We Are The Quiet Ones

October 3, 2010

We are the quiet ones.



This is my mother at 15 looking on as her sister waits to be called to walk down the aisle for the first time.  At five, she was summoned from Chile to join her widowed mother in Washington DC where she had relocated to find work and escape the pious judgments afforded an irrepressibly intelligent and irresistibly tantalizing single woman. My mother had lost her father, her grandfather, her country and her language all within two years. Her mother had never been, and would never be, hers to claim. Upon her arrival, she didn’t speak for a year and when she did again, English was all she knew.





This is me, pregnant at 28 and mystified by the dress-up girly-girly games of my niece. On April 4, 1968, I was hospitalized with a grapefruit sized growth that had appeared over the short course of an afternoon nap. I was seventeen months old and had been admitted just as Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. My emergency became inconsequential as Washington was set on fire by rioters and intermittent tides of quiet carried tempest parents with injured children to beg admission at the locked and guarded doors of the hospital. With no time to diagnose, I was placed in isolation with promises and crossed fingers. Every four hours my mother, this woman who knew all too well the deafening language of silence, would be allowed, masked and robed, 20 minutes to hold me. Twenty minutes to experience myself in perspective to another – to remind me that I was not simply a blip of metaconsciousness without mass. For four days, she watched as I would shrink further from this cruel reminder, 20 minutes at a time.


I cannot imagine she and I were the first quiet ones. There must be a long line of us silently tethered to one another. I say this because, in him, our quiet is at last organic.



This is my son at 11, eyes riveted to the mirror that remembers the cutting of his waist length hair. There was no rioting, no death, no language barrier, no ocean voyages, universal grief, injustice or ethos that made him so.  Yet, you can see it in the tender curve of his cheek, the forehead tilted to meet the unfolding reality of the moment, the perspicacious eyebrow preparing a succinct rejoinder if, and only if, it be necessary.





We are the quiet ones. We know that speaking words with our mouths too often ends in the miscarriage of all we want you to know.


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