My Underground Ally

by Elouise


The very first exercise my physical therapist assigned me was simple. Keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth at all times, except when you’re eating, talking or swallowing. Who would have thought this small change would produce a moment of enlightenment?

Well, it did. That’s because I’m also learning to notice when my tongue wanders from its designated parking space. Here’s how it happened.

I’m driving along in heavy traffic. Suddenly I notice my tongue isn’t on the roof of my mouth! Instead, it’s flailing around all over the place, even though my mouth is shut.

I begin watching for other times when this happens. Enlightenment! My tongue is nervous because I’m nervous! It’s helping me get rid of a bit of nervous energy—which, of course, isn’t what’s happening at all. It’s actually contributing to my nervousness.

For years I’ve prided myself on not having any distracting nervous tics. The kind that make other people nervous, too. I don’t drum my fingers on the table, chew my fingernails, tap my foot or jiggle my leg. Why not? Because I’m calm! Can’t you see how calm I am? Relaxed. Cool. Maybe intense sometimes, but definitely not releasing nervous energy by way of a nervous tic.

The evidence is clear. I have a nervous tic. So I asked myself how and why this might have begun.

My mind went back to childhood. I thought about scores of encounters with my father in which I wasn’t allowed to make any visible signs of distress, ‘rebellion,’ or the slighted desire to talk back to him.

I won’t say I always got it right. Many times my father detected my inner displeasure, anger or outrage. I couldn’t always hold back tears, facial expressions, or a few words that were just dying to be said.

The rest of time, however, my silent tongue helped me get through these tense encounters. It did this by flailing around in my mouth, silently talking back on my behalf. Behind my closed lips, never making a sound.

Horrible, you say? Yes, it was. And yet….It got me through. Not just through childhood, but through tense encounters with authority figures I’ve dealt with throughout my student and professional life. Especially encounters with people who thought they knew me better than I did, or were bullies, or just needed to let me know who was and who was not the boss.

Yes, I’m learning to give my restless tongue a rest. The kind it deserves for having been my invisible, silent ally. I’m grateful it never gave up and never gave in. It was my faithful underground ally for decades.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 October 2016
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Written while pondering the WordPress Daily Prompt for today: Underground