speaking with the bold and steady authority of a lion. Others, however, developed voices that made them feel awkward or ashamed, such as Tom who now spoke like a guineau pig, with purrs and shrieks, or Greg who now spoke high and screechy like a chimpanzee. Some boys who had been bullied for being small or physically weak now found themselves vocally towering over larger boys with smaller voices. Of course, this was not always the case. Some boys found their new voices emphasizing their perceived flaws, and this was the most difficult type of case to cope with.
Doctors were seeking a cure and a prevention. Schools were in a frenzy trying to cope with so much unexpected clamor simultaneously contrasted by so much unexpected quiet. There was both more sound and less sound, both louder expression and softer. Some extroverts became introverts, some introverts became extroverts, some class clowns became world clowns and some shy kids retreated into total silence. All variations existed. Some boys who sought empathy from their friends found their friends much transformed by their own new voices, so many boys found themselves making new friends with other boys who were experiencing a similar identity crisis as them. Groups began forming quite rapidly, created by these new commonalities. Certain instances of racism, for example, began to dissipate in favor of creating new criteria for exclusion and inclusion. "Voicism" was now a thing
Jillian Brall is co-editor of the poetry journal, Lyre Lyre. Her poems have appeared in Ping Pong Magazine, Yes Poetry, Unshod Quills, Connotation Press, and other journals. She is also a musician and visual artist, focused on painting and collage. lyrelyre.com. venusspinsbackwards.com.