In my prior life, when much of my time was spent in a food court, I used to frequently eat lunch alone. Although, many times I ate lunch with my "work friends," sometimes I just wanted to eat alone, mostly because I needed silence. Towards the end of that life I found I needed a lot of silence.
It's hard to be silent in a food court, I know, because the mall people stare at all the options unsure of where to eat and ask each other, "What do you want? I think I want Chick-fil-A, or maybe the Chinese place. What about Snappy Salad? Ooooo, or Tin Star? I love their tah-cos." Teenagers push and shove, giggle while they try to flirt, but still haven't mastered it, some of the boys may never. Mom mall walkers push strollers with their crying babies, but still continue to hold conversations over the red-faced hollering bald headed beast strapped into the latest edition stroller as others wince and stare.
The cacophony of noise intensified as it echoed off the hollowed out belly of the mall. Voices bounced off one another and multiplied with the baby cries, giggles, and southern drawls until it was low roar. Amidst all this I sat, eating my Snappy Salad, and listened. The silence I needed was my own, after talking to people all day long, I needed to not talk. I felt just how silent I was becoming amongst this roar as I stared off into space, unaffected by the blond red-faced toddler crying over chicken nuggets.
And when I was done eating? I pulled out my notebook,spiral starting to slide off the pages, and wrote down everything I heard around me.
"I called him and he like, never called me back. What you do think that means? He's not into it right?" "Ashley Amanda Ackerman, you get over here right now!" "Are tacos healthy? They are right? These aren't fried, it's just meat and tortilla?" "I really want to check out the bags at Neiman's. Is that cool?" "I don't like the Chinese here because really, it's not that good. And I just keep eating. Then I feel all bloated and ughh, you know?" "I love the shoes at Nordstrom. They really are the best. Don't you think so?" "What am I gonna do? I mean he seemed into it, but now? I shouldn't have fucked him." "I walk around the mall twice and it's two miles, and 'lil Jameson here just loves it, don't you my 'lil handsome, man?" "What can I get you today, ma'am?" "Can you believe her? I've been here 12hrs and still, 'Have you made your day,' screw her! Ugh. My feet are fuckin' killing me." "We haven't had sex in so long, I just don't know, you know? I mean I love him, but we like, ne-ver have sex anymore. Is that normal? How often do you and Stephen have sex?" "Barney's has the cutest little dress...."
All around me these people talked and talked. I kept my head down and stared at the lines of my paper as I filled them with their chatter. I kept my face still even as they talked about things you shouldn't want echoed into the cacophony, bending and twisting into a shape that fits perfectly into someone else's ear, onto someone else's paper.
I filled pages and pages of these conversations about babies, likes, missed phone calls, sex, dildos, breast feeding.....The odd thing is, is that in this silence, I found my voice. And now, when I write I need noise. I need conversation about the newspaper, and "good afternoons," clanks of silverware on plates, and the smell of food after I've already eaten. The low buzz keeps my fingers moving and my eyes from staring out into space for too long. Now that I am no longer one of the mall people, I linger at restaurants and coffee shops, I listen as people chatter and take their words as my own. Instead of a cacophony, now, they just land on my paper, where hopefully they'll have a longer life.