I’ve never been comfortable with silence, plagued by some deep-seeded notion that sonic emptiness meant something negative, broken, a great burden would soon befall me. As a child, I’d ask my parents obsessively if everything was alright, accompanied by a barrage of “I love yous” thrown in for good solidifying measure; it got so bad that I’m pretty sure my parents had to have a talk with me about it, sitting pre-teen Tyler down to try to instill the value of silence, of space, of trusting the moments between. Even as an adult, I struggle to appreciate the meditative hum of nothingness, opting often to have a podcast going or album playing to avoid the gap in interaction.
It has never been a secret that my two triggers for my disorder, the things that incite the visceral fearful reaction that are the hallmark of my struggle, are abandonment & embarrassment. The ultimate form of the silent treatment--the ghost--thus has been a major fear of mine for my entire adult life, a single swoop that checks off both triggers. The ghost is a move of complete silence by the other party, seemingly without stated warning or clear impetus, complete with lack of explanation, closure, or mutual understanding. The ghost is a method I refuse to use on others, a tactic I consider very cruel & unusual in the punishment department without much constructive helpfulness. Me? I’ve been ghosted probably close to two dozen times in my life by people significantly important--close friends, colleagues, even my wife most recently.
I had this friend, KC, since middle school, a fellow book nerd & heart-on-sleeve rambler. Throughout our life, we’ve faded in & out of an active friendship, one or the other getting pulled away by a move or a relationship, but never failing to fall back into it when the chance arose. A few years ago, after a quiet period, she reached out about visiting me in Austin, a trip that repeated itself the next couple years & had our friendship tight as ever. Last year after I moved back to Indiana, she came & camped out for my birthday along with some other classic buds. Since then, nothing--no response to my calls or texts, no response to my questions of “did I do something” & “are you alive”--nothing. After a few months, I counted my befuddled losses & moved on.
With the anniversary of that last chat passing by, it does have me wondering: why am I so ghost-able? What about me makes people want to choose the silent treatment over the cordial conversation of “yeah, I’m good, I’ve had enough?” I’ve tried to make it clear that it impacts me extra, being so oddly & silently cast off like that, especially in light of my disorder. But it keeps happening, again & again. I think often of my good buddy in Austin, MT; we had a good four year run, seeing each other multiple times a week for disc golf & band practice, then one day, he just quit returning my calls.
There were many people who ghosted me after LR published her essay in 2016. A few random acquaintances in the poetry scene made large social media posts about it directed towards me or emailed me privately, but no one ever truly confronted me in person or through phone call. For the most part, my closest friends & colleagues in the poetry scene chose silence. Several of my Austin writing-scene friends & MFA classmates took a similar route, choosing not to discuss it when they heard about it, putting on a friendly face when they saw me around, & otherwise letting me slip right out of their life. The most surprising were the folks who I had told about my mental illness struggles & the situation with LR, the ones who were sympathetic & non-judgemental until it became public knowledge; with few exceptions, they played ignorant & took the silent-goodbye route.
I guess, in all these cases, my major disappointment was their lack of conviction & the missing-out on an important opportunity to have a large, necessary conversation around mental illness, domestic violence, & cancel culture. Beyond the fear & the heartache, the core of what bothers me most about ghosting is the disregard for the importance of conversation, the miracle of language. I truly believe that our language capabilities are what makes us all special as human beings, & the greatest gift of language is conversation--debating, learning, arguing, reconciling, contextualizing, etc. It seems a shame to avoid crucial opportunities to utilize such gifts. I totally understand when people cannot handle me, when my illness causes incurable rifts, when life takes humans in opposite directions. What truly causes me insurmountable grief is when there is no conversation around such dissolutions.
This has been the hardest part about my wife leaving. I understand why she would need to leave--not able to live with someone who could possibly hurt her; that’s always been a concern of mine. I am just thoroughly disappointed in how she left. Before I entered a week-long treatment program, DS told me she was going to take the week to consult her therapist & consider our options, & ultimately, she promised we would talk after I got out of the hospital to find a way--reconciliation, conscious uncoupling, long distance relationship--to collaboratively figure out this dark patch. Halfway through the week, she had emailed me, saying there would be no conversation; she was gone & that was that, refusing to return a phone call, email, or text since, even in the wake of important logistical steps, such as filing for divorce & separating our stuff.
What changed her mind? Or more importantly, what is it about me that makes it necessary to ghost me (or at least seemingly so)? I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the volatile nature of my episodes; I make no moves to hide the fact that my spells are intense, terrifying, & sometimes violent. Fearing escalation, people instead go the other way, choosing to cut me out of the conversation altogether. That is the most logical conclusion I can discover. Otherwise, I am left with resentment & confusion at why folks would cast away my side of things & ignore the chance for conversation so abruptly & wildly.
Last year when I first moved back, I had an old college buddy, RR, who I had seen off & on over the years, tell me, via text, that he didn’t wanna talk or hang out anymore. He cited the LR situation & one of my early spells, directed at him, from nearly a decade ago as reasons. Again, I might disagree with the logic or the timing, but I respect his decision to explain himself & at least give me some closure. He even said he was going to ghost me, but then thought better of it. Here’s to hoping folks start thinking better of it, as hopefully my efforts on this blog & my management of my disorder prove that I am capable & open to admitting to my failures, facing their consequences, & most importantly, conversing about the perils & particulars of human relationships in an attempt for better living for us all.