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In my car, there is a case of tapes, about 30 or so, that I keep in regular rotation. I am always listening to something in the car, whether it's NPR or music. In the rare times I force myself to turn the stereo off, I have to roll my windows up, because I talk to myself. I talk out whatever things forced me to turn the stereo off in the first place, whatever thoughts are burdening me that day. I roll my windows up because I worry that passing cars could tell I was doing this and not just singing along to the music that they can't hear. I talk to myself a lot, but not as much as I used to. I have these one way conversations with myself to help me articulate what is spinning through my head at the time. There's always something, you can count on me for that.

When I get home, I'll get online and node, or blog on my web site, or talk to people online, during which I always have music playing. This traces back all the way to my first computer in college and, as a freshman, I took great pleasure in playing Solitaire on it while listening to music, in the dark, alone. In the rare moments I have no music on, it's usually when I have to concentrate on something with more intensity, which is either a particularly hard topic that I'm writing about or some conversations with my boyfriend as we work to maintain a long distance connection through IM.

Being a Christian, I believe that God would often prefer I be silent, that I force myself to sit still and shut out all distractions in order to hear Him speak. It's rare that He speaks to me at all, and trying to sit in silence for even an hour is unendurable for me. I am always talking, listening, reading, writing, moving from page to page and hour to hour in a stream of stimulation and activity. It is no surprise to me that lately God has been speaking to me through circumstances or activities in my life and in the lives of others, since that seems almost the only way He can get my attention.

When I do try to get silent, for whatever reasons, I am almost so overcome by a flood of active thoughts that I can barely hear anything, audible or otherwise. I'll lay there, in the semi-darkness of my apartment (the A/C's constant rumbling is the only reason I am not sleeping with the radio on low, and I still keep the bathroom light on), trying to clear my mind. I will be crossing over time, visualizing the future events that my past actions have put into motion, the trips I have booked, the image of me on the potential road trip to move to Virginia, even the far future that I cannot even see the foundations of but for which I wishfully present appealing options. Sometimes I will actually hear the voice of someone I know saying my name or, even worse, a voice I don't recognize saying something other than my name, which is unsettling.

Even when I go grocery shopping or run into the Quarter for church, it is hard to resist the temptation to bring my walkman everywhere so I can listen to the soundtrack of my choosing. Part of this discomfort comes from that knowledge that in silence, I tend to lapse into talking to myself, and the other part is because I look at silence as a void looking to be filled, that if I don't fill it, something outside of me will barge in and fill it against my will. Silence is scary to me because it implies an emptiness I am not always willing to deal with, a space that can always be filled unexpectedly, without warning, just like in the movies. The calm before the storm that is filled with anticipation.

So I tend to create my own storm, from within, so I am not so shaken by the claps of thunder. That's what lightning bolts are for, a warning for the noise from above. You count them to see how close the storm is.

The quietest place I had ever been was my grandparents' car.

Their garage, where my bike lived, was underneath their house in the basement. When I was with them and we needed to go somewhere, the store or the park or back home, I would go downstairs, get into the big shiny Oldsmobile's back seat, and wait for them.

But they were grandparents, even then, and the trip from the main floor took time. Or maybe I was impatient and bounded down the stairs. Or maybe they needed a breather from my precociously vast stores of energy, if only for a minute or two. Or maybe they needed to lock the windows before the alarm would activate.

(That alarm, hidden away in the kitchen cupboard, was the loudest thing I had ever heard. It made fire alarms sound like chirping birds and left me deafened the few times I had heard it. It made me scared to go into their house when they weren't there, let in by my mom and her spare key to check up on things, turn on some random lights. I don't think it's still there, but I steer clear of that cabinet, even now that I'm tall enough to see the shelf it lived on. It used to be a shadow with an deep red light on it and nothing else.)

Waiting in the car was the quietest place I had ever been. It was dark and still and ominous. It was also the loudest. I could feel air molecules pounding against my eardrums. Every move I made resonated against the upholstery like velcro. When I swallowed, which was often and nervously, my throat sounded like sandpaper and felt like a swamp. I reached for the radio once and was frightened when no sound came out when I twisted the dial. I thought I had broken the radio station, killed the DJ with my fingertips. I turned it back off, brought him back to life.

It was like they disappeared. It was like time stopped. It was like I had fallen off of the earth. It was like the silence before the greatest symphony, Opening Car Door in F.

It was where I learned to talk to myself.

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