Learning to Be Silent

We Still Exist by of the Institute of American Indian Arts

Where I came from I don’t know. Sometimes I existed in the present, at other times I seemed untethered from my conscious mind. I recall a black kerosene stove sitting in a moat of light at the rear of the one room where our family of five lived. The two older children helped with chores. Because I was the youngest and tended to get in the way, I wandered our five acres alone, without fences to hinder what discoveries I might make inside the bordering wheat field.


In our one room house, built by my mother and father, I suddenly see a square pan of biscuits falling from my hands onto the linoleum floor and I scream, horrified. I’m inclined to believe I had just popped in from another universe, another ethereal velvet reality where I also resided when I wasn’t tied down to the daily chill.

Although I smell lumber being planed and watch clusters of curled wood shavings collect on a rain dampened ground, I’m mostly oblivious to the construction going on around me. More rooms are being added to the house. Inside the skeletal frame of 2x4s and tar paper, I’m happy inside my large wooden fruit crate. It’s the sound of my mother’s laughter that triggers my quick breaths with a feeling I later learn to call happiness.

She says it will soon be Christmas. It will also be my birthday, so I conclude that the contents of the dusty boxes full of red cellophane wreaths, tall plug-in candles, and shiny round ornaments are for me. I like the little artificial tree best. Its limbs are made of green paper twisted with wire. My brother, because he is the oldest child, puts up the Christmas display. What also makes me happy is a rubber rabbit that squeaks. The rabbit stands upright like a human and wears a blue coat that is molded to its body. My father may have given the toy to me because I name him Father Rabbit.

I don’t seem to understand language well, or else my ears are plugged up due to a winter cold. My mother feeds me hot broth. I am sure my brother has asked me if I want the rabbit. As it isn’t with me in my fruit crate, I shake my head affirmatively. The first real trauma of my young life is about to occur.

My brother gets the rabbit from a shelf of raw lumber, but instead of handing the rubber toy to me, he cuts the rabbit open with a razor blade to find out what makes the squeaking sound. I look on horrified as usual and say nothing, my stomach turning rock hard as I deny what I just saw taking place.


 Looking back, I realize that I never cried. I never told my mother what happened to Father Rabbit. Our family didn’t scold or punish. My mother may have just removed the rabbit pieces and put them out of sight. I felt so small, so helpless that I wasn’t able to prevent Father Rabbit from being cut apart. Of course, I had no idea what my brother was going to do.

But being silent, with most of my emotions remaining unexpressed, is how I learned to exist in the outside Anglo world. And quite possibly, silence may be the key I was given to escape into another reality in order to survive the harshness outside.

Vivian M. Carroll is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation and a creative writing major at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Retired from the Sacramento Superior Court in California, Carroll is thankful for her instructors from whom she has learned a lot. She would also like to acknowledge her late mother and her blessed husband of 48 years for their support and encouragement to keep writing and telling stories. Her poetry has been featured in Yellow Medicine Review, American River Literary Review, Cosumnes River Journal, and Sacramento Anthology: One Hundred Poems.

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