The Ways I Let Your Silence Keep Me Quiet.
Silence is Accurate is the name of a dear friend’s art gallery. For me, silence meant subservience, submission and shame.
Silence meant small. Silence was the blanket punishment for women and children: be seen, not heard.
Sit silently as he watches tennis. Serve him beer. Don’t annoy him with conversation.
Quiet time, my ex-husband would call it when we bathed. “Let’s breathe in silence.”
I was bursting with suppressed stories I wasn’t allowed to tell.
Permission for expression denied.
Silence was the sound of the house when he was in one of his moods. The mood of an awaking volcano, imminent eruption. Silence was volatile. It was terrifying. Say hello to your stepfather.
“Good morning.” Silence.
“He didn’t hear you.”
“He can’t hear you.”
“Try again later, until he hears you.”
He wasn’t deaf. Silence was punishment. You don’t exist to me. You aren’t here.
So I became loud. My voice booming, without a microphone, but amplified with one across audiences of thousands, a child actress. The roar of their thunderous applause, comfort to contrast of the silence that defended me.
“But can you be quiet, Lauren?” On a date. “Of all the things I am and can be, why would anyone want that?” But they do. Sacrifice your voice to the patriarch, little mermaid. Don’t sing here.
Yesterday morning, in his bed, still suffocating in silence. Again, after all these years, the silent killer. Just say it, speak the words, no one is holding you hostage here. I blurted out: I feel… it’s awkward between us. Euphemism of the century. Should we talk about it?
I was terrified to bring it up because the rejection had already occurred. His words would confirm it. Abandonment amplified. And after all my practice, it still stings. “Yes, there’s no connection between us.” No, boy, it’s you who are disconnected from yourself.
After the most silent week of my life. I couldn’t fill the space: cooking, decorating, pretty dresses — the patriarchal princess look didn’t work on him. It pushed him further away. I’d regressed to little-girl pleaser — don’t anger the man, try harder, be smaller, serve him something else until he validates your existence.
How is she still in me? I thought I’d screamed her out? But she lies there, in the dark, in silence.
This man, I’d flown across the world to connect with, and we didn’t have a proper conversation, once. His silence was accurate — there was an emptiness inside that even the beer couldn’t wash away.
Then came the longest silent night.
An unreturned missed call is avoidance. “I was talking to a friend.” Read: you are not my friend, hence I am not talking to you.
The hours dragged me through the night into the morning. Failed attempts at communication.
“Are you staying over there tonight?”
“Are you okay?”
It took him over 12 hours to return home. I’ve never been able to compete with binge drinking. Consumption over connection — beers don’t talk back, and when that’s preferable, they’ll win the case.
“Stay as long as you like! I’ll make you a key!” The lie to mask the truth of “Well, till I’m bored of you by Saturday.” His silence screamed it louder than he ever could.
So there I was, a woman of words, a writer, a performer, swimming in silence. Drowning in it. I wasn’t even there — a surefire way to ensure that soon I physically won’t be.
Like a baby covering her eyes: I can’t see you! If the patriarchal man ignores me, will I go away?
No shame for the silent man. Shame instead for women who he refuses to hear. Shame when she explodes, when emotion squeezes tears out of her eyes and makes them run down her cheeks. I don’t explode anymore. My water turned to fire a long time ago.
“We’re fundamentally different, you and I. I’m logical, you’re… creative.” But there’s no logic here, there’s loathing. I’m a terrifying creature — a woman who won’t settle for a booty call on your terms. A woman who won’t stay while you drink yourself into the next day. A woman who wants so much more than the in-between mutterings of your silence.
I’ve mistakenly projected silence as a safe held space for me to fill, not a vacuous void.
I’ve poured myself into subpar men because there’s so much of me to spill. But they don’t hold space. They either swallow me in, wolfing me down like starving zombies, or they spit me out, repulsed by my too-much-ness. Either way, these silent men serve no one but themselves.
Beware of his silence. It’s a warning. First his words leave the room, shortly after, he will too. There’s no space for you in his silence.
So leave, swiftly, and step up out of your own silence. Fill it with your expression.
To return to yourself, speak it out of you, say what you’re afraid to say. Spell your words into the spell of your life, from intention to manifestation. Your voice is your magic. Remember, your life is the story you write, and it starts as they all do, in the beginning, with the word.