Sunday, April 15, 2012

Silent through grief

Last night my husband and I shared a meal in a Japanese restaurant. We often take off at the end of the week for a meal prepared by someone else in a local ‘cheap and cheerful’ place and this night we both had a yen for something light and tasty.

The point in writing about this particular outing is not so much for the food or the ambience as the woman on the table behind us, whose voice was so loud she could have been sitting in the middle of our table.

Our own conversation had stalled. It was hard to engage above this woman’s voice, above her ‘conversation’. To my mind a dull conversation and even as I type the words ‘to my mind’, I’m brought back to the thought I had last night that there is one expression I tend to use within the blogosphere that I now must abandon.

This woman said it over and over and it began to grate.

‘To me…’ she said repeatedly as she prepared to launch into a discussion on the best flour to use for her cakes, the best toilet cleaner for her toilet, or the best church to visit over Easter.

She seemed to have an eclectic array of religions.

At first I thought she must have been a devout Catholic but then she talked of attending services at St Marks, the local Anglican establishment and at another time of enjoying a visit to the Presbyterian’s Uniting Church.

Good for her that she should be so expansive in her religious tastes but there was something about her taste in religions and in foods generally and in conversation that has led me to be writing about her today that irks me.

I have lost all patience with small talk. The glue that cements strangers or near strangers, the stuff we need to fill all those gaps when we do not know what else to say. I used to pride myself on my ability to make small talk but not these days.

These days I want any talk in which I engage to be meaningful, though not necessarily heavy. I want it to be meaningful to be worthwhile as if I am fearful of wasting words.

The woman of the loud voice at the table behind us sat among close friends, I imagined, and yet the whole time she indulged in what I can only describe as small talk.

It was so awful and so constant, so loud and dominant as to be fascinating.
‘Are you for real?’ I wanted to say to her.
‘Can you hear yourself? Are you listening to the words that come out of your mouth or are you on autopilot tuned to talk non stop?’

The woman who sat opposite spoke softly. Occasionally she offered an affirmation or an extension of her companion’s thoughts but no sooner were the words out than the woman of the loud voice took over again.

The two men, also seated at the table, both husband’s I presumed also spoke to one another in softer tones. But every so often the four came together in conversation and one of the men said things like ‘my wife likes to…’.

I could never quite catch the tail end of what his wife liked to do but I figured he was referring to the woman of the loud voice simply by the way her arms moved up and down when he spoke, as if she were momentarily silenced.

‘Do I speak as loudly as that?’ I asked my husband.
‘No,’ he said, ‘not so a whole restaurant could hear you.’
That’s a relief.
‘Do I dominate like that?
‘No,’ he said. ‘You usually let people have a turn.’
Again a relief.

Why then did I see this woman as being so much like me, so much like the me that I dislike, loud and overbearing.

She reminded me of one or two of my friends whose lives for various reasons have taken a turn of late. One whose family of four have all left home and she’s alone most days now until her husband arrives after work and the other who has recently retired.

Both seem to need to talk incessantly about things that may be relevant to them but have no bearing on anything we share. They seem to have lost the ability to include their listener and so their conversations become a series of soliloquies punctuated by a nod or two from the listener.

I find I do not want to see as much of them as I might once have done. I find I do not want to talk to them at all. I feel guilty for my lack of sensitivity to these two lonely friends and think of my mother who is grieving the loss of her sister who died before Easter in Holland and was buried on Good Friday.

My mother's family circa 1932. She and her younger sister are the only girls.

My mother who loves to talk has grown silent through grief. She avoids the dining room now and prefers to eat alone, not because she is unwell, she tells me, but because she cannot get her sister out of her mind.

Some of us run from our sorrows with words, others grow silent.
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