As you may have seen, I’m thrilled to be included in this year’s Listen to Your Mother Show in Providence. After recovering from the initial shock of speaking my written words in front of a packed (you’re coming, right?) auditorium, or being digitally inscribed on a YouTube video for all eternity, I found I had a much larger problem.
When I speak, I sound like Peter Griffin.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Surely, Steph, you must be mistaken! You sound like Lois Griffin, right?
No. No, I can assure you I don’t. I sound like Peter Griffin. English is actually my second language. Roe Dyelin’ is my first. Now, if you’ve not the pleasure of ever having heard a Rhode Island accent, think Boston, but with a little less ‘eah’. The way we hold our precious, precious faces is just a little less taut than our cohorts to the north. We’re more ‘aaah’. Kiss your R’s goodbye. Think cah (car). Yahd (yard). Pahkin’ lot. Wahl Maht. You get it.
About a month after my husband and I met, we began discussing first impressions. I commented, endearingly, of course, about his big, bald head hovering over the steering wheel of his small car, and he dove right in about my accent.
“Whoa – my accent?” I stopped him. “Is it bad?” I asked, terrified.
“I don’t even hear it anymore,” he said, which, I admit, was a good save, but triggered my inner Hannah Horvath.
“Wait – what?! What do you mean, you don’t even hear it anymore? What did you think when you heard it before? When did you stop hearing it? What was your impression of me? What about now? Now?? Is it better? Can I make it better? Can I fix it? Is it better NOW?”
And my husband, my husband’s got a nonaccent. You could drop him into any state in this great union and no one would bat an eyelash. ‘Where is he from,’ you wonder. America. He’s from America. 123 Main Street, Anytown, USA. That bastard.
The sum total of that conversation turned out to be, “When I first heard your accent, I surmised that you may not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer, but after a few moments of compelling conversation, I realized that you’re actually extraordinarily intelligent, ravishing, and downright irresistible.”
There’s something decidedly unsexy about New England accents, something that simply could never stand up to a British purr, or even a Southern drawl, a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that I, unfortunately, possess. I can tell you where to get the best lobstah ravioli, though.
The deaf tone with which I’ve approached my life since that point, however, has been both blessing and a curse.
The setting of the last position I held before becoming a mother was very casual. I worked with individuals living in a long-term treatment facility. I saw them in their jammies, they saw me in mine. I wished them goodnights and good mornings. We struggled together over our first cups of coffee. It was homey. Sure, there were therapeutic and professional activities taking place, but I wasn’t normally or regularly lecturing for a group of esteemed colleagues.
After I became pregnant (again and again and again), I found there were few people with whom to converse over three feet tall. As a result, my elocution suffered further, and my little darlings themselves have now developed Juniyah Roe Dyelin’ accents. Adorable.
At our rehearsal last evening, I heard the word enunciate twice. Those nine little letters haunted me all the way home, sliding coyly into my right ear, then snaking their way out the left. I labored over its syllables, hearing each pound painfully against my skull. Eee. NUN. CEE. Ate.
The tremendous irony of this show for me is that the majority of readers are not native Rhode Islanders. I would never trade the diversity of this state, however. It is one of the qualities I adore most about living here. Trouble is, I had always been Peter Griffin telling jokes in a room full of Griffins.
When everyone sounded alike, no one stood out.
As a result, I sought the other native Rhode Islanders rather quickly, like life preservers on a stormy sea, and held on for dear life, their rubbery exteriors comforting me like the softest silk.
I spent the rest of last evening enunciating, pronouncing all the syllables in the words to be read, stretching out my mouth to make all the sounds. I proudly declared to my husband this morning, over tea, (that accentless bastard) that I am trying to “EEE- nun – CEE – ATE!”
“Well, don’t overdo it,” he replied.
So, right now just may be the time to admit: I am a stereotype, a caricature, a cartoon. I am Eliza Dolittle. I am Danny Zucco. I am Peter Griffin.
But, goddammit, I’m loveable.
If you need me, I’ll be over at The Drunken Clam, practicing.