“These stories don’t mean anything if you’ve got no one to tell them to…” -Brandi Carlile
Chatty Kathy. Blabbin’ Betsy. Mouth Almighty. Big Mouth. Loud Mouth. Any & All Mouth. That’s who I am. A talker. And perhaps you are, too. We are the ramblers, rambling and forgetting mid-ramble just what the point of our rambling was. We know that if we just keep talking and tossing words either we’ll get back to the relevant topic or the audience will fall asleep. We recognize the glazed, sleep-walking eyes, anxious tooth chewing lip, and long, defeated sighs of the people we talk at. We’re loud, not oblivious. They are not interested in all the hearing we demand of them. They are exhausted by our relentless verbage. But we persevere, O! Mighty Motor Mouths! We speak on!
The Universe has a way of balancing things out, though. I assumed it cosmic justice when at a young age I began attracting an uncanny number of equally loquacious folks. The only thing a loud mouth hates more than silence is another loud mouth. There were too many years with me and a fellow talker in battles of skill and endurance, each one waiting for the other to pause for air so that we might stab an interrupting sentence into the conversation and emerge victorious. Time sanded and wore me down, and little by little I broke down and shut up.
I spent cumulative weeks as a teen listening to my father repeat the same ten stories. Yes, the time when your dad’s friend rode in the back of a hearse to scare the bejesus out of neighborhood kids. Yes, the time you got stupid drunk outside the Army base in Germany. Yes, too, I could already tell you the color of the curtain rod your mom bought your brother for his birthday. I could tell you, also, the various imaginary games he enjoyed with said rod, the best gift a boy could ask for. I know the name and hair style and family history of your high school sweetheart. You’ve already touched on the time your mom stormed to your high school when she found pot in your bedroom. I mostly wanted to get to the part of his stories that involved him giving me $20 and a ride to the mall. I mostly wanted him to just stop all the words.
My dad spent a part of his latest visit sharing the same stories. And it occurred to me, four-minutes in to a doozy of a discussion about his childhood, that I could start hearing. When I really listened, I actually heard. The story about his mother being kind to the colored lawn boy was precisely the same. She would bring him lemonade and let him in the house and didn’t pay no damn mind to what anyone of that time and place thought about her. But what I heard this time was my dad feeling loudly “Listen. I need you to know how wonderful my mother was. Listen. I need you to know how much I loved her. I need you to know”. It only took three-hundred repetitions for me to know.
On any dinner date my husband gives me stern eyes across the table. Refilling dinner rolls, the waitress begins to drop small breadcrumbs of stories. She would like me to follow that trail and open up a full discussion. My husband’s expression begs me “No. Don’t you dare ask her to elaborate”. But he already knows I will ask. She absolutely will elaborate all over this corner booth. So we lose a little alone time. But we learned about her musician boyfriend and her plans for future tattoos paid for with well-saved tips and her thoughts on the sports game playing on a TV over the bar and how she can’t do short hair because she feels her neck isn’t right to pull it off. I can’t tell you what I’ll do with any of that information, but I’m glad I heard it because she’s glad I listened.
At the grocery store the same cashier tells me the same thing about her same toddler every week. I do not think she remembers me or the previous thirty-two times she shared the boy’s love of Spiderman, but every week we do the Talk-Talk Tango. I pay. She talks. I scoot and slide around to her side of the vestibule to not make the next 10 customers wait. She talks. Eventually she will need a lunch break and I’ll make my exit with hot milk jugs and thawed frozen pizzas in tow thinking “I know how you delivered your baby and what his favorite color is, too, boo. I hear you.”
As a public service to friends, family, and the State of Tennessee, I began sharing my redundant stories on this blog. That’s 2-million minutes of local ear-life spared. Dear reader, you should consider subscription to this site the greatest charitable act of your life thus far. I’ve forced so many people hear me over the years that it’s only fair for me to listen. But what was once due diligence, serving my listening time for crimes against innocent ears, has transformed into a love. Prison changed me, y’all. At some point I stopped listening as a favor and started listening for enjoyment.
Without listening, I would never know that Holly, the nail salon lady, wants to be cast on Survivor. She is a hard-working single mom whose children are growing up to appreciate every time she walks early to work, skips dinner to save food. I could’ve stared silently at the pastel pictures of manicures as she polished my hands. But then I’d never know that she was the product of an American soldier and a Vietnamese cleaning lady, that this mix of races would make her a leper to her peers. I’d never get to see her eyes water sweetly as she told of her step-father leaving work to walk to the schoolyard every afternoon so that she wouldn’t have to eat lunch and play and face the bullying alone. I tip her too much when I leave, and I am embarrassed because this is the only too-small gesture I know to say thank you for letting me listen.
Without listening, I would’ve kept walking out of the fitness room last week when an old neighbor man asked me if I like to read. I would’ve spent my rare free time getting a list of things done, but instead I stopped, turned around, took a seat on a weight machine, and opened the floodgates with a “Yes. Yes I do.” The next 45 minutes could’ve mopped my floors or folded my laundry or made for one hell of a nap, but I wouldn’t know about this book he just read which reminds him of this time he met a young, homeless girl while overseas which led to him starting a medical charity and doing something meaningful with his life which gives him comfort now that he is going through surgeries to treat the cancer inside him.
Though I resisted with all my might and mouth, I’m finally glad I’ve (sometimes, once in a while, on a Tuesday) managed to skillfully shut my pie hole. I can say I’m all ears and mean it. No really. Here are my ears just to hear you. There are no real strangers, just people with stories ripe for the telling. If I can just hush, I get to meet them. I get to be a storyteller who is constantly told fresh stories. I’m finally recognizing it’s a good, good thing when The Loud Mouth is forced to listen.
Where my Verbose Veronicas/ Mouthy Marys/ Garrulous Garys at?
Tell me your stories!