I haven’t written in a while, I know, but I’ve been busy. Busy committing murder.
Before you call 911, let me explain. I have come to the last section of the memoir I’ve been working on. Each preceding section opens with a revisiting of Chris’s death. I had played this idea out five times and thought I had quite picked it clean. Would there be any meat left if I went back to the scene once more?
In a writing “moment” (i.e., a long stretch when little writing occurs and mostly I stare out the window and watch my neighbor mow), it came to me. Thank goodness for the serendipitous occurrence! Another death scene needed to be talked about, and this time it was a death I had to orchestrate.
I’m talking about silence. The silence that I grew up believing was a sign of obedience and respect. The silence I practiced when I became an editor of other people’s writing, not a writer myself. The silence I lived into in some of the roles I assumed as an adult. The silence I wore in relationships.
Flash back to 1931, when Virginia Woolf gave a speech on professions for women to the National Society for Women’s Service. In it she spoke of the “angel in the house” (a phrase borrowed from a poem that celebrates domestic bliss). This angel represented “the selfless, sacrificial woman in the 19th century.” Woolf described her angel:
“She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught, she sat in it–in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all, she was pure.”
A Victorian sensibility? Perhaps, but one that persisted well into the 20th century, when Betty Friedan renamed it the feminine mystique. Woolf could have been describing my mother, or most women of her generation.
Fast forward to 2015. The angel in my house hovers over me as I write. My angel is exceedingly polite and soft-spoken, not wanting to interrupt the more important conversations around her. My angel gently whispers, “Are you sure you have anything worth saying?” Her seductive voice calls me to things large and small, none important, really, but there just the same. Any protests I might offer my angel flicks away like a mosquito.
The angel in my house is silence. I need to kill the silence that has convinced me that speaking doesn’t matter. It does. It matters immensely, not because I have insights any more profound than the rest of the world, but because if I speak, then I am. Killing the angel is about claiming my place in the world, whatever that looks like.