Anthony Spica
14 March 2022

I can hear it now—a sound like feet propelling off dry sand at the beach. A not-so-pleasant squeak in a remarkably pleasant place and from an even more remarkably pleasant animal. Perhaps you are reading this right now and thinking to yourself absolutely no way, but I earnestly urge you to (next time you are around a hummingbird) listen closely and you may just hear it. Maybe you will even hear it exactly as I describe.

It is a conundrum I have been faced with for a while now; how to make a decipherable metaphor out of that preposterous sound. I ponder it every time I sit in the gardens of my backyard and encounter that far too high and honestly more of a pop than a squeak. A vex that makes your teeth ache like silverware on ceramic, a newly delivered package hugged tightly in styrofoam, hardened January snow beneath the foot of your boot.

Squirrels are similar to hummingbirds in that nature. Though I far prefer to write about the latter than the former, they both possess a sound that is equally unexpected and undesirable. I don’t remember ever distinctly listening for the sound of any squirrels, but what I do remember is hearing on one particular occasion such a characteristically uncharacteristic sound coming from the oaks of my childhood home. Or again on the grassy knolls of campus. I searched intently until I was finally met with the realization: oh, so that’s what a squirrel sounds like.

It feels like so long ago, so far in the past it almost feels fraudulent to still claim it as my own experience. When my speech impediment meant that most people would mock me in conversation, whether I knew them or not. When most people couldn’t have cared less what I had to say because they were too focused on disparaging the way I said it. To mitigate my lisp I would spit in a bucket for hours trying to get rid of that sound of salvia that made people laugh more than listen. What I didn’t know then is that what I needed to correct my speech impediment was two years in speech therapy, not a dry mouth and vain desire.  

I don’t like the sounds of hummingbirds. I don’t like the sounds of squirrels either. But I guess I still want to hear them, and would mourn their absence deeply. Simply for the reminder that they are here too and occasionally loud too and that you can enjoy my beauty and my song even if it is bad and even if other people may not like it. I know that feeling well.

It is truly shocking how the way you are perceived by others changes once you correct something like a speech impediment. Once your identity becomes that which is more palatable, more tolerable. Even adults began to acknowledge me as a different person, as someone now worthy of being heard. I had teachers that would banter with me about my “past self” as if that boy wasn’t still inside me and holding the same hurt. As if their nicknames playing on my speech and my last name, Spica, were no longer offensive nor inappropriate to share. 

With time, I have grown in and out of friendships with many of the people that used to ridicule the way I spoke. I would be lying if I said I don’t think about their past insensitivity every time we are together. I still do. And though what I say is true, that season of my life is now distant and marked by naïveté, I am often reminded of those individuals who first made me realize how hard it is to sound different. 

Like the hummingbirds and the squirrels.