Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Breaking the Silence

“Hi Litty. I'm going to walk around the table now. Here I go. I’m coming toward you.”
“Hey there Litty. Nice to see you. I’ll just be over here if you need me.”
“Hi Litty. Are you hungry? Here’s my hand. Don’t worry, I won’t come any closer.”

Litty is one of four cats I’m petsitting for the week. I was warned that it would take her awhile to warm up to me. Litty – Little One – was a rescue cat – rescued from two kids that were torturing her.

Litty came halfway down the stairs to stare at me while I was working at the dining room table. She was skittish and skeptical, and at first any movement I made was enough to make her bolt up back upstairs. Slowly she grew accustomed to me, moving out of the way when I came near, but only far enough that I couldn’t grab her if I tried. That was ok with me -- I've known enough cats to know not to try. The more I talked to her, though – the more I told her I was coming out of a room so I wouldn’t startle her, the more I started talking before I started moving – the more she relaxed.

I’m a lot like Litty, I think: I need someone to tell me they’re about to try to get close before they do, or I’m likely to bolt, expecting the worst.

Since I don’t need a babysitter, the real world version of this is a little different. I have learned through much trial and error that I stoke silence into a growing wildfire of dark thoughts, fears and rejections, and the easiest and best way out is to break the silence myself or ask someone to break it for me.

I have a friend who shows me in countless ways that he cares about me. I also know that he only checks his email once or twice a week. Remembering the ways he’s shown me I’m important to him feels about as easy as trying to grow a third arm when I’m waiting for a reply to an email whose contents make me feel vulnerable. Even when I’ve just forwarded him some benign piece of information, my mind is much more likely to leap to the most terrible option available instead of to what is most likely the truth: he hasn’t read the email yet.

The same woman I wrote about last week, Jeanne, pointed out to me that I need to hear it: I need people to tell me how they feel, because, well, because the words are important to me. I’m a writer, after all. Although I can say I write for a living, I actually call myself a writer because writing is where I turn for understanding and legitimizing my feelings: I write when I am happy, sad, afraid, vulnerable. Writing is where I go to feel more alive, and the words are what bring it about. Yes, recently I’ve found many holes in the language and I have been searching for a way to describe what does not exist in the words I have been taught, but I’d rather you bumbled the words and tried to say it loud than simply show me.

This is a new discovery for me, invisible audience, but an important one. Now I know that I need the words to feel safe, and that’s changed something: it means I can’t be silent anymore. Now, when I’m starting to feel skittish and like I want to bolt for the door, I gather my courage and say, “What do you think about this?” OUT LOUD to the other person. And where before I always feared the rejection in their answer, now I am finding sweet relief in hearing the silence be broken, regardless of what words they use to break it. By breaking my own silence, I have managed to ask others to break theirs around me, and I’m finding that the sound of their voices, regardless of message, was all I needed.

Love and broken silence kisses