My Voice

May 20, 2011

The smile, that cold, humorless, eternally patient smile, left me feeling even more anxious. All eyes in the board room were directed at me, and all but one looked with condescension. I tried to speak, how desperately I tried, but my coherent thought came out only as gibberish.
“I-I-Ifff wah-wah-wee were t-to…” but I lapsed into silence, tugging at my dark brown hair in frustration at my inability to talk.
Whispers and exchanges of glances were instantly cut off by a soft, yet clear “Gen-tle-men.” from the chairman. All eyes turned.
“There is no further business to conduct. I declare this meeting closed.”
All left quickly, without questioning the break of procedure, as if anywhere else would be better than in the boardroom, in his stony presence.
// I need help with a better transition here.
Later, I sat at my desk, absently writing reports as I pondered the meeting. The department heads and their chief assistants had been summoned to the board room, and the news was broken to them. The man had not said it, but his very presence had left no doubt: a merger.
I had known of the possibility, and, indeed, had felt in my gut it was true. But the cold, calculating manner of our new boss was something that I had no way of anticipating. He had looked at me, and it had seemed that he was peering into my very soul.
I was shaken from my reverie by a memorandum being set on my desk. The memo was from him. The message, though disguised, was clear: change is coming, adapt or perish. The new management is looking for bright new ideas, and people that can’t bring any to the table needn’t come to it.
This troubled me, for speaking had never been easy. And what good does a brilliant thought do you if you can’t tell anyone?
As soon as I had finished reading the memo, my phone rang. The new boss wanted to see me in his new office right away.
I entered the office, knocking as he did so. The office was bare, as one would expect from a newly occupied office, with one exception: the desk, which was already piled with paper. Behind this sat the new boss.
“Ah, Mr. Gibbith, just the man I wanted to see. Close the door.”
I did so.
“What are your plans?” he said
“Wh-wh-what d-do ya-yu-you mean?” I was confused, and I always stammer worse when I am confused.
He smiled, humorlessly, but not coldly.
“Where do you intend this company to go? What are your plans?”
My plans? I had had several, but none had ever been taken seriously, when I’d been able to state them at all. But now I, a lowly assistant to the head of the accounting department, was being asked my plans. And to what end? To be misunderstood? To be found inadequate immediately, with no chance for recourse?
How could I tell my new boss that the marketing department needs more space? That there is inadequate light in the cubicles, and I have proof that this is degrading efficiency? That if the entire firm had a linked computer system, costs would decrease by 3.265%? How could I tell, nay, explain my plans, without being cut off and criticized for wasting time and money? How could I do this without a voice that obeys me?
He must have seen my frustration as hesitation, for he stood up and paced to the window. Looking out, he said, “Mr. Gibbith, I know you have an idea. You stopped yourself from saying it during the meeting. I understand. Some meet change with hostility.”
He turned and faced me.
“But fear not, for I relish change.”
My frustration turned to fear, fear for what he had left unsaid: that he abhors stagnation. Those that stay static will not be tolerated.
My mind, sharp and quick, commanded my mouth to speak. To tell of changes that must be made to ensure the survival of the company. To lay out the needed evidence. To show that I was better than just an assistant.
But what I heard coming out of my mouth was unintelligible gibberish. I stopped myself, and tried to start over. Slower, I told myself. Yet this only made it worse.
I’m trying! I wanted to scream, yet I knew raising my voice would only make things worse. I commanded my voice to speak clearly and evenly to say something, anything, in my defense.
Facts, figures, ideas, pleas for help, and a feeling of helplessness swirled around my mind as I tried to think of what I could do. I focused on moving my tongue slowly, evenly, like I knew it should. I focused on breathing steadily. I set my jaw and made it only go up and down. I focused on speaking, on actually talking.
I began, as slowly as I could, to describe why the cubicles need more light. “Eh-ff wah-we h-had more la-light, wi-we c-could ha-hav-va better ow-ow-outpuat.”
He slowly nodded, and paced back to the window.
Why did I pick that? A stock suggestion box complaint, no originality at all. Stupid! If I had a voice, this wouldn’t have happened. Damn stammering! Why was I blessed with I broken voice?
I felt wetness on my chin. I must have started crying, but I don’t know when.
Great, he saw me crying. I’m not only incompetent but also over emotional. I might as well leave now.
“Good idea,” he said, turning towards me. “You’ll have to create a presentation for the board to consider.”
This hit me like a sledge hammer. He agreed! The joy was overwhelming. Yet, at the same time, I knew couldn’t give a presentation: I could barely say a sentence coherently.
“Fear not,” he said, with a warm smile. “I will present it for you. You need only think.”
And this was how I finally found my voice.

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