My own difficulty talking is stuttering. What it is, is an arhythmia. Why is arhythmia a problem? Rhythm synchs us up with our listener. We both enter into a pulsation that carries us both out of ourselves, and out of the present. BUM bum bum bum BUM bum bum bum BUM bum bum bum BUM bum–even if I died while writing that, if I were capable of rhythm — i.e. facile at it — not a stutterer — you would know what would come next, after my death — bum bum.
My friend Avis is so nice she is nothing but engaging, appealing rhythms which she assimilated unconsciously in childhood. When I hear her talk I can always tell who actually said what she said, and she appears something like a human being muted by an enormous puppet costume, unable to express herself in language at all, though from deep within her suit I can hear the animal expressions of emotion — sadness, anger and ecstasy.
David was so traumatized that all he hears when he talks is the scolding voices of his parents threatening to destroy him. He can’t get a word out, he is so choked with terror so instead he produces sentence after sentence which conceal him from his own fear, or I should say attempt to, like someone with chattering teeth saying that he is quite, quite fine. If he could ever stop being afraid of what he was about to say he would find what he was saying was different than what he thought or feared or imagined he was saying. Much simpler, more beautiful, as clear as a bell.
My friend Richie is deeply, deeply silent, like a thousand-year old stone on a forest floor. What does he have to say? What do we want him to say? Does he know? Do we know? If he could ever gather himself together and give speech to himself I am sure it would strike me with the force of a command that I had been waiting for my whole life, like a sentinel on duty who finally received his orders. Sometimes I look him in the eyes wondering if that moment will come and if it comes if the order will be “STAY AT YOUR POST!” or “MARCH!” or something I can’t imagine yet because it has yet to be communicated to me, or perhaps a message for someone else entirely.
The four of us together miscommunicate in exactly twelve different unsuccessful ways.
Me talking to Avis
Me talking to David
Me talking to Richie.
Richie talking to Avis, Richie talking to me, Richie talking to David.
David talking to Avis, David, talking to me, David talking to Richard.
Richard, me, David, Avis each talking to ourself
Each way of communicating a failure in its own entirely distinct, unique, wonderful way.
Those 12 ways together are like a single word that hovers on the tip of God’s tongue, frustratingly close to expression, tantalizing and yet far.