We have not spoken in over two weeks because words become fists and words become the press of calloused hands over my larynx; this is a silence that progresses as my mother watches my father over a dinner of potato sausage stew and then over a dinner of elk steaks and then over just bread chunks with milk and onion and then to powdered milk and toast as money and the groceries run low, waiting, hoping for the silence to stop. My bedroom is six by six with a thin closet bunched with work clothes, my little sister now in my old room as a reward for her humility and faith; it is the largest space in our little house; my mother and father sleep across the narrow hallway in their silk garments even when they are quiet with their sex.

I am unable to learn from my mistakes. Escape, no matter what punishments are meted out, is all I can think of, so I am impatient as I wait in the dark for my friends to rescue me, midnight moon and stars far away, the world far away, everything hung like a thief over our snow-silent town. I worry that my friends will come too early to break me free, or too loudly and with the chump of the Chevy Nova or too loudly with the music of our teenage love affairs. Because it feels like love, this being noticed, this being wanted, necessary; electric and popping next to the dull and hard and icy love I find in the church: the love that is work that is what constitutes love in my family. My cold feet are arranged over the quiet heat exchange and I carry all this possible love, all these fragmented moments, knowing all that is strange and new is an insult to every principle my family holds dear.

My parents make Mormon love, quiet with the hatred of their son in the other room, and then they are silent again, the tick of our furnace the slowest metronome in the world.

My most recent sin: a friend and I were caught drawing chalk penises and titties on the sidewalks in front of the church and Brother Stensen did not know that my punishments would be invisible and silent while my friend would be grounded to his Nintendo and his waterbed. Everything in my home is silent. Even the punch and the kick and the cold punishment of hard work in the dark of frozen Wyoming night.

I wish I could tell someone how it feels to be disliked by my father, how his dislike for me makes the love hidden in his heart seem far away and invisible and impossible; it isn’t the way he shoves me in the back toward whatever toil is necessary for my punishment, not really in the way that his hard slaps to my head feel as if he is trying to jar something loose, it is not even in the way that the kicks from his cowboy boots seem to penetrate.

It is in the way my mother comes to me, holds my face, shields me from my father after it is all over. This shows me the heartless truth. By protecting me she communicates how it is with my father, how he has a son he loathes, and she knows it and cannot face it, and I study her eyes as they widen around the truth of my bruises, how she kisses the crown of my head as if she could erase these things I cannot help but know. She is silent, never murmurs apologies or reasons. In the silence, I know that my father’s love is cruel, that my father’s cruelty is love.

It’s her protections that reveal the truth.

The other truth though is that I can hack it. Over time, what others would find intolerable can feel like love. When I was young, being Mormon was a prison sentence. I was forbidden to go to the neighborhood Gentile homes, kept back from school to work on the ranch so that I would not read those academic texts that would show me the guileless sins of our neighbors. We read the bible quietly at night, irrigated the farm, baled hay, arose before five am to feed the steers. My world was wordless and isolated, but what is loneliness to a boy like that? My first sleepover was at the Jensen’s, a Mormon family who never went to church but who were safely baptized and therefore of God; in the Jensen’s kitchen, the radio was loud and perched centrally on top the fridge, and the clatter and chatter of voices made me run to the bathroom and shut myself in until I could begin to tolerate all the energy of this strange family. At their Formica table, my friend told jokes, retold his games and shenanigans while at recess at their table, giving funny details, his parents celebrating his day as if they were color commentary, laughing, bright-eyed, his sister and brother cracking jokes and innocently batting their eyes when they were corrected for telling jokes on each other.

Words. So many words. And sound.

I bought my first cassette tape the next day, skimming money from paper route tips that were supposed to go back to the family, AC/DC Highway to Hell loud and crazed and lovely and evil, and even when I played it on the lowest setting using headphones in my room it brought my sister down from her dolls and then my mother who danced fearfully on her toes until my father returned from the ranch, saw the cover with a sneering Bon Scott and broke it in half and tossed it into the old steel oil drum that was our trash.

What I discovered: sound is useless without meaning, and our home was like an un-grooved disk turning on a turntable, just the hiss and hiss and hiss of the needle pulling clean on our vinyl surfaces. If there is no sound, then words lose any currency.

I made promises to myself that night—that I would fight for my words and my life. I would hang out the window and scream, drink too much and maybe fornicate. I would come home and sleep for an hour before work, and when I awoke, I would choose a new life filled with depraved nights, days silent with work and sweat and dirt, but nights would be mine and mine alone.

In the morning I would wake up early and while my father sat in the kitchen eating his mush I would tell him all the things he was afraid to hear. Tomorrow, I said, tomorrow, I will rise up and show him that god bade us that there is nothing left to fear of words.

Long past midnight, alone, I rose from the soft heat, tried to sleep, angry that I had been abandoned, my head on my arms, and I knew that what I felt of words was a lie: words were the most fearsome invention of all. Words were the sleeping grizzly, deep and hungry in the mouth of a cave.

© Seth Brady Tucker
[This piece was selected by Jacky Taylor. Read Seth’s interview]