The Pit, Part IV: Silence

Three and a half weeks after Hurricane Green Chile our streetlights still do not work, and though we live in the same house on the same street as before the storm, a fear creeps over me when darkness falls.

I hated having my own room when I was a little girl. My parents got to share a bed. My three older brothers shared a big L-shaped room at the back of the house. More than a few nights I tried to crawl into bed with my parents, but they usually sent me back to my bedroom with its pink walls and purple carpet. Some nights I would call out to my mom because I was too afraid to leave my bed, certain that someone or something would attack before I could reach their door across and down the hall. Sometimes my brothers would hear me before my parents could get to me, and all I can remember are the sounds of sleepy teenage boys saying, “Michelle, just get up. They can’t hear you. Just go to their room.” And then, magically, my bedroom light would turn on, and there my mom would stand in her blue housecoat. She never looked happy in those moments. But she wasn’t angry either, just sleepy as she listened to my carefully crafted argument for moving into their bed.

Mine was the room closest to the front door, and I reasoned (because, clearly, reason was the thing at work here) that an intruder would find me first. And besides, wasn’t it unfair that everyone else got to share a room, and I didn’t? I don’t think my argument ever worked. I remember her saying that our house was the same at night as it was during the day, and that helped a little, knowing that our home did not change, only the light, knowing that the older people in my family had all learned to befriend the house in darkness and that maybe I could too.

There were nights this summer when I sat on the couch wide awake while the house slept. Some nights I lay in bed with my eyes open, staring through our bedroom window at the outline of sunflowers, their backs to me. I thought a lot in those moments about what I don’t say when I am hurt, angry, or afraid, and the fear that grips me when I think about revealing these feelings even to someone I trust, even to Henry. And again, I am that little girl, calling out to my parents in the middle of the night, and I’ve woken my brothers, and they’re saying, “Michelle, just get out of bed and go to their room.” I can’t. I am paralyzed.

But what really kept me awake those nights were the things I don’t tell, the information I withhold because I am afraid of what I will have to give up in exchange for my honesty. I have kept secrets as long as I can remember. I have kept stupid, inconsequential secrets. I have kept secrets at work, overcommitting myself and not telling my colleagues until we’re too far into a project to do anything about it. I have kept secrets in my relationships. It is easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission. Only it’s not. And when we’re all adults, it’s not really about permission. It took many of those nights, lots of writing, long runs along the acequia, longer conversations with Henry to see that my strategy of silence was about power.

He has power over me; I don’t have power over him.

If I don’t tell him I am hurt, then he won’t see me cry, and if he doesn’t see me cry, then he won’t know I am weak, and if he doesn’t know I am weak, then he will think I am strong, and if he thinks I am strong, then he won’t feel his power, and if he doesn’t feel his power, then I win.

If I keep a secret, if I withhold information, then I get to do things my way. I have power. I win.

As a child, one of my most profound experiences of the masculine was feeling powerless against it. I learned to wield silence. But silence used in this way is a weapon. I don’t want to fight anymore. So what now?

Coming next week: The conclusion of The Pit series, Loving the Darkness

Published in: on August 21, 2013 at 8:44 am  Comments (2)  
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