No one ever said it to me directly—in fact, it was usually the opposite. "Speak up." "What did you say?" "I couldn't understand you." But every time someone told me to be louder, to be clearer, all it made me want to do was shut my mouth and never open it again.
Years of living with a lisp taught me that it was better to not say anything at all than to speak and risk being misunderstood, leading to embarrassment and awkwardness. As a result of my silence, I felt distanced from most of my peers, having only a few people that I could honestly call friends. "Her? Oh, she's quiet." That's what most people would say when they thought of me. "Quiet" might as well have been part of my name. I was okay with that. I was fine. I didn't need to be heard.
September 8th, 2015 would change that.
I started my first day of creative writing class expecting to learn about, well, writing. I expected to fill out plot diagrams and learn the proper way to punctuate dialogue. I didn't expect my life to be changed.
But changed it was.
One of my most vivid memories of those first few weeks of creative writing is of our freewrites. Every day we would be given a different prompt to write to, and then, if we wished, we could share what we had written with the class. I remember sitting and listening to others read out their work, and I distinctly remember thinking: "That will never be me. I'll never have the courage to do that."
Then, one day in October, I was really pleased with what I had written, so pleased that I wanted to share it. I remember my heart pounding in my chest as I raised my hand to read, and those urgent little voices in my mind listing off all the reasons why it wasn't a good idea. "They won't understand you. You have a lisp, remember? Besides, your writing isn't that good anyway. Be quiet. Be quiet."
I swallowed the voices down and let my own voice come out.
I could hear it shaking as I read, hear every stutter and mistake. The only thing that kept me going from line to line through that page and a half of handwritten prose was the fact that I knew that giving up in the middle would be even more mortifying than continuing on.
I could say that I finished reading feeling ecstatic and free, like the proverbial weight had been lifted off my chest, but that wasn't the case. I felt exposed and painfully raw, like sunburnt skin. Adrenaline coursed through my body in an endless cycle: it had nowhere to go, once my mouth had closed and shut off the stream of words. I was terrified.
The next day, I did it again.
And again, and again, and again. Soon I was reading out loud nearly every day, something that the me of just one year before wouldn't have considered doing in her most fantastical of daydreams. I couldn't get enough.
I've changed so much since this time last year, all because of my creative writing teacher and my wonderful classmates. I've become stronger, more confident. I may still not be the most outgoing, social person in the world, but I've become better at oral presentations, something that used to absolutely terrify me. And every time those little voices try to tell me to be quiet, I think of all the encouragement I've received in class, and I know that I deserve to be heard. Thank you, to my creative writing class of 2015-2016, for teaching me how to be loud.