Silence

Silence

… and the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls, and whisper'd in the sounds of silence.” ~ Paul Simon

 When I was eleven years old, I began keeping a diary. What compelled me to do it, I am not sure. I knew I wanted to become a writer because I loved writing and reading. I loved making observations of life and writing them down. 

 After we moved from New York to The Netherlands in 1979, my diary became my best friend, my confidante, the entity I could tell all my thoughts to. I would do that in my letters home to my friend Kate, too, but my diary was there with me all the time. 

When I read those diary entries now, the ones I wrote as a teenager and a young adult, I barely recognize myself. How could I have been so simple minded? How could I have been so out of touch with reality?

The answer is clear to me now. The diary allowed me to cocoon myself, to protect myself against the harsher world. But it also prevented me from growing. I would consult my diary, share my ideas and thoughts with my diary, rather than talk to other people about them and get a broader perspective. I also created a shield around myself that kept others out, leading to a deeper loneliness than any girl should bear. 

When I was almost fifteen years old, I wrote: “Dear reader or discoverer of this diary, I don’t only write this book for you to read when I’m dead, but because at this moment I have no one I can trust and tell all these things to. You understand this, don’t you? Many people have personal problems and when there’s mostly nothing you can do about them, you’ve got to do something. Some people go crazy, others go to see doctors. This is my medicine. I write everything down (so as not to forget? I don’t even know). All I know is that it doesn’t help.”

I was trying to keep myself sane, but realized that I wasn’t doing a very good job of pulling myself out of my funk.

Early on in what I considered then to be my exile to The Netherlands, my mother signed up for what was then called The Workshop. This was one of the Werner Erhart EST seminars that lasted for about 3 days and were designed to lead to, what they called, a “breakthrough” experience. 

I attended their Communication Workshop when I was fourteen, and there was a component when you were to reveal things you have kept hidden. It’s a purging process, I suppose, so as to unburden yourself of your guilt, your worries, whatever stuff you’re holding onto. I was unable to do it. My voice didn’t even work as I sought the words to speak my anger about a girl in my school, who was supposedly my friend, but who was treating me rather terribly. 

I didn’t experience the so-called breakthrough. But I did get to meet a lot of interesting people. An American couple, Bill and Carol Schreiber, who were living in Amsterdam and who were involved in EST, became friends of ours. I attended, with mom, and my sister and brother, their going away party. They were about to return home to San Francisco. 

Held in a small apartment of a friend of theirs, it was crowded, filled with people of all types and ages. I was interested most of all in the group of punk rockers who had arrived. I was sitting in the loft above the living room for a while to escape the crowd. Soon all those punks came up and it was crowded in the loft, too. Not that I minded, but later that night I had to go to the bathroom and climbed down past them. After using the bathroom, I decided to stay in the living room. It was midnight by then and there were less people. I didn’t talk to anybody. I wanted to talk to one of the punks, but shyness prevented me.  

A heaviness had come over me and I found that I was actually rather angry. Mad at myself. At fifteen, I still felt like a kid, and powerless, and at the mercy of my mother. As much as I wanted to be part of the party, I was not allowing myself to be. I felt all alone in that crowded room full of nice, wonderful people. 

When I had sat in the loft earlier, one of the punk guys, who was about twenty years old or so, came up looking for a denim jacket. He asked me if I had seen it and I said no and helped him to look for it around the jackets that were on the bed up there. I couldn’t find it. I said to him, “It’s not here,” and I sat down again and he just smiled and sat down next to me in the loft. He had a pretty face, blond hair and when he smiled, he had nice small white teeth. I was attracted to him, but I didn’t say anything to him and he didn’t say anything to me. I had noticed him dancing earlier and he was a good dancer, really sexy with his hips swinging out and all.

Later, the other punks came up and sat down with him in the loft and one of them who looked Eastern European, maybe Yugoslavian, offered me a cigarette. That’s what ruined my mood, because I knew mom was somewhere nearby and she didn’t know I smoked and so I said no to the cigarette. 

I kicked myself for that all evening and for days afterwards. I was so certain that if I had said yes, I would have joined them in conversation and had a wonderful time at the party. Some were smoking weed, and I would’ve loved to have smoked some, too. There was a gigantic marijuana plant in the middle of the room. All I could do was look at it, while the others could smoke it. I was miserable. I knew all I had to do was tell mom I smoke and that I want to be free to smoke when she’s around. I know she wouldn’t have stopped me.

Fifteen is such a horrendous age. You’re not a child and you’re not an adult. You want to make your own decisions and yet you’re bound by your parents in many ways. I knew this, too. I didn’t know if I should act grown up or childish. I didn’t know who I was. My self-confidence was at an all-time low. 

Something held me back from sharing this with mom. Something also held me back from just asserting myself, even when mom was not around. I hated myself for being so scared to tell mom I wanted to smoke cigarettes or to simply live my life the way I wanted.

I hated that I was scared of a lot of things.

Most of all I was scared about what others would think. My friends who didn’t smoke, mom, and other people who thought I didn’t smoke and would find out if I did. Why did I care so much about what they thought about me? Why did I need their approval so badly? 

I was a prisoner of my own making, of my own self-conscience. Keeping my secrets was how I made sure that no one thought badly about me. But it made me miserable.

I knew that keeping myself a prisoner of my fears would hardly make anyone think highly of me, let alone the punk rockers I admired. They dressed the way they liked, did what they liked, and didn’t care about authority. They were the embodiment of everything that I was not. They had strong opinions, a ‘live and let live’ attitude, a drive to fight for people’s rights, and not to do something just because other people said they should. 

Although I grew out of that awkward teenage stage eventually, I still struggled with the idea of the freedom to be myself for most of my life. The strength to not care, and the ability to care more about my own self-expression and happiness than someone else’s — I really didn’t get it until after I left my first husband in 2011.

Silence is fine, listening to yourself and giving yourself the space you need to sort things out. But loneliness and isolation are not always the most loving ways of being. I see that now. I wish I had had someone around when I was 15 who could have helped me through that. Who could have taught me to stand more solidly in my own identity. It now means I have some catching up to do.

Photo by Jessica F on Unsplash 
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Know yourself and be true

Know yourself and be true