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I’m sitting in a small corner in the middle of a large university hallway. That might seem rather contradictory, but the corner is actually one set into the wall, as if it were made for someone like me who hates being seen but loves being present. Around me are other, less fortunate students and adults, sitting on the floor in an attempt to be productive. As if that’s possible in a place like this.
Speech tournaments are fun and all, but the amount of work being done in a twelve hour period is shockingly small. Most people prefer to socialize with competitors from different schools, competitors from the same school, or even coaches. The ones who don’t place themselves on the floor of an inconspicuous corridor and usually (always) end up falling asleep.
It is peaceful here. The sound of people typing and hushed voices in a nearby room create a satisfying atmosphere in the midst of such a tension-filled event.
But the lull is broken soon as the voices pause, then shift almost imperceptibly. The mood seems to tighten as whispers fly through the air, people rushing to check their devices.
“Postings are up!”
A rush of air shoves past me as the cafeteria slowly empties out, and I wait.
Two minutes later the cafeteria and the hallway are empty. I pack my bags and leave.
I don’t like being first out the door. I don’t like being crushed by the masses as they attempt to squeeze out a set of double doors that only open on one side. I don’t like people coming to ask me where to find their rooms or their phones or their shoes (helpful, I know).
So I wait.
People always try to tell me that I’m too cold or too passive or too grim. They think that just because I can’t speak I have nothing to say. I wish I could tell them that sometimes the words get lost somewhere between the battlefield that is my mind and the graveyard of my mouth. Sometimes I can’t understand what the other person is saying because they’re saying it too quickly and asking them to repeat themselves seven times usually makes them want leave so I do nothing but smile and nod. Of course, that actually makes them leave.
Sometimes it takes all the energy I have just to pretend I’m paying attention, when I can feel nothing but the figurative vultures that prey on any possibility of reasonable thought and the silent vibrations of nothingness in my ears.
I’ve been questioned many times about my choice to do speech.
“You’re so quiet. *laughter* How are you even in speech?”
“How can you make speeches when you can’t even hold a conversation?”
“What do you even talk about?”
To answer those questions:
The judge does not know who I am. The judge has not heard the rumors that circulate and the judge does not know what I spent my summer doing. They do not know me. All they know is that they’re probably going to hear another jejune speech from another little kid who thinks they have figured out the meaning of life from their experience with sporks.
I do what I can.
In a round, I can hide behind the fact that I am nothing, a nobody. I know that the judge will not remember me in an hour, but hopefully what I say will stick in their mind for just a little longer (or long enough for them to write down rankings).
I can hide behind the fact that for five sweet minutes I cannot be verbally interrupted, scolded, scoffed at, sneered at, patronized, or invalidated. One of the requirements for becoming a judge is that they understand they are held captive by their commitment to norms that dictate that it is rude to walk away from someone speaking directly to them.
I can hide behind the fact that for once, I know exactly what I want to say and how to say it because no one is changing the subject before I can convince myself that it’s okay to make a sound.
That doesn’t mean the sentences come out well. I still lose track of what I am saying halfway through saying it and I still somehow manage to say the word “look” twenty times. But that doesn’t matter.
The words are mine and the time is mine and the judge is mine. I will do what I want with them.