I was never loud. When I was in my early 20s, I ran into a lady who remembered me as a child. “You were so quiet as a child, with those big blue eyes that would just stare up at me,” she said. “It was disturbing.”
She wasn’t wrong. I could see how I may have been both quiet and disquieting. As an only child, I was usually a little pre-adult in a sea of children. While I had my parents, my extended family was on another continent, so I spent most of my time dutifully observing. I absorbed the roles I saw and took notes until the time that I would magically be an adult and could partake in those roles. I was textbook “seen and not heard.”
That quiet nature was foundational in both good ways and bad. I saw what was around me much more than others seemed to, once winning a field trip quiz filled with such random questions that a parent chaperone pointed at me and said, “That one? She won? She looked like she just had her head in the clouds.”
And that parent wasn’t wrong; that was where my head was, but I was still watching.
However, negative traits grew along with it too. Plenty of times, I swallowed responses due to shyness from a lack of interaction. As I matured, the shyness became tinged with a debate over whether speaking was worth it. The clouds seemed better most times.
But in school, my silence became a tool for teachers, as they’d sit me next to the loudest in the room, hoping that my taciturnity would either inspire, rub off on or at least confound those around me into a bored stupor. It sometimes worked, and by working, I mean I made friends with louder people, and I was able to learn from them.
From the outside, it seemed to me that those children who had been loud their entire lives used it as a tool in the ways I had come to learn about silence. They believed loud means value. Loud meant being right. Loud meant attention, a way to seek connection, perhaps not in ways that would soothe their soul but would at least attract the attention of their frazzled parents.
But the reverse also seemed to hold true when their loudness actually meant they didn’t get attention at home, or the wrong type. Loud meant they wanted to distract from not being able to read, and I’d whisper a word that would help them get through a passage. Loud meant attempting to be funny to make friends, which only sometimes worked, and when it did, it allowed them to sink into a tribe.
When loud didn’t work, it drove more people away. For those, you’d see them at the edges of cafeteria tables. I’d hear the tenor of their humor change, becoming biting and bitter. That landed them in a different tribe, or they took a turn at misanthropy.
But plenty of those kids grew up thinking that being loud still “worked” for them. You’ll hear them ask for the manager. There’s one with a megaphone and a Bible on the corner by my house. There are a few of them who email me.
I see them as I did when I sat by them as a child. They’ve found a tool that they still think works for them, but deep down, they still know that being loud doesn’t always mean that they’re right. And yet, they try to drag others out of the clouds and land them in their version of the world.
Except, for those of us who observe, we watch those who are loud and see others who are quiet. We see their frothy silence and know that meek doesn’t mean without a voice.
Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at [email protected] To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.