Silence with a Capital ‘S’
The pot on the stove emits a low, comforting rumble, punctuated occasionally by the faint hiss of an errant drop of water slipping over the edge and onto the squat flame below. Somewhere in my bedroom, my computer winds through Chet Faker’s newest album, murmuring the final notes of “Dead Body.” I let soap bubbles curl over and through my fingers as I send a sponge around the inner rim of a saucepan, the coarse scratch scratch a melodic accompaniment to Chet’s palliative snare.
As if conducted by an unseen maestro, the music stops at the exact moment that the clean saucepan hits the drying rack with a resounding clink. Turning off the muttering stove, I pause. I’ve stumbled upon new territory – for the first time all week, there is not a single auditory reverberation. Not a buzz, not a beep, not a pop, not a clatter. And I’m uncomfortable; palpably, exasperatingly, excruciatingly uncomfortable. My least favorite houseguest has come to dinner, and she goes by Silence.
She deserves that capital S. You feel her before you hear her – or un-hear her, I suppose. Creeping down your stiffening shoulders, she races to your fingertips as they clamor to make the sound – any sound – that will fight the echo of an empty room. The vacuum she creates is maddening, a complete aural void. And, in the presence of nothing, you hear everything.
The snap of your boss’s gum as it returns to his unsmiling mouth. The click of an ankle that should be soundless in its youth. The smack of the last kiss shared with the person you love. They’re all there, ricocheting off the padded walls of a deceptively deafening quietude.
But, as surreptitiously as she comes, Silence goes again. My phone erupts, rapping a quick, jarring rat-a-tat on the wooden table. I lift my glass-faced companion to my face, regarding its many tales: iMessage wants me to go to a bar, Facebook demands that I watch a video of a dancing cat, Twitter needs me to read another list of twenty reasons I should be getting laid more in my twenties, Instagram taunts me with cuisine that looks much better than mine. And, suddenly, I ache for Silence.
But that yearning for noiseless tranquility doesn’t come often enough. The mobile platform killed my ability to focus and my willingness to disengage. I don’t know how to be alone anymore and I have no desire to take a moment off from the world and its unlimited deluge of wondrous bullshit. The most unquestionably formidable dilemma of millennial abundance is that we can’t remember the value of solitude.
I walk into a café near my apartment, pulling my headphones out from ears sore from continual euphonious distraction. “Just one,” I say to the hostess, who regards me shrewdly with pursed lips, echoing the number with the air of a question, as if I’m somehow mistaken. A slow blush creeps into my fair cheeks as I repeat an amended version of my request with markedly less enthusiasm: “Yeah, just me.” I sidle into my table – a booth big enough for four – and Silence slips in next to me, sitting close enough to stifle me should I give her the opportunity. People surround me, but their conversations are a buzzing din in the background of my isolated space. I hear the hushed whirr of my own breath and the idle whoosh of the turning pages of my magazine, the looming presence of Silence getting harder to ignore. Turning to my bag, I reach for my phone, itching for a notifying ping to break the monotonous quiet. I stop, my hand on the zipper. Shaking my head imperceptibly, I return my attention to the magazine, forgoing the urge to interact, to pry, to judge. Silence interlocks her fingers with mine, squeezing gently, encouragingly. The gesture makes no sound, but it speaks volumes.