a Memoir by Ellen Marks Silence, I’ve been afraid to be within earshot of you since I was six when the onset of an unnatural relationship with my father derailed my childhood.
He lures me to the bed he shares with my mother, her whereabouts unknown to me. Silence, you’re in the room inhabiting all space between the four walls, infusing quiet. Still, I hear my father breathe. You’re no help at all.
On my back in darkness, I stare up at the ceiling. My lower lip trembles and tears drift toward my ears.
Silence, in your midst, I am unable to yell or scream. I have no alternative but to dissociate and leave my body.
Silence says, “Sit still. Stop wiggling your foot and twirling your hair.”
I’m afraid that if I slow down or stop moving, I’ll return to those nights with my father. Bedded memories will replay in smothering quiet. Once again I’ll feel his hands sweep across my skin, his deeper touch pressing my flesh. The aftermath; a whirlpool of confusion, emptiness and isolation.
If I stop wiping counters, doing laundry, or hold still long enough to hear an empty, complaining stomach I’ve forgotten to feed, I’ll have to confront you. Silence, you are a hollow aura, and I fill the void with Simon and Garfunkel or 80s big hair bands and sing comforting Christmas carols no matter the season. Stillness causes a volcano of thoughts. I try to mute their eruption. Counting, counting.
I recall being eight when my mother was in the kitchen preparing dinner for her monthly couple’s club.
“Be quiet,” my mother said. “Stop asking questions and go to bed, now. Do you want something to eat, a piece of rye bread?”
“I guess so.”
My bedroom is across from the kitchen, a convenient throw for my mother. She hurls the bread onto my quilt. “But it’s not bedtime. It’s only six o’clock. How come I have to go to bed so early?”
“I need you out of the way while I prepare for guests. Go to sleep.”
How can a slice of bread tossed my way be a substitute for my mother’s companionship? I pick at the bread in solitude but long to be by my mother’s side watching her cut fruit and arrange hors d’oeuvres.
Chewing, chewing in rhythm. I can hear my jaw move in my head.
* * *
Silence, there are times I reluctantly search for you, frantic to get away from my mother’s screaming. I run up the staircase to the second-story landing and hurry to the guestroom, open the mirrored closet door, push away hat boxes and plastic bins filled with mothballs and crawl under my mother’s off-season clothes—not a sanctuary—but the only shelter I think to go, hoping you will be my ally. With my hands pressed to my ears, I huddle in the dark closet corner, but can still hear screaming. My pleas live only as thoughts. Please Mommy, please stop yelling at Amy.
My mother towers over my sister who shrinks into the couch pillows. “Why weren’t you invited to Debbie’s party? Get away from that TV and comb your hair and put on a decent shirt! You look like a boy. Look at you!”
What does Amy do? Does she run out of the room, throw a book at my mother, or do nothing? I don’t know. I don’t want to see my sister suffer. Silence, you fail to gag what’s intolerable to hear.
* * *
As an adult, I’m still running from you. You allow me to take notice of my heartbeat swooshing in my ears, and I swear I can hear my hair grow, a cavity eating away at my tooth. Where is an alarm when I need some noise? The dog is sleeping. Wake up and bark at the UPS truck. Just don’t let me be alone with Silence. I’m afraid when there are no utterances, no musical notes to fill my head, no babies crying to be fed. Humming fills the void. Please, the warbling of pigeons would be fine or in desperation, the dentist’s drill.
I can’t stand to hear nothing.
There are no drugs or alcohol for a child who needs numbing, who can’t run away or break down in front of her mother. I turn my anger inward which leaves me starved for the peace and calm bestowed on others.
Silence, you give people who pray the quiet in which to do so. I want to embrace you after shunning you most of my life, to see the beauty you offer others so that I can smell, really smell the fresh morning air and feel love-making in the middle of the night. I wish for you like a fisherman hoping your presence will promise large schools of fish at the end of his line. You are a preamble to sleep for some, soothing and quieting minds.
I want to give you another chance, to not look at you as nothingness, but to perceive your wonder as clearly as those fish swimming in blue-green waters, illuminated by the sun.
As my day closes, solitude rises with the sunset. I want to appreciate you, I do.
I can’t make any promises for now.
I’m putting in my earbuds.
* * *
Ellen Marks has been writing for seven years, primarily memoir, but also poetry and fiction when her mind needs a respite from memoir. She’s had several pieces published and hopes that a reader might identify with her through her experiences.
Powerful story, the image of silence running throughout is so telling of the experience of survivors of trauma.