I used to be frustrated by the days when I would ask her, “Hey, how are you?” or “What’s your favorite color?” and receive a shrug in response. Or when I would tell her about my weekend and she’d just nod and smile. I was even jealous of my mom when she was glorified with the response “No thanks” to the question of “Would you like some hot chocolate?"
She’s a regular girl, I promise. And she can speak and hear just fine. She’s seen Fifth Harmony in concert, she stresses over tests in school, and sometimes, all she needs is some quality Wii time. Yet her aversion to dialogue was a difficult concept to grasp. Some of the other kids at school tried to play a little game with her to provoke her to talk, egging her into responding to their questions as if it was a contest. As if she couldn’t comprehend how they were teasing her. I think she won the game with her signature technique: silence.
Raised by two Chinese parents who spoke broken English, she was incredibly reluctant to speak, only uttering words when called on by a teacher or another adult. I had the hardest time understanding why she was so hesitant verbally because when we texted, it was as if she was a social butterfly. Our dialogue would flow as we talked about our love for Aly Raisman, our struggles in Chemistry II, and our passion for crafting (especially paper folding). Each conversation would bring us closer together and each time I would go over to her house and play Wii Sports, her talking to me out loud, I would hope, in vain, that the next time we were in school we would be able to speak as casually and eloquently as our emoji-filled texts did.
For the longest time, I couldn’t imagine how she could function without much verbal communication. People would think of her as merely “the girl who doesn’t speak” even though she was really just shy and insecure about her voice. But I realized that she wasn’t at a loss for words; she simply didn’t need them. In her silence, I heard the roar of someone dismayed at the “popular” kids for teasing her, the stressful environment surrounding her, and the American culture for its reliance on words. She didn’t need a formal language - Chinese, English, or even emojis - to communicate.The sound of silence thunders in my ears as I write this. It encapsulates all of those afraid or unable to speak, the swirling vortex of stories told and untold, and the messages that simply cannot be conveyed with words. It’s the thoughts that only remain as thoughts, the angst that can tear through a person’s face, and inexplicable joy. And it is her. A girl who has the power to speak, but nearly always opts not to. Because in her silence, she is screaming.