Hear Her Roar
May 27, 2008 by Maggie
It’s ironic, really, because she was such an early talker. She was a developmental breeze, chatty before she even had words, relaxing into school curriculum once she did. She was reading by four, and, at home, she rarely shut up. In public, however, it was a completely different story. She was a completely different person.
Gracie used to whisper. More than that, she didn’t use words at all, regardless of decibel — she would only make noises, strange pained yeeps or grunts. She would avoid eye contact at all costs. She would not stand in front of the class, or the church, or the people contemplating produce at the market. She squirmed under the slightest gaze. She missed out on every pageant. She stood stilted and mortified through every school choir concert.
Years passed. I’d heard tales of my own paralytic shyness, though apparently I’d outgrown it by four or five. Gracie’s eighth birthday came and went and… more of the same. I tried to keep a protective shield of empathy around her at all times, played shell to her fragile soft spots as needed. I continued to defend her to family, friends, and teachers when necessary. Tamped down my own frustration, tried hard to remember how it felt for me back then, tried to help the rest of them understand her now. And through it all, I held out hope.
And then? Of all things, tae kwon do. It’s true; I didn’t take it quite seriously enough at first, though I maintain that was not my fault. It wasn’t long before my tongue in cheeking morphed to slack-jawed gratitude; the change in her was so intense, so thorough and swift, my head is still spinning.
Now, she walks straighter. Now, she looks you level in the eye, holds your gaze. She rarely resorts to the baby-talk crutch, answers with a resounding “YES!” instead of a whimper. She stands in front of crowds’ large and small, marches methodically through the memorized sequences of the ancient art form that delivered her soundly, squarely, home. To herself. She cuts each move with confidence and, when appropriate, bellows my favorite sound of all: “KeeeYAH!“
How many nights did I spend praying she’d find her voice? Still, I had no idea how sweet it would sound once she finally did.