Silence, no matter how much we speak, is a necessary occurrence. Throughout the day, it dwells between our words and sentences. When we listen closely, the silence lays a fabric to clothe our thoughts, punctuated with words that linger on the tongue, until it finds its ragged edge. Silence, when held between us, is the most profound force in existence.
Still, I was afraid that while my parents thought my decision not to ride in motorized vehicles was merely eccentric, their reaction to my silence might be a little more severe. When I wrote to explain why I wouldn’t be calling for at least a year, my mother explained that my father would be coming to California immediately. They figured that either I had been entrapped by some California religious cult they had read about in Life
magazine or I’d been imprisoned for
I suppose there was reason to fear. Synanon, a drug rehab group, had moved to Tomales Bay with shaved heads and talk of establishing the promised land; instead, they harassed local residents and stockpiled assault weapons while threatening anyone who disagreed with their philosophy. In southern California, the Manson family had gone on a killing spree. And then there were a half dozen other groups who promised salvation in one form or another, if only you would sign over all your worldly possessions.
Jean picked up my father at the airport and drove him to Inverness in her old blue VW van. She and my dad had met a few years earlier when I had taken her to Philadelphia. She had gotten sick and stayed in my old bedroom for a few days while I went to New York City to try to get a record contract for the music group I represented. My parents liked Jean, who had compelling stories of being black, white, and Native American, though they were a little concerned about her being 20 years older than I. Jean and Dad found me walking alone along the road that skirts
Tomales Bay and the San Andreas Fault. I was trying to get home from Point Reyes Station before they got there. The van stopped, and my father looked at me through the open window. We were both surprised to see each other out of the context of Philadelphia.
Fragrant laurel trees bent their heads in an arch and whispered in the wind above us. I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t have words, naturally. And my father and I no longer had that easy bond we had enjoyed when I was growing up.
Excerpted from The Ragged Edge of Silence by John Francis, Ph.D.. Copyright © 2011 by John Francis, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of National Geographic, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.