A Silence

by Jeff Oaks

I’m in a bind here: I want to write about something and yet I know if I do, there may be trouble. I know something about someone that could hurt someone else. Possibly hurt that person quite badly. I don’t believe it’s life-threatening or illegal, so I don’t feel the pressure to reveal them for legal reasons, but my sense of ethical behavior is buzzing, mad as a wasp at a window. It is something that I think is a kind of ethical crime, one which I was the victim of years ago. Because I can’t tell anyone, I’m taking it to the page, or the screen in this case. Simply put, someone confirmed something I thought was true about someone who is a mutual friend of ours. But it’s clear that the source of the information is not going to call out our mutual friend on his activity; indeed the source is helping to cover up said activity, even encouraging it. Now, it’s possible that the source is lying, since the source is a known exaggerator at best and a inventor of self-aggrandizing tales at worst. And was drunk at the time and trying to get me to sleep with him/her at the time. What do I do here? I’m also of course not without motive here, since it will give me an occasion to punish at least the source for past cruelties inflicted upon me.

I’m keeping my silence as of right now. I don’t think I honestly have a requirement to save the “someone else” who could be hurt by this information. Divulging the information would right now only help me to rectify an old wounding, which would be pleasurable in the short run, but complicated in the long run, since I would run into all the characters eventually in this small city.

It’s this kind of thing that makes me never want to date again, frankly. People betray each other with such abandon, with such little regard. After one experience of it myself, I fear getting involved with it again. Friends often ask me if I’m seeing anyone, and when I say I’m not, they assume that I want to or that I’m just burning to get involved. It does remind me a bit of people’s expectations of grief I wrote about in April. In the seven years since my last relationship, I have lived quite happily with a dog as my companion. My work has flourished. Aside from my work as a teacher, my time is essentially my own. I sometimes joke that I don’t need to apply to a writer’s colony because I live in one. I’m also, however, insulated against a number of things that might keep me from becoming too self-satisfied, too sure of things. I’m not ruling out the possibility of a real relationship someday, but right now, having seen how people damage each other, pretend with each other, allow themselves to be fooled, I’m glad to have only myself to blame if something goes wrong.

And of course, this isn’t about you. I hope that goes without saying. If you’re nervous that it is, here’s the first assignment I give almost every class I teach nowadays:

“I’d like you to write a three page description of a moment in which you were silent or silenced, to describe it at some length, and, if you’d like to, to speculate about what things led up to it or allowed to happen. This does not have to be a violent silencing, remember, although it could be; there are also silencings from awe, from exhaustion, from happiness, from ignorance. Feel free to explore whichever one of those interests you. 3 pages minimum.”

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