Words weaved their way into my consciousness within the womb.
Of course, I wouldn’t remember that too clearly, but I’m sure they must have.
In the amniotic fluid, I feel that words rocked and swayed and swivelled, safe with me, ready to shape and mold me. They caressed me as I bobbed about, curled up sucking on my thumb.
The words and the pictures in those Golden Books captured me wholly, and instructions on how to make a peanut butter sandwich turned my world around, as I sat on a dusty tyre at the BMX track, not watching my brothers compete in their races.
Words gave me a voice, when I was voiceless. Terrified of adults, other children and basically anyone that was not in my immediate family, words gave me a sense of worth. I was five and I could spell el-e-phant. It was something I could do, something that would make me forget for a moment that I was terrified as soon as I stepped outside of the yellow weatherboard house on the corner, where chaos and noise reigned, the TV was never off, and all the kids in the neighbourhood felt safe and happy.
Words came easily when I created my own version of the old ‘book and tape’ set up. ‘I will say cchingg when it’s time to turn the page!’ my little voice came out of the cassette that Mrs James had placed in the deck in the little classroom where we kept an egg in an incubator, waiting for our precious chicken to hatch.
The story I had read aloud after pressing the all-important red ‘record’ button on our clunky cassette player was about a horse. This book about the horse was orange, with the black horse on front. Mum bought it for me from Book Club. He was an anxious kind of horse, too afraid to jump a fence, from memory. But in the end he did it.
Words failed me when the red-haired kid in class, Brock Forsyth, got a little curious and opened the door to the incubator, killing our beloved future chicken.
Words also failed me when they weren’t on paper, when they weren’t from a book. When I had to improvise, they cruelly abandoned me, deeming me mute and paralysed.
‘Do you ever talk?’ the girls in high school guffawed.
‘Don’t just say ‘yeah’ and giggle.’
‘Don’t just shrug. Do you ever swear? Say ‘fuck’’
‘Ooh! Them’s fightin’ words!’
The fightin’ words wouldn’t come to me. Not the real fightin’ words. I knew if I used them, they’d yell out ‘Hey everyone! Cassie swore! She’s got a nasty mouth on ‘er!’
When I had to string the words together to make a coherent sentence, to make multiple coherent sentences, to move my mouth and have meaningful sounds emanate from it while standing in front of the critical audience, I was lost. When I had to deliver an oral presentation on the dangers of smoking (for the fifth time), my voice would crack and implode, making me cringe inwardly.
‘You’ve still got bronchitis?’ Mrs Nunn was incredulous.
‘Yeah,’ I croaked, smiling.
‘She hasn’t got bronchitis,’ Scott Barnes informed the class, ‘She’s nervous!’
The written word and the spoken seemed to come to a tentative truce after I left school and started my writing course. The eyes that looked to me, the ears that heard me, were not waiting to mock me or throw paper planes around the room. They were waiting to hear what I had on my heart, how I would use the words to my advantage, to tell a story. Suddenly the words came easily and croak-free. At last I had broken free of the ravages of fake bronchitis.
Once those easy, carefree, indulgent two years of writing and wearing long skirts that swished against the ground were over, numbers enveloped my precious, life-affirming words. The languid, heady words were pushed aside by the hyperactive, goal-oriented, hateful numbers.
Numbers paid the bills – crunching them, typing them, reading them out to customers over the phone as they gasped; numbers covered my rent, groceries and movie ticket expenses. The words faded more and more each day. Like the grandparents that had died before I was born, they were an entity that was spoken of fondly on occasion, but just a fanciful idea – not something or someone you could visit, not in the flesh. The words were more of a spirit, which became more special and meaningful over the years, but could not be touched.
Yet, eventually the words found flesh again. The energy of the words swirling in the womb could be born again. The peanut butter sandwich was now a Peanut Satay stir-fry, conjuring up that same anticipation of achieving something, thanks to the words in a book.
The anxious horse, weighed down by saddles and blankets and his own irrational fears, could run bare back through the woods and jump a high fence and land dashingly in the river. Maybe that chicken was reincarnated into a fully formed creature, free from red-haired five-year-olds too – who knows?
Struggling towards a life emblazoned and nourished by words, I chase the words that once came so easily. The words are held down to the ground and begged for mercy.
‘Sorry!’ I cry. ‘I’m so sorry I left you!’
‘We took each other for granted,’ the Words said calmly, looking me straight in the eye.
There was a time I thought the words had left me, but they were always there, inside me, hoping that I would give them time again, time to be formed and molded by me, the writer.
Now, them’s fightin’ words!
My life in words, all about words, and my love of writing.