Learning Silence

   I’ve begun to lose faith in words. I write and write, but speaking feels like something sinful. Something reserved for conflict and confusion. And even if I begin my sentences confident and clear, something always stiffles that. It is the eye rolls that soar across the room. It is the chuckles and chants, the screaming and scorched tongues. It is the truth, spilling out like thick black tar across a table, that is always refused. There is no point in speaking any more.

 

   The choir hums a soft song of snickers and scoffs when I raise my hand for the fifth time in one class period. It’s like I can hear exactly what they’re thinking. Who told you to talk this much?

   The teacher calls on me because I am the only one volunteering. The only one listening. The only one caring.

   Government is not the most exciting class. No matter how many times the teacher assures you that he really gets it. Like really really gets it. Even if he lets you use your phone and sleep during lectures. And despite it being a class in which we learn to debate and share, nobody listens.

   I look around at a room full of my peers. The people with whom I will inherit this strange world. I wonder if they care as much as I do. And, despite their blank stares and glazed eyes, I decide they do — they have to.

   The question this time is: What is the 2nd amendment in your own words?

   It’s no secret that I identify as a liberal. I am not shy about marching around street corners with my signs. I write stories bashing our belligerent president. I am a student who really is immersed in political activism and information. The kind that got me labeled as a “Hillary bitch” after the election. The kind that made me that resident feminist on campus.

   I should probably mention that the boy sitting next to me is the same one who yelled from across campus, “Sophia, don’t you just love this city?!”

   To a random passerby, this would sound like a friendly exchange. An acknowledgement of the goodness of our shiny, white Santa Clarita. But this comment was much more malicious in its intent.

   The boy knew I had been up for hours the night before, placed firmly in a stiff courtroom seat. The boy knew that I was at the city council meeting that discussed SB54. He knew I was fighting for the rights of immigrants to live peacefully in our town. He knew I had lost.

   I should probably also mention that this boy brought a Don’t Tread On Me banner to the school walkout. Where we gathered to gain justice for kids who were killed due to gun violence. Kids who went to class like me. Who sat in AP Government like me. Who wondered if the people sitting around them really cared, like me.

   The teacher asks the question.

   I do not raise my hand to answer.

   The eyes of a class that knew how loud I could be stare in confusion at my silence. The boy smiles, as if to dare me to respond.

   Dare me to speak.

   Dare me to break this pink-cheeked silence.

   This curled eyelash, crimped bangs, waxed lip silence.

   I couldn’t.

   I’d like to think I’m a relatively fearless person. I sleep with all the lights off; I once jumped from a towering rock into the lake, and I don’t really mind spiders.

   I’m not scared of this boy. Or any boy. Or the teacher. Or the question.

   Or maybe I am. Maybe I’ve forgotten what fear feels like. Its cold hands clinging to my spine, I can’t feel the chill anymore. All pain numbs eventually, right?

   Maybe I’ve learned to be silent so I won’t be somebody’s next joke.

   I’d like to think I’m a relatively fearless person. But there is nothing I fear more than being disliked.

   On the night of Nov. 8, 2016, when the sun had been asleep for hours and our house had finally realized what was happening, who our new president would be, I sat in bed and cried. Yes, because I recognized the impending doom that was in store with a man of such little morality in office. But also because I was afraid to go to school the next day. My Nasty Woman t-shirt lying on the floor next to me. Dirty from being worn too many times.

   Mom says I shouldn’t care. One more year until I’m off to a city where I can speak my mind to a body of educated peers. But just as the time feels fleeting, a year is infinite in its span.

   I went to school anyways. I flinched at the fire that spread around me- the sea of red hats and banners draped across students’ shoulders.

   I’m not as easy to scare anymore. But that day, I kept my head down. My heavy heart somewhere in the bottom of my stomach. My tongue at the back of my throat.

   The class begins to answer the question. It’s funny how controversy brings out excitement. A buzz of chatter goes in waves throughout the room. The most it’s heard in the past hour and twenty minutes.

   It’s like being able to have a gun and stuff. Like whoever wants one, the government like can’t take it or whatever.

   The class giggles slightly. The boy does too.

   Part of me wants to laugh along. Part of me wants to cry.

   I think it means that those who need guns should get them, but not everybody. Guns aren’t meant for everybody, I think.

   A quiet girl from the corner of the room adds.

   The boy rolls his eyes. He laughs again, this time to tell her she’s wrong. She’s so wrong that it’s funny. It’s hilarious.

   I never do answer the question.

   I don’t want to get it wrong.

   The boy smiles at me, he knew I would learn to put my hand down eventually.

   He knows me too well.