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The Sound of Silence

It was on day four of a seven-day stint at UCLA Hospital that the weight of the truth first came crashing down upon me. As the warm Southern California sunlight streamed into my room, I could only feel darkness. I was on the neurology floor, hooked up to a machine monitoring my brainwaves for possible abnormal activity—specifically temporal lobe seizures. Tethered to the computer by dozens of cords attaching electrodes to my scalp, I could barely leave my bed. Maybe once a day, if a nurse had the time, they could unhook me from the computer for a few minutes, allowing me to walk slowly and somberly down the hallways with the nurse by my side, attempting small talk. As I passed the other patients’ rooms, I could only notice one thing. Visitors. They all had friends and loved ones in their rooms visiting, and there were signs of that affection scattered across their rooms. Balloons, flowers, cards. But not in my room. I had none of that. My room was a place of quiet contemplation where I would bide my time between naps and meals reading a series of Kindle books. For long stretches between chapters, I would find myself staring at nothing in long bouts of silence where I contemplated my existence. This is when I began to wonder what the fuck I had done wrong and how I ended up in this situation. Completely alone in the world. My greatest fear had become my reality.

Did you know that if you check into the hospital and tell them you have no emergency contact, they really don’t want to believe you? And then, as you assure them that there is in fact no one for them to enter into their computer to be called in case you keel over and die on their watch, they give you a look that can only be described as pity mixed with the curiosity of, ‘What the fuck is wrong with you?’

On that morning, I found myself at a critical point in my journey. Caught off-guard, I was wholly unprepared for the moment and for the years of isolation and turmoil that would follow.

Sometime around mid-morning, as I tried to find a comfortable position in my hospital bed, my cellphone on the tray table next to me chirped. A text message. I picked up the phone eagerly. It was Mom. In her laconic, emotionless way, “I’m sorry you're going through this alone.” My heart leapt into my throat. A sudden, choking sob escaped. My heart then plummeted down into my stomach—a dejected weight of disappointment and reality. A text message. That's all? Less than ten words sent electronically from half a state away. This is the best she could do? Not even a phone call. Suddenly, a tidal wave came rushing forth from deep inside me. I felt it rise up from the very bottom of my stomach, through my chest, past my aching heart, and I heard myself expel a torrent of grief. The dam had broken. For forty years, I had maintained the walls of that dam, carefully sealing every small crack that emerged. But over time, the walls had weakened. And behind those walls, a reservoir of anguish had formed. Anguish built on denying a reality I could not allow myself to see. I wasn’t hiding the truth. It was too painful to see.

Suddenly, the levee broke, and a torrent of grief spewed out. The tears flowed from me, unbidden and unstoppable. I began retching and choking on the bitter taste of reality. My mind and body wanted to vomit out this sudden taste of reality. I leaned forward in bed, coughing and dry-heaving as I gasped for air, my eyes desperately scanning the room. I was searching my surroundings for something—anything—that I could grab onto for safety. For survival. With shaking hands, I desperately searched through the layers of stark white sheets and too-thin white blankets, finding nothing I could grab.

Coming through the windows, I could see the golden sunlight of a clear, beautiful morning streaming into the darkened room like a spotlight on a stage. The hallway outside my room was bustling with the sounds of life. Doctors and nurses, visiting friends and family, all chattering with life as they each went about their day. The world around me felt so vibrant and alive, but I remained in darkness, stuck in a moment in time. Life was happening all around me—out there. Beyond my half-closed door to the hallway. Beyond the wall of tall windows overlooking the world outside.

My eyes came to rest on my phone. I became suddenly, irrationally, laser-focused on it as it lay beside me on the tray table. Desperately, I scrolled through the contacts on my phone, my eyes scanning the list of names that scrolled by while my mind frantically searched a catalog of possibilities. More than 250 contacts scrolled through my field of vision in a gray blur. At the end of the list, I found myself staring at the non-emergency number for the police department near my home, miles away in another county. Certainly, that would be no help. It had come to this.

Deflated, my face soaked with tears, I felt a boulder sitting on my chest. At that moment, my phone chirped again with another message. My heart jumped, a nervous jolt of anxiety rippling through my stomach. Mom again?! Maybe she really does love me after all! I looked at the screen. My friend Vanessa checking in to see how I was doing in the hospital. I was sending a heartbroken, pitiful response just as a nurse entered the room. Seeing the mess I had dissolved into, she asked what was wrong, and I told her, “Nothing.” My voice shaky and strangled by emotion, I blurted out, “I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” Such a good girl. I had learned my lines so well.

As the nurse made her way back into the bustling hallway, my phone rang. Vanessa calling, concerned about the message I’d just sent. Trying my best to explain what I was feeling, I realized that there were no words to explain it. For me, this was an unusual phenomenon. There was a crack in my meticulously crafted facade. I didn’t know it then, but this was the beginning of a prison break.

After seven full days and nights of being hooked up to a machine, my tethers were finally removed, and I was free. The doctors gave me a clean bill of health, telling me that the strange menagerie of symptoms I had been experiencing for the past five years were not due to seizures but migraines. I could go about my life as normal.

I went into the bathroom and closed the door. Finally, I was able to have a few moments of privacy after days of constant monitoring where I couldn’t even poop in peace. I stared at my face in the mirror under the harsh fluorescent lights. I knew my own face so well, and yet, this was not my face staring back. Looking back at me, I saw a pale mask without expression. A mask so rigid and well-constructed that it could conceal anything. Focusing carefully on each of my features, I saw nothing I recognized. This is not my face. This is not me.

Quietly and without emotion, I turned away from the stranger in the mirror, turned on the shower, and removed my clothes. Stripped down to my bare skin, stripped of all emotion, and no longer having a way to hold back the truth I'd been fighting so hard to deny, I was truly naked for the first time since birth. I stepped into the hot shower to make myself clean. I washed away the sweaty feeling from days spent in bed. I scrubbed from my hair the adhesive from the electrodes that had bound me to a monitor. Standing under the stream of hot water, eyes closed, I began to wash away the things I would no longer need.

Afterwards, I left the hospital and went home. It was a gray day, threatening rain, and a strange, disconnected feeling had settled upon me. Nothing had changed, yet everything had changed. With no meaningful connections and no one to share my thoughts and emotions with, I sought validation in the only place I could think of for self-expression. The only place I felt safe to be seen. Because there, I was anonymous. A user name with no face. On Instagram, I posted for the world to see: “THE TRUTH IS A DAGGER IN MY HEART.”


Instagram post "The Truth is a Dagger in My Heart"

Audio cover
The Sound of SilenceSimon & Garfunkel



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