Oral presentations were my least favourite thing about high school, just above bus erections and 3am infomercials. Every time I would leave it until the absolute last minute, lose five bucks trading places in the line order, then scrape through with a C+ and a vague memory of what went on. I would tear up and shake and stutter throughout the whole thing and always run under time.
Anxiety was one of the reasons writing was my dream job; I thought you didn’t have to talk to people. I wasn’t briefed on speech duty. One heartfelt and nerve-wracking speech at somebody’s birthday/wedding/funeral and it becomes your job.
I got a phone call from a friend I hadn’t seen in five years. I was his supervisor at a fast food joint when I moved out of home; he was a decade older than me and moved over from China after completing a degree. He would bring me meals when he was working his second job at another place in the food court. I ignored the phone call because I was nervous.
He sent me a message five minutes after asking if I wanted to be best man at his wedding because I am “good with words and handsome and a writer”. I called him back and said I would do it. I forgot to ask the name of the bride.
My friend picked me up in a shitty white sedan outside a pub on a very hot day. My suit and the speech were already soaked with sweat. I tried to read over my speech as we drove to the golf club. Looking at the words just made me more nervous. I drank three beers when we arrived.
The bride looked beautiful as she walked up the aisle, greeted me as if we had already spoken. The bride’s father said “I, do” in English when he gave her over. The celebrant made a joke he didn’t understand. I was standing at the front with the groom. I didn’t know where to put my hands. I read my speech off the page when it was my turn to speak, didn’t look up once.
An older couple approached me after the speech. They said it was the best wedding speech they had heard.
“You could do this for a living.” The older woman said.
“I do.” I said.
The bride’s father approached me in the carpark as I was smoking after the photos. He pointed at my pouch and I nodded and handed it to him. He rolled the worst cigarette I have ever seen, half disembowelled and without a filter. He said thank, you and walked off to smoke alone.
I ate three people’s worth of food and drank one and a half bottles of champagne at the reception to get my friend’s money worth out of the buffet he had paupered himself for. I asked a girl to dance for the first time in my life and we waltzed and I managed not to burp or fart and then I did the sprinkler and some break dancing. The newlyweds left me with enough wedding cake to keep me alive until payday and then gave me a ride home.
I forgot to ask the name of the bride.
Funerals are much harder than weddings, they mean more and you feel really bad if you half arse them.
My mother called me a few days after my grandfather died to ask if I could speak at his funeral. My father called me ten minutes later to ask if I could speak at my stepmother’s, who had died the day before my grandfather. I said yes to both. The funerals were on the same day.
It was just coming out of summer and I was just coming out of my annual summer rough patch. I had been too nervous to visit either my stepmother or grandfather in a while. I cried the most in my life that week and I am bipolar so I cry a lot.
I started working on both speeches at 3am the morning of the funerals. I had worked out the process for writing and memorising a speech without using paper at previous events. First you start pacing frantically. Then you start saying the speech, start again if you mess up. You keep doing that until you make it through the whole speech, then repeat until the speech is burned into your psyche forever. I only had time to get through the first one.
I tied my hair back for my stepmother’s funeral because she liked it that way. It gave me a headache I looked like a record producer.
I told a nice story about the time my stepmother almost burned down the house with trick candles. My father got to his feet and applauded, followed by his parents and my siblings. Then everyone started clapping. One of my father’s friends spoke to me afterwards, said it was the best funeral speech he’d ever heard.
“I can see why you are writing.” He said. I tried to mourn.
I fell asleep in the car on the way to my grandfather’s funeral. I woke up when my brother honked and screamed at another driver. I was pretty sure I knew what it felt like to die.
I had a list of stories from my siblings on a crumbled and coffee-stained sheet of paper. I spoke for a very short amount of time. The place was packed. I fumbled for words. I felt the saddest I had ever been and I looked liked a record producer. I closed my eyes and leaned against the pulpit.
“You always hope for more time.” I said. I opened my eyes, looked at my uncle who I hadn’t seen in years, he was nodding. I finished the speech.
I pulled the hair tie off as I walked out of the funeral home, bee-lined through the mingling crowd so no one could give me a compliment. My sister was standing far from everyone else, smoking. I walked up to her and asked for a cigarette.
“That was a great speech.” She said, handed me a lungbleed yellow.
“Next time someone else is doing it.” I replied.
She said that she hoped there wouldn’t be a next time for a while.