Can You Hear Me Now

After my reading at my publication party, a cute guy, the president of the University Library Board, named Jeffrey bought a book, and as I sat trying to decide what to write to him on the author page, which is always a struggle for me between trying to be original and sincere, he asked had I ever thought about recording the book in my own voice. I had because Joe, my friend who lives in Fairhope, Alabama, records books, and had said I should try it. Jeffrey explained that he was the owner/operator of Audio Works, Inc. and that he thought my voice would make a great audio book and would I like to do it?

I didn’t know. Had to think about it for a while. I thought well, I love to read from my work. I’ve read countless times with the four books I’d published. Reading was my jam. I was a pro! I love watching the faces of my audiences as they smile, or look sad about something I read, or when I see pensive expressions on their faces when I maybe say something interesting. Shoot, why wouldn’t I want to do this! It will be easy, piece of cake as they say.  Sure, I said to Jeffrey. Let’s do it!

It wasn’t easy, in fact, it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  Several authors have asked me about the process, the overall experience of doing this and here’s what you’re in for. My recording went something like this.

Although Jeffrey’s main studio is in New Orleans, he also has a separate one in his home near me. I figured we’d get this done in no time. After I arrived at Jeffrey’s lovely home, He led me to a room. The walls were hung with soundproofing and there was a little desk, a standing mic, a chair. A few instructions: don’t cough, sneeze, gasp, make any noises as you read. “Can I cross my legs?” I wanted to know. “If you’re quiet.” “Can I wiggle in my chair?”  “If you’re quiet.” I didn’t ask if I could smoke. 

Then Jeffrey said, “I’ll be across the hall. You’ll hear me speak through the headphones.” Oh yes, headphones. I’d expected those. I’d seen that on TV. I placed them over my ears. He shut the door. I’m all alone. I look at the screen on the IPad. There’s BACK HOME: A Vietnam Veteran’s Wife’s Short Memoir About a Long War. Yep. I’d written that and now I was going to read it aloud for the recording. “Ready to go,” I hear through those headphones. “Begin anytime.”

I began. Here’s what I didn’t know about myself, my readings. I cheat. It’s not intentional; it’s just that I skip words, even a line or two as I read. No one has the book but me, they never know I cheated. I didn’t know how dependent I am on the audiences. Hubby Butch had told me to just read like I do at events. I couldn’t look up at the audience; there was no audience. Just me, the covered walls, the mic, and my book.  

I could hear my voice. It was me all right and I can’t say I didn’t like my voice. It was just that every word sounded different from the way I imagined it. I was on chapter three and I was already exhausted. Sixteen chapters to go. Maybe a break? A cigarette outside? “Minutes later after a few puffs, I said, “Okay. I’m good to go now.” I know smoking is a bad habit. A terrible habit which I’ve tried several times to quit, but I have to say in times of stress I’m glad I have a little crutch to get through.  

So take two and we’re off. Now I’ve come to another chapter. I never thought this was all that sad. The sad parts were toward the end of the book, but suddenly I’m sobbing. It’s sad!!! Sad sad sad. I have to stop again. I blow my nose with a tissue I spy on a table near the door. “Okay, ready,” I say. I’m not but I have to go on I know. I’m no quitter.

Five more chapters and I’m toast. Burnt toast. I can’t go on.  Jeffrey knows this. He’s a patient man! “Fine,” he says. “You did great. We’ll pick this up in a few days.”  Sure I was great. He’d only told me the same thing fifteen times or more: “Go back to line . . .  Go back, go back, go back.” 

The second taping day arrived and I was back. I’d only finished 8 chapters, so 11 to go now. I told myself I wouldn’t make a single mistake now that I knew how to do this. I was a pro, after all. It would be a lot easier now. It wasn’t. Mistakes abounded just like before. “Go back.” I’d hear that chant in my dreams. But the reading was harder now. It was far more emotional as I told my story. It was almost as if I didn’t know this young girl. She wasn’t me. I felt sorry for her. She had a lot of shit to deal with that I could barely imagine now. The tears flowed again and again. And I needed another break. Another cigarette. As I smoked, I thought how I hadn’t wanted to tell this story, and now I remembered why. I should have stuck to fiction I thought. No, the practical Bev said, you needed to be unselfish for all those other wives whose stories are much worse than yours. That’s why you did it. So go do it.

 I needed more than one cigarette, but I also needed to finish today. I knew, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t come back. When I said “The End,” Jeffrey appeared and offered me his lovely handkerchief. I smeared it with black eyeliner. “I’m sorry.” “It washes,” he said. He let me hug him, but I wanted to hang on for way too long to be polite.

Now we’re editing. This isn’t easy either! Surprise to me. As I listen to my voice, I run back the arrow over and over. Didn’t catch that word. Wasn’t clear. How do we fix it? And I’m crying again, but I’m done. Epilogue edited and I’m done. And I’m proud. Proud I did it. Proud of the finished product. I’ll offer it to the world, to anyone who wants to listen to my story as they run, jog, drive to work, or dust the coffee table. I’m giving this to the wives who I know will relive their own stories of grief, tragedy, and eventual triumph.

After all, stories of triumph in these turbulent times are what we need to hear about. The dark days of Vietnam are over and the dark days we now face will end too. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”