As time passed women generally took one of two tacts in society. One side took their advocacy to the next level and pushed for more funding and publicity for their plight like Nikki and some, like Hannah, pulled back into themselves, becoming little more than a ghost or silent presence in the house.
Hannah did not fade in an instant the way her voice did, but slowly over time. Looking back I can see its beginning even before the Day of Silence (as it came to be called), but that day pushed it from a temporary dip toward a steady decline. It stayed slow while the kids were in the house but accelerated once they left. She had no one to talk to, for by that point I had gotten deep into my advocacy work, trying to speak for those who no longer had a voice. I took speaking engagements and book deals and anything I could to improve the life of women, to raise the awareness of their causes and issues and to avoid going home. Somehow I always took her silence as criticism. So I threw myself into making a difference and for some women I did, but not for my wife.
Advocating for women’s rights took me far from home. I stopped communicating with Hanna, stopped calling home every day to hear her harsh whisper or video chatting to see her beautiful face. She faded away from me and I let her. I became the silent one. I ran from her smile, from her gentle touch, and from her words.
Her mother moved in and gave her someone to communicate with. I came home even less, not because I hated my mother-in-law, but because her presence reduced my guilt.
Opportunities for finding solace in another’s arms abounded on my trips and speaking engagements. And though I was never unfaithful, I should not be commended for that. For I committed a sin far greater than infidelity. I chose to speak for her, without ever speaking to her. I determined what she and her gender needed or didn’t. In my brash desire to help, I folded her goals into my own. I used the loss of her voice as an excuse to dominate her desires. I disempowered her far more than the loss of her voice ever did.
One day I called home. I was going on and on about how some small local newsstation had removed women from their cooking segment. Their cooking segment! I was incredulous. It was easier to speak loudly than to listen. Even with the amplifier on full blast she couldn’t break through my rant. Finally she turned on the sound effects. She played Taps at full volume. When I was stunned into silence she said in her harsh whisper. “My mother died.”
I, for once, was speechless.
She never asked me to come home or stop my advocacy work, but I did both. I moved home to sit with her at dinner, to lay next to her at night, to be there in ways I hadn’t been in years, to be the husband and friend she needed me to be.
Though we had many more years together after that, years of love and happiness, in my arrogance I lost something of her, something that saddened me even more than the loss of her voice. And I will never be the same.