My First Word
By Keith Murfee-DeConcini
DSAB 627: Disability and Narrative, Fall 2014
Even with a speech delay, my first word was surprising—you can ask my mother and she’ll confirm that sense of surprise. I was born in the latter half of 1984, in the Big Apple, A.K.A. the city that never sleeps. Cars zoom by seemingly endless streets as people hurry to and fro on the sidewalks. My first word was “bucket” which would have been a charming first foray into speech – and understandable, had my family lived beachside. However, despite a few sandboxes in various playgrounds, the city surrounded the neural map that was my existence. It housed plenty of lights and sounds, with amusements abound, but not beaches or buckets.
At the time of my birth, my mother was a single parent. I was her first and only child and she was trying to adapt and care for a newborn with disabilities. She would have me with her when she was trying to hail a taxi, but surprisingly, very few would and this would make my mother angry. She was a very busy woman, so every time a taxi would fail to stop and pick us up, she would use this one word that I must have thought was a prayer to God or something.
This is what newborns do. We grasp at anything and everything with immediate and extreme curiosity. We don’t know any better, being newborns, so we gather data about the sights and sounds around us. When bravery strikes, we imitate something from someone else, usually someone close to us. I chose to imitate my mother because I thought that would make her happy- and I also didn’t know what else to do. Everything was so new.
So one day, I started saying “bucket”, much to my mother’s surprise because she could not figure out why I picked it as my first word and kept saying it. It was my first and favorite word. My mother kept trying to figure out why I was saying it. We were at a doctor’s appointment, and I said it. My doctor quizzed my mother: “Did he go to the beach recently?” After hearing my mother’s negative answer, he thought for a moment and said “The F sound is one of the last to come in”.
Upon realizing what I was actually trying to say, my mother’s face showed absolute horror. I was repeating the “prayer” I heard her exclaim after taxi after taxi refused to pick us up, except I was saying it with a B sound instead of the F sound. So “Bucket” was really my way of saying “Fuck It!” Which my mother will tell you that, for better or worse, became one of my earliest mottos. One that I would repeat often when I was grumpy “Oh bucket!” Oddly enough, my second word was “tacky”- my way of trying to say “taxi”. The take-away from this situation- my entrance into the realm of language, is that my mother realized that she had to clean up her language when she was around me. Thankfully, she did. Over the years, my mother has given me a lot and this story, the story of my first word, still makes me chuckle thirty years later.