Her unwitting nickname in high school was Fudd (as in Elmer), because her “r“s came out as babyish “w“s.
This was partially due to the fact that she would imitate her older brother in admiration during childhood, after he developed his own impediment from an orofacial sports injury. The other, and much more severe, aspect of her impediment was a random and sudden inability to speak. No stutter, no slur.
As her speech therapist explained, it was a short-circuit in the brain, causing her to believe that a sentence was finished when she was only half-way through saying it. The only problem was that she would get stuck on a word. On good days she simply couldn’t repeat it, on bad days she couldn’t speak at all. Most people thought it was brought on by a rather traumatic series of events brought on by her supposed friends in high school. The wascals.
I always found it endearing, but she never cared for it. One of the tricks she used to get by was to take her time in saying a word. E‑nun-ci-ate. It was like massaging the tension from a muscle, and slowly, she would be able to speak again. Another trick was to imagine being in a comfort zone, which was her room, to relax when she was flustered.
I’ve always found that girls share some intrinsic bond with their rooms. It’s almost as if they’re following an evolutionary nesting instinct, and their rooms become their homes. A place to grow and be safe. Along with the carefully lined-up books and the random pieces of jewellery, the hidden cache of photos and the purposefully placed candles (some of which must never be lit), are the characteristic quirks.
Christie could never fall asleep if one of her dozen stuffed animals were facing her. Her bedtime ritual was to make sure that each one was turned away.
In time, Christie’s comfort zone became the walk-in-closet of my room. She was old enough to make love, but simultaneously too young to stay overnight, so we would spend most of our time in there, the place where we could reach out and feel the walls around us, confined to the intimacy of the enclosure. We spread out the blanket, lit the candles, and closed the door.
After a while, the humidity would build up, and this was no more apparent than in the winter when we would crack open the door and tangibly feel the chill on our skin. Opening the sun she called it, as the daylight sharply spilled on the blanket that covered us. It was the only place where we could shut out the world, the only place that felt like night.
In a relationship, sharing the night is more important than sharing fluids. Falling asleep with someone is an acceptance of trust, a way of saying that we’re comfortable enough to drift into our subconscious minds. Perhaps it was the unavailability of such a ritual that’s given the night so much significance.
Having no night of our own, we had to make due. I covered one side of a cardboard panel with glow-in-the-dark stars and suspended it from the top of the room. The panel was large enough to fill the vision, and in the darkness the closet became a microcosm of the starry sky. Even in the middle of day it was near blackness, and we’d lose track of time, huddled under the blankets with her sleeping at my chest, or lying there face-to-face, talking while I ran my fingers through her hair. Sometimes, all we would do was get together and nap.
And eventually, Christie didn’t have much trouble speaking anymore.