On Silence

That moment, tonight, just after I’d dropped off Reed at the gas station, told him “Bye, baby. Have a good weekend. I love you,” to which he replied, “I love you too” before slinging his backpack over his shoulder and walking across the Richie County 7-11 parking lot to his father’s car. I cleaned my sunglasses, and settled on some music. When I turned to pull out of the parking lot, I saw a man sitting on a motorcycle. He smiled at me so tenderly because he had witnessed the entire exchange, so I smiled back at him, then drove into the brightly setting sun and tried not to cry because tenderness is almost always my undoing.

Soon, it was just me and the silence.


Another time in the car with Caleb. Reed was still growing inside of me. Caleb and I were engaged to be married. We were driving back to Boise after having visited my family. We came upon the scene of an accident. Flares marked the road around us. A police officer diverted our car.

Then, I saw something. My hands fluttered to my stomach, involuntarily. “Is that….” I asked Caleb. He reached over and put his hand over my eyes, his other hand clutching the steering wheel. “Don’t look,” he said. His voice wasn’t quite a shout, more of a groan.

“Please honey, don’t look.”

It was too late. I had already looked. Bodies. I didn’t see the body of the father. Only the mother and the baby. They had been the victims of a road rage incident between two other drivers, both men.

Later, when I followed the case obsessively on the news, I would discover that the family had the last name of “Perfect.” The perfect family–undone by the violence of men.

I would think the words over, and over, “The Perfect family.” I would remember Caleb’s hand over my eyes, his desire to protect me.

I would remember the silence in the car as we drove the remaining distance, the sun setting behind the Boise foothills. A new darkness surrounding us.


Reed, sitting in the backseat of the car, only months after the divorce, and I had yelled at him because we had thought he was going to miss the school bus. I yelled something like, “I cannot do this all on my own.”

And, then, his silence. He was only eight. His silence said so much.


My father’s silence on the phone when I told him for the first time that Caleb had beaten me up.


The silence of Caleb’s friends.


The silence of the prosecutor in Caleb’s domestic battery case.


My own silence for so many years.


The silence of the university that continues to employ my batterer. He is marrying an undergraduate this summer. She will also learn about silence.


Silence has consequences. The silence of Caleb’s friends, the silence of the prosecutor, the silence of the university. All of those silences contribute to his violence.


I will no longer be silent.


Silence is complicity.


The silence at night, just after I left Caleb, when I would take a half of an Ambien, then lay on a mattress on the floor of my friend’s guest room and wait for darkness to overcome me.


The silence that followed in the moment after Caleb forced an entire bottle of Ambien into my mouth, sawing open my lip with the dull edge of the pill bottle, then commanded me to swallow. I held the pills in my cheeks, but finally, I gave up. He saw it in my eyes. He knew that I was ready to swallow. He punched me in the face, and the pills blew out across the bathroom floor. He said with disgust, “Look at you. Just look at you.”

I thought to myself, Look at me. 


I am sorry for sharing that story. Some things are better left silent, but I no longer know what those things are.


The silence of the students who saw my lip cut wide open, my black eye, my eyebrow split and oozing. I think I told them that I had tripped on the edge of a carpet.

That, too, was a silence.


Caleb’s silence when my friend, Rebecca, said “What on earth happened to your arm?” And I fumbled, “I don’t know. I think I did it in my sleep” while Caleb watched me as though he was daring me to say something.


The silence of all of the people who ignore abusers in their own circles.


The way asking victims to name themselves is its own kind of silencing.


The way I did it. I named myself. I did what they asked for, but does that mean I wasn’t silenced? No.

The people who are asking for names will never support the survivors. The survivors are better off nameless.


The silence that doesn’t acknowledge power imbalance–how hard it is to speak out against an abuser in a position of power. I was only able to speak out against my own abuser because he has no power over me.

Not anymore, at least.


And then, different kinds of silence.

The silence of a quiet home, free of yelling, or crying, or objects being thrown.

Companionable silence.

The silence at night–in that state between wakefulness and sleep–free of Ambien, free of darkness.

The silence between my father and me that is a chosen silence: a silence that says I forgive you.

The silence of the wilderness. The silence of the river trail, the silence of my footsteps, the quiet, rushing water, the trees rustling, the crickets shivering in the grasses, the occasional rattle of a rattlesnake, the cheep, cheep of Marmots in the rocks, all of it captured in silence.

The silence of this place:

Corn Creek picnic
Corn Creek Guard Station, Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness

The silence right now, as I type these words in my quiet loft and know that I am safe.

The silence of peace.


There is nothing wrong with silence, but there is so much wrong with silencing.

I will not be silenced.

I will not silence others.

I stand with survivors.



2 thoughts on “On Silence

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