Speak if Spoken To
It seems to me that I’ve been alone all my life. Even when I was surrounded by people I was alone. It was a feeling, I know that. But I also know it interfered with my life. It was not that I didn’t want to or didn’t have anything to say, but there was a strong tendency to hold back.
I don’t remember going to anyone’s house where I could play with someone or playing with anyone at home, except the neighbor’s son, Ronald. But he was a boy and didn’t play with dolls or color.
I had a hard time being close. Not with everyone, but a lot of people. It was almost as if I didn’t know how or I was so used to not speaking, that it was natural. That sounds crazy, unnatural but I spent most of my childhood that way, being shut up, and I think it became ingrained.
Those who know me would tell you the opposite. I learned how through the years to take part in any conversation and if asked a personal question, to answer it. But in those years I didn’t offer very much, as if I was on guard.
My father and mother would tell you that I didn’t shut up. I told the principal in first grade that I talked too much because I had a lot to say. And I did have a lot to say. But I had a lot more that was kept inside. Not because I wanted to, but because I didn’t know how. In my house, it was not acceptable for a child to speak unless you were spoken to. Not that my house was quiet. My parents fought all the time didn’t care who heard them. I, on the other hand, was consulted only when I had to be – what time would I be home, what movie was I going to see, and the rest of the time was filled with orders. Do this, that, or the other thing.
They fought, I listened. I don’t know what they talked about in bed at night. They were on the other side of my wall. I could hear their voices but not what they said. Thinking about it now, I wonder if they ever talked about how they felt because they never asked me. Not even once. ‘How do you feel’ was reserved for the physical. They never asked about friends, if I had any, who they were, where they lived.
Occasionally they would ask about school, but only occasionally. One of the regular orders was, ‘Do your homework,’ after the dinner dishes were put away.
My parents were not exactly approachable, and I was left to my own devices to figure out my world, to maneuver and survive in it. From the very beginning, my world was either harsh-voiced or non-existent and I hated the yelling.