The Sound of Silence, Plus Some Unintended Social Commentary
It is Wednesday March 8th, and I am making my preparations for tomorrow, when a sea witch will steal my voice and I will be forced to use my feminine wiles, expressive eyebrows, and a portable whiteboard to ensure that my basic human needs are met.
Ok fine, not a sea witch; tomorrow morning a perfectly normal, non-maritime focused doctor will remove a polyp from my left vocal fold, and in doing so he will render me silent for 3 weeks as I allow my body to heal. I will be temporarily banned from emitting any noise - not a word, not a "mmhmm," not even laughter. The horror of it all.
This is a long time coming - I was officially diagnosed 7 years ago back in Baltimore, but I've had issues with my voice even before that. Up until a few years ago I was still a fairly heavy smoker, and as such surgery was not an option. Miraculously, on September 8, 2020, I asked myself, "what if I just never smoked a cigarette again?" For about a week, I felt a strange energy in my body as I contemplated never smoking again, and now almost 2 years later I still haven't smoked a cigarette! To me, this meant it was time to cross another thing off my 'fix my body and mind' checklist.
I spent the evening out to dinner with some friends, talking and laughing to my heart's content since it was the last time for a while I could do those things. Not to be dramatic, but I have a feeling that's a bit like what it feels like right before you leave for prison.
March 9 - Surgery Day, Wherein Much Happens in a Period of Five Hours
Through the night I had two separate dreams about my upcoming appointment: one where they gave me a sedative and I kept coming in and out of consciousness (methinks that was more to do with my REM cycle than any kind of premonition), and a second where the receptionist who was checking me in had about 20 cats lounging on and around her desk (this one turned out to be more accurate, when I was chatting with the lovely Geni she told me she had 4 or 5 cats and the latest one was snuck in by her children). I kept waking up with the usual anxious thoughts about missing my alarm and maybe never being able to talk again if the surgeon sneezes while he's using his laser.
On our way to the surgery office, at about 5:30 am, we saw some fresh vandalism - on the door and windows of a local cafe that specializes in things like butter coffee and gluten-free breakfast sandwiches, someone spray painted large black letters which stated, "WE DON'T WANT YOU HERE" and "GENTRIFIER FA***TS."
Mark got this photo after he dropped me off at the surgeon's office.
This is not the first time this property has been targeted: Back in 2019 or 2020, a couple from Texas bought the building, which used to be a corner store providing some essentials for local folks who don't have the ability to conveniently travel to the Safeway down the road. The couple wanted to turn it into a coffee shop that sold flowers; they were also going to make the back of the property into a living area. It took them over two years to make any kind of visible progress, and even then they seemed to be taking their time with opening the business.
They had an artist come in and paint a mural on the outside of their store - a freckly white lady with flowing reddish-brown hair encrusted in flowers, sipping on a steaming cup of coffee (think Alphonse Mucha via Coachella). To say it felt a little tone deaf was putting it kindly - the neighborhood they were located in is called Five Points, a historically black neighborhood where the jazz clubs in Denver were once located; people somtimes referred to it as "the Harlem of the West." Close to where this property is located, there are a mixture of home types - large single family houses, smaller duplex homes, low-income apartments. As much as people tend to think of Denver as a playground for the rich - and there are many rich people who treat it that way - this is also a city of families who have been here for generations, and aren't planning on moving out any time soon.
Well, someone decided to let these fledgling business owners know that they didn't particularly care for the art - large black bars appeared over the mural. This wasn't a flippant tagger scribbling a cheeky word or picture on someone else's art; this was someone sending a message, and the message was clear - this isn't welcome here, think again. In response, the property owners painted "Let's talk about this! Meet us here at 2 pm on [whatever the date was]" over the bars. They walked to some of the homes nearby and took floral arrangements, a sort of good will gesture I suppose. While I didn't go to the meet-up, local reporters did, and the attendees were apparently not shy about expressing their disappointment in the type of business going into the space.
The original mural, with bars and response.
The owners' response to this feedback? Creating a new mural that featured Billie Holiday singing into a microphone, along with a random Black Power fist and clusters of children's hand prints. Perhaps I'm cynical, but it felt like pandering, and lazy pandering at that. They later admitted that they didn't bother to look at the demographics of the area or the history of the neighborhood when they bought the property, so they didn't realize that people might not feel like that sort of business was welcome when there were community needs that weren't being met.
They leased the business space to the cafe that is currently operating, continue to live in the back of the building, and put some security cameras up (along with those insufferable 'smile, you're on camera!' signs). I'd also like to note that around this same time, I found a sticker on a nearby light pole with a QR code that takes you to some very biased, very dog whistle-y "reports" which imply, among other things, that black people are more violent and prone to breaking the law, and that's why they are in prison at a higher rate than other ethnicities (I even saw one part that included a WEB DuBois text as one of the sources for this data, which made me sad laugh incredulously). Maybe it was completely coincidental, but I found the juxtaposition interesting to say the least.
Cut to this morning - more black spray paint, this time a little more to the point. Time will tell if this leads to more conversations, or if it will just be viewed as some bad actors trying to stir up trouble. I think I already know the answer to that, but I would love to be proved wrong.
Anyway, ON TO THE SURGERY CENTER!
I got to the office a little before they opened at 6 am; Geni (the cat lady my dreams foretold) checked me in and when I got into the back, the staff prepped me for my surgery. They gave me a pre-warmed blanket and treated me kindly, all wonderful things since, like any normal person, I get nervous about surgery. They gave me a little something something in my IV drip to calm my nerves, which started to hit right around the time they started wheeling me back to the operating room. That's when I start to thank everyone for being so nice and doing such a great job, because whatever they gave me is feeling goooooood. I remember an oxygen mask being put over my face and then I woke up in the recovery room. They gave me some applesauce and a percocet and sent me on my way (with Mark, of course, not just out into the streets).
I spent the first few hours laying on our couch, letting the anesthesia wear off while I sipped on water and ate popsicles. Then after that, I popped some ibuprofen and felt fine. Like legitimately fine. I puttered around my kitchen and did stuff I'd normally do on a day off - emptied the dishwasher, made some scratch chicken stock with bones I'd been saving in the freezer. It wasn't til I accidentally chuckled at a joke that I felt any kind of pain (and it was immediate). So, lesson learned there. I've got a text-to-speech app on my phone, and a soundboard loaded with phrases I pre-recorded before my surgery. That combined with some faux sign language and facial expressions make communicating easier, though it makes joking around a little harder. The moment is already gone by the time you're done typing. C'est la vie, as they say.
March 10 - Oh right, I still can't talk.
Even with all my apps and chats and texts, it's pretty difficult to communicate without my voice. And since I've been silent for so long, I kind of start to forget I'm not allowed to talk at all. So I almost started talking a couple times today, whoops. Mark and I went out to lunch and he ordered for me (after explaining my situation, because he doesn't want anyone to think he's the kind of guy who would insist on ordering for his partner), and the half-sign language kind of thing seems to be working. Mark said this situation is making him reevaluate his relationship with his own voice, since he can't rely on me to take up space with mine. He's working on finding his voice again and learning to express himself more, since I can't fill in the blanks for him. Fascinating! It seems we will both be learning about ourselves throughout this ordeal, an unintended but welcome consequence!
I worked a half day from home, and it was fine - I don't have to talk directly to people too much when I'm at home so it was mostly like a normal day. Monday I go into the office so that will be the real test. I can already hear all the unfunny jokes people will make, and I'm already rolling my eyes into the back of my head!