The Absurdity of Silence
She sat there in silence. Always in silence. Never a word. Never a sound. She sat by the window in her oversized chair that seemed to swallow her whole, and stared at the wall day in and day out, with few exceptions. Sometimes she would give a half-hearted grin or frown as if she and the wall were having a conversation. She was all of five foot three and probably not more than 80 pounds. Her muscles had degenerated so much that she had to wear a diaper and her three meals a day consisted of green Jell-O, a Delmonte fruit cup, half a slice of toast, and a cold can of Hanover green peas
It’s been almost three years to the day that she wandered on to the steps of our front porch in the pouring rain. My son, Mitchell, spotted her, “Mom, dad there’s a girl sitting on the front porch.”
My husband, Harry, and I along with Mitchell, Michelle, Malcolm, and Maya peered out the window and saw a frail young girl drenched to the bone. Harry opened the front door and asked if there was something we could help her with and there was no response. So we thought she was deaf. He went out and as soon as he stepped on the creaky porch board, she jerked around and bolted in what seemed like one action.
It rained nonstop for three days. If Noah had the ark during those three days he would have been able to float it down the street. The third day of the storm was the worst. It was windy, cold, and the rain was going in every direction. It was what I imagined a monsoon would be like. I hurried and fixed dinner because the lights kept flickering and usually that meant at any minute the power would be out. We had just sat down to dinner when we heard a light knock on the front door. Harry got up from the table, looked through the peephole, and turned back to me and said, “It’s her, and she’s back.” I got up from the table and looked out the peephole and there she was.
I opened the door and asked, “Are you alright?” She didn’t respond. She just looked at me, actually I think more through me as she stood there soaking wet. Soon she was standing in a puddle of water.
“Is there something we can help you with?” Harry said. She flinched when she saw him, but didn’t bolt. She invited herself in and gave a cursory, searching glance at the hallway. The she walked to the living room and did the same. “Call the police.” Then the family room, the dining room, and finally the kitchen.
Maya and Michelle had gone to get towels and a clean set of clothes. She was about Maya’s size but just a little smaller. It took the police a while to get here because of the storm. Maya asked if she was hungry and without saying a word walked to the kitchen pulled open the refrigerator door, and retrieved a lime Jell-O cup and a Delmonte fruit cup. She took a slice of bread from the table, put it in the toaster and scooped the remaining green peas back in the can she retrieved from the recycle bin. She cut the slice of toast in half and gathered her “dinner” in her arms and headed for family room. She surveyed the room again, without making a sound walked straight over to Harry’s favorite chair and sat there quietly eating. Once she finished she got up without making a sound and deposited the trash in the trash and the recyclables in the recycle bin, then headed back to Harry’s chair and fixed her eyes on the wall straight ahead.
The police arrived almost an hour after she mysteriously arrived. When they arrived Maya was kneeling beside the chair asking her name, where she was from, how did she get here; none of her questions yielded a response.
“Hi my name is Officer Duncan, but you can call me Dunc if you want. Can you tell me your name?” She took a long critical look at Officer Duncan, slightly repositioned herself in the chair and resumed her gaze on the wall.
“Maybe she can’t talk,” Maya said. Maya gave her a pad of paper and a pen and she and Dunc tried again to at least get her name, but to no avail.
“I think she’s in shock,” Officer Duncan said to his partner, Officer Jameson. “We need to call this in and get an ambulance out here as quickly as possible.” The paramedics arrived and Officer Duncan advised them that she was unresponsive.
“Probably head trauma,” the paramedic said. “We’ll get her over to St. Stephens.” As soon as the paramedics tried to get her on the gurney she let out a shriek that I’ve never heard come from a human and bolted behind the sofa. I’m not sure how she got back there and even more puzzled about how she was able to fend off the police, paramedics, and even my husband. Maya finally took charge of the situation and was able to coax her from behind the sofa, but not on the gurney. We ended up driving her to the hospital in our car. Harry and I in the front; she, Maya, and one of the paramedics in the back. I remember looking back and she was holding tight to Maya’s hand. She and Maya walked hand-in-hand into the emergency room; and she would let go even after she relaxed enough to let the doctor’s examine her.
Finally, the doctor gave her a sedative in which Maya’s hand was at long last set free. They admitted her to psychiatric ward of observation because they couldn’t find any sign of trauma. Maya and I had gone to visit her a couple of days later and discovered she hadn’t been eating and pulled out a feeding tube twice and as a result was in restraints. When she saw Maya her face softened and she held out her hand, which Maya gladly took. Maya took off the restraints to the dismay of the nurse.
“I don’t recommend you take off her restraints. She’ll just pull the feeding tube out again,” the nurse said.
“Oh it’ll be all right,” said Maya.
“You know what she might eat?” I chimed in.
“Jell-O, fruit cup, a half a piece of toast and green peas.” The nurse looked at me like I was crazy, but she obliged and got the necessary food items. She ate the toast and the fruit cup, but not the Jell-O or green peas.
“Mom. Remember it was lime Jell-O and she scooped the green peas back in the can.”
Again the nurse looked at us like we were crazy. “Well, we don’t have a can to put the green peas in and I’ll check to see if we lime Jell-O.” She returned with a cup of green Jell-O, which was immediately gobbled up.
“Interesting,” said the nurse. She left the room and reported this to the doctor.
The next day the doctor called and said she ate everything but the green peas, which they put in a can.
“Hmmm,” I said. “Try Hanover green peas.”
She was featured on the news as a missing person during her time in the hospital and people were asked to call a hotline number if they had any information about her. The hospital transferred her after a couple of weeks to a psychiatric hospital and Maya insisted that she go and visit. Even though she never said a word she always responded to Maya. She would follow her around the ward, let the doctors examine her, and had an overall agreeable disposition.
The doctor’s made a suggestion that she come and stay with us. He felt that she since she responded so well to Maya that maybe more progress could be made. Somehow Maya convinced us that was a good idea.
Surprisingly it wasn’t so bad after all. She taught the younger kids – Michelle and Malcolm how quiet time was good time, by not saying a word. That in and of it was great! She was pretty self-sufficient. She got up, got her showered and dressed, got her own meals and kept pretty much to herself.
Often times she would follow Maya to the bus stop and try to get on the school bus with her, which became somewhat problematic. The therapist suggested we enroll her in school, but we couldn’t because we didn’t know where she was academically because she didn’t or wouldn’t talk. So, we got a tutor. She would watch and listen intently, but never a word. When the tutor asked what was 2+2 she held up four fingers. When the tutor asked whom the first president of the United States was she picked out George Washington from the flashcards? When asked what the capital of Colorado she picked Denver from the flashcards. So we knew she could learn and communicate.
Her therapist brought over alphabet blocks in hopes she would use them to communicate with us, but she didn’t. She did use them to answer academic questions, but nothing more. The therapist felt she was making progress even if she wasn’t using them to communicate with us.
Months turned into a year and a year turned into two and there was still no sign as to whom she was or where she came from or that anyone was even looking for her. When Maya or the tutor weren’t around she sat in the oversized chair by the window and stared at the wall. And unfortunately for her, Maya was around less and less.
One day Maya took her to a college fair, which I wasn’t to sure of because she hadn’t been around crowds of people since she came into our care; but surprisingly she was fine as long as she had Maya’s hand. Maya in her infinite wisdom said this would be the perfect opportunity to explain she would be going away to college and that she wouldn’t be there as much.
Maya was always very mature for her age and she always knew that she wanted to do something that involved helping people, but she hadn’t narrowed it down until recently. She decided either a social worker or psychologist.
While at the college fair Maya would ask her what about this college. She would frown up in the face or give a half-hearted smile. She smiled if the college was nearby or rather in the state of Colorado, and if it wasn’t she frowned. Sometimes the frown looked more like a scowl.
Maya started preparing her by not being around as much and by giving her daily instructions on how to go about her day without her. Not sure where Maya learned this, but it seemed to work. She still spent an inordinate amount of time in her chair, but when Maya and/or her tutor weren’t around she had something to do.
Moving day was quickly approaching and I remember Maya asking her if she wanted to help her pack, thinking it would solidify that she would be leaving soon. She frowned, but conceded anyway. At least that’s what Maya thought. Every time Maya would something in the suitcase she would take it out and put it back from whence it came. Maya sat her down and explained rather firmly, “In a week I won’t be here. I will be in California at UC Berkley.” A scowl came upon her face and she let go of Maya’s hand. “I really need you to understand that, and I think you do. I know it will be a difficult adjustment for you and it will be hard for me to, but this is something I have to do. I’ll call all the time and I’ll be home for holidays.” Her scowl softened to a frown and she got up and put a pair of shorts in the suitcase.
The day came for us to take Maya to UC Berkley and we piled into the van and headed to California. Michelle and Malcolm sang songs to pass the time. Mitchell sat playing a video game and Maya read to her. We got Maya settled in her dorm room and went out to dinner, which is always a little tricky because we have to bring her self-imposed diet and the wait staff always look at us like we are crazy. Harry and I decide to stay at a nearby hotel for a few days and take in some of the sites before going home.
“Remember,” Maya says holding her hand “I’ll call as often as I can and I’ll be home for the holidays. And you’ve always got Mitchell.” She frowned up in the face and Maya chuckled. “I know he’s a poor replacement, but he is the next best thing.” She put on a little crooked smile and threw her arms around Maya and gave her big long hug.
Maya called almost every day, just as she promised and gave her a daily task list (read a book, help me cook dinner, help Michelle clean her room, and so on). The phone calls stopped coming as often as they once did and then they stopped and she sat in her oversized chair by the window staring at the wall. Maya along with a handful of other students got sick, really sick. They said it was bacterial meningitis. One student died, several others were in a coma, and others had brain damage.
Maya didn’t make home for Christmas, she passed away December 23. We told her what happened and we knew that she understood because she frowned up in the face. She went to the funeral and either sat or stood in silence. She didn’t cry or show the slightest emotion. Once we got home she surveyed the house just like she did the first time, got some green Jell-O and a Delmonte fruit cup from the refrigerator; fixed a piece of toast and cut it in half and opened a can of Hanover green peas, gathered it all in her arms and sat in her oversized chair by the window and quietly ate.
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, SAM at http://frommywriteside.wordpress.com gave me this prompt: The absurdity of silence.
I gave Bewildered Bug at Http://www.bewilderedbug.com this prompt: Your character starts receiving anonymous gifts and each one stranger and more disturbing than the one before.