Commanding Silence

I miss Tennessee. I miss when I could hear the cows mooing every morning at dawn, or the wind whistling through my ears, like it was always trying to tell me something. I miss the hay bales, and the pond, and sneaking out every night at midnight with Lizzy, to lie down on the wool blanket on the pasture, to look up at the stars. At that point, mom had talked to me about moving to, “the city that never sleeps”, New York. But I never actually thought she was serious.

I remember the day like it was a second ago. Mom explained that we were moving to New York to find a low-income apartment to live in, while dad found a job. I didn’t know what she was talking about; heck, had no Idea what an apartment was. I asked mom why dad couldn’t just find a job here, and she said it was because New York has better job opportunities. Knowing that Moore County only had a population of about 5,500 people I just didn’t know what to say when mom explained that the population where we would be living would have at least 8,000,000 people.

After about a month of packing up the farm, we piled into the Volvo. Half of our stuff was on my lap in the back seat, and the other half was tied on top of the car. We had to give away Duke, my tall fluffy golden retriever dog. We gave him away to Lizzy a week before we left. Mom said he wouldn’t fit in to New York. I thought to myself if he didn’t fit in, how would I? I wasn’t crying when mom told me to get in the car, but then I hugged Lizzy to say goodbye and I made her whole left shoulder, dripping wet.

“Leave Lizzy alone June Bug, before this turns into a real corny movie.” Dad said.

I got into the car, immediately rolling down the window and crying even harder as we motored down the driveway. The dust was blocking my view of Lizzy after we picked up speed, and that was it.

It was 9 am and it was 15-hour drive to the city. I didn’t speak the whole time. I wouldn’t sing along to the Rolling Stones with dad like I normally did. I didn’t even move from my scrunched up position in the back seat. I wouldn’t hold Mom’s hand when she reached back to brighten my mood. And as we got closer and closer to the city, I couldn’t smell the grass, and the hay anymore. The car broke down once or twice. Dad spent a lot of money getting it fixed and by the end of the trip he only had 20 dollars left in his wallet, which would maybe be enough for dinner.

Due to Mom’s motion sickness, she threw up in the car countless times, leaving this horrible odor in the air. I fell asleep in the back seat around ten o’clock, dreading the fact that maybe I would wake up in the city.

I woke up to the sound of Mom giggling and clapping her hands as she said we were there. I slowly opened my eyes and looked out the window. Tall buildings, cars, and people were everywhere…they were- everywhere. I heard a loud disruptive honking noise as a truck passed us on the highway. I quickly put my hands to my ears. Those trucks were nothing like the ones in Tennessee. They were big and dirty and on the back were scribbles of what Dad called, graffiti. It was around midnight and people were walking around in a fast pace, but they all seemed so wide-awake, like it was twelve in the afternoon.

Mom told me to stop covering my ears, and look around. I didn’t un-cover my ears. I hated it. I hated everything about New York. I rocked back and forth, with my eyes closed. Maybe I was dreaming. Maybe I would wake up and be back in Tennessee, lying under the willow tree in the pasture, next to Lizzy and Duke. I whispered to myself for everything to be quiet, but things were getting louder, the people’s voices, the trucks, the bottoms of different peoples shoes. Everything was bright and advertisements like the ones they had at the Dairy Queen back in Tennessee were towering high up in the sky. They were called billboards; they had neon lights as their boarder and were covering my view of the dark, non-starry sky.

Mom explained to me that there were five boroughs in New York, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, and The Bronx. She said we would be living in The Bronx. She also said my school would be right around the corner so I wouldn’t have to worry about the commute. Dad mentioned that there would be creeps sneaking around in the morning when I went to school, who may try to mug me or touch me in an uncomfortable way. He handed me a pocketknife and told me to use it incase anything like that happened.

We arrived in The Bronx at one in the morning. It smelled of gasoline and cigarette smoke. On the corner I saw a small but tough looking lady beating up another taller lady who was just standing there letting her do that to her. We passed homeless shelters and scary looking people wearing sideways caps and pants that practically went down to their knees. Black cars blasting loud reggae music drove past us rolling down their window and throwing their cigarettes at our Volvo.

“Don’t worry about them June Bug.” Dad said.

We turned onto a smaller highway and dad said we were five minutes away according to the roadmap. I looked around and saw torn down houses and ugly brown brick buildings with men standing outside of them. It was dark and depressing, the only light was the flickering deli sign that read out “open”, down the block.

We turned onto a curb to park and dad said we could walk from there. The air was cold and felt dirty. I grabbed all I could from the inside and followed Mom and Dad carefully, making sure that I didn’t trip over my shoelace. We stopped and I turned around, staring at our destination. The building was similar to the one I had seen with the men standing outside. It was shorter though and looked torn down. The red brick was faded to a dull brown and the doors leading to the lobby were swinging back and forth. Homeless men and families lay on the benches outside begging for a quarter. I could hear yelling five stories above. Mom let out a sigh, which normally meant things were not so good. Dad let out a final, “Here we are.”

It wasn’t any better on the inside. It smelled like urine and mold and the lights had burned out in the lobby and were flickering on and off. We had an apartment on the first floor. Once Dad got the keys from the superintendent, we entered 1b. I was scared to open my eyes but mom gave me a reassuring nudge on the shoulder and I looked. It was small and had a horrible white paint job. I went to turn on the light switch, but no light appeared. Dad said we wouldn’t have any power until the apartment got fixed, and we would have to cope with candles and flashlights. There was one bedroom a living room and a tiny kitchen that could barely store any food. We had to share the bedroom.

I got out my sleeping bag and torn cotton pillow and laid them on the floor of the bedroom. I lay down on the sleeping bag and looked up at the ceiling. A fly buzzed around hitting the wall several times. I wished I were a fly. Even though they are small and can easily die with one human hand slap; they could still fly all the way to Tennessee.

Mom handed me a granola bar. She had saved it in her jean pocket and told me to eat it before I went to bed. I’d had no dinner, and Mom said I was looking as skinny as a nail. I ate slowly, sitting in the middle of the living room floor. I faintly heard a distant hissing noise, and as it got closer it became louder. I screamed and put my hands to my ears. A fast paced train passed outside the window that read on the side, “Metro North”. It was loud and shook the building. When dad saw me shivering on the floor, he told me to get used to it because it would be coming every thirty minutes. My heartbeats were uncountable and the shaking wouldn’t stop. Silence, what I would have done for silence right then and there.

I got out my nightgown from my duffel bag and put it on quickly then took out my long braid. I slipped into bed and itched a spot on my ankle. It felt rough and hard. I swung my leg out from the sleeping bag. It was a dry patch of dirt from Tennessee. It was crusty and hard. I scratched it off with my nail and stared at it for a long time through the dark. My chin started quivering, and a thick tear rolled down my cheek. I cried into the pillow so Mom and Dad wouldn’t have thought I was stupid. I got tired suddenly, and with my damp cheek and cold palm, I wiped the dirt off onto the floorboard, and blew it away leaving no remainder.

I had to leave early the next morning, for school. The sun was shining through the dirty window. I didn’t have a backpack or anything, but I found a pencil inside Mom’s bag and brought that. The air was colder in the morning, but it still smelled bad. The homeless men still lay on the benches begging for a quarter. The men still stood outside the building down the block. The whole walk to school I kept on hearing Lizzy’s voice, and Duke’s bark. A man stopped me on the street, asked me if I was ok. I asked him why he asked. He chuckled and said that I was talking to myself.

I hated school. The kids made fun of my accent and what I wore. They said that I had to give old McDonald his outfit back. I wore overalls and converse sneakers everyday because that’s all I really had. Since mom never could afford a lunch, I got made fun of because people though I was anorexic. After that, I started to eat lunch in the bathroom. I would sit in the corner of class, away from my desk, and whisper to myself for everything to be silent. The kids were too noisy; the teacher was too noisy; every movement made was an irritation. I kept on hearing Lizzy’s voice. I didn’t know exactly where it was coming from, but I heard it.

Once when I was home with dad alone, I told him about the voices. He said that he might take me to a doctor, but he never did. I started to here more city noises as my time expanded in the city. They were people talking, and shoes clacking, and cars zooming. I could hear the train from 20 miles away. And even when the house was silent, I could hear everything. I would shake a lot too. Sometimes when Mom woke up early and got me up for school, she said I would lie there, eyes wide open, just ignoring her. Dad could tell my problems had gotten worse and he asked me what I wanted. I said I want everything to be silent, like in Tennessee. He told me we weren’t in Tennessee anymore, but I didn’t know what to do; it just kept on getting worse.

My teacher came up to me one day after school. She said she was going to put me in the special class with kids like me. I explained to her that I hated New York because it was loud. I said there were too many people, and everyone knew where they wanted to be except me. She threw back a smile, then got up to go into the hallway. She made a long phone call, then came back to me. She said I would like the special class better than the one now.

When I got home, Mom was crying heavily on Dad’s shoulder. When I came through the door, she wiped her cheek and pretended she was fine. Dad pulled me into the room and told me to stop what ever I was doing. He told me to stop scaring my mother and the teacher by talking to myself and shaking the entire goddamn time. I didn’t really understand what he was saying. I couldn’t remember much of what I had done wrong. I had been feeling light headed lately. Once I fainted in the girl’s bathroom, but no one bothered to do anything about it. I woke up much later around 4 o’clock, and didn’t know what had happened.

I went to bed that night, staring for a long time up at the pale ceiling. I was really hot, and my head felt light again. I said to myself that New York would be better if it was quiet. Dad shushed me, half asleep. The train went by and I covered my ears for the time it took for it to pass. I didn’t want to go to school tomorrow. I didn’t want to cover my ears again; I wanted to go back home.

I woke up the next morning. There was an un-natural silence, one quieter than I have ever heard. It was peaceful. I called Mom’s name but could barely here myself talk. I started to panic. I stumbled my way out to the kitchen where Mom and Dad sat sipping their coffee. They looked at me strangely. Then Mom started talking. I couldn’t hear her. She tilted her head, and had that concerned look on her face. Dad got up from his chair. His veins stuck out and his face turned red. He was yelling, but still no sound. He ran up to me and shook me hard. Mom cried in the back. His thick chapped peeling lips worded out “June”. I wanted to say, “Daddy I can hear you.” I wanted to, but I couldn’t… I couldn’t hear anything.

Olivia Simonds
Age 13, Grade 8
PS126/MAT
Silver Key

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