When I was fourteen, my high school made me read Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen”, a painfully long novel about two boys in Brooklyn who belonged to different sects of Judaism. It was grueling to get through. I remember the pages softly leaving marks on my stomach as I read, sprawled out on a lawn chair in June while my friends read Nicholas Sparks and swam in the pool that had an annual tradition of a child defecating and ruining everyone’s afternoon. Parents were sneaking vodka into their gas station styrofoam cups, the older teenagers were flirting and oiling their acne-ridden bodies up, the lifeguards were bobbing their heads to the Top 40, and I was in a bikini reading about two boring Jewish boys with photographic memories.
The story follows this friendship and the relationships with their fathers. The most important passage of the book is engrained into my memory. I even copy it into every new journal when I grow out of the old one. The most important scene of the novel is when the silent and distant father communicates all his wisdom to his son. It’s heartbreaking and enlightening and feels like everything good and holy in the universe is blessing your brain in a few pages. That might just be me. I’ll include the shortest quote to summarize what I mean.
“A word is worth one coin, silence is worth two”
I was rudely reminded of this seemingly insignificant novel a few years later when I was peeling the fabric string of my tea bag into individual fibers and mentally begging the boy across me to shut his mouth. ‘A few years’ felt like decades. My date was an eighteen year old who worked at my favorite pizza place downtown, and I felt like a middle aged woman with a career, talking to a child. After visiting way too many times over the summer and being stunned by his striking similarity to a lead singer in one of my favorite bands, I developed a playful obsession with him. People don’t really understand that when I have crushes, I don’t mean anything by them. When I have actual feelings for someone, my mouth remains shut. Crushes are harmless and fruitless pursuits that I use to find some sort of common ground with kids my age. I think because I’ve always felt like an outsider, I use a very human and incredibly teenage girl obsession to be relatable. There is a bond girls form when boys are involved. Other than that, I really don’t have much to talk about with some kids. I rarely mean anything by them and that’s how I end up hurting people without meaning to. That’s my secret. Not so secret anymore, I guess.
He was cute. Curly dark hair. Nice complexion. Pretty unproblematic to look at. His voice didn’t hurt my head, his arms weren’t too skinny, and he had straight teeth. There was nothing that stood out about the kid until I realized that he literally had no personality. After he started talking about wanting to grow cannabis for a profession and that he dropped out of community college to pursue his noble pursuits, I realized that maybe the Jewish boys and their religious fathers had a point.
Sometimes people just need to shut up.
Hot stuff, I know, coming from a writer and a girl who has an opinion about everything. (I’ll make one up if I don’t.) But my illness and experience in the past few years has made me a better listener. I always have been, seeing as though the root of many of my issues is listening too much and adopting problems that aren’t mine, but when you live in chronic pain, you tend to be selective about your words.
This essay isn’t about chronic pain, though, so let’s get back to the Jewish boys and my dream date being boring.
It wasn’t that he was a bad person, or that growing pot is the worst thing in the world. He could’ve said he was going to start a band or something. It was just that everything that came out of his mouth had no value or purpose, and yet there were so many words. He had no favorite movie, but spent five minutes explaining the complexities of Marvel. He didn’t read and I didn’t want to say “clearly” so I just grimaced and stared at the barista who had a Harry Potter tattoo on his hand. He probably read. Conversations that I was desperately trying to resurrect were killed within seconds with nearly no effort to uphold or contribute. He was an awkward medium between talking too much and being mute.
I realized about halfway into the date that I liked boys a lot more when they didn’t talk. That kind of went for everyone.
People are a lot prettier when they are quiet because all the control is in your head. You can think of their tone and expressions. You can orchestrate conversations and actions. You can romanticize them in aspects that they’ll never be able to fully reach. This is one of my greatest flaws.
You’ve heard the line in every indie film or book. It’s hinted at in Arctic Monkey songs, Buzzfeed or Cosmo articles, and girls in fishnets with short, bleached hair will probably say it a few times when talking about their ex boyfriends.
“I fell in love with the idea of them.”
Maybe it’s vice versa, but you get the point. We all have a tendency to romanticize each other. We’re all consumers to a fault, so it’s natural that we try to make our lives and our relationships as theatrical as possible. When that melts away though and we’re left with people as they truly are, it’s pretty obvious that we’d want a refund on the person we ordered.
People aren’t dinner orders or the outfits online that say “size fits all”. They’re messy, flawed, and often pretty boring.
I’ve had firsthand experience with that line, as much as he probably grinds his teeth at reading this (Lord knows my ex-boyfriends don’t read my pieces unless there’s a glowing header with their name and social security number on it). My second boyfriend had a crush on me for years, even back into my pixie cut, mean girl phase. When he finally “got” me, I wasn’t something to be lusted after. I wasn’t an unreachable fantasy. I was just a girl who’s head hurt a lot and who was uncomfortable with attention. His brain was probably in all sirens screaming, “REFUND PLEASE!”. Again, that’s an assumption (I’m rarely wrong about these things) that I am making because that is my idealized ending to our situation. Boom. Back in the tailspin of trying to figure things out.
Silence is the most beautiful part of life to me. You’ve seen this in poorly made Facebook pictures and typewriter font Instagram poetry, but I’ll write it here just for fun.
You know you love someone when you can sit with them in silence and not be uncomfortable.
Ew. Your aunt would probably share that to her friends. It’s true, though. The root of most cliches is honesty that just gets distorted by reality and cynics who like to pretend like they’re different. That used to be me, so I’m allowed to say that, you morality police. I really don’t think any teenage girl would scoff if a boy brought her roses. I didn’t.
Most moments of my life that I cherish are ones that are quiet. Being in planes late at night. Car rides with a quiet playlist. Baths. Naps. Reading. Coffee shops in the morning. Sleeping. I understand that I sound like a sixty year old recluse, but when I can shut my mouth and listen to my surroundings, I reach a level of peace in my very loud and obnoxious head.
I’ve got to cut my boys some slack and take a portion of the blame, seeing as though I’m a lot. I also use them as targets because they’re easier to be around than girls, but I think a lesson we forget to teach kids is to shut up. It’s all about expression and being outspoken and unashamed with who you are, but I don’t really think that’s all that great. I learned by best lessons in being quiet, listening to people, and reflecting on the things that I do choose to say.
I think by encouraging reflection and learning to value silence, we’ll learn to balance ourselves and possibly… hear me out… become more interesting and insightful people. Those are just my thoughts though in a scattered sequence. People will continue to settle and fill every emotional void with boring partners to appease an obsession with fictitious life and romance. Hell, I probably will, too. All I know is that I want to create melodies in life, not just noise.