Mark Krueger: A few months ago, Joseph Stanley introduced a story about silence. Following is a story by Molly Weingrod, a youth who participated in our study, and who uncovered a similar theme in her investigation into her moments with youth, making silence a key part of our investigation. Molly is now a college student at Sarah Lawrence University in New York.
We were not used to having younger kids around the house. And working with eleven-year-olds is very different than working with sixteen and seventeen-year olds. Those several years in between are longer than any others. And trying to get a whole group to sit down and focus, each on one thing was impossible. Even asking them to cut our pictures from magazines and paste them in other places was way too demanding. One eleven-year-old was trying to irritate everyone, the other eleven-year-old irritating everyone without trying. And the fifteen-year-old didn’t speak very good English, which automatically made him the target for all the distraction. “He man, say elephant," or “say dollar," or “teach me a Spanish word besides “buta."
He finally realized everyone was laughing at him more than with him, and started mumbling words he knew they’d understand – “Shut up, man," or “Fuck you." I told him he could go in the back room to finish his artwork in silence. He did – or tried, rather. Sporadically, kids tried to follow him back there and engage him, or would yell things to him through the walls. The group had begun without cohesion and was growing into disaster, words becoming more aggressive by the moment. And the artwork only complicated things more. We stumbled through the full hour, hoping we wouldn’t lose it, but knowing too that we already had.
When we finally admitted it was over, and began cleaning up, most everyone was gone from the table already needing movement. I went into the backroom where he had been working and found him surrounded by hyped kids, flying foosballs, and too many dialogues. And he was sitting at the piano, but with his back to it, leaning in his chair on only the back legs, his head covered with his sweaty, gray, sweatshirt. I leaned against the piano, and saw his hand, hanging off to the side of the chair, balled up into a resilient fist and balled up hard. I stared at it for a moment, maybe, amazed at the intensity it radiated, trying to pry it open with my eyes like the girl on the TV show “Bewitched." But it stayed closed and silent. I said his name a few times and when I asked him what was going on, he took his shirt from his head but remained silent. I told him he could go in the front room and close the door if he wanted to get away from everybody. But he shook his head, said “no." I asked if he wanted to go for a walk, and he lifted his shoulders and eyebrows, quietly saying, “I don’t know." I waited a minute and then said come on, let’s go take a walk. I got up and he followed me.
I stopped to tell the supervisor we’d be back soon, he walked out the door, and walking behind him I watched his fist still glowing with anger, tightly closed. He waited for me in the alley and walked side by side, for four blocks without either of us saying a word – we only breathed and got lost in our own thoughts and footsteps. We never looked at each other either, I only saw his T-shirt swinging over his shoulder with his walk, out of the corner of my eye. When we got back to the house, I opened the door and he walked past me, I looked at his hands, and though still closed, there was a space, room for some breathing, calmed, beginning to open.