I’m fascinated with the cliche of the silent family dinner, not least because it is something I’m so easily able to relate to, but also because it never seems as cut and dry, as obviously understood, as other well worn tropes and scenes might be. In film and theatre, a scene like this is all about the manipulation of silence, the tension of it, and that dribbles through into reality, too.
It’s not that the father beats the mother. Or there’s some deep resentment at play, forcing every word to become an affront, and so none are uttered. It’s not even that these are boring people, the silence just there way of keeping acknowledgement of this dullard life that they live from coming to light. That silence is textured, layered, it’s the kind of tired, malleable thing that someone can take and fashion into the seed of an idea, and derive dozens of future creative projects from. Beyond that, it’s just silence, just the absence of conversation between a group of people who, really, are only there by chance, drawn together through necessity rather than choice.
The longer I talk about this subject, the more it’s going to sound like I’ve become jaded and filled with contempt for living at home, which would be pretty much entirely accurate. It’s not even been six months at home, and the thought of another month, another week, is the sort of thought that gets stamped on by my mind, until it hasn’t got anything left to say except a few bloody teeth. I can’t think about that, because it’s the thing that’s going to make me go stir crazy and kill the family chickens or something. So I just plod on, throwing out job applications like lifelines, all the while slowly sinking deeper into the quicksand of comfortable living and rentless habitance. The longer I’m here, the easier it becomes to stay here, and the harder it is for me to think about staying here. It’s a sort of paradoxical, perpetual engine that provides energy by taking it away. It’s a destructive force though, and I need to evacuate before it burns me out.
However, I’m relatively safe in this bubble of solitude that contains computer and bed, only forced to leave it once a day for the family meal, which is when that silence reigns king. Attempts at conversation are only ever attempts, unless the topic is so inane, so infintisimal and mundane as to be safe, safe from argument and dissent, while providing enough worth that a heated discussion can take place. It becomes a scapegoat, burned to death just so the slightest frustration can be worked out on it, instead of the things that really matter. Passive aggression crafted into an art form, a diamond bullet fired with no chance of a miss.
And I think, in this particular daily instance, it’s just because we’re different people, forced into a crush by the sumo wrestler of family. Forced to hug, once a day, for as long as I’m stuck in this house. My dad and my brother are scientifically minded and right wing. My mum is my mum, and I’m a literally minded left winger. So of course, I’m always the arguer and the arguee, and so I just shut the fuck up and eat my meal like a good boy, because I can’t be arsed. The silence does my talking for me, and it’s resentful. It’s got every right to be, and absolutely no reason for it. I feel like I’ve lost something I never had, and I’m only fucking 22. Grow up is the sort of thing that would be said to me if the silence didn’t suck the words into a big vacuum with a slightly unpleasant pop. Drink your coke and enter a staring contest with your peas, it’s the only way.
The peas win.