Somebody please tell me to shut up

There are some things about me that I can’t tell you.

I’m talking about speech, not secrets.

There are some things about me that I’m not capable of telling you because words ruin them.

I resisted my name for years. Until I was about five, I refused to say my name that is really my middle name, my second name, my mom’s afterthought. It’s only one of many names I’ve had, but knowing it leads you into a maze of incorrect assumptions. Did I know that at age three? Maybe. If I had been named like my preschool friend, Summer, maybe I wouldn’t have been so silent when the other kids asked my name.

I’m the shy kid swinging alone on the playground while the other kids play on the monkey bars.

At twelve, I must have misspoken to my best friend’s rabbi. “Are you Jewish?” he asked me as I sat by her at Hebrew school.

“Yes,” I said.

“What’s your name?” he asked, kind, hopeful.

His face fell when I told him. Confusion furrowed his brow, shock glimmered in his eye. “Don’t you know what that means?” he asked.

Yes, I did. Of course I do.

I’m a Jewish girl who can never say her name in a synagogue.

On my honeymoon, thrilled to be in Paris, I tried out my conversational skills at our first dinner. The waiter turned my question into a little joke, I’m pretty sure a pun at my expense. After that I stopped speaking except in emergencies, preferring to remain still and silent as much as possible. Silent, the waiters were much more polite.

I’m French, but only when I’m absolutely silent.

There have been more times when speech has betrayed me. It definitely did in grad school. There was a night long ago in a crummy motel room. Every time I’m driven to yell at my kids, speech stabs me in the gut.

Yes, it’s true, we’ll know each other better if I don’t speak. Silence never contradicts itself.

21 thoughts on “Somebody please tell me to shut up

  1. I found this an interesting reflection on what you say (or don’t) and what it means (or doesn’t mean). I relate to parts of this, especially the part about silence in Paris. I felt soooo French when I didn’t speak up, because I could understand it, but when I opened my mouth I betrayed what I really was – another ill-educated American.

    1. Yes, remember feeling so excited when I managed to buy something at a small gift shop without saying a words, and I’n pretty sure they thought I was French!

  2. Oh yes, I hear you on this. My thoughts tend to be much clearer than my words. I tend to talk less than everyone else in my family. They think I’m weird 🙂

  3. There are some memorable moments in this post–“…I’m not capable of telling you because words ruin them.” and “Silent, the waiters were much more polite.” I like how the writing moves from one image to another.

  4. This really resonated with me. I love writing so much because you have the luxury of drafts. In speaking? Not so much.

  5. I just found your blog because I was considering joining YeahWrite…Don’t know about that but I do like reading things! I love that you said “silence never contradicts itself.” I’m usually pretty quiet, but I can honestly say that I could often avoid trouble by remaining so! Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  6. I grew up with a kid whose parents named him Chris but always called him Mike because they didn’t want him to be teased for being Jewish.

  7. My wife has 2 names. The one her parents gave her, and the one her parents call her by. Which is also the name I use for her. It gets confusing at times. Especially on formal documents.

    I liked this post. It stirred up a lot of thoughts.

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