Shush

Once upon a time, I was married to my first husband for a short string of months.  Said husband was a shusher.

I was, it seems, too loud.  Shush!

Too loud in opinion.  Too loud in volume.  Too loud in clothing colors.  Too loud (or large?) of thigh.  Too loud in laugh.  Too fucking loud.

That marriage lasted little more than a year.  Nice enough man, but not the man for me.  That man needed a not-loud wife.  I needed to be heard.

When I look back, 20 years on, that’s the main reason I left.  Though of course I never, never had the courage to say so.  I was 25.  I was afraid it wasn’t enough.  It sounded so selfish.  I left that husband without telling my family.  I’d moved out of our house and was living in an apartment when my dad called and said, “Where are you?  Why am I calling you at this number?’  When I told my grandmother I was getting divorced — my grandmother who was not allowed an opinion or a driver’s license in all of her 75 years —- she said, and I quote, “Why would you leave him?!  He makes good money.  And he doesn’t beat you, or anything!!”

He doesn’t beat you.

.

He doesn’t beat you, or anything.

.

Shush!

.

This is me at age 17.  Do I look like I  can be shushed?

_________________________

I thought about being loud (or not), about speaking up (or not), about saying what I really think (or not) when I read this heartbreaking essay by Lidia Yuknavitch.  The most powerful essay I’ve read in months.

Because here’s the deal.  So many people really don’t want to hear it.  Whatever “it” is.  Especially if the “it” is unpleasant.

I was shushed this very year, my 47th year on earth — at my own table — when I’d spent the entire day making a special dinner, only to have a guest say to me across my own table, with a dismissive wave of her hand, “Aaah, shush, let’s change the subject.”  To her credit, she wanted to talk about happier, cheerier things.  But still.  Shushed at my own dinner table.

And what I really hate to tell you, what I hate to admit, is that she won.  I obeyed.  I shushed.

I shushed because that’s what we do to make other people feel better.

How have you shushed to make people feel better?

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28 thoughts on “Shush

  1. Josephine

    i read that essay this morning. and again this afternoon. and have been thinking all day about my shushers. such a great post.

    tomorrow i get to quit my job. i’ve been working more than 8 years for a guy who shushes every idea i have. “no, i don’t think that’s the direction we should go.” “nah, that’s not necessary,” “no, i don’t think that’s a good use of our time/resources/money/whatever.” he has rewritten every single page i’ve put in front of him. last year, i tried to quit him, but ended up just working contract. at the time, i would have said the money was too good and my schedule was perfect. but, now i know now that i wasn’t ready to not be shushed just yet.

    i think i’m getting ready.

    (i’ve seen that picture before and love, love, love it. every time i see it i think it was taken from the pages of a Seventeen magazine. Gorgeous.)

    1. Teri Post author

      Congratulations!!!!

      Of course I still get shushed, but man oh man do I bristle like a crazy woman when it happens. I swear if someone ever said the actual words “Shut Up” to me they’d have to put me in restraints.

  2. Lyra

    The reason I adore you is your inability to shush. I love sitting and talking to you and over you and with you and on and on.
    Right now I’m working very quietly for nine hours a day. It’s disconcerting and it is the way it has to be. I thought the grass would be greener but sometimes the ability to speak your mind and take the consequences is worth its weight in gold. For now I bide my time and consider it fuel to say what needs to be said only in writing.
    For the record, I would never, ever shush someone at my table or anywhere else, but have many times known when it has gotten uncomfortable because I said what wasn’t acceptable to be heard.
    Can you imagine what we’ll be like when we’re scooting around the old age home if we’re this sassy now? Ha!

    1. Teri Post author

      It is definitely fuel for writing. It’s taken me years to pin it down, but I finally know why I’m writing this memoir. 1. Because I’m afraid to. And 2. Because none of the women in my family were ever allowed a voice, so I’m writing it for them.

  3. JustAnotherEmpress

    Oh, Teri, love, love, love this post. For all sorts of reasons. And I love that PICTURE OF YOU AT 17!

    I would have loved to have been your best friend as a teen. I would have been the quiet one, egging you on. I’ve had to learn to be the sort of person who gets shushed–it doesn’t come naturally. Thank god there are women like you to show women like me the way.

  4. ThreeKingsBooks

    The photo is outstanding in all it conjures up. Wow.

    I was shushed at synagogue when I was singing “Shabbat Shalom” too loudly for the woman sitting in front of me. I was mortally offended. My boyfriend said I should tell the Rabbi, but of course I didn’t.

    I stopped going.

    1. Teri Post author

      I’ve done that so many times, too. Just moved on. And then kicked myself for the longest time for not standing up for myself.

      I think that 17 year old me was faking it until she made it. She was scared, that girl. Thankfully, she was more scared of becoming her Mother/Grandmother/Aunts (no opinions allowed) than speaking up.

  5. macdougalstreetbaby

    I’m with JAE. This is the core of you and you nailed it. That picture. Wow. You are a beautiful soul. I’m so happy you had the courage to do what you knew to be right for you, regardless of how it would be perceived. I just read yours and Wry’s comment about this article over at Betsy’s place. I’m going to check it out now. Thank you for connecting us all! We all benefit from your nonshushing.

    1. Teri Post author

      I see how I gravitate toward these women who make public — with the voices in their art — things that most people don’t want to hear. Mary Karr, Mira Bartok, Kathryn Harrison, Dorothy Allison, Cheryl Strayed, Lidia Yuknavitch, etc…

  6. CJ Rice (@leapof)

    Great post. The way women shush other women is by saying “we feel sorry for you” –speaking collectively they smear on the shame instead of taking in the difficult truths another woman shares. Lidia Y found her voice and what a voice it is. Here’s to finding our voice without denying any one else theirs–including Eugene O’Neill.

    1. Teri Post author

      There are certainly times (many times!) I’ve shushed myself. Don’t you hate it when, later, you think of the thousand things you wished you’d said? I can make myself crazy with regret for the unsaid.

  7. Downith

    I got called away…

    I got shushed in a movie theatre once – me and my popcorn were making too much noise. It was a sub-titled film. Cue the outrage and me “stirring the pot” by stirring the popcorn. Grrr.

  8. Sherry Stanfa-Stanley

    When we were helping another friend with job-interviewing skills recently, one of my best friends told me I have a habit of interrupting people. It dawned on me that she’s right. At the time, I simply thought it was my tendency to jump in with my agreement with what they’re saying or a rephrasing to help clarify their words. (If I allowed them to finish, they’d probably be able to clarify it just fine on their own.)

    But the other day I found myself itching to interrupt when someone with a tendency to be verbose was once again making a short story long. (No names mentioned. Cough, my mom, cough.) I realized the editor in me wants people to consider their verbal wordcount and be more succinct.

    I’m gonna have to work on that habit. Shush, Sherry…

  9. Wry Wryter

    I read the same essay, twice. It hurt to read. I told someone recently that I have my own story to tell but (shush) I have to wait until he dies. I cannot bear to hear him say I lied.

  10. lisahgolden

    I shush myself all the time. It’s necessary, but it blows. I definitely write to let out the things I cannot say.

    When we met earlier this year, I saw that 17 year old girl in you. Her light can’t be dimmed. A mental backhand to anyone who dare shush you.

  11. LauraMaylene

    Holy shit. I feel like I missed a hell of a lot last week.

    This essay, this picture of you. Oh hell.

    This also reminds me of the guy at Bread Loaf who told a group of us, “I feel like I’m the only one not writing about my dead mother or child.” I think it goes without saying that he meant daughters writing about dead mothers and mothers writing about dead children. Not a father or son in the mix.

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