I had no problem being alone, with only silence to keep me company before. Oh, I sometimes turned on the television or popped a CD in the player when Michael was out, but I was usually okay with only a random thought or two for company.
Not so much after my husband died. I couldn’t stand the absence of noise even though I was living with other people, and this was true for several years after Mike’s death. Piggybacking on my intense fear of being by myself, silence was no longer my friend.
I did anything to avoid the quiet. I hadn’t listened to the latest hits in years, and suddenly, I was as familiar with who was landing at the top of the pop charts as I’d been with the artists who reigned in the 1980s.
Justin Bieber, Tiesto, and Dua Lipa were now a part of the soundtrack of my new reality. I listened to iTunes with religious zeal and created playlists by the ream. All at once, I was the go-to guy when my friends wanted to know the name of a song or its singer.
I knew exactly where this obsession was coming from. Somewhere in the back of my head, I’d figured out that if I didn’t fill the quiet with something, dark thoughts would crowd in.
My dread of silence didn’t abate after I started a new life. Whenever I was writing, cooking, or housekeeping while Marty spent his days working as an operator at Children’s Hospital, I invariably had AirPods plugged in my ears or the television on.
But things changed as abruptly as they’d begun one Sunday morning a few months ago. Marty and I were having a leisurely breakfast of homemade waffles with strawberry compote and whipped cream. We’d just finished watching Face the Nation (partly, I’ll admit, to see Margaret Brennan’s stylish footwear) when he looked over at me and said, “Do you mind if we turn it off?” I shook my head and took our plates to the kitchen.
I’d started putting a pot roast in the slow cooker when I realized the apartment had been quiet for the last forty-five minutes, and I hadn’t once felt the need to fill it. Smiling to myself, I got on with the task at hand.
I didn’t understand it then, but I’d just taken a significant step in my healing. I know this because when I later told Marty that I’d been okay with silence for the first time in over a year, I cried.