© 1993 Michele Toomey, PhD
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Outwardly, her life goes on uneventfully, it seems. She functions as she should. Yet, underneath the smile and hidden in her eyes, silence forms a solid mass, barricading her inside. Although she daily does her tasks, showing not the slightest twinge, nothing penetrates the void. She lets nothing out or in.
Strangely, she has grown accustomed to this nothing state. Safety is her mission. She'll do what it takes and this is who she'll be. By not aspiring to anything, she is nothing, fittingly.
When pain or disappointment enter her closed system, they immediately strike fear. Just the slightest twinge of anger creates terror in her heart. Guarding her life with silence and her silence with her life, she can't let one word escape. Hiding is her great achievement. Muffling, her great relief.
This pattern of agility in absorbing her own sounds had become an automatic reflex with a rhythm all its own. Stifled self-expression formed tight layers of security that locked solidly in place. She need not worry when her feelings were encountered or when her heart was stirred. In a wink, her fool-proof system was set in motion and went on full alert. Silenced once again, she was once more safe. She could not be hurt.
As she aged and time passed by, pressure mounted from the force beneath the layers of these stifled sounds. Eruptions began occurring, seemingly without cause. Out of nowhere, on occasion, an explosion would take place, hurling shards up in the air. Randomly they'd strike a target, anyone within their range, any time and anywhere. No attempt to stop these missiles from discharging could contain them at this pitch. Terrified, she concluded she had obviously lost her grip.
Certainly, measures must be taken. Something must be done. She must at once discover what had gone awry. Without further hesitation she drew herself to strict attention, knowing she must take command. There must be some intervention before her failing system had ruined her master plan.
With grim determination, she set forth to stop this trend. Its life-threatening exposure could not be tolerated. It must be stopped this instant or it would mark the end for her. Turning around she faced herself and deliberately looked within.
There was nothing there, of course. Nothing could be seen. Not a single form or definition in this hidden tomb. Squinting intently, she saw nothing through the blur of nothing haze. In this world of sterile pressure that removed each and every sound, white on white was the one color. Nothing could be seen or heard. Looking alone would not suffice. She must enter this dread prison and traverse its hostile, harsh terrain.
So she stepped firmly in. The eerie silence lurked everywhere and echoed in her bones. Still, she boldly set her foot down on the frozen icy surface. It was jagged and slippery to her touch. Glacier-like formations loomed around her everywhere. Too steep and slippery to sustain her balance, they quickly had their way. With a lunge she crashed against them and plummeted dangerously down their sides. As she grabbed frantically to stop falling, sharp edges pierced her hands and feet. Her head banged relentlessly 'til blood came gushing from her ears and nose, from her mouth and then her eyes, causing liquid red and frozen white to meet.
Soon she was bleeding so profusely flowing blood formed 'round her, cushioning her fall. Hurtling down through inner space, she eventually yielded to it and gave herself up to the river and the ice. It was still extremely scary, but not fighting gave her a sense of abandon and relief.
Ever deeper she lunged inward, endlessly it seemed, until eventually she was floating in a horizontal mode. Somehow, a bottom had been reached. Both her falling and her bleeding had come finally to an end. From her position in this chasm she looked up, and with bleary eyes could see some red on white definition of some vague forms and shapes.
Stunned, she realized she was surrounded by solid icebergs jutting upward everywhere. Like the turrets of a fortress and the walls that form their base, they most assuredly would prevent entry, and when locked in place, most assuredly would block escape. Scaling them was not an option. There was no way out.
Shaken at the prospect of being forever trapped within, she began to quiver and to shake. She sobbed and sobbed, then broke down fully and then she cried and cried. No one would ever know what had happened to her. They'd all think she'd gone away. They'd all think she'd died. They would never know the truth that she was buried in the depths of her own self, buried deep inside, alive.
Frightened doesn't begin to capture the dreadful fear she felt. To be caught forever in this place of nothingness and ice left her despairing and claustrophobic. With not one speck of stimulation and not one sound of any kind, she feared she would eventually lose all interest. Eventually she'd lose her mind.
Horrified, she fainted and lost all consciousness. In this state she heard her voice echoing from afar:
"O yes, that is fine. I am more than willing to perform any task. Do not concern yourself at all. In fact, never hesitate to ask. When you want anything, just feel free to call."
She felt a shudder in her body. A clenching of the jaw.
"It's your approval that I long for", she heard herself say. "I'll do anything to please you. Just don't leave me or reject me. Don't send me away."
Yet another shudder. Now a grinding of her teeth.
"I would not dare to anger or confront you. You are all powerful and all good. Punish me if I affront you. I have no business being rude."
Then another voice came forward. More aggressive than the first:
"Stay away from me," I told you. "Keep your affection within bounds. I need the distance that protects me. You're a threat to my plan. I need to be hidden. I can't risk revealing who I am."
A rumbling stirred within her chest and then crescendoed to a roar. She woke up abruptly, frightened by the violence of its deafening sound. Dazed, she tried to get her bearings. She tried to look and move around. But nothing stirred. She was unable to initiate. Her existence came only when she listened. She was what she heard.
No longer did her system work. She could not stop the roar. For an eternity, it seemed, it roared on and on and on. It gave off a toxic odor that generated a grey smog, but still she couldn't stop it. She could only gasp for air. Terrified at the awful realization that she was not in control, she panicked and she wondered, what was she to do? It would kill her to be truthful. To be known would bring despair.
Exhaustion finally overcame her and took its deadly toll. She gave in, yielding not to her liberation, but to total devastation and to forcible defeat. Her silenced feelings had fought for freedom. She had lost, yet, who had won?
It was a hollow victory. The price a lethal blow. She'd been killed by her own forces, and what that meant, she didn't know.
With her death had come decay. That much she was forced to see. No longer rivulets of blood to float on or smooth her fall. No glaciers jutting upward, standing strong and tall. Instead, her dried blood flaked and gathered into clumps of dark red cakes that formed amid the flattened icy white chipped ground. It was a level, arid surface with an occasional mound.
It was an eerie feeling to be present in this place. Without the decomposing process, nothing ever stirred or broke the stillness. There was nothing happening. Nothing to be heard.
Her fail-safe system had returned. Silence tolled the knell of any sound. Protection was again restored. Nothing was the order of the day, and it was its own reward.
Never mind the toll exacted. She was proud of what she'd done. Death had brought a certain glory. She may have lost, yet, she had also won. A martyr for her cause of silence that allowed her to both hide and run, she had gained new self-confidence and she felt a new-found pride.
To be forever safe was more than worth the price. Not only would she pay it, she would choose it over life.
Strange, it was her most compelling moment. This admission held the truth. Choosing death, though indirectly, had brought her intimacy with her choices and liberation from her lies. Freed from pretense and self-deception, from distortion and deceit, the integrity of her death rang out crisply and its clarity cut deep.
In a flash the fog lifted and she could see through the morass. Without the blur of distortion and deception, things looked so different and so clear. She could see what she had paid to be forever hidden and unknown. She recognized the sacrifices she had made. She could see what she had done.
Sadness flooded over her, covering her truth with tears. Integrity had brought her clarity, but with it came regret. Regret for what could never be. Regret for decisions made from fear.
She was silenced now forever. She had chosen death. Now death was her due. Never would she have the chance to express what she felt and wanted, or what she thought and knew.
Strange to be in death what she'd never been before. An honest woman with her eyes wide open and her desire beating strongly for a life.
However, it was not to be. She had had her chance to choose it, but she had chosen nothing, nothing silently. After death there's no reversing. Once it's done, that's what it will be. Silence is her lot forever, she will be silent eternally.
Some say her spirit roams the earth, nudging women as she passes, urging them to choose to speak. Tragically, she is left to transmit her message to them without a single word. Desperately she longs to tell them, but she can't be seen or heard.
Some believe her presence can be felt, nonetheless. Women often sense her spirit prompting them to express who they are and what they're feeling, but who's to know. It's ours to guess.
But one thing is very certain. We have but one life to live. If we choose to live in silence, it's our choice to live in death.
Commentary on "Silently Nothing"
This is the first tale that ended with the death of the woman caught in her own oppression. It surprised me as I wrote it that there was no way out of a life of silence once it has crossed the line. I had not expected the silence to leave the woman no way out, other than death. Once the barricades preventing exposure became too strong and tightly locked, they left no possible exit or entry into her inner world. There was no other ending but her psychological death. Silently nothing led to nothingness.
The tale became a tale of the integrity of boundaries. The violation of the boundary between open self-expression and closed self protection carried to the extreme brought her to the brink of no return. It was similar to crossing the line of sanity surrounding the boundary of abstinence. Karen Carpenter's death after years of anorexic behavior and its subsequent toll on her heart that led to her death, is a case in point.
In this tale, the woman's paralyzing fear of exposure of her inner thoughts and feelings through self expression, prompted such elaborate denial, suppression and repression that eventually, " Nothing could be seen or heard". In fact, "There was nothing there, of course. Not a single form or definition in this hidden tomb."
When I wrote, "They'd all think she died. They would never know the truth that she was buried in th depths of her own self, buried deep inside, alive." I was trying to capture the truth of hiddenness and the toll it exacts over time. To squander the privilege of being known, because we fear expressing what we are thinking and feeling is a tragic waste, yet we often ignore both the cost and the gift of revealing ourselves out of some distorted fear of being exposed.
This tale dramatizes the truth that silence strips us of our connection with ourselves and others, leaving us in nothingness. Hopefully, this awareness will move us to be more committed to exercising the courage it takes to articulate what's going on for us so that we can know ourselves and be known by others. Recognizing the price of silence as a "choice to live in death." is a stark reality.