My grandmother was one of those persons who manage to transform silence into a guilt inducing, “think about what you’ve done wrong” ordeals that only a cherished adult can inflict on a child. Only later did I understand the manipulative power of such loaded silences and the fact that they were equally efficient weapons against any adult in the family, as they were not meant to keep in check only children. But this most efficient weapon backfired eventually – it was bound to happen after having been used so efficiently for a lifetime, even when it was not needed.
There are so many kinds of silence and they serve so many purposes, but it was primarily a means of attracting attention in my grandmother’s case. The punishment side of it was merely a bonus, I latter understood, after I had already given up on figuring out what I had done wrong in order to deserve the much dreaded silent treatment.
It always followed the same pattern: you got home and all of the sudden you were persona non grata, whose kind “hello” didn’t trigger a response anymore. Naturally, one tries to find out what they did to upset the dear old lady, and that was generally when one also gets the all too familiar, snappy “You know very well what you did wrong, and it’s too late to make it better now,” followed by a very disappointed, “I’m such a martyr” look.
Nobody ever knew what triggered the silence attack, because nobody ever did anything to deserve it. My grandmother was a very verbal, argumentative, bickering lady whenever a mistake had actually been perpetrated, whereas the silence was merely a way to become the centre of attention, to be consoled and cuddled, begged for unnecessary forgiveness, which she would eventually half-heartedly grant, after having had enough of somebody’s grovelling and little favours offered in exchange for her clemency.
But her strategy soon failed to produce the same results with me; logical thinking worked its magic, even if I was just a child: I hadn’t done anything wrong, I knew that for a fact, so why was I supposed to apologise and have imaginary remorse for never committed mistakes? Navigating through the tormenting guilt her unuttered words instilled in me in spite of all my logical thoughts, I discovered a completely new and precious side of silence: I could finally do my homework or read the books I liked without any interruption from my generally very curious, talkative and intrusive grandmother. Without knowing it, I had offended her silence; and I had consequently offended her, thus almost deserving my punishment.
Silence had turned against her, leaving her powerless, and that was when I learnt that the first one to talk lost the imaginary battle of wills between the two of us.Why would I have been the first to utter a word, when I was so quietly comfortable with all my books, while she was all of the sudden alone and in desperate need of a listener, of somebody with whom to share the latest gossip? So she would eventually enter my room like nothing had happened and start talking and talking and talking – we were friends again, all was forgotten.
Nevertheless, her strategy worked wonders with everybody else, including my grandfather, getting her everything she wanted, from that feeling of control and superiority to a nice leather bag, a trip to the mountains or whatever she felt entitled to receive from those around her. Yet I still cannot help wondering why they refused to see what lurked behind the silence of the old, but not often dear lady. Is it really easier to fall prey to this sort of manipulative silence than to confront it?
After all those years I became as talented at throwing silence in people’s face as my grandmother was – how else would I have defeated her, after all? Yes, I can master silence now, but I choose not to become a pitiful creature who uses it in order to get undeserved and unnecessary attention. Once you learn to be silent both in a positive and a negative way, you also learn how to break silence and transform otherwise uncomfortable moments into a source of genuine communication in this overly verbal, often unable to establish real connections era.