Everyone talks about skin hunger, but have you been thirsty for someone’s cadence? Their lilting hello, choked goodbye, whispered stay, raspy please, and muffled sorry? I have.
I tried recreating a friend’s goodnight, wrapped in an audible smile and punctuated by a yawn, one night before falling asleep. I tossed and turned for hours because my best imitation was the worst attempt — it did not sound like her. Often, I wake up in the middle of the night, filled with an unknown dread, unable to recall how she pronounces her t’s. I know her words flow like stifled giggles, birthing on her tongue even when she tries to hold back. She talks through films. Gasps loudly, chuckles softly.
The past year presented numerous opportunities for moments that I willingly surrendered: hugs that I didn’t offer, hands that I didn’t shake, cheeks that I didn’t caress, ribs that I didn’t poke, and sides that I didn’t tickle. I thought there would be a tomorrow. Lemony Snicket said even though death is inevitable, it manages to take us by surprise like walking up the stairs to your bedroom and expecting an extra step.
Even if I spend all of next year generously giving away parts of myself, it will be to new people. The old ones are gone, they reside in my phonebook now. My friends send me voice notes sometimes. I play them days later. Over and over. Until I can memorise them, until I can identify the patterns: S sighs twice before talking about her father; L groans at my tendency to ramble; D giggles when she runs out of things to say; K’s voice trails off for seven seconds and then the notes end. I counted.
Voice notes alter reality because these sounds are ours to keep, even years after they are sent. They are detached, disembodied noises; you can be a continent away, but I can still lull myself to sleep listening to you describe your day. I used to wonder: Where do words go once spoken? Nowhere, they can now stay.
I used to wonder why aaji would listen to her sputtering radio all day long, even when it croaked and most of its knobs fell off. I understand now — the only other voice in the house was her own.
Vibhavari loves self-indulgent essays, cats, Tumblr, and photography.