T is the Culprit; or, Why Singing is Like Driving

14 06 2010

This summer, I’ve been observing with concern a very strong, unfamiliar smell on my skin. What if other people can smell it? What if the people sitting next to me in class lean away from me, not to see the blackboard better, but instead to evade this overwhelming cloud of scent around me? I finally confided in someone whom I subject to my smell on a daily basis. My confidante accepted my fears and sagely pointed out that it’s entirely likely that T is changing my body’s smell. “You’re basically a 13-year-old boy,” ze reminded me. “That’s a pretty smelly critter.”

Ze also allowed that because I’ve spent over 20 years smelling like lilacs and raindrops (that’s what girls smell like), my smell change probably seems far more glaring to me than it does to other people. People around me probably just smell some vague and unsurprising boy smell, just another human being. My nostrils have been trained to expect some other smell from my person. I smell muskier, darker, no longer tangy and sharp. From white wine to red.

The good news is, music is coming back into my voice. For a bit there, everything middle dropped out of my vocal capabilities. The middle of my singing range became nothing but a rush of air, no matter how hard I tried. The middle volumes (the volume appropriate for volunteering answers in class, for instance) disappeared into one of two unpredictable extremes: hockey-game-loud or conspiratorial whisper. I’m sure my German class thinks my feelings toward translating Nietzsche vacillate wildly from rabid enthusiasm to clandestine reverence.

To my relief, some modicum of grace has returned, as of the past week, to my vocal stylings. I’ve very gratefully taken to singing along again to the Glee soundtrack while I’m at work.

In a sense, my voice and my smell are traveling at the same speed in opposite directions. As my smell grows less recognizable, my voice gets more and more familiar. After always hearing my voice as though it’s the sound of someone else calling out from the other side of a thick, dense wall, I’m beginning to hear a voice—my voice—come out of my own chest. Its nearness, its familiarity, is startling. Like a close friend tiptoed up behind me and started a conversation right into my ear.

This voice feels solid, like a physical weight resting comfortingly at the center of my diaphragm. Singing suddenly feels like what slipping into my first car felt like. It’s the feeling of knowing exactly what to do with every lever, every button. It feels intimate.

The end of the story is, I smell fine. I keep smelling my clothes periodically just to be sure.  I sing with gusto, perhaps more loudly than is strictly necessary. With great relief, I’ve found that second puberty is way funnier than first puberty.