What the song “Shh” by Donora is Really About

If you listened close enough, the muffled sound of whispers and quiet breathing could be heard through the fractured walls of any apartment on this gloomy and despondent street.  If you listened closer, specifically to door of apartment 23B, you would quickly learn that the whispers escaping through the birch were a little louder, and much different than the noises coming from anywhere else on the block.  If you were to find yourself standing at the entrance of any other apartment on this street, you would hear the quiet shrieks of a captive and restless soul reaching through the door begging for mercy and prying for a neighbor’s attention. You would hear it struggling inside the useless vessel of a body, bound and gagged by the guise of emotional toughness, still managing to lash out with frequent exasperated bottomless sighs.  The sighs:  muffled screams of thoughts that are generally reserved for indulgence by solitude but instead, by kicking at the chest for hours at a time, they manage escape ever so quietly into the world in search of an ear to fall onto. This was normal for all apartments on this street, but not at 23B.  There you’d hear a quiet, but uplifting sound – a sound far too unfamiliar to this shabby city in general, let alone on this old, tired street.  At 23B, the sound of playful giggling escaping the walls of the apartment could easily drown out the frequent and cutting noise of forsaken newspapers racing each other down the sidewalk.  The radiance of the laughter playing on your ears could turn the wailing of car horns and tires from the busy highway only a few blocks away down to a whimper.

“I like when we whisper soft to each other”, Brittany said quiet and smiling, her words encapsulated in a short, pleasant sigh as she rolled quietly onto her left side.  She gazed across the bed through the darkness of the tattered, one room apartment, looking gently at her love.  She couldn’t see him well, nor could he see her.  All communication was by touch.  She didn’t have a word for him yet, not then anyway.  She didn’t know, rather couldn’t know, what he was to her but she felt that whatever this churning feeling in the pit of her stomach was, that it was something out of the ordinary and worth holding onto.

“What’s the matter with them?”  The words echoed into the apartment and seemed to cut through the broken blinds covering the old window that had clearly been painted over a dozen times.  “It’s good in theory, you know it certainly makes the weekends effortless, but will it work in the end?”

“Oh no, I don’t think so”, a second voice crowed.

Brittany swung out of bed and paced to the window, glancing out at a distance. Outside were two women, in their mid thirties, both overly tan with definitive creases in their faces.  One had bleached blonde hair; the other had her hair black.

“What’s the matter with her?” the blonde chimed as both women, shaking their heads proceeded in opposite directions down the sidewalk.

Brittany had tried her best to be a normal girl – a normal girl by the standards of her promiscuous friends, that is.  In the black of night, countless people would line the fractured sidewalks like out of work fathers.  They’d pack the crowded, damp bars across the city, waiting, if not praying to the God they didn’t believe in for someone to take them home.   Seldom would people see the same person twice in their life as it was gauche to do so, but if there was nothing else it couldn’t be helped.  Desperation has no sympathy for the musings of the conscience.

Brittany tried living that life, but she simply couldn’t escape this feeling; this boy. She found herself everywhere with him.  Together they went for walks through the lonely streets of the city, they explored the old mines buried in the sewers beneath the downtown shops, and they even found themselves day dreaming together on the flowered hills just outside of town.  She couldn’t help it; she just didn’t feel right without him there.

Brittany stood motionless staring out the window.  Wryly she turned to her love, still nestled into the pillow, staring at her smiling.

“I don’t understand.  Could you explain it again?” Brittany began, tracing her steps back to the bed.

“This new idea of ours is really causing a fuss. It’s got everyone saying ‘what’s the matter with us’”

Brittany emphatically crashed onto the bed, immediately becoming carefree and motionless again.  Her love looked back smiling after hearing her words, reaching out briefly to move the fallen wisps of hair from her eyes.  They didn’t need words to speak; they would just reach out to touch the others cheek and search the lines of each other’s face for the thoughts and feelings that were hiding behind these silly vessels we call bodies. Both knew the other was and feeling the gut wrenching combination of security and vulnerability that was offset with the reality of emotional co-dependence.

To those of us who have had the pleasure of these feelings knocking at the chamber of our heart, we know that the privilege of welcoming it in comes at a price.  They did too. But what they never could have known is that love is comparable to a terrible guest; one that never leaves the heart in the pristine condition it was found upon arrival.  Love is the emotional equivalent of a weekend visit from an old friend who you’re glad to see on arrival and excited to have stay. Throughout the weekend, you go out for dinner and drinks; you make a few hapless mistakes and great memories out of the visit – a grand time by any standard.  But once the weekend is over, as much as you hate to see them leave, you are ultimately glad when they’re finally gone.  Love is much the same.  You look around puzzled; your heart is left in shambles, how did it get like this?  The sofa cushions are on the floor, the dresser drawers are all left open (one of the drawers somehow wound up on the floor), there are new stains on the carpet, the TV is broken and everything smells like dirty socks. However, in spite of all this, regardless of the mess that was made, and regardless of the inconvenience you wish they would come back again as soon as they can to relieve the nights all over again.   This is love, and this is what their world had forgotten.

It was time to leave, Brittany and her love had dinner plans with friends four short blocks away at a small Italian restaurant they had come to love almost as much as they did each other. It was their place.

Out the door they marched, Brittany locking it behind them.  Hand in hand they walked, neighbors glaring, women sneering, men laughing – none of this mattered however.  When they were together, everything was tuned out – background noise to the beating of each other’s heart in their intertwined fingertips.  But suddenly, there was a noise far too loud to drown out with the rhythm of a heart.  Brittany and her love jolted around to see the underside of a vehicle twisting away from them and another car, heading straight for them.  Brittany’s love grabbed her and with an inhuman feat of strength shoved Brittany to safety.  The car continued on, smashing into her love’s body sending him soaring across the front yard of the corner lot.

That’s where it all gets dark.  Brittany’s shriek of terror resounded in her love’s ears louder than the car crash.  His body tumbled to the ground, rolling a few times before coming to rest on his back.  In his last fleeting moments of consciousness, he managed to move his head to look at Brittany one last time to see if she was ok.  A few scrapes, but nothing more – she’ll be fine. Darkness then crawled in before the pain and existence ended for a moment before her love next’s memory – a hospital; a lonely, quiet room.  It’s dark in here too, but not like the apartment.

Again as before, the only method of communication is touch; soul speaking to soul.  Her hand wound tightly in his – her squeezing, waiting for a response. Voices are heard whispering through the walls, saying “It’s been two years, what’s the matter with her?”  Useless vessels, if only I could tell her to move on.

“I’d never, love”, Brittany whispered.  “I like when we’re quiet with one another.”

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