To my unborn child: I haven’t always been silent, I used to talk and talk and talk and talk, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, the silence overtook me like a cancer, it was one of my first meals in America, I tried to tell the waiter, “The way you just handed me that knife, that reminds me of—” but I couldn’t finish the sentence, her name wouldn’t come, I tried again, it wouldn’t come, she was locked inside me, how strange, I thought, how frustrating, how pathetic, how sad, I took a pen from my pocket and wrote “Anna” on my napkin, it happened again two days later, and then again the following day, she was the only thing I wanted to talk about, it kept happening, when I didn’t have a pen, I’d write “Anna” in the air—backward and right to left—so that the person I was speaking with could see, and when I was on the phone I’d dial the numbers—2, 6, 6, 2—so that the person could hear what I couldn’t, myself, say. “And” was the next word I lost, probably because it was so close to her name, what a simple word to say, what a profound word to lose, I had to say “ampersand,” which sounded ridiculous, but there it is, “I’d like a coffee ampersand something sweet,” nobody would choose to be like that. “Want” was a word I lost early on, which is not to say that I stopped wanting things—I wanted things more—I just stopped being able to express the want, so instead I said “desire,” “I desire two rolls,” I would tell the baker, but that wasn’t quite right, the meaning of my thoughts started to float away from me, like leaves that fall from a tree into a river, I was the tree, the world was the river. I lost “come” one afternoon with the dogs in the park, I lost “fine” as the barber turned me toward the mirror, I lost “shame”—the verb and the noun in the same moment; it was a shame. I lost “carry,” I lost the things I carried—”daybook,” “pencil,” “pocket change,” “wallet”—I even lost “loss.” After a time, I had only a handful of words left, if someone did something nice for me, I would tell him, “The thing that comes before ‘you’re welcome,’” if I was hungry, I’d point at my stomach and say, “I am the opposite of full,” I’d lost “yes,” but I still had “no,” so if someone asked me, “Are you Thomas?” I would answer, “Not no,” but then I lost “no,” I went to a tattoo parlor and had YES written onto the palm of my left hand, and NO onto my right palm, what can I say, it hasn’t made life wonderful, it’s made life possible, when I rub my hands against each other in the middle of winter I am warming myself with the friction of YES and NO, when I clap my hands I am showing my appreciation through the uniting and parting of YES and NO, I signify “book” by peeling open my clapped hands, every book, for me, is the balance of YES and NO, even this one, my last one, especially this one. Does it break my heart, of course, every moment of every day, into more pieces than my heart was made of, I never thought of myself as quiet, much less silent, I never thought about things at all, everything changed, the distance that wedged itself between me and my happiness wasn’t the world, it wasn’t the bombs and burning buildings, it was me, my thinking, the cancer of never letting go, is ignorance bliss, I don’t know, but it’s so painful to think, and tell me, what did thinking ever do for me, to what great place did thinking ever bring me? I think and think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it. “I” was the last word I was able to speak aloud, which is a terrible thing, but there it is, I would walk around the neighborhood saying, “I I I I.” “You want a cup of coffee, Thomas?” “I.” “And maybe something sweet?” “I.” “How about this weather?” “I.” “You look upset. Is anything wrong?” I wanted to say, “Of course,” I wanted to ask, “Is anything right?” I wanted to pull the thread, unravel the scarf of my silence and start again from the beginning, but instead I said, “I.” I know I’m not alone in this disease, you hear the old people in the street and some of them are moaning, “Ay yay yay,” but some of them are clinging to their last word, “I,” they’re saying, because they’re desperate,it’s not a complaint it’s a prayer, and then I lost “I” and my silence was complete. I started carrying blank books like this one around, which I would fill with all the things I couldn’t say, that’s how it started, if I wanted two rolls of bread from the baker, I would write “I want two rolls” on the next blank page and show it to him, and if I needed help from someone, I’d write “Help,” and if something made me want to laugh, I’d write “Ha ha ha!” and instead of singing in the shower I would write out the lyrics of my favorite songs, the ink would turn the water blue or red or green, and the music would run down my legs, at the end of each day I would take the book to bed with me and read through the pages of my life.
- Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close