Written based on the Today’s Author Write Now! prompt on January 4, 2013, in which we are asked to write about an unnaturally foggy bay.
For most people, silence is empty. I, however, have found silence to be full of stories – more stories, in fact, than the noise surrounding it. To me, the breaks in the noise of life provided a soundless symphony, spinning tales of joy and agony, elation and misery. But lately the silence has become a deafening roar threatening to overwhelm me as I sit here alone, with you by my side.
“Remember the day we got married?” you whisper, breaking the silence for the first time in hours. You speak so quietly I can barely make out the words over the other sounds in the room. It is as if you are speaking from oceans away. You look up over the edge of the newspaper you’ve been pretending to read all day. “I wish we still felt… like we did that day.”
The doctor bursts into the room as she and countless others of her kind have done innumerable times before, thwarting my attempt to respond. She smiles as she forces a bucketful of pills—my main source of calories for the day—into me. I know she is trying to help me, yet I stare at her blankly, wishing my silence could make her understand that I’d trade all the pain killers, anti-inflammatories, steroids and stool softeners in the world for a chance to actually live the life these pills are supposedly extending for me, instead of watching each day slip away through a foggy, chemical haze.
“Remember when we had dreams?” you say after she leaves. “Imagine the stories we could tell if we’d followed even a few of them. Well… it doesn’t matter anymore…”
“It does matter!” I want to scream, but your gaze has drifted so far off you wouldn’t hear me anyway. So I remain silent. We seem to communicate better if I stay quiet.
But the truth is I do remember. I remember our unfulfilled dreams of seeing the world as well as the dreams we did realize before I fell ill: a happy, healthy family, playing catch with the kids, building tree houses, singing songs on the front porch and eating ice cream on days so hot we were really sipping a chocolaty-milk soup.
I remember because—despite what your silence says— I’m not dead yet.
Here in the nursing home, surrounded by swarms of doctors with their fistfuls of pills, I float from one appointment to the next and tolerate wave after wave of tests. Through these long months you have been my lifeboat, my beacon in the night. But you don’t tell me about life outside these walls anymore, presumably so I won’t miss it. You don’t mention the news or politics or—anything. You just sit here quietly. The story your silence tells is of a world grown distant and cold, a world no longer within my reach.
Still, I try to stay connected. I know who won the election. I know my beloved New York Mets will find new ways to snatch defeat from victory again this year. I know the kitchen staff are serving me decaf coffee even though they say it is regular. I know they still haven’t found enough programming to fill the 313 channels on my television.
And I know that none of this matters.
At the end of the day, all I really want is to know your thoughts and feelings. I want to know how you are doing. But your silent stare out the darkening window tells me that even these things are unimportant. All that matters is that the hours have grown short on me.
“I love you,” I say breaking the silence as you prepare to leave. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
You turn away silently and I see, for you, the mourning is already here.
My day waning, I turn off the light and rest my head on the lumpy pillow. I’ve never before been afraid of the nighttime, but the sudden darkness makes my heart race. Lately the night just seems to be a little bit darker—and a little bit quieter—for a little bit longer.
I feel cold despite the thick blankets covering me. As I drift off, I hear doctors and nurses talking frantically in the distance, but even their noise cannot keep the silence at bay. It fills me with memories of things I said when I should have been quiet. It reminds me of times I remained mute when I should have spoken. It spins tales of you and me and the days we thought would last forever.
But no matter what we do to stave it off, day eventually succumbs to night. And the night, when it comes, will be dark.
The silence tonight seems empty. I see myself alone on a raft, drifting silently through the night into a foggy bay. The air feels damp and cool against my skin, the fog so unnaturally thick I can hardly see what is ahead of me. I turn to look behind me. Only shadows and faint echoes of the distant ocean remain. Ahead of me, far across the bay, I hear a mourning dove, its cry telling me not to fear the darkness. For even after the darkest night, in the morning there will be light. And the light will be something to behold.
It is a departure from your usual. I love your writing in general, but this piece is particularly wow worthy. It is a powerful story, with elements that resonate with people; love, death, mourning, grief, regret. It evoked strong emotions, and will stay with me for a long time.
oh! Brilliant! simply, eloquently, brilliant!
Hauntingly beautiful. It brought to my mind the wonderful song by John Prine called “Hello in There”. Check it out on YouTube if you get the chance.
I enjoyed this very much as a departure from your usual style. You should continue to explore these deeper areas that resonate with people as Hope described. I think you have a true understanding of that place inside that touches those areas and really connects with the reader. Very moving.
Thanks for the nice comments, Sandra, Hope, Cylithria and Tony. I hesitated and fretted about even posting this one and I’m glad that it has proven to be a good decision to share it. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!
Rob, this is a wonderful and moving story. I’m glad you did post it.
Also just wanted to say, thank you for dropping by my blog and liking Target
The story your silence tells is of a world grown distant and cold.
I stopped breathing for a moment when I read that. Three and a half years ago, my dad died. He left a family who loved him dearly. He also left a wife, my mom, whose Alzheimer’s had claimed her so tightly that she could neither fully comprehend what was happening to the man she called My Heart nor grasp any more than that present moment. For my mom, my dad died but was coming back, wasn’t he; he was in the hospital weeks after we buried him; he left her angry because he didn’t take her; he came to her in dreams for months.
I think my dad knew how much my mom would suffer. He held on as long as he could but aging and illness had him in a clenched fist. He must have felt much of what you’ve written, my mother at his side, holding his hand, rubbing his shoulder, staying with him as long as she could. Mostly silent because she didn’t know what to say other than, Get well, My Heart.
Thank you for your raw and tender story.