At first I noticed it occasionally and brushed it aside with tolerance: Oops, that's my old lady voice! You know the one I mean: squeaky, creaky, wobbly, unpredictable, on-again-off-again as if a fuse was about to blow. A voice that shuffles along in slippers. If a voice like that answered the phone, you wouldn't ask, "Can I speak to your mother?" Still, I'd rationalise the problem away: maybe I talked too much yesterday, or I must be getting a cold.
By the start of my old-age-boot-camp year, this ugly voice had become intrusive, insistent. I couldn't rely on my voice from one day to the next. That annoyed me when I was singing, even in a choir whose volume muffles a multitude of peccadilloes. More disturbing, I began to fear that my voice would fail me when giving a talk, as I do now and then.
None of my friends could hear any change in my voice, and it did seem an absurdly petty thing to worry about. But two factors gave me permission to take old-lady-voice seriously. First, the professional risk. And secondly, the prospect of longevity: should I live to 99, I would have to put up with this vocal horror for another 24 years. A quarter of my life squeaking and squawking and coughing and straining, just to communicate? Intolerable, and out of whack with the way I felt.
Sergeant Major: Right, add that to the boot camp. Chop chop! Fix it up quick smart!
Depressa: Not because you're vain or anything. Not because you've got anything special to say.
Smugilla: You're a vicar's daughter and you owe it to society.
Miminerva: Maybe there's nothing to be done, but you'll never know unless you have a damn good try.
In truth, a voice problem is a problem of identity. I didn't feel nearly as old as I sounded. That wasn't me talking, it was a 95-year-old stranger. The mismatch was an aspect of the psychic confusion associated with aging. On to it! First stop, visit an otolaryngologist (ENT specialist) then a speech therapist.
Image: I imagine many of the Japanese people in this photo are thinking, "This is not my voice!" They are practising Christmas carols in 1944. Photo by Tom Parker, War Relocation Authority, U.S.