I got a text from Oldest Daughter yesterday. One of her essay questions is ‘Defend the thought that silence can be heard’ (she’s doing Philosophy, it was inevitable), but her next comment made me laugh out loud: she said, “Was thinking I could write about my father”.
I’ve often talked about Oldest Daughter’s perception and the fact that she’s frequently wise beyond her years (she also frequently isn’t – I still recall our Facetime session about how to refill the dishwasher salt), but her observation about the sound of silence was particularly apposite.
Any hopes I had of things proceeding amicably when E paid his January Child Maintenance were quickly dashed as February rolled round, and no Child Maintenance appeared in my account, no explanation was made, and no reply was sent to my email saying that if the money wasn’t paid I’d go back to the CMS. Then, just five days after the Child Maintenance payment wasn’t made, I received a letter from the mortgage company saying that E hadn’t paid his share of the mortgage either – again there was no warning, no explanation and I have absolutely no idea what is happening (I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t reply to any email I sent asking what was going on given that he hasn’t actually responded to a single one since summer last year).
I’ve written before about how tangible E’s silence can be, but Oldest Daughter’s text, coming on the same day that I got the letter from the mortgage company, made me realise how clearly I can hear it at the moment.
Like absence, silence is what is not. Silence can be as audible as clap of thunder or a scream of pain. If sound communicates, so does silence and consciously withdrawing communication is a form of communication. In fact silence can often communicate more efficiently than sound. E doesn’t need to say to me “I don’t give a shit”, or “you are not important”, or “you and the kids mean nothing”, his silence imputes all of these things without him having to say a word.
Silence can also be cruel. Unless we’re hermits, human beings are social creatures and we live in communities. Those communities are based on communication and inclusion. Silence excommunicates. It shuns and isolates and it excludes as effectively as a lone prison cell. It punishes. In most civilised societies, even prisons do not completely isolate their prisoners and solitary confinement is seen as an extreme punishment. This is how powerful silence is as a punishment. People can go mad if they are left in silence for too long.
Since E left, silence is the weapon he has chosen to use against me. In ignoring me, he communicated how worthless I am to him without saying a word. In refusing to answer me, he answered clearly. In employing silence against me, he effectively silenced me, and made me feel unable to speak. In fact the one thing that I have been able to rely on E to do, since he left, is to ignore me. I guess, in a lot of ways it’s just an extension of how he treated me when we were together. He couldn’t have had multiple affairs and lied to me for so many years, if he wasn’t ignoring me and dismissing my feelings. I suppose it’s now become second nature.
The problem is that, if he wants to sell the house, he needs to speak to me. I’ve written a couple of times now, in person and via my solicitor, asking what he proposes to do re the sale, and how he proposes to ensure his children (and me) are looked after going forward. So far, his only response has been a petulant reply to my solicitor (obviously, he won’t reply to me) blaming me for his debts and saying, again and again, that he wants to sell the house, whilst offering absolutely no suggestion as to how he wants to do this, and who he thinks should do the work involved in order to achieve it. I’m still trying to work out how to reply to it in a rational, grown-up, way.
In the meantime, he is withdrawing his financial support to the extent that it will damage his children. He knows what the bills/mortgage/food costs for the five of us, and he knows that, even with the Child Maintenance he pays for the boys (I have yet to claim for the girls), that I don’t have enough to meet the basics. In withdrawing the Child Maintenance that he’s legally obliged to pay, and defaulting on the part of the mortgage that he pays (he still pays less of it than me), it seems that he is trying to force us out onto the streets – as Youngest Daughter pointed out, he’s literally trying to starve us into selling.
In the meantime, his silence has become physical as well as verbal. He hasn’t seen the boys since the end of October, and cancelled at the last minute last Saturday (prompting tears from Youngest Son). Our daughters (the children he currently won’t pay maintenance for) also tell me that they’re getting warning texts saying that their phone bills (contracts held by E) haven’t been paid. Initially it was just me that felt like I was being ignored, but increasingly, the kids are feeling excluded from his life in almost every way. E has a new life, and, it seems, wants nothing to do with his previous one, including, it increasingly seems, his children. The fact that Oldest Daughter immediately thought of her Dad when asked a question about the sound of silence, speaks volumes.
E’s silence, particularly when accompanied by the type of deliberate financial punishment he is inflicting upon me and the kids, feels as oppressive as an incoming storm and can be heard as clearly as the thunder that accompanies it. Whilst I have learned to ignore it, it’s something that I’m aware of 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and, if I pause and listen for it, its tones are deafening and the words it communicates as painful as any insult.
As Oldest Daughter realised so astutely, silence can often be heard clearer than any words.