Living with someone you love is not always easy.
There are fights, cold shoulders, silences laden heavy and thick. Silences that cling to you with a resistance like oil, unyielding in their obstinance. No water can wash these silences away. They must be cleansed by conversation, chests purged of the words that have turned inwards, vulnerability for a moment suspended on a tight-rope, asking, reaching, quietly pleading: will I fall back into quiet?
For the rehabilitation - the replacing of these silences in the moments where they belong - demands two voices. It demands a willingness that softens its hard edges into harmony, a joint defeat, a misplacing corrected. And when those silences are ushered back into their rightful corners, reignited is the power that imbues them. The tail-bone electricity that accompanies an intentioned hand at the back of the leg, just above the warm pits at the fleshy B-side of the knee. The lethargic Sundays divided by separate screens, all at once bridged by a hand stretched out to the back of the neck, holding and joining. The daily stationing at the platform between waking and awake, when an energy - an accent in their breathing - tells you that they are here, eyes inching open, building their morning second-by-second in a consciousness that unites you in total quiet. Then the obedience of a body rolling into you, instinctively, to touch.
These are the silences that are welcome, that mobilise nothing to nurture something - not the silences that push down on your shoulders until you’re sloping, tilting in unrest between door frames and chair edges. Not the silences that take away. Those moments of nothing have to be tackled with a harmony and wary recognition that, if left unchecked, they could swallow a loving home whole. Like a vacuum with a ceaseless appetite, they eat and eat and eat until there is nothing left but nothing. And then what? For zero multiplied by anything is still nothing.
This fear lives dormant in the back of your minds, existing and threatening in its own way, but still a long way off, distant, a volcano so small it appears only an upward triangle. It’s necessary for mending those broken bits where the silence invades where it shouldn’t be, but otherwise it leaves you unbothered, acting only as a background hum to the other familiar noises of co-living.
And sometimes it is an orchestra. The chink of percussion porcelain as they rummage through kitchen cupboards early on a Saturday morning, your own eyes weighty with slumber but still visualising the movements: they’re lifting out the same mugs you use every AM, in respect of the routine. The two which co-ordinate and slot together as a pair. An impulsive supermarket purchase, edges chipped and details fading, but still coveted. On cue, the patient rumble of the kettle provides bass, and then finally, their humming, their gentle mouthing out of words, not too loud as to fully wake you, but loud enough that you catch the clipped ends of last night’s final Spotify serenade.
Other times, the sounds are softer. They’re in the breaking of bubbles as a bath is shared, two globes bobbing above a contained sea of chamomile and jasmine. The tide breaks with each rise of their chest, and you’re sure you can hear every tremor of their body. You could hear them blink with your own eyes closed - you’re certain. And then a cumbersome breeze sets out across the breadth of the tiny ocean: their sigh, easing out from their lungs, followed by the unmistakable sound of calm.
Sometimes you hear them cutting mushrooms. Peppers, onions, chillis - the usual. They play music and you hear them emulating the words and the rhythm, often tripping over their own teeth and getting it wrong. They chuck tools into the frothy sink and move from counter to counter, a lazy ping-pong that fills you with their unseen presence. They take up space so beautifully. From edge to edge, the whole of them is radiating - with warmth, with humour, with home. You can hear these things - they’re tangible - the air carries them in a current along the hallway, from kitchen to couch. The oven door clamps closed. The timer beeps. Their footsteps flicker toward you. You’re hungry.
Little sounds. Little reminders that your home is only a home because it’s built upon a foundation of duality. Of twoness. Of agreeing to exist together in uncertainty with that small, dormant volcano sitting on the horizon, dwarfed by all that surrounds it but still ominous in its way, still reminding you that it can erupt with all-consuming silence.
These little sounds which punctuate the usual conversation, and the laughter which book-ends a joke that, no, honestly, it’s so funny, it can’t wait, I need to tell you now. The sneezes that startle you alive from the bent spine of a book. The scraping of wet shoes on the welcome mat which announces their re-arrival. The exasperated groan that accompanies the repeated dropping of things - all things - any things. These unremarkable utterances which bind daily, domestic life. The egg in the batter of the weekday.
Over time you begin to learn these sounds. Unconsciously, even; they simply filter through as you absorb your day, strengthening through repetition and rooting down into the fibres of your mind. Secluded in an unimportant corner somewhere, situated far behind the poetry and passion, but existing still. The mundanity of these noises often camouflages them in their movement, but every now and then, you catch one. You listen and really hear it - ah, there it is - and all at once you realise how regularly you’ve been picking up on these quiet cues of existence. These little pronouncements of personhood.
And then you begin to miss them when they’re not there. When one of the suitcases from the top of the cupboard has been filled and sat on and squashed down, and the door behind it closed. You start to notice the stillness that permeates then in doorways when there isn’t someone to break through them. You notice the absence of slippers shuffling, of bags being tossed onto bannisters, and IRL LOLs no longer enjoyed like second-hand smoke from somewhere upstairs. The silence returns, but not in the good way. Not in the erupting, volcanic way either - that type of silence burns and bubbles, and requires two masters to execute. No, this silence is different. It’s an emptying of things - a chill that creeps along the tops of your shoulders and buckles your bottom lip in impatience. It’s the lack of that familiar orchestra, of a loving presence emanating sound by the pure consequence of its being. It’s time, stretched out. It’s missing someone.
How warm then is the re-arrival? Never has the coarse cough of the welcome mat sounded so sweet. Coats are plucked off and placed back on their rightful hooks; bags are slung over the corners of chairs and bannisters; words are exchanged in a shedding off of the day. And all at once the hum returns. Home can be heard, and it's in the sound of them. In the clinking of mugs, the breaking of bubbles and the cutting of mushrooms. In lyrics misremembered and cackles drifted downstairs.
Living with someone is not always easy, but those silences that stick? You only need two voices to ignite the orchestra, and the music that follows is what makes a house a home.