When they told me we were moving back to Pennsylvania, I stopped listening. It simply was not happening. Five years earlier we sat at the same brown table and they told me we were moving from New Cumberland, Pennsylvania to Raleigh, North Carolina. I was 10 at the time. The week before we moved, I spent a lot of time intrigued with the new language I’d have to learn. One of my parent’s friends had given them a going away present. It was a book called “How To Talk Southern”. The left-hand-side of the book featured words like “Hell” and “Shit”. On the right, each word had written pronunciations. “Hell” was to be said “Hail”, “Shit” was “Sheit”. In the end, the author gave us all one final rule: If a word is usually one syllable, stretch it into two. If it’s two, make it one.
At the time, I understood turning one syllable into two, hence the term “southern drawl”. But turning two into one irked me. I wasn’t sure how that might be applied in regular conversation. It was months later, when I learned that down south people turn a perfectly good second-person plural pronoun into a one-syllable contraction. The author was right after all. This was possible.
I didn’t like the idea of moving down south and swapping syllables but I was 10. And when you’re ten you worry about different things. I had friends back then and they were good friends, but we never talked about things like sex and boys or the color of our lipstick. We didn’t know what drugs were. We didn’t care about Reagan or Mondale, dances or curfews, maxi pads or training bras. At age ten, none of my friends knew what the back seat of a Chevy Nova looked like. We certainly didn’t know that innocence was something one could lose.
One day, the movers came and my mother helped them understand what needed to be done. They packed everything up and took away our brown and orange furniture. I wondered about the carpeting, too. They left the carpeting. I was told there would be new carpeting in Raleigh, carpeting without my footprints, carpeting that would no longer meet walls with a graphite timeline proving the fact that while we were moving South, my head was moving North.
South. Even the word seemed strange to me. I pictured sagging moss and deep red Earth, prehistoric, colorful bugs and a lot of pine needles. I pictured the South layered thick. And, after five years of getting to know it, the South became that way.
“We’re moving back to Pennsylvania. Your father tried everything. But we’re moving. It’s either we move back North or your father will lose his job. We can’t afford it if your father loses his job. We simply can’t.”
I hung on this word “It”. Afford “IT”? What did “IT” mean and why couldn’t we live without whatever “IT” was? I didn’t want to move. I was 15. When I moved down South, they had promised we’d never move again, at least not while we
– the kids – were still in high school. Several years and many apartments would come and go before I knew what IT was. Years would pass before I’d begin to realize that IT brings with IT heartburn and wrinkles, deadlines, and taxes.
“I am so sorry, Michele. I know we promised that this would not happen. But it’s not something we have any control over.”
I don’t even think I was angry at the time. But I knew I had to pretend to be. I vowed to not speak to either one of my parents indefinitely. And I said this to their faces. It was over. We had broken up. I would continue to live with them. I would do whatever I had to do while living under their roof, but I would not speak to them any longer. It was at that moment, I threw away every bit of respect I ever had for Family.
Weeks, maybe months went by where I didn’t speak to either one of them. And the memory knocks the wind out of me. I barely spoke to my mother, who, I wasn’t very pleasant to anyway. There were times it became hard. There were times where I wanted so badly to laugh at their jokes or at something my brother said to them. I wanted to be included. There were times where my silence wanted to scream. Pride can be so powerful sometimes. I believe that pride alone can bring down an entire country. It’s certainly powerful enough to ruin a single life.
I remember the very moment I began talking to my father again. I was in my bedroom at the time. I used to sit in front of my stereo and play music really loudly. We lived in a ranch house—a southern ranch. I was closest to the living room and the kitchen. Everyone could hear my music.
I was playing a song called “Changes” by Ozzy Osbourne when my father knocked on my door.
(I feel unhappy. I feel so sad. I lost the best friend. That I ever had.)
“Can I come in? I have to talk to you.”
I didn’t say anything.
(She was my woman. I loved her so. But it’s too late now. I’ve let her go)
“You don’t have to say a word. I just need to talk to you.”
I opened the door.
He shut the door behind him and sat down on the floor.
(I’m going through changes. I’m going through changes. We shared the years. We shared each day.)
I turned my music down a little bit letting him know
– without speaking – that he could.
(In love together. We found a way. But soon the world. Had its evil way. My heart was blinded. Love went astray)
“I know you’re mad at me. I did everything I could, I promise.”
(I’m going through changes. I’m going through changes.)
I looked down at the carpet. I really missed my parents.
“I tried everything. I don’t want you to be mad at us any longer. I am so sorry.”
(It took so long. To realize. That I can still hear. Her last goodbyes)
My grandmother, Nanny, used to tell my father that the song that most reminded her of him was that Simon and Garfunkle song that went, “I am a rock, I am an island.” I can see that. My father was solid. Never once had I seen him cry. He didn’t even cry at his brother’s funeral. He didn’t cry at his father’s funeral, either. That’s what I was told, anyway.
“What is this you’re listening to? It’s very sad.”
When my father’s face dipped down toward the floor, and his thick glasses slid south down his oily nose, that’s the very moment I remember throwing out my pride.
My father was crying.
(Now all my days. Are filled with tears. Wish I could go back. And change these years.)
There isn’t much I can do to change that part of my life. And in retrospect, I know that Raleigh would have killed me, if not literally, emotionally. I was headed down a very, very destructive road but that’s a story for another day—maybe. For now, my history tells a story and there is a section of that history that lies in silence. And I find it ironic that it’s one of my loudest memories.
If Superman were around today, the Greatest American Hero, Wonder Woman, or someone equally as spectacular and awesome, I might ask them to help me. And I hope that after they had finished chuckling over the fact that Ozzy Osbourne played a major part in what I just told them, they’d agree to rewind time. I’d say, “Sirs and madams, I have to add sound to an otherwise silent part of my life. Surely, you understand, right? Surely, you can do this for me, right? Surely, I can go back and fill the silence with sentences and sighs.”