My mother has begun telling me how gentle I am, how quiet. When I tap my iPad, even. When I speak, when I close kitchen cabinets. I start to take notice. It turns out I’ve even been saving the unloading of the dishwasher for nighttime, when I can see how quiet I can be, like it’s some kind of personal goal.
When I watch TV I keep the volume low, so low even I sometimes have trouble hearing it. I mute commercials. Daytimes are fine, but when the sun sets noises seem to multiply. I speak in a hush starting at 7pm. I sit on my couch, baby asleep in her nearby room, and keep the remote close, finger poised over the volume button.
We are very close here in my Brooklyn apartment, and something about that closeness makes me shrink up and drop to a whisper. There are three bedrooms here but they are small, and that is being generous. I watch House Hunters and cringe at the greedy needs of the homebuyers who decline entire houses because their walk-in closets are too cramped. I think back to Sri Lanka, where I helped build a house for an entire family. They were thrilled to be getting two rooms to share between them, to be getting one bed.
I’ve been pondering space lately. What we need, what we deserve. Whether. I love this city but in my long park walks with the baby I breathe in the wide roads, the stretches of snow-covered fields, the frozen lake, the geese. My lungs expand there in ways they can’t just a few blocks over, where the brownstones block the wind.
Last week I visited my sister’s new house and got turned around coming out of her master suite. For real. Then I put the baby to bed in the guest room (a guest room!) and even downstairs kept my voice low. “You can talk at normal volume,” everyone reminded me. But I kept forgetting. Normal volume, to me, has changed.