There’s No Such Thing As Silence
“You’re so pious,” says Alex. She takes a bite of her sandwich.
“What?” I ask.
“You’re so quiet,” says Alex, louder.
“Sorry,” I say. “I was just thinking.” I sip my tea, then wipe the lipstick mark off the edge of the cup.
“S’alright,” she says, dabbing the corners of her mouth with her napkin. “We can all use a bit of silence now and then.”
Silence. I remember there being silence. But I don’t remember what it was like.
I grew up in the city with the din of traffic, the yells of people, the cooing of pigeons. Sometimes a little silence at night, punctuated by the occasional car honk. Or gunshot.
My family then moved to the suburbs, full of barking dogs and chirping birds and other kids (including my brother and me) yelling and playing and riding their bikes and firing their BB guns. Sometimes people firing real guns at targets. At night, crickets, wind, and again, a little silence.
We ended up in the country, the loudest place of all, with its cacophony of birds and cicadas and frogs and sundry other animals. And the other noises of the woods. The water of the nearby creek running. Leaves rustling. Trees swaying. A limb breaking. What broke it? The wind, or a wild animal in the dark? Sometimes you could tell, when you’d see a deer or a possum. Or worse, when you’d hear the hoot of an owl, the cry of a coyote, or the call of a bobcat. Then you’d run indoors, thankful you hadn’t wandered further than a few feet into the yard. Although in reality what you couldn’t hear was more dangerous.
And, once again, gunshots. More than in either of the other places. Especially during hunting season. The two constants everywhere: birds and gunfire.
Not that I can always tell what’s the latter. When I hear the bangs, I still play the backfire, fireworks, or gunfire game. And never find out if I’ve won.
But still, even in the country, I could stick my fingers in my ears and get a little silence.
I think. Maybe I’d imagined it all along.
I wonder if all those noises played a role in my current lack of silence. If they’d added up over time.
Or maybe it was the concerts. I always had to stand up front near the speakers. Or maybe it would have happened no matter what. I’ll never know for sure.
Although I’m back in the city, the new sound is something more natural, like crickets or cicadas. I used to like the noise. Until it started overtaking the other sounds. Until it became my constant companion.
Silence. There’s no such thing. Especially at night, when I’m trying to fall asleep. I drown it out with music or TV. Alex never could abide noise at night, though. She’s a light sleeper. Back in the early days, it was a nightly battle. And there are no winners in the who-gets-to-sleep-tonight game. I ended up on the couch a lot. Alex thought I was mad at her. And I thought she was mad at me. We were just tired. Thank goodness for Bluetooth headphones. Now I can listen and she can have her silence in the same room.
“So what do you want to do this afternoon?” asks Alex.
“What?” I ask.
“What do you want to do today?” she yells.
A woman at the next table jumps a bit and drops her fork.
“Oh,” I say. “I don’t know. Museum? Shopping?”
“Or maybe a movie?” asks Alex.
“Sure,” I say. I gulp down the last of my tea.
“Unless you don’t want to…because…,” says Alex.
“No, it’s fine,” I say, shaking my head. “I’d love to see a movie.”
I could hear enough to figure out what was going on for the most part. And I don’t want to disappoint her. I feel like I’ve done that enough. She says that’s not the case. But I always wonder if it adds up over time.
Another game. Is she sick of my shit or am I imagining it? Alex and our couple’s counselor both say I project my insecurities onto her and misinterpret her reactions to everyday things. I hope they’re right, but there’s always that nagging inner voice telling me otherwise.
“How about the Jackson movie?” asks Alex.
“The action movie,” she says a little louder.
“You don’t have to apologize all the time.”
“Sorry,” I say.
We look at each other for a moment, then we laugh. She puts her hand in my hand and smiles. I smile back. She loves me. I think.
The noise quiets. But it’s also louder than ever.
About the Creator
Bernadette “Berni” Johnson is the author of The Big Book of Spy Trivia, many tech articles, movie reviews, short stories, and two novels in perpetual editing.
You can find her blog, other work, and mailing list at bernijohnson.com.
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