In the Midst of Silence

by Jennifer Truong

I awoke and noticed something different. The room was not as luminous as I was accustomed to, for the faint glow of the moon shone through the curtains rather than the sun I expected. I realized it was too early to wake up. As I rolled onto my side in an attempt to fall back asleep, my mother stirred. I sank into the vacant mold my father had created over the years and was immediately enveloped in comfort. My father had started his day hours ago.

At the time, I was small enough so my parents and I could share a single bedroom; I had to be careful not to wake my mother. Our small family of three lived in a cozy one-bedroom house in “the middle of nowhere.” Our house, nonexistent in comparison to its surroundings, was set between the treacherous mountains of southwest Canada and the vast rural fields of Washington. To us, the house was perfect.

My father had always been a fan of extreme solitude and did not enjoy the company of other people. He emitted an air that always made me feel inferior or intimidated, but my mother assured me that he just wanted to keep me in line.

My father believed in silence. He always insisted that we eat dinner together, but at the table only the clinking of chopsticks on bowls and slurping of soup were to be heard.  After dinner adjourned, my father would promptly step outside to enjoy a cigarette in silence.

My mother always told me not to become discouraged that my father and I never talked.  And I grew to value each moment I spent with him, even though we often exchanged no dialogue; I found it calming to be around him.

***

Careful not to disturb my mother’s sleeping, I pulled the covers off and made my way across the dimly lit room. When I reached the door, I looked back at my mother. She was still asleep; she would not be able to scold me for getting out of bed so early. I knew my father was already awake, preparing himself for the day ahead of him.

I crept down the hallway that led to our kitchen to try to catch a glimpse of what my father did in the morning before we woke up.  I could already smell the aroma of coffee wafting through the air. Perhaps this was the foundation for my later love of coffee. I peered past the wall that separated the kitchen from the rest of our house, and an icy breeze sent chills up my spine. An open window drew my gaze and the sight I was welcomed to with left me in awe.

At first I thought the entire neighborhood had turned into a blank canvas, as if someone had erased our small town from the map. I looked closer and realized that what I saw was a blanket of thick fog. I had seen fog before, but never this thick or so early in the morning. I could not see further than the dim streetlight on the corner. Vague outlines of trees were visible, but other than that, the trees looked like giant cotton balls. I believed that the giant cotton balls were in actuality, clouds, and as the sun came up, the clouds would rise off the trees and turn into the clouds we see in the sky during the day. I became certain that clouds needed rest, too; during the night, they must have dropped down to earth to sleep on the trees. When the sun rose, the clouds would surely follow.

My daydream was soon interrupted when my father spotted me and picked me up to go outside. As usual, we exchanged no words, but I took the gesture as a “good morning.” I was surprised that he did not question why I was awake so early nor scold me and send me back to bed. He simply lifted me with no effort and carried me through the screen door that led to the porch. He set me down while he slipped on his shoes. I sat on the edge of the doorstep, waiting for him to bring my shoes to me. After a few seconds, I concluded that I did not need shoes; I could walk onto the porch without them if I desired. I felt the cool concrete on my feet and the misty breeze across my face. If I closed my eyes, the sensations I felt would match the sensations of walking barefoot across the cool sand on a cold day at the beach.

A few feet away from me, I heard the familiar sound of a match being struck and lit. My father smoked. My mother and I always scolded him for willingly damaging his health, but he brushed us off and told us to mind ourselves. I decided not to ruin the peaceful silence and let him enjoy his cigarette. The curling smoke from his cigarette combined with the fresh outdoor air. As impossible as it sounds, the scent was actually pleasant. Usually I would throw a fit and cough dramatically whenever my father smoked around me, but this morning, I did not. Maybe it was because I was spending time with my father alone.  Whatever the reason, I happily accepted it. I could tell by the intrigued look on my father’s face that he was also surprised I did not comment on his smoking.

I walked down the narrow stone path that connected the porch to the front lawn and absorbed how different things looked, covered in fog. I was fascinated that as I walked closer to objects, the fog seemed to fade away, as if I were in a clear bubble that repelled fog. Moving from the cool, smooth concrete to the damp, prickly blades of grass created an entirely different sensation. I knew my feet were getting dirty and my mother could come out of the house at any moment, emerging through the fog to yell at me, but oddly, I did not care. My mind was full of imagination and I wanted to enjoy the cool sensation of grass beneath my feet. I wanted to touch the fog. I wanted to capture the fog for the mornings I woke up too late to behold its beauty. I wanted to lie on the grass and feel the dampness on my back. I started taking deep breaths, wanting to store the fresh crisp air in my lungs so I could take it with me indoors

I began to walk back up the familiar narrow stone pathway to the porch as my father finished his cigarette. I stood observing the smoke that whirled, swirled and merged with the fog. No words were exchanged.

I often wonder what my father thinks about when he is silent. I wonder if I will ever have a conversation with him lasting more than a few minutes. I wonder what he thinks of me. Is he disappointed? Is he proud? I began to walk back inside.  Just before I did, I took one last look at my father, but all that was visible was the faint outline of a man warmed by the dim red glow of his cigarette.