Hitting the Punchline

by AJ Earl

In December of 2018, a bus I was riding struck a cow and proceeded to skid down the road before coming to a stop.

I was in an accident in December of last year, I was on a bus and I was thrown down the aisle when we wrecked.

These are two true statements, and they’re the cause of a lot of my physical problems today. The difference between them is the little detail of hitting a cow, something I’ve learned the importance of since the accident. Although without the cow there’d have been no accident, a retelling of the same without that cow makes people visibly uncomfortable.

When I enter the room, my cane clacking or my walker squeaking, I reveal a lot about myself without ever speaking. I also don’t speak, so I reveal a lot about myself without doing that, even. Every little movement, graceful or not, is followed by people looking to be reassured about what’s wrong with me.

Their unease grows when they see that I have to type things out, and so when they ask what happened to me, I can see the narrowing of the eyes, the tightening of the brow. They’re waiting for something that will absolve them of their gaze and pity. The fact that I was in an accident doesn’t help, of course, but then the cow shows up.

I have to make it quick, since the revelation of my accident is like the cow itself, life-stopping. How can you really move on from the realization that you’re looking at someone whose whole life is now changed after an accident? The cow gives them permission to do so.

The bus looked terrible, but you should have seen the cow!

The inertia of the bus I was riding is much like the momentary anxiety of others when I talk about my past, it all seems to vanish when the cow shows up. “Oh no” and hands raised to mouths in shock become “oh dang” and a slight, polite chuckle.

At least my accident is amusing, I suppose.

Old 1980s style computers

Finding My Voice

The first time I had to give a presentation using my text2speech was terrifying. I was still at American University and presenting on Eric Rauchway’s The Winter War for my US History colloquium with Professor Allan Lichtman, a scholar of not only voting rights, but also President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the topic of my presentation. He knows his stuff, why wouldn’t I be afraid?

A few weeks prior to that presentation, I had lost my voice abruptly as a complication of an accident I was in over the winter holidays. It started with a sudden deepening of my voice and then one day I had a full-on stutter, and the next, nothing. I could conjure up simple words from time to time for a while, and even that gave out. From then on out I had to use a text to speech program on my laptop, the program speaking whatever I typed into it.

The presentation went well, and I got a 4.0 in that class.

Ultimately, after further complications, I transferred back here to Portland State University to complete my MA close to home. This decision was a good one, and I’m still learning every day how to deal with each new problem that appears with my health, from increasing dizziness to unforgiving fatigue that knocks me out for an entire day.

In the end I did find my voice, and it’s a robot.