This blog has taken me a while to write. I have had so little to say for a while now, feeling unable to dig deep down into the darkness of my soul to retrieve a necessary voice for any occasion. Because we do have that don’t we? We have our polite “hellos” with the faces we see on our routine journeys every day – people we don’t know but feel, after some time, that we do on some level. We get to know their dogs that they walk at the same time every morning, their children that they are taking to school and nursery, their work patterns, their moods, their football preferences. We gauge our own time by them. Those people we encounter daily, from passing them in the car to seeing them at the bus stop, they become quite significant in our own routines; We have our varying degrees of familiarity in the workplace, ranging from polite chat to raucous laughter and everything in between; we have the various roles of friendships – with some friends our role is to listen and soothe, with others it is to talk; then there is the complexity of family relationships and the familiarity this brings, the allowance to ‘be yourself’ (if you’re lucky). We have voices for them all, few of them the same. A simple “hello” or “good morning” may be all that is required. But sometimes that seems difficult. You try and say it but it comes out so choked and painful that you might as well have lit a flair
I am never sure where it starts or why, but I have come to recognise the signs of gathering clouds and have grown faintly aware of a disconnection between my brain and my mouth as I struggle to contribute to conversations. What happens on the journey through my nasal canal to the voice of Jen? Storms are coming. Evacuate. And I am so very aware of the silence – in my head and in the room.
I sometimes think that this recognition is progress. I don’t have the clouds I used to when I was younger. For a long time in my life there was only one season (and it was never summer). Now it’s definitely more “sunshine with a chance of showers.” But, although it is not the constant low-cloud of my youth, when the clouds come, it is Cumulonimbus.
But hey, I’m from the West of Scotland – I can live without sunshine and embrace the weather. What I cannot live without though is my voice. I talk. It is what I do – whether it be on a keyboard, to strangers in random queues, workmates, family, friends, animals. I never stop talking. I fill every silence. I even talk in my sleep. So when the silence comes, it is audible.
And this is when the clouds gather. When I become so painfully aware that the silence is too loud. I wrack my brain for a contribution about my weekend, some sharp witty comment about something mundane, but nothing comes. I literally have no words. And I feel so empty; I feel like someone has scooped all of me out with a spoon, like an avocado husk but without even the stone heart, just nothing at all; an empty shell. I always think about a Tom Petty video I saw when I was young, where they cut up and ate Alice in Wonderland while she is still alive but made of sponge cake (it disturbed me deeply). But it always comes back to me when my voice is gone. The image of the frustrated Alice lying down, drumming her fingers on the floor as Tom and his Heartbreakers cut into her and she can do nothing about it but watch them and wait for it to end. (I haven’t watched this video in a long time, apologies if my memories are skewed…)
So, like Alice, I wait for it to end. And (luckily for me – I know) it does. It becomes less exhausting trying to find the words from somewhere; I find myself looking less at the ceiling trying to find the words that must surely be floating up there somewhere or less at my feet where eyes and words don’t live. I feel connected again. I unconsciously and naturally make a joke, share a mundanity about my weekend. I feel the return of the stone to the husk.
Sometimes these rays of light mark a change of season; sometimes they are a happy mistake in the forecast and to be enjoyed in the moment for what they are. I remember too many years ago when I worked in an office in the city centre and one of my colleagues telling me a story that has stuck with me. I was around 19 or 20, she was 25 and going through an awful divorce having married her childhood sweetheart at 18. She told me that, prior to the separation, she was so desperately unhappy, lost and living with an emotionally degrading and abusive husband. She had been thoroughly scooped dry. She drove the same route to work every day and every single day cried her heart out, from the minute she left the house, to the minute she arrived at work, where she gathered herself, applied her make up and found her voice for the day. Every single day, she sat at a red light opposite the same woman in her car. And, after a while, she became aware that the woman was offering her recognition through the windscreen: a smile, a concerned tilt of the head, which led in time to the mouthing of “are you ok”, which eventually led to a daily exchange as they passed each other with their windows down. After months of this, the woman wasn’t there one morning. She was devastated. She realised that this stranger at a red light was her one source of compassion and understanding. After a week, the woman was back and this time, mutual concern was exchanged, along with phone numbers, through an open window on the opposite journeys to work. They became so important to each other for years to come. She left, she got divorced and met the true love of her life. And the silence did that. For so long, they had a silent understanding. And it was more important than any of the other voices.
So my voice is returning. My voice for the outside world is at least being heard. But until I am caught singing on the way to work by the white BMW 3 series in Myrtle Avenue at 8:23am, or completely lose myself to the Vaccines in the shower, I know the clouds are lurking. I will always be a woman at a red light, it just varies what direction I am going in.