Mrs. Never Speaks

Grandmother’s gondola swing 

Lilly white, deepest green 

My maternal grandparents had a home in Villa Park, Illinois, a near-west suburb of Chicago. It was a nice place with a big to a kid backyard, the highlight of which was the gondola swing, or as my mother called it, “The Glider”. We spent hours gliding back and forth, taking a break from running around, not listening to the grown ups talk. When they talked. I remember it mostly as a place to sit quietly and take in the day. 

Grandfather’s garden collage 

Green beans, summer squash 

The other major feature of the Villa Park yard was the garden. My grandfather put a lot of effort into growing his own vegetables, and subsequently so did we. Grandkids hanging around meant hands to pull weeds. 

A house in the suburbs with a fenced yard, a big garage, the garden, the swing; seems pretty nice right? The perfect setting to cover up or perhaps compensate for all too typical familial dysfunction. There were a lot of things no one spoke about. 

Living in the shadow of the steeple 

The house was the second from the corner, immediately adjacent to the church. Over the course of the afternoon a shadow would sweep its way across the yard, a reminder of the call to worship that dominated their lives. My grandparents were religious people and proud of their involvement with the church. A trait passed down to my mother who raised her children in the same tradition. 

I want to pause here to say I understand that religion offers a lot of desirable qualities for a lot of people. A sense of purpose, a point to the randomness of existence. Hope for a better future, and maybe most importantly, community. I get all that. Still, it’s not for me. There are too many unexplained contradictions, too much hypocrisy to ignore in exchange for baked beans at the pot luck. I have and had too many questions, but children are not supposed to ask questions. Neither are the women. It’s a man’s world according to James Brown and the church. 

My mother tells me when she was a kid mass was in Latin. You didn’t know what the priest was saying, but you better believe it was holy and right and that your eternal fate depended on those mysterious words. These are some of the earliest lessons, the ones that get hard wired into a developing child’s mind. Silent acceptance. Subservience. Fear of unimaginable consequences. 

Sings the hymns, confessing her sins 

Prays for a seat at the table 

You grow toward adulthood and life interjects itself. There’s a dawning awareness that the physical world is in direct conflict with many of the teachings of the spiritual one. You begin to have doubt but know you must not, cannot raise your voice against it. This turmoil is a test; do not fail. 

Mrs. Never Speaks 

Hoping someone sees 

She wants to shout 

Nothing comes out 

So she suffers silently 


A husband, a house, and kids 

Suburban dream sequence 

I grew up with parents who had a strong, loving relationship. They were devoted to each other from the day they married until the day dad died over fifty years later. They had the house in the suburbs, full of children, complete with the fenced yard, the two car garage, and the family dog. As kids we were scouts. We played ball, dad was our little league coach. I couldn’t articulate it then, but beneath the surface of this made for television life was an emotional void. My father never recognized or acknowledged his family’s emotional needs. He was ill-equipped to attend to those needs, likely unknowingly taught by his parents that they needed no attention. Put on a happy face, ignore the rest. That was the credo. 

Learns to forget growing regret 

(For this) Perfectly hollow existence 

With a man who’s unavailable emotionally 

Like they raised their kids to be 

Life settled into routine. What else was there to do but persevere while wearing a false smile. He was the man, the head of the house, we would do things his way. 

She cooks and cleans 

They watch t.v. 

She cries all alone when she’s lonely 

Mrs. Never speaks 

Masculinity doesn’t have to be aggressive and violent to be toxic. My father was not physically abusive. In fact when it came to his sons there was no physical contact at all. I learned his version of being a man meant putting blinders on to better focus on keeping your nose to the grindstone. Personal fulfillment was not defaulting on any bills. Make believe happiness was better than real happiness because you control the make believe version by simply ignoring anything that threatens it. Applying a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the uncomfortable it ceases to exist. And any emotion other than contentment, even if feigned, made him terribly uncomfortable. 

The path of my adult life began as an escape from that emotionally immature and stunted environment. I had experienced an emotionally traumatic event that left me questioning my core worth as person and a shrug of the shoulders was the only comfort given. I had none of the tools necessary to deal with my emotions, couldn’t even name them, good or bad, and drugs and alcohol provided relief from having to try. I found my feigned contentment. It was an unfortunate coincidence that I have the medical condition of alcoholism. It’s taken a life time to sort it all out. 

Of course on the plus side I also fell into the world of playing music. Funny how that works. 

Plenty of people believe a person’s mental health is a private subject. I was raised in an environment where any and all subjects that were difficult, or uncomfortable, or skewed toward the negative were off limits. Yes, there are times when it’s necessary to keep your mouth shut, sometimes it’s simply the better choice. But we also can’t  fix the broken things we refuse to talk about. Humans are emotional creatures and those emotions need to be tended and nurtured as much as our physical bodies. Maybe more so considering we are feeling beings who have learned to think and not the other way around. Left alone with our emotions and the hard core belief that there’s no giving them voice, that it’s fundamentally wrong to do so, can lead to very dark, lonely places. And the resulting damage tends to go unnoticed. 

She wants to shout 

Nothing comes out 

She cries all alone when she’s lonely

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