You Speak For Me Now

Can democratic nations survive the onslaught of authoritarianism? America struggles with that issue as it strives to regain its beacon of democracy image.

A musically gifted extrovert and deaf woman of color become embroiled in a life threatening battle of personal and national survival. This emotion-packed novel, at times heart-wrenching, at times heart-filling lights a path to a brighter future.


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Publication Date: December 7, 2021

You Speak For Me Now

CHAPTER ONE

Emma Simon, a young girl trying to fit into a seventh-grade class after years in a school for the deaf, suddenly without communication by signing, came face to face with the full extent of her mental captivity. Her thoughts, often brilliant, left her in anguish when she couldn’t share them.

It began when the teacher reading a roll call heard no response to her name. He looked up and told her to say “present” when he saw her raised hand. She signalled her deafness with gestures.

“You’re deaf?”

She nodded. Without looking around, she knew everyone stared at her. It left no choice but to focus on the teacher until the moment passed. Though barely entering her teen years, she displayed an uncommon strength of character, seldom letting others see her inner conflict. Or see her frustration when a teacher turned to write on the blackboard, hiding lips from view. She was part of an ill-treated minority, a woman of color. Pretty and on the verge of blossoming into a beautiful woman, yet, withdrawn in her silent world, she seemed somewhat shielded from discrimination.

Unlike most classmates who simply regarded her as an oddity that first day, Johnny McEwan saw immediately the burden she bore. A popular class leader, he taught himself to play the piano and often enticed classmates into a sing-along. His extraordinary musical talent also showed when he sang with a pure tenor voice that would make any cathedral proud.

Johnny never let his leadership role, that stemmed from an extrovert nature and entertaining personality, go to his head. Humility came from an empathy that invariably led him to stand up for the less fortunate. That first day, Emma struck him as one of them. Discussing her with his mother introduced him to the world of sign language and like learning to play the piano, he made mastering it a project. Once he gained an appreciation for the time it would take, he decided to keep it a secret until at least modestly proficient.

His debut came on a day when Emma was particularly frustrated by inability to respond to the teacher. Johnny casually signed, “Is Princess Della wrong?”

Her jaw dropped. She stared at him. After a moment to recover, she tentatively signed, “Yes, poem written by Robert Frost.”

He signed back, “Little princess not as smart as she thinks.”

She laughed as he turned to their teacher, “Emma says the poem was written by Robert Frost.”

Della burst in, “No it wasn’t!”

“Actually, yes it was Frost. Did Emma tell you that Johnny, or did you just answer for her?”

“She told me.”

The teacher paused in thought. He taught himself to sign! It must have taken weeks. Too young to be sexually motivated, it must have occurred out of empathy.

From then on, class dynamics changed. Emma was thrilled to have this new communication channel open. Class participation increased. So did her infatuation with Johnny.

They made a strange pair, opposites in so many ways. Not just her life in a silent world versus his world of music and constant conversation. Beyond deafness, she had a stoic type of personality given to observe and analyze everyone around her. Nothing escaped her attention and everything she wrote, texted or signed was carefully thought out. Johnny, quick to jump to conclusions, outspoken and charismatic, thrived in a crowd.

Perhaps they were attracted to each other because they covered one another’s weaknesses. And they had three significant similarities. Both were highly intelligent, had a fine sense of humor and were physically attractive.

With Emma’s increased freedom, she blossomed into an integral part of the class. She needed to be drawn into activities. He enjoyed dragging her into them. They often competed for top marks on tests. Over the next three years, friendship evolved into companionship with a growing awareness of love. Their communication brought her quick wit into the open and her analytic nature seemed to keep him grounded.

It wasn’t all fun and roses. Johnny felt the sexual urges most teenage boys experienced. His attempts to go beyond the kisses and hugs they both enjoyed were firmly rejected by Emma. When he signed that all their classmates were doing it, she replied, “I don’t care. We’re too young.”

“When will we be old enough?”

“I’ll tell you when.”

She knew she walked a tight rope with the risk of losing him. When she confided her misgivings to her mother, Janet Simon bolstered her reserve.

“If he truly cares for you, he will honor your choice.”

Janet realized that was scant comfort and being a practical woman, eventually insisted Emma get a birth control pill prescription.

Eleventh grade introduced significant change in each of their lives. Emma’s father, James, taught at a local community college which allowed the family to spend summers at a lakeside cabin in Montana. Her absence left Johnny, now matured into John, at loose ends. Wandering into a prestigious Boise department store, he noticed an unattended grand piano and wondered what it would be like to play. In no time, a crowd of interested listeners gathered.

When the paid musician returned from his break and displaced him, the crowd applauded his performance and one of them, a restauranteur, offered him a job entertaining his lunch-time customers. Over the summer, hours expanded to evenings as well and John introduced vocals and enticed sing-alongs. It quickly became a profitable venture, thanks to a productive tip jar.

Start of the school year introduced Emma to the world of computer programming. She loved how it gave vent to her creativity and benefitted from her analytic attention to detail, all without the pressure of constant communication.

The year was marked with a third significant event. It started in an American History class when their teacher Roy Cameron commented, “As we all know, slavery was abolished when the North won the Civil War.”

John spoke up, “Actually, Confederates won.”

“John, we all know the Union won the Civil War.”

“No. They won battles, not the war.”

“You know better than all the history books?”

“I know what I see. The war’s not over yet, but Confederates have essentially won.”

“We’re not going to waste class time pursuing your foolish argument. If you feel strongly about it, write a report to defend your position.”

Roy didn’t think he would. A host of previous teachers knew better. Three days later, he presented his report.

Who Won the Civil War? By John McEwan

Faced with the United States’ call to abolish slavery, the southern states banded together to form the Confederate States of America with the intention of seceding from the Union. The North considered that an act of rebellion which then precipitated the Civil War in 1861.

By 1865, the southern army was defeated on the battlefield and its soldiers scattered when General Lee surrendered. President Jefferson Davis was captured and the Union army occupied the confederate states. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery. Victory was signed, sealed and delivered—in theory.

However, the defeated rebels reverted to guerrilla warfare using arson, assassination, lynching’s, even pitched battles to terrorize people loyal to the Union. Confederate leaders either maintained or regained control of state governments. Union forces were unable to rebuild or reshape the south and by 1877 were forced to withdraw from confederate states.

State constitutions were rewritten to undermine the effect of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments and restore upper class supremacy. Slavery was replaced by segregation and those theoretically freed were paid a pittance, barely enough to survive. Forced back into hard labor, thousands remained in shackles and whippings were as common as ever. Plantation aristocrats regained the same control they enjoyed before the war.

Hiding behind the Second Amendment, confederate state governments built strong militias to enforce segregation. Blacks were denied the vote and equal protection under the law as promised by the Constitution. Yes, the Union won on the battlefield, but the Confederate States of America preserved their way of life and won the war which actually lasted from 1861 to 1877.

When Roy read it to the class, they asked if he agreed with it. He paused before responding, “Yes.”

“But it’s not what the textbook says.”

“The lesson here is to question everything you hear or read. History books are not gospel. Even gospel is not gospel. Books are written by people who are influenced by their times, associates, even those in power. You would likely find that Russian history written under Stalin bears no resemblance to that written fifty years earlier.”

John claimed, “The war is still going on and has spread into northern states. It’s really about those who control wealth fighting against change. In the south it was rich landowners holding down blacks and poor whites. It’s spread to Tea Party resistance to change with essentially the same goal. Radical conservatives employ propaganda, character assassination and intimidation. They use the power of Congress to further goals of a very vocal minority. The only way to combat what I call the Tea Puppets is to vote them out of office.

Roy Cameron summarized, “John has put his finger on one of the most fundamental issues facing society today, conflict between authoritarian leaderships hoarding wealth and universal human welfare and happiness.”

John added, “And there’s a growing number of militia bands to take over what the KKK used to do.”