Like the title? I thought of it a few years ago for a short story.
I poked around a plot outline for a while, but nothing gelled. I had a concept: Mona is a loud person with a loud personality. People love her, but they also find her exasperating. She talks all the time, filling any silence with stream-of-consciousness patter. She’s funny, but she’s also blunt, uncomfortably so. And then, one day, Mona stops talking and suddenly everyone else is forced to fill the silence with their truths, their opinions, their thoughts. How do the people around Mona react? What will they say now that they can’t hide behind Mona?
However hard I tried, though, the reason for Mona’s sudden retreat, which was obviously the key to the story, remained a mystery to me. The real problem, of course, is that I’m Mona. (Random aside: the author is every character, it turns out. It’s the only way to draw real people).
I’ve met lots of other Monas in my time, people who are compelled to talk and talk and talk, to drown out whatever’s going on in their brains that’s painful or stressful or sad. I once knew a woman who literally narrated every moment of her waking life: ‘picking up a pencil, or maybe I need a pen? No, a pencil is okay because then I can erase my mistakes. But this pencil is too short, I wonder if I have another pencil, maybe I should go get a pencil from so-and-so…’ It was maddening, but I never complained. She was a kindred spirit.
So I had a vague idea of why someone would chatter. I just didn’t know what kind of event, or revelation, or whatever, would make them stop. Without a technical, narrative ‘why’ (and rather than explore my own compulsive blabber), I abandoned the story. I forgot the whole thing. Until today.
About a month ago, I hosted a post-separation dinner party to thank a few friends who’d helped me through the end of my marriage. Poor Tao escorted me through the prep and cleaning, made sure I was okay, hugged me lots and was generally awesome. My friends, all a huge support during the breakdown of my marriage, all very kind and understanding folks, were ready and willing to have a good time. They came, the food was served, and…
I didn’t talk.
I wanted them to talk to each other, so at first I just stayed out of the way as they chatted. They tried, but they didn’t all know each other that well, and they quickly ran out of steam. I began to introduce topics, to do that Bridget Jones thing and say “Sally, Suzie likes music. Suzie, Sally likes to dance. GO.”
But it all felt strained to me, and I felt like they were all waiting for me to be, well, me: loud, funny, smart-assed, sassy, whatever. I think the word I’m looking for is PRESENT.
But I was present. I just didn’t have much to say. Why didn’t I have anything to say? I ALWAYS have something to say.
That was the first panic attack of September. The month devolved into what I know now to be a rather sizable breakdown. It was long overdue, and not nearly as messy as it could have been. As it leaked into the first week of October, I realized I’d just have to wait until the damned thing spat me out on the other side.
I’m better now. I finally realized that my friends are far too understanding to be fussed that I wasn’t Hostess of the Year, and that calmed me down quite a bit.
Except that I’m still not talking.
I didn’t talk much when my family was here for Thanksgiving. I listened to them talk.
I did better today with one of my best friends, a comfortable, gentle woman who loves me and was content to let the conversation meander. It was an immensely soothing afternoon, and I’m grateful for her automatic, unending support. As we hugged goodbye, I thought, “Mona stopped talking.”
On the heels of that memory, I realized that maybe I’m starting to understand why Mona stopped talking.
Mona stopped talking, because she was fine.