Caged Silence This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   I loved my place under the table. I was safe there. No one else could fit. I loved to stroke the rounded arches of the wooden pedestal supporting my table. This same pedestal supported me. The wood was warm after my pudgy little fingers had stroked it over and over. The hanging tablecloth was my best friend, shielding me from everyone's view. Only my eyes peeked out. I would watch for any movement; listen for any sound that would cause me to freeze.

Don't get me wrong. I loved my mother. I have always loved her. She was in pain. I knew it. I felt her pain. I felt her loneliness. I did not want to add to her misery. If I stayed quiet, ever so quiet, it seemed to help. Any little movement or noise could set her off. I had to be careful; I was clumsy; I dropped things. They shattered on the floor. My mother shattered. I shuddered. She would hit me over and over on the face. Pull my hair. I was bad. Look how I hurt my mother. I loved her and yet I hurt her with my clumsy body.

When I turned four, public school would not accept me. My birthday was November 7 and the cut-off date was November 1. The nuns at the Catholic school agreed to take me because I was tall for my age. There my salvation began.

The nuns ware strict, but I was used to Mother. They taught me to read in two weeks. They constructed a new "table" for me.

I no longer had to hide under that table in the kitchen. I now hid in my book. I became a compulsive reader. I no longer had to stroke the wood under the table. I stroked the printed word. I struggled with each word, caressed each sentence I managed to pull together.

I no longer hurt my mother. I was safe inside my book. I made no noise. I did not move. I did not drop anything. I was a good daughter, finally.

Now that my mind had my body in hand, not moving, never moving, I could finally escape, escape into another world where I could be bad, where I was a princess, where I was a saint, a martyr. Fairy tales and saint-tales were all one to me. I read the same stories over and over and over.

I read at night, when I was supposed to be asleep. I read at all my meals. I was always alone. I liked to be alone.

I only saw my mother when she brought me my food. And I loved her food. It was never enough. I always wanted more. I made my mother happy. She loved my clean plate. I was such a good girl to leave such a clean plate and good girls always got dessert. If you are very good (and very quiet), you got several desserts.

There was nothing like my food and my books. Surely, I was in heaven. The more food I stuffed into my stomach, the quieter my body became, the more freedom my mind had. I learned to detach from my fat, ugly body and soar into exciting stories. I was happy. All was fine in my world. I had my holy trinity: my mother, my nuns, my books.

Then along came the Doctor. Did I say that I didn't speak? I couldn't. I stuttered. Awful sounds came from my mouth. I never opened my mouth, except for prayers; I could memorize prayers easily. I stuttered while reciting them, but that was all I was expected to say. Then the Doctor came into the house.

I had the flu. He asked me how I felt. My mother answered for me. The Doctor interrupted and told her he wanted me to tell him. This stupid Doctor! Didn't he know the rules in our house? I never spoke except my memorized prayers. How did I know how I felt? No one had ever asked me that before. I stared at him, but nothing came out of my mouth.

As soon as I could leave, I fled back under my table in the kitchen. I could hear the Doctor hollering at my mother. He was angry. But he had no right to holler at my mother. She was supposed to do all the hollering. That was her job. Then my beautiful constructed world came to an end.

Mom decided I couldn't talk because the nuns were too strict. She sent me to public school in fourth grade.

Everyone was loud.

And they had "Show and Tell."

I had to get up and talk about something in my life. I had nothing to talk about.

I liked my nuns. They liked me.

These new teachers didn't like me. They wanted me to talk.

I hated them. Didn't they know I didn't have a mouth that could talk, that there was nothing in my life to talk about? I was now going to Hell. Everyone in the Catholic school told me if I go to public school, God will send me to Hell.

Why did I ever get the flu? Why did that stupid doctor have to interfere? Where were my nuns? Everything in their world was black and white. I liked them. I felt safe. If I was good and quiet, I would always be safe. Now, instead, I was with stupid kids who couldn't read well. All they did was talk. Talk. Talk. And they never sat still.

They were animals. No wonder they were all going to Hell. But, I survived.

My teachers told my mother to make me join things. Brownies. Girl Scouts. Campfire Girls. Mariner Scouts. I was in them all. I even began to enjoy them. And I had to put my books down, for awhile, to make time.

But I always returned to my books when I felt like falling apart. I still need a table under which I can retreat when I'm feeling overwhelmed.

My voice? I don't know where it is. It usually goes into hiding when it senses it is not welcome. The stuttering is gone, but the voice is still timid. I must strain to hear its whisper.

But when it is safe, it emerges, like the cicada when it finally emerges from underground and sheds its skin after years of caged silence. It has songs to sing, stories to tell, cries to be heard. I do, too. I, who am so quiet; I, who am such a good little girl. fl


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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MalloryR. said...
Apr. 21, 2011 at 4:11 pm
amazing! is it about child abuse though?
 
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