Ding. Done with first period. I stand up and gather my papers. Silently. I step out into the crowded hallway and head for my locker. Silently. All around me is noise. Kids laughing and talking, running down the halls and screeching to a halt when a teacher walks by. Lockers banging shut and feet shuffling past. And I watch it all. Silently. This is my life. I am just a normal, average, everyday ninth grader, struggling to learn the ropes of high school. But I’m not normal. Because while everyone around me creates a whirlwind of noise, I am silent.
Oh no. Heading down the hall is a group of four guys, laughing and casually shoving anyone in their way. No. No. No. I step around people and lockers, dodge feet and backpacks, and slip around the corner just as they walk past. Thank God. I can’t take them right now. The bell rings and I rush towards English class.
Ding. Science class is over. One period to go and I have survived another day. Maybe, just maybe I won’t have to face them. But I’m just not that lucky. I alway use the back halls, but today I’m not the only one. I walk around the corner and run smack into someone’s chest. “Oof! Hey!” I jerk my head up to stare right in the face of Jake Wilson. I hate him. Everything in me hates him. I want to cry out, want to scream so loud every head in the hall turns to look. But I can’t. He pulls me farther into the empty hall and shoves me against a locker. “Well look who I just ran into! Whats a matter Mikey boy? You scared? Call for help.” The whole gang is surrounding me, taunting me. And I can’t do anything. I just have to wait. Wait for them to have their fun and be on their way. But I’m sick of waiting. I may be mute, but I’m not stupid. I see and I hear more than anyone else. I notice things. I’m smart. Smarter than Jake and his stupid friends could ever hope to be. I start thrashing and kicking, clawing at his skin. But they only laugh harder. I am so upset now I don’t care if they beat me to a pulp. Just one good blow. Maybe to his ugly face or his fat stomach. But I don’t get it. The bell rings and Jake drops me like a sack as they take off down the hallway.
I step around the last puddle and climb the stairs to the back door. Nothing like a nice walk home in the rain. I stick my key in the lock and get it on the third try. Mom is sitting on the living room couch watching TV. This is the first time I have seen her in three days. She comes home long after I go to bed, sleeps in until after I leave for school, then goes back to work while I am still gone. But I am used to that . It is just my life now.
“Hey Mike. How was school?”
She seems older and more worn out every time I see her. Her voice holds no enthusiasm. Fine. I sign and grab a bag of chips.
“Wait a minute, today is Thursday. Why aren't you at the group?”
The first time I have seen my mom in three days and all she wants is to get me out of the house. I don’t bother with an answer. Just a death glare. She is fully aware of my opinions on this subject.
“Mike. I don’t know how many times you have skipped just this week, but you are going. Now.”
“Fine!” I throw the chips and walk right back out the door, slamming it loudly behind me. There. At least she hears me when I talk like that.
The house is dark. Mom must have gone back to work. Good. Maybe this time I won’t see her for four days and I can get out of group on Monday. I hate every minute of it. I am so tired. Tired of being teased and ignored and abandoned. As I plop onto my bed, my mind wanders back to that night not so long ago. I was already tucked in bed, asleep, when yelling downstairs woke me. I remember every little detail. My feet hitting the cold floor as they padded down the hall. Silently. Always silently. I remember hearing the angry shouts, the accusations. My parents had fought before. But not like this. And then the quiet. Had they heard me? No. No one ever heard me. Even if I screamed for attention, for acceptance, for love. My silent voice would never be heard. And then he said it, “I’m leaving, Sharon. The papers are on the table. I filled out my part.” And with that my dad picked up his bag and walked out of our lives, taking most of our money with him. Or that’s what Mom said when she was drunk enough to talk about it. Four years I thought. Then I get up and do what I do every time I am lonely. The one way I have of being heard. I play. The ivory piano keys slide under my fingers as I listen to the sad notes drifting into the air. Who needs to talk? I can play. I can talk in sign language. I can do that in the group. But who needs that trash? This is my language. And so I play. First just the melody I came up with yesterday, then I work in the harmony and the song builds until my hands are flying on the piano. The sensation makes my mind go numb. I no longer feel the pain of the day, of the past four years, of my life. I play until my fingers cramp and I have to stop. I only ever stop when I simply can’t go on. So I just sit there on the piano bench. Alone. And then I weep. Silently. The hot tears run down my cheeks as I think about all the pain I have caused. It is my fault Dad left us. I always knew that. Mom would never admit it, but it was true. He couldn’t even look at me. It hurt him to look at me. And I always saw the shame and disappointment in his eyes when he did. It is my fault Mom has to work three jobs just to pay the bills. It is my fault she is aging ahead of her time, that she feels life is no longer worth living. It is my fault my life is this way. Because I am the silent killer of our family. So I weep. Silently.
The Silent One