Silence

Photo by Krista Mangulsone : Story by Natasha Akery

“I can’t hear you, Mama.”

Shiloh is three-years-old going on twelve. Seasonal rhinitis makes it hard for her to hear. She sits in her car seat in the back, leaning forward as if that will help her discern my strained responses. I repeat myself.

“WE AREN’T GOING TO JAMIE’S HOUSE TODAY.”

“Mama, that was too loud.”

I ring the steering wheel with my hands like a rag, biting my lips and focusing on the interstate flying beneath us.

“Why aren’t we going to Jamie’s house today?” she asks.

“Because we are going home, eating lunch, and taking a nap.”

“What’s for lunch?”

“Chicken nuggets and broccoli.”

“I just want broccoli, Mama.”

“You have to have chicken nuggets, too.”

“But I don’t wanna!”

“You have to!”

“Why?”

My current physical and mental state would be appropriate for a Marine being sent into combat, not for a mother of a preschooler. I don’t respond. I focus on my breath and head home.

“Why, Mama?”

Silence.

“Can you hear me, Mama? Mama, look at me.”

“I can’t look at you. I’m driving.”

“You can look at me in your mirror.”

“No.”

People tell me all the time how bright Shiloh is, like it’s a good thing.

“Why, Mama?”

I used to ask Jesus why. I asked him why after a pastor kissed me and yelled at me for it. I asked Jesus why after a pastor told me I could never lead a church because I’m a woman. I asked Jesus why after a pastor made lewd comments about my body and told me to deal with it because “that’s how men talk.” I’ve asked many whys.

I’ve endured many silences.

It used to make me angry. Where was Jesus when I needed him? Why was he silent when I needed his comfort? Where was he when men were abusing me? Where was he when my dad left? Where was he when motherhood launched me into a trigger happy season of post-traumatic stress that medication can barely tame? I used to think nowhere. Silence must mean absence. Because someone who loves me would answer.

Shiloh looks out the window, watching trees smear by like paint.

“Mama, what’s a fan called?”

“What?”

“What’s a fan called?”

“I think you know the answer to that question.”

“A fan?”

“Yes.”

“What’s a house called?”

“Shiloh, I’m not really sure how to answer these questions.”

She laughs and replies, “You’re silly, Mama. A house is called a house.”

What do you call wanting to simultaneously commit homicide and belly laugh until you pee?

“One mouse. Two mice. Not two mouses,” Shiloh rambles.

I tune her out, pressing play on the podcast episode I’ve been trying to finish for four and a half days. It’s fifteen minutes long. I try to pay attention, but I can’t. I’m thinking about my rage, my irrational bouts of aggression. I’m thinking about wanting to run away to pretty much anywhere, including Myrtle Beach. I’m thinking about whether or not my husband would leave me if he came home to Shiloh, alone, watching Daniel Tiger while I’m at the grocer discerning Prosecco.

Sometimes, I pray.

Give me wisdom. Give me patience. Help me. Help me be better. Help me love her like you love her, like you love me. Do you love me? Where are you? Where have you been? Why won’t you speak? Did you really send Jesus? Did Jesus drive his mom crazy? Did he drive you crazy?

I remember lying in bed with my mother when I was Shiloh’s age. I wasn’t a good napper, but I was good at being very still as she spooned me, trying to catch a couple Z’s before work. I remember how tired she was all the time, but she still drove me to school and picked me up. She still made my breakfast and packed my lunch. She still picked me up off the floor in the living room and carried me to bed when she got home late at night. My memories of my mother are like silent films. I don’t remember what she said, only what she did, which was everything.

When I was pregnant with Shiloh, I worshipped my womb as if I carried Christ. She was the embodiment of a long forgotten dream and divine purpose. I thanked God for letting me carry the gift of life, and I begged God to heal me from my past so that I could give Shiloh a peaceful future. But birth lead to postpartum depression, exacerbating my post-traumatic stress and depression. I didn’t enjoy her. Couldn’t. And I asked Jesus why.

Shiloh is asleep when I pull into the driveway. I turn off the car and watch her in my rearview mirror. Her face is angled down to the right, making her face look chubbier than it is. Her palms are turned upward as if to receive enlightenment in meditation. Her eyelashes put falsies to shame.

I am holding her as I walk into the house, pulling off her shoes and letting them fall to the floor amidst the mess of toys and breakfast that’s been there since seven o’clock this morning. I find her teddy bear and carry her to bed. She rolls over onto her side, her knees tucking into her chest and her hands under her cheek. It’s so quiet, and I love her.

Perhaps silence is not the absence of God, but rather the presence of love. For every question Jesus has not answered are one hundred of Shiloh’s questions that I have ignored. My silence, often fueled by frustration or anger, does not push love out. The frustration and the anger exist because I love her with the entirety of my existence.

I pray sometimes.

Jesus, if silence means you love me like this, then never answer.

I lie down and spoon Shiloh, drawing a blanket over us both. I close my eyes and remember that love is why she speaks and maybe why God does not.