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A particular Tone of Voice
Observations from my current line of work
Occasionally, in my current line of work, I come across a particular tone of voice. A certain affectation or inflection that suggests a certain demeanor, a shift in posture, the recognition of being ensnared. Sometimes, once the recognition sets in, there's defiance. Sometimes harsh language comes into play. Very rarely does anybody have a sense of humor. But this particular tone of voice indicates something very specific. Fear. A Fear revealed as growing exponentially from within them, alongside a deepening understanding, as the pretense of polite conversation collapses into pleas and justifications and accusations. All five stages play out in rapid succession until a last, brief acceptance of the inevitable ends the conversation.
Long, long ago, in the Before Times, there was a very popular magazine that would publish various photographic series of what life was like in modern America. Many of these images became iconic for decades, particularly those images that revealed the unexpected. A moment of true human emotion captured in the blink of an aperture. Sometimes even the most iconic images were unpleasant, but the truth revealed within the immortalized moment could not be ignored. You could say it was a dominant form of social media at the time.
As a boy, I would flip through annual editions - collections of these images of Life in the USA - each with different topics from the glamour to the poverty and all things in between. Later, I would watch documentaries and videos on similar subjects.
There used to be foxhunts in this country, did you know that? Not the formal, ritualized hunts like the stout & steadfast British. No, these were commonly features of a small town festival, or a community event on a weekend. Before various laws against animal cruelty and protecting endangered species came about, a foxhunt could be an event at the local fair in any small town across America. Of course, they didn't bother getting all dolled up and prancing around on ponies like the Brits, but it was considered good for local farmers and their economy, so it was made into good old-fashioned fun as well.
Imagine with me if you will, how some enthusiastic adults would trap a few foxes and let them loose in a ring made of stacked hay bales, to be chased around by the kids whose parents had bought tickets for them and given them sticks. The objects of such fierce lust and hatred trembled and paced about, hemmed in and trapped by a ring of eager and excited townsfolk. For our contemporary times, such a sight would be considered unnecessarily barbaric and cruel. But back then...? Well, if you want an example of progress in our country, there's one to consider. Sparing many a creature, we turned our tortuous games on ourselves and (mostly) put an end to such shenanigans.
The foxes were surrounded, recognizing that their situation was likely to be fatal. And yet, as with all Life, they were unwilling to simply lie down and be done with living. Weaving in that crouching trot that emphasized their criminal reputation, their fright filled yips only further aroused the gathered crowd. Emotions pitched to a gleeful wrath, as if whatever repressed, hidden and denied tensions from within could be expunged by the sight of their children slaughtering these captured foxes.
Petrified, shivering, whining, understanding beyond any other form of reason that the only purpose of their current entrapment was their own imminent demise.
These soon to be lifeless pelts could have no comprehension of why they were targeted as they had been, but they understood the Doom that now confronted them.
When I was a boy, wildlife documentaries were very popular on TV, and inevitably there would be a sequence that showed some poor animal being hunted by a merciless pack of predators, or starving, or trapped somewhere. The pitiful life flickering away on film would bleat or cry or moan, always calling without a response - or even far more traumatizing, when its kindred would respond, and yet, have to watch helplessly as one of their own perished meekly before them.
The camera would always move on to something more cinematically appealing, with some narrator mildly commenting on the harshness and occasional cruelty of Mother Nature. I hated those moments, and would always ask my Mom why the cameramen and the other people seeing this happen never helped, and she would always shrug and say, "Yeah, it's sad, but it's Life. You can't save everybody."
So, in my current line of work, occasionally I come across this particular tone of voice that reminds me of these images from our national pastimes, and I recall the sounds of those doomed natural wonders who were allowed a fleeting moment of recognition before being allowed to die alone. I take no pleasure in hearing the panicked inflections, the presumptions and accusations as the person I speak with exhausts their options. But I listen to all of it. It's why I am there.
Recently, something else has been happening. When I heard that particular tone of voice, I recognized another voice. It sounded like the voice of a liar. The voice of one who does not want to admit their own terrible truth, but knows it must be done at some point or be damned to constant misery. I could recognize it as my own voice, but as much as that understanding made me recoil, I continued to use the tools of my current line of work as I had been taught to do.
I tell myself I am not the child, nor the parent. I'm not the hunter. I'm not even the cameraman, steadfastly objective, capturing happiness and horror alike with an unflinching camera lens. And I am definitely not one of those foxes, soon to be stripped of their skin. But I can't say that I am above or somehow removed from this festive scene, for I am a witness to it.
As I ponder that, the lying voice seems to be laughing at me. It isn't pleasant.
I hear the breath catch in their throat as the brain and heart constrict in unison. My voice is calm as I review the details of their plan, droning on about how resisting only inflicts more pain in so many different ways; making clear, in no uncertain terms, that this impending doom was as much the result of their own poor choices as it was any law or ethical duplicity.
They don't always cry out, but when they do, they always sound the same.
I hear the fox cry. I sense the bone crack as the bludgeon sinks deeper than it should. I feel the triumph and elation of the crowd's communal orgasm washing over their blood-besotted children, exalting the virtues of slaughter. And in so doing, after having done so many times before, I reach the end of the last phase of my journey through this troubled time. I no longer try to deny that I am anything more than passive as I wash the blood from the bludgeon still gripped in my hand.
While I am loathe to embrace what I have been encouraged to become, I must accept that I am the child. That my current parents cull their adopted family as rapaciously as they do their prey. In my current line of work, I continue to raise my stick and swing it where directed. As I am taught the family trade I am pushed into a manufactured ring to face my trembling and terrified captive, given the tools to do unto others what will inevitably be done to me.
It is expected. Natural. Just like Life.
And with this recognition, this acceptance, that voice from within stops sounding like a liar, shifting and building into something more intimately familiar.
A particular tone of voice.
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