For most of my childhood we lived in an old two-story house that my dad spent weekends and evenings remodeling. It seemed like the tallest house on the block, although I think it was an illusion based on pale-yellow color of the siding. The color made the house stand out among the one-story houses on each side, and the few other two-story houses on the block that had either brick or brick-patterned asphalt siding.
A large porch stretched the width of the front of the house and was inviting with an old, comfortable, glider that once belonged to my grandparents. My dad’s workshop sat on the edge of the back yard between two rustic carports, and a dog-pen that never held a dog.
The house was narrow, probably not more than 25-feet wide. The yard existed only in the front and the back of the house, though a fence ran along the property line on all four sides. If I were to face the front of the house I could clearly see that it sat to the right of the lot, just enough, for the narrow concrete walkway to go down the left side and make it easy for someone to get from the front yard to the back yard. Wasted space to be sure since few ever made such a trip. Those who knew us came directly to the kitchen door in the back.
The interior floor plan mirrored the exterior layout, with the three rooms on the main floor—living room, dining room, and kitchen—sitting to the right of the house. From the small front entry, stairs led to the second floor, and to right of the stairs a small hallway came to a dead end at one of our two bathrooms. Upstairs were four small bedrooms and a wide hallway that was still covered in grey, wool carpet that was printed with dark, red floral pattern and was likely put down when the house was originally built.
I think it would have been a creepy place to live for most any child. For me, and my overactive imagination, there were times the house could be downright frightening. It probably didn’t help matters much that I had overheard my mom tell someone that one of the previous owners had died, or was murdered, in the house. True or not, this prompted me to sleep with my bed facing the door and the hall light on so I could get a few seconds jump on any apparition that had me in its sights.
Though I never saw a ghost, there was one night that stands out in my memory as one the most frightening times of my childhood.
I woke up to find the hall light off that night, which meant that mom and dad had gone to bed. The house was really dark and quiet. I began to hear the stairs creak as if someone were slowly walking up and trying not to make noise. I broke out in sweat and started yelling for my dad, but nothing came out of my mouth. There was no sound at all. The harder I tried to scream, the more panicked I became; I was certain someone, or something, was coming for me and no one could hear my cries for help.
I’m not sure what happened next. I suspect I had a panic attack and I passed out because I don’t remember anything more from that night. Obviously, whatever was on the stairs, or that my imagination had put on the stairs, did not pull me away into the darkness that night.
My dad didn’t come to my rescue either; he hadn’t heard my silent screams.
I think it was this experience, along with losing my hearing, which has helped me to be more aware of the silent screams of others. Through body language and intuition, I can usually pick up when something’s wrong in someone’s life. I don’t often know the cause of their screams, but I can almost always “hear” them screaming.
It’s hard to explain how I know they’re crying out. I just seem to know. And I want to do something to help them.
I fall short in my ability to help those people whose silent screams I do hear. I have a tendency to smother them because I want to help them avoid that frightening helplessness that comes from being a silent screamer. As much as I may want to help, or as much as I may try, some are not ready to accept help; others need to move through the experiences on their own to gain the greatest life value.
I am learning that I cannot help everyone, but knowing this won’t stop me from trying. So, I want them to know this:
I hear you and I am here for you.
Whenever you’re ready.
“I had a tank of tropical fish. Someone turned up the tank heater and they all boiled. I woke up on a Friday morning and went to feed them, and there they were. All my beautiful fish floating on top. Most of them split into, others with their eyes hanging out. It looked like violence. But it was such a quiet night. And I remember wishing I had the kind of ears that could hear fish screams, because they looked as if they had suffered, and I wanted so badly to save them.
And that Sunday in church, I heard that Christ had told his apostles to be fishers of men. And from then on, I looked upon all the people in the church as fish. I was young, so I saw them as beautiful tropical fish, and so I knew they were all quiet screamers. The church was so quiet. I thought everyone was boiling, and I wanted the kind of ears that could hear what they were screaming about, ‘cause I wanted to save them.
As I got older, the people lost the look of tropical fish. They became catfish to me – just overdressed scavengers. So I drowned out whatever I might be able to hear, and made my world my tank, so hot that I almost split. And so now I am back listening, listening for the screams of angels.”
~ Mark Dolson, a character from the play, Mass Appeal
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It’s A Process features the personal essays of Dave Harkins, who endeavors to make sense of the chaos around him through the thoughtful telling of life stories in what he hopes to be an engaging and sometimes humorous manner. Don’t count too much on the latter, though. Except where noted, the photos used on this site are © David L. Harkins.