I didn’t talk much as a kid. When I was very young, second grade and under, I talked more. I’ve always had thoughts running wild in my head, the kind that you follow more than control. But I could never get the words out as quickly or as accurately as I wanted. I also used to hate reading. Not because I didn’t love stories — I adore stories more than almost anything — but because the ones I could read I found boring, and the challenging ones were interesting, but frustrated me beyond the point of caring. That’s kind of how I was with speaking. I could get there if I tried hard enough, but it was never satisfying.
I babysit my neighbors’ two little girls. Their youngest is about the age I was when they moved in next door: six. I was talking to their father the other day and he was telling me how similar I was to their youngest when we first met. How I had all this stuff going on, and could talk a mile a minute, but it took so long to get it out. If you talk to his kid, she’ll tell you a story and punctuate it with lots of buts and ums, and she’ll do a 360 in the middle of a sentence. Like a lot of kids that age, she’s not quite able to hold onto a thought. But with her I think, as it was with me at that age, that it’s not a matter of attention, but one of articulation.
Did you know I have a lisp? Not a big one, not a very noticeable one. You’d have to be paying close attention or listening to me speak for a very long time before you’d pick up on it. I wasn’t made aware of it myself until my freshman year of high school, when someone casually mentioned it in conversation. Until then, my impression of what a lisp sounded like was the scene in The Music Man when the little boy sings, “Oh-ho the Wellsth Fargo wagon istha comin’ now,” so I was a bit surprised to discover that boy and I had something in common. My lisp, however faint, likely developed during those childhood days when I’d stammer out every sentence just so I’d have time to think what came next.
At some point after those days, I began to talk less and less. There were a number of reasons, but suffice it to say that I no longer had the confidence to speak my mind. I was so scared of people and what they’d think of me that I didn’t utter more than five sentences to anyone besides my two best friends for all of middle school. Call it a dry spell.
I blame that dry spell for my talkative nature now. I used to pride myself on my listening skills, and I can still be a good listener when I care deeply about a person, or when I can tell someone needs me to hear them, but it’s a struggle. When I got to high school, I was suddenly thrown into an environment where I felt confident enough to freely speak my mind. I fear it backfired a bit. Because who doesn’t love talking about themself? I’d been craving that shit for years, and now I fear I’m on the verge of an overdose.
I don’t think I’m a selfish person. Self-centered, perhaps, but aren’t we all? So it kills me every time I interrupt someone or realize I’m dominating a conversation. Because, god, I want everyone to like me. Not in the desperate way. I can identify shitty or toxic people, and I could give a rat’s ass what they think of me. But I want good people, kind people, people I care about to think I am good and kind and giving. I’m trying to be, anyway.
Whereas before I couldn’t speak my mind, now I know what I’m saying. And whereas before I was afraid to say what I thought, now I fear I say too much. As the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and for awhile being able to speak felt like a super power to me. It was liberating as hell. But I don’t want to use that power to silence others. The right balance between speaking and listening is always there somewhere. I’m still trying to find it, trying to be a better person, and that’s the most anyone can do.