In this silence I communicate mostly by notes. I carry a pad and pen. Here are some of the scribbling from my first full day of not speaking:
Steroid tomorrow or today?
I have to eat.
Spit does not hurt so much.
Surgery was very successful and I will feel well.
You need sleep.
I have often played charades and quite well.
Another cop. His friend.
Alice did it.
I sent her to bed.
More pills than an old man.
I moved the seat. Try it.
If they enclose the dog will you go?
We rarely remember much of what we say, I know I don’t, and now the reason is clear. It’s usually not worth taking up brain capacity for the odd little things we seem to care about. That might be the great lesson of these ten days: a good deal of what we say is just space filler. There is the Pinter view of conversation as pure power negotiation, the need to dominate or gain concession. So far silence is not getting me closer to dictatorship even within my own family. I am now much closer to ape than I was two days ago. I have banged the dining room table with my fists several times to express the common emotions of the average parent, raging fury and incoherent rage. We men are always being told by the women in our lives and in our reading material that we do not express our emotions enough. After all these millennia of coupling and parting, of raising children, of grappling together and apart with life the truth of the matter is that men are either happy or enraged and women do not like that. Men are binary creatures and any attempt to make us anything else is futile. Now that I am silent I can indulge my binariness and ingest Vicodin, take my steroids and my antibiotics and smash my fists on the table. Fathers have the great advantage over mothers of not worrying that their children like them. Or perhaps that’s just me. Mothers so want their children to like them while fathers want to do enough to get them a few moments of peace and quiet regardless of what their children feel about them. Much like the binary nature of men this is something that cannot be changed. This is not some startling insight that has come through silent contemplation. I have noticed this element of family life from its very beginning and now have nothing but time to spend writing it down. I should write that child rearing book I have been threatening so long wherein parents can learn the value of more television, the stupidity of homework and general parental amnesia. For some reason most parents have forgotten how dreadful much of childhood was – and I had a relatively happy childhood. I never ask my daughter how school was. I know it was tedious beyond description. It was, is and will be forever dreary. I ask my daughter if school was just as boring today as everyday and occasionally she surprises me by telling me, no, it was quite good today. Her favorite part of the day is always recess. So was it for us, so will it be for our grandchildren. All you out there spending hundreds of thousands on that fancy school, don’t kid yourselves. The paint job is nicer but it’s all a grind.
I began this odyssey to speechlessness with a diagnosis (almost certainly accurate) of acid reflux damaging my vocal chords and was put on a radical anti-acid diet. No alcohol, no coffee, no tea, no dairy, no tomatoes, no herbs or spices of any kind, no red meat. An endless lists of No. There came a point where my weight loss was so great it exceeded that of cancer patients (I kid you not). While I have been on this diet many friends have asked me if I feel better. No, I do not. I am not more energetic, I am not calmer, I am not more relaxed or more inclined to exercise. I am hungry. Get thinner, by all means, if that’s important but do not buy into the notions the experts sell that it will make your life exponentially more anything. Washing up is not more interesting when you weigh less, neither is making your child’s lunch or attending back to school night, the dog is still ancient and deaf and blind and falls over when you walk her, the things that annoy you about other people and the things that you love and adore about them are no different. You really are just hungrier.