The Names of Silence
Silence has many names. Silence: carefully crafted contemplation, rueful resignation, frost-bitten fears. A sunken soul of sorrow, traders of tomorrows, and those who recklessly believe they already know it all. At sixteen years old, why would the world be so cruel as to level me like it did? And how has that year become the greatest accomplishment in my life thus far?
My silence was emptiness. Gradually, you stop noticing the shadows growing behind you until their inky fingers grab at your toes. At this time one year ago, the sun was shining. The shadows laid plainly on the crisp autumn grass, languid in the fading grace of summer. But I wouldn’t know; no, my nights and my days, spent in the confines of must and mildew, were ensnared in the fix-all promises of a busted treadmill and a single rosy apple.
I’m so proud of you, Dad says. I never knew you liked to run. One mile, 100 calories, Two miles, three miles, four. Five and I can eat that cup of chili and maybe a cracker or two more. Why are you crying? Dad asks. It’s only sweat, I reply sweetly, reassuring us both, reminding myself to hold the spoon longer at dinner next time.
Life runs smoothly on the tracks I’ve meticulously oiled, year after year since I was ten years old. A smart girl, a pretty girl. A pretty girl, a pretty girl, a pretty girl…
But the shadows lengthen, and one by one the gilded leaves float to the ground, getting caught in my eyes like ashes on their way down. Laughter becomes trapped in its cocoon, wet and wrapped in film. Silence, the man dressed all in black, drapes his arms lovingly around me, kisses my temples, my ears, my mouth and fingertips. We make a pretty picture together, standing in the mirror. Not quite pretty enough yet, but what is life without ambition, dreams, goals? He whispers in tantalizing tones. Who am I to disagree? I pull down my sleeves.
Without realizing it, I’ve been chasing perfection my whole life. Perfection, when I was a little girl, was swinging high enough to kiss the clouds, Perfection was days turning into nights turning into days again, spent reading book after book: laminating and illuminating my world with millions of others. My one star sky slowly gathering multitudes and chapters and pages until it glows: an entire galaxy of perfection. Perfection differs from six to sixteen, and while my world was still graced with tales and tomes, my definition had changed.
My steadfast fictional heroes are all beautiful. Beautiful. Definition: pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically. At sixteen, this was the scale filled with numbers all too high and tangled, numbers that had the power to decide the fate of my day or undo all the good things done in a naked footfall. At sixteen, beauty was the mirror, glass coated with metal amalgam, a clear image reflected but distorted by my own mind, refracting rainbows of different definitions of beauty than the definitions I once read in books: my mind, which had never frightened me before now.
Before now. Now, with the shadows drawn long like daggers across me, the anemic animalistic urge to scream surges, suddenly there. But after months of assurances (Oh, you’ve lost so much weight, keep up the good work!) upon assurances (This is growing up, feeling this way is only natural) upon assurances (Of course I think you’re beautiful), the silence I had chewed up and swallowed instead of candy and chocolate bars, a silence I thought sustaining, began eating me instead. An empty silence is a mean dog chewing the bones in my belly, the red hot tongs clipping my once eager tongue, stealing every breath, every word, every beautiful world my imagination had accumulated and enchanted: gone. All gone, all gone.
Silence has many names. And a silence can never be so empty that it becomes impossible to fill once again.
My world of bustle and color instantly morphed into routine and bland hospital food. Healing has many names too, I realized. The hospital is not a halcyon time in my life worth mentioning, however; the learning and relearning I did there continues to affect me to this day.
My best friend once advised me, on many of my bad days, to take the day despite every nasty little flaw, and make it my rock bottom. It wasn’t his advice to share: it had passed from troubled mind to troubled mind until it reached my own. Although I have certainly labeled a particular day or two as definitively The Worst, the mantra of troubled minds has not protected me from coming back down and scraping along the bottom time and time again. Our mantra cloaked me in warmth, gifted me a solid gleaming fact: that with every Worst, there must be a Best, and even if you cannot reach that far there is always Good. Nobody appreciates a good day as they should. Good days, seldom to some and blindly granted to others, come and go without gratitude. I have come to realize that nothing shines more brightly than a good day.
And so I took my pain, strung it around my neck and wrists and fingers like a strand of pink pearls, adorning myself in something I had once buried in the hidden core of my being. Pain, like secrets, have to be hung out to dry. I no longer let my pain fester and ferment so that it gains power over me: my pain can no longer venomously bite and bother, steal and siphon my life away, for I wear my pain plain to see, perfect pink pearls shamelessly.
Loss welcomes gain. The realization that I had squandered something more vital than my physical health is something that tears at me to this day. Smart girl was thrown into the midnight shadow of pretty girl. Places I had aspired to be academically were no longer options. But instead of ruminating on my failure, I added a pendant to my pearl necklace. I smiled in the mirror. I read books like a fourth grader with all the time and hope in the world gathered in fistfuls of cloud around them. “Trust the process” is a cliche that continues to apply itself to my life despite my rejection of its banality. To move forward, I had to move back. Unapologetically so. My grades may have suffered, but for the first time in months I soared.
The last year of my life, labeled as failure by some, is my greatest accomplishment thus far. I didn’t realize that silence could also be bravery, determination, and pursuit. Like Captain Ahab in pursuit of his white whale, I storm forward in pursuit: pursuit of knowledge in any form I can find it, beauty in the nooks and crannies of the world, and happiness in all acquirable forms. My white whale is not perfection, for wisdom is in knowing that all truly beautiful things have flaws, and my beauty is not confined to a reflection or a three digit number beneath my feet. My white whale is one day more, one more page, the mind expanding beyond all limits perceivable to man.
I take my failures in stride and paint them in hues of my greatest accomplishments. “Because what is your night worth without a story to tell?” Shane Koyczan croons to his poetic fanbase. Here lies the beginning of my story. Silence is no longer an option.