For the past week, I’ve been editing a podcast for a creative project I’m going to be collaborating on over the summer. The podcast is an artist’s interview of a novelist, and in the middle of it I am supposed to insert a 750-word editorial about my creative response to the interview. Seven hundred fifty words means about four minutes of my voice. My nasally, croaky, uneven voice. I’ve recorded it 11 times, and I just can’t anymore. I’m literally sweating, and somehow my legs hurt.
What’s sad is that I used to have a pretty decent singing voice. In grade school, the bus driver, Miss Melissa, who also directed the performances we’d put on at our weekly prayer meetings, told me once that I have “an impressive range.” She gave me the part of Jesus in that production. I blew everyone away.
The summer after sixth grade, my sister, Jay, and I attended a drama camp in Columbia, Maryland. I played Curly in Oklahoma. My sister was Ado Annie. (They considered casting Jay as Laurey, Curly’s love interest, but thankfully a grown-up stepped in and was like, “No.”) That summer was the summer that everyone on the planet realized I was gay, so I was super self-conscious about how girly my voice sounded. In the last scene, after I ask Laurey to marry me and she says yes, I had to crow, “Yee-haw!” I don’t know how a 12-year-old boy can say that without sounding gay. The whole audience laughed, the lights when down, and my life has never been the same (jk).
My voice began to change in seventh grade, from puberty but also because I deepened it on purpose. That year I was the new kid in school, since my family had just left a Christian covenant community and moved to a new town. At first the kids didn’t know how to treat me; I was sort of cute and really nice, but I was also very effeminate. They finally decided to bully the fuck out of me, so I did my best to change everything about myself, including my voice. Now, when someone called our house and I answered the phone, they didn’t think I was my mom and say, “Hi Nancy!”
I’ve always had allergies to pollen and mold, but my voice got extra nasally after I adopted a kitten from a shelter when I was 20. I still lived with my mom, and she told me it wasn’t a good idea, since I’d break out in hives and start wheezing the moment I rubbed my face in the cat’s belly—something she (correctly) predicted I would do. But I had just gotten out of the psych ward for the second time, so hives were the least of her concern. I named the cat Theo and I loved him so much, and for the next five years, until I moved out on my own, I didn’t care that I could hardly breathe or that people always thought I had conjunctivitis.
It was in 2008 that I got my own apartment, so for about a year my allergies were under control and my voice sounded pretty normal. One summer night in 2009, I was walking to a restaurant in Baltimore with my friend, Jeff. (It was actually sort of a date, but Jeff and I didn’t end up dating for another year.) We cut through an alley, and it was really dark, and as we passed a dumpster a large rat ran towards us out of the shadows. We both screamed until we realized that it wasn’t a rat, but a tiny orange kitten. He hopped up to us and lifted his little paw, and we were like, “OK, change of plans.” We drove to the pet store and got flea shampoo and some food, and then we went back to my apartment and ordered cheesesteaks. I said I would only keep him for a week or two, until I found him a proper home, but we all know how that goes. It was literally an “Are You My Mother?” situation; Brady (that’s what I eventually named him) would look up at me with his little green eyes, crawl up my chest and make out with my nose for five minutes, and then curl up in the crux of my shoulder. I’d sneeze and wheeze and google “signs of anaphylactic shock,” and together Brady and I made a home.
A couple of months later, after I had finally admitted to myself that Brady wasn’t going anywhere, I went to an allergist to inquire about getting allergy shots. A nurse pricked my arm with these little needles that were coated with various allergens, and my arm broke out in hives the size of golf balls. The doctor was like, “The only pet you can own is a cockroach.” Her face was dead serious and she had a thick German accent, so I couldn’t tell if she was joking. I chuckled uncomfortably, and she continued. “You’ll have to come in every week for a year, and after you get each shot you have to sit for 30 minutes so we can make sure you don’t have a life-threatening allergic reaction. After that, it’s once every two weeks for a year.” At the time, I had a serious fear of commitment, so I said, “Oh hell no.” She wrote me a prescription for Singulair and sent me on my way.
That was ten years ago. I’m still on Singulair, and I also use Flonase and sometimes Zicam. I live in New York now, where the air quality is shit, and Brady sheds more than he ever did. I look at him curled up on the sofa and think, “How is it possible to love something so much, and hate it at the same time?” On many levels, he has made my life totally unmanageable: I can hardly breathe, I sound like Janice from Friends, and every five months he has one of his “spells,” where he runs into his litter box every two minutes like he’s tweaking and then tracks litter all over the apartment. The first time it happened I thought it was a urinary tract infection and took him to the vet. She said, “No, he just has anxiety.”
Obviously I’m not getting rid of Brady, even though I sometimes fantasize about what it will be like after he dies. Maybe I’ll train for a marathon, I think. Maybe I’ll become a famous beatboxer. Maybe I’ll start sleeping again.
In the meantime, while Brady still lives and I still suffer, if you wouldn’t mind, please say a prayer for me. Pray that I can record this podcast successfully, and that, just for tonight, I won’t have an asthma attack and die.