What is silence? Is it a soft monotonous drone, a subtle buzzing - a swarm of bees discussing things in whispers? ‘This seems like silence – but not complete - I can hear something. Is this what ‘nothing’ sounds like?’ and she closed her eyes. ‘Closing my eyes seems to make the emptiness, nothingness louder’ she mused. ‘I wonder if this is the sound you hear if you are deaf, like Grandma was?
She liked the quiet at the moment – needed it. She didn’t miss all the voices that were once in her head, - loud, insistent cruel voices. ‘Instructions that lead to destruction’ is what Dr Lynch called them when he could eventually have a proper conversation with her - just the two of them, no friends telling her what to say from inside her skull, not the devil, just two normal adults conversing.
It had taken a lot of sessions, rivers of tears and forgiveness to get where Sally was now. She came into the ward fighting, not wanting to stay, the voices telling her to get out, away from this place where they would hurt her. Wrestling and kicking, shouting, swearing, a tiny body with a lot of fight, silenced with a needle.
PTSD it was labelled . “Seeing what she saw was horrific” they discussed around the table. It’s going to take a long time and even then…..” Sally’s physiatrist told them shaking his head. A seasoned shrink, seeing and hearing the worst of human suffering, but being able to help ease the pain and agony for so many of his patients. “She seems strong thought, underneath all that pain she’s suffering” he concluded.
It had been a long time. They wouldn’t go away – lingering on and on, disappearing for a short time but always coming back, claiming their place in Sally’s mind. It was like a cancer being scraped away and then returning.
Dr. Lynch thought about the ‘olden days’ when the preferred treatment for psychiatric patients was electric shock treatment – wrapping the patients in strait jackets, holding them down and doing that archaic thing to them, even children. He shuddered at the thought and knew that he couldn’t have done it. He was a warm and gentle person with a genuine passion for helping those in need.
Towards the end of her treatment Sally would sit in the garden on a bench and marvel at the beauty that could be found in watching trees moving in the wind. Branches would shake their leaves slowly, the sound mesmerising, a bit like a soft and gentle baby rattle. It was peaceful too watching other people walking slowly over the green carpet of grass, taking small steps, quietly talking, telling their loved ones that they were ‘getting better’ and smiling for the first time in months.
A little girl visiting someone rang past Sally laughing; her hair tussled by the breeze, face dirty from an ice-cream someone had given to her, and she thought of her own little girl. She could think of Lila now without rage and despair. Dr. Lynch had taught her that it was ok to miss a loved one, to want to be near them, touch and smell their fine hair, soft skin, but know they weren’t coming back again – reassured that our memories would always keep them alive in our hearts.
She stood up to go inside. The little blonde girl had settled on the velvety softness not far from Sally, but for now it was a little too close. She could almost reach out and touch her. It was going to take time to feel completely relaxed when little girls were around her.
“Hello Sally” Dr. Lynch called from the steps in front of her and she waved to this lovely man, her friend to whom she would always be grateful.
“I was just coming to see you. How are you feeling about leaving us tomorrow?” he asked looking into her eyes for the reassurance he needed to know that all was well.
“I’m a little scared John but I also feel strong enough to go. I can’t stay here for ever I know that. I also know that if I ever need help again, I only have to ring you” she answered in a quiet voice.
“And also just to talk Sally” he reassured her taking his leave, telling her he would be here in the morning to say goodbye.
In her soft pastel mint green room she sat on the bed spread – a swirling paisley green and blue cover. It matched the grey carpet. She felt restless and looking through her window she watched the little girl trying to do handstands telling the adults with her “No that wasn’t a good one, watch this one” and she recalled her little girl saying the same thing to her while trying to master the art of cartwheels.
Taking a deep breath Sally said out loud “I am grateful for the love I got to share with Rosie for five years. She will always live in my heart and I in hers and our bond of true love can never be broken”, repeating it twice. After the second time her breathing had slowed down, her sweaty hands were starting to dry and she no longer felt like she had pins and needles on her head. “Ok what I need is some dinner” she said out loud and walked to the dining room.
The next morning she left. Dr Lynch was there to hug her, tell her once again how well she had done, how he had so much confidence in how her life would go from now on, but that he would always be here for her.
The imposing stone house and wide verandas with lush floral grounds had been her sanctity for quite a long time. As she got into the taxi Sally knew that she had left the negative voices, and the destructive behaviour behind and the building that had welcomed her warmly, would get rid of them permanently after she had gone.
Sally had decided to spend some time at the family holiday home. It belonged to her cousins who were quite a bit older than her. The old house hadn’t been used in a long time. It was not far from the sea. Sometimes you could hear the waves crashing against the rocks if you listened carefully.
She looked around at the sparsely furnished cottage, with books being the only thing of interest in the white walled house, apart from a black and white photo that hung from one of the walls, the frame a solid black wooden surround. She didn’t know who was in the phot but assumed it was her Aunty and Uncle. They were long gone and the cottage had been passed down to their children. He had dark hair and a handlebar moustache while she had her hair done up in a bun – her frilly high necked collar almost choking her as she smiled nervously. ‘They looked well suited, proper, so stiff and upright,’ she thought.
She had unpacked as soon as she got there – a legacy from being brought up with a mother who was once in the army – so neat and tidy. “If you unpack as soon as you get anywhere, then it’s done and you have free time then” she used to say. Sally didn’t have much to unpack; she was only staying a few days but remembering her mother’s instructions of long ago, put it all very neatly in the chest of drawers.
Sally pulled a book from the shelf – liking the sound of the title she began to read silently. The quietness of the room felt heavy somehow, as if a cover had been thrown over the house. The buzzing sound had been replaced by a slight ringing in her ears, silent ringing. ‘Can you have silent ringing?’ she asked herself desperately trying to describe what the noiseless room sounded like.
She put her book down after turning the corner of the page – “that ruins the book” her Gran used to tell her. Uncrossing her legs she rested her head back against the chair and listened. The bee sound had changed to a hum, long and hollow. She was tired and closed her eyes ‘just forty winks in this peace and then I’ll go for a walk’ she trailed off as her lids shut.
When Sally woke up it was a lot later than she thought it would be. ‘I must have needed that’ she contemplated, adjusting her eyes to the dim light. Her ears became attuned to a sound that she hadn’t heard since being in the house – it was of the waves crashing – the only noise shattering the tranquillity and calmness of her surroundings. She could picture the white foam spraying out after the angry waves had hit the solid rocks, droplets flying in the air and being carried away, landing gently on whatever sat beneath them. Her Aunt used to get annoyed at how dirty the windows of the beach house were, blaming the sea spray that flew into them, sticking and then gathering dust. The windows were like that now, very dirty, and probably hadn’t been cleaned for a long time.
Sally had to put the light on in the house to find her way around. She sat down on the lumpy couch and put her socks and sneakers on, grabbed her rain jacket and locked the door behind her. ‘This is my first official outing anywhere since being in the hospital’ she thought sucking the air into her lungs and feeling the coolness of it hit her face, refreshing and invigorating. It almost felt as if the clean fresh air was washing away the unhappiness and sadness, just for this moment in time at least.
The little torch she brought with her kept flicking off and on. ‘It’s probably been sitting in that drawer for months – I’ll be lucky it if makes the journey to the beach. It did stay on, albeit sending Morse code signals all the way through the sand dunes to the edge of the water. It wasn’t completely dark as behind her was a small carpark with a street lamp and remarkably this was working!
The sound of the waves seemed to be so much louder at the house. Sally sat down on the damp sand and took off her socks and shoes, then stood at the water’s edge , the cold water washing over her feet and making them sink deeper into the soft wet sand. It felt good, cleansing, relaxing. There wasn’t much to see as she stared out towards the horizon, just one ship with a couple of lights on it, surrounded by a black inky void. A couple of hopeful seagulls flew around but seeing no food being eaten or bait being put onto hooks, flew off, gracefully into the dark.
High above where grey and coppery clouds gathered a few stars peeped out alongside a slice of moon from behind them, and Sally picked out the star that gave her comfort.. She was sure it was the same one, the right distance from the moon, and the brightest one – just like her little girl had been. She couldn’t take her eyes off it – the tide was coming in quickly and the water getting further up her legs, almost reaching the middle of her calf now, but still she watched it, as if her eyes and the star were magnetic. Just as quickly as when it first appeared, the moon slid behind a thick billowy cloud taking the twinkling stars with it, and she was gone.
Sally wrapped her coat tightly around herself as she was feeling cold now – her feet had been in the freezing water for at least forty minutes and her legs were slightly numb at the bottom. Pulling them out of what felt like quicksand, they made a plopping sound as they came out, and she walked towards the tough grasses at the bottom of the dunes to sit and put her shoes and socks back on.
The torch had stopped working and away from the carpark lamp it was very dark, but she knew this route and wasn’t frightened in any way. There wasn’t another soul around, only one other cottage with lights on shining through the old lacy curtains. Apart from the ocean there was no other sound and she walked back to the cottage with just her thoughts, her own thoughts and nobody else’s.
She took her jacket, sneakers and wet, sandy socks off. She was glad that she had left the light on in the cottage; sometimes she didn’t like walking into dark places. A grey rusty looking heater stood in one corner and she put it on, remembering from long ago that it soon warmed the place up, and then went into the kitchen to look at the meagre supplies she had brought with her and what she could make with them.
As she pondered, her mind was deliberating on something else….and with the positive attitude that she now felt, did what she knew her little girl would want her to do…
Sally went into the lounge room and turned the radio on, quite loud and began dancing to the music. It was a rock and roll song that she first danced to as a teenager. Then she thought of her beautiful, lively five year old daughter and how they used to dance together, laughing and falling over, and knew that it was time to put the silence of grief and sadness on hold and bring out the noise of life once again.