There are two rules to life that I’ve learned to live by; two rules to live by above all others. The first is to keep quiet, words are too precious to waste. The second only applying if you can’t keep quiet, you better keep count. As guidelines to any individual’s life, the first rule being admittedly pretty easy to abide by. But it’s never been easy for myself. Ever since I’ve been young, from the age of two I can’t communicate with others. From time and experience, I’ve discovered the fatal number being 100 words. Everyone only gets 100 words from me, no more and no less. I could write them the text of War & Peace just fine with no consequence. In the world we inhabit today of emails, text messages, and social media it has most of my bases covered. But with so much freedom of speech behind screens, I avoid it unless it’s required. Without real contact and communication with other people, this broadcast to others is empty and meaningless. When you have to speak, short, sparse sentences it might come off as rude, but are perfectly acceptable. Plus, it turns out, with a few notable exceptions, that people just don’t have a care for what I have to say. But it really showed me who I wished to share my words with the most, with you being the priority. The second rule proved to be trickier. If I can follow the first rule, then it doesn’t really matter. However, there is always exceptions and times where speech is required. This is when it is essential for me that I keep track and count of every word that leaves my mouth. I keep a little A7 spiral ring notepad tucked away in my left pocket at all times, whereas others carried around their wallet, keys and phone as essentials. A notebook had been everywhere with me from the age of ten. Each time a new person gets a word out of me, they get their own page, with tallies counting every word spoken. Most of them are dispersed, some are over years, some are a one-off interaction. The young lad from across the road who almost got hit by a car playing football has one. The landlords has seventeen, luckily enough he is a very talkative, and you were kind enough to do most of the talking. The police officer who pulled me over once has twenty-nine, which is a miracle considering how suspicious and nervous I would have seemed. My boss has forty something, mostly coming from my interview. One of my teachers has fifty, and you’ve got… well, you’ve got the most. I know you’re proud of that, but I hate saying the number. It terrifies me. Back to the rules: keeping quiet and keeping count. The two central pillars most important to follow to keeping you and anyone else out of the morgue. And I like to think, that for the most part, I had it down to a science. Headphones in public to keep any talkative types at bay, curt nods at the office to deter any conversations before they start. First day at work, I sent a mass message to every member of the office specifically asking to only communicate with me through email, no exceptions. I would recommend if you want everyone to think you’re a prick, but otherwise would suggest to avoid. I prefer any name calling to becoming the friendliest mass murderer in the company. I have nothing but appreciation for all the talking you did for me, I did try to keep the people to a minimum, spending most nights at home, ordered anything and everything online, no family left to speak with, and I certainly did not spend much of my days outside. One thing I did learn for this, for most people, there’s not enough interest in what I could say to cause any severe issues or arguments. A lot of the time people just don’t choose to walk away, they choose to speak their mind, where arguments and conflicts arise from. But then again, you’ve never really been “most people”, have you? I still remember the first time we met. Possibly the most cliché thing to ever have happened in my life. Bumping into the pretty new girl of the flat building as she’s carrying her boxes up the stairs cause the lift was under maintenance. It was fate, just like you persist both, we both know it. Any other person would have helped, or at least offered. But I couldn’t. Of course, you apologized and introduced yourself after reaching your floor, like the kind person you are. And of course, I said nothing and kept walking. The rest of the flat had already written me off as antisocial and weird; even if I had said hello, I figured someone else would convince you to come to your senses. It was the first time I doubted your perseverance. About a week after our first ‘talk’ you cornered me in the lift. By instinct I popped my earphones in and hoped you get the message. But I underestimated your tenacity, and instead you asked me what I was listening to. You’ve never been very good at picking up signals, you know that? It’d be something you could work on. I kept quiet, but you stayed insistent on getting something out from me. Eventually you asked if you could at least know what my name was. The first time I yielded to you. To this day, I’m not sure what I was thinking in that moment. Every instinct was to say nothing. Live life like I always had. Don’t succumb to my own self. Every strand of common sense screamed to say nothing. The ghosts of everyone who I had made my own victims pleaded me to say nothing. But your eyes wanted me to say something, just like that a broke rule one and the first pillar came crashing down. For reasons my head did not understand, my voice decided that trumped all. “Teddy.” Those were the first words I ever said to you. Obviously, they were about me, when they should have been about you. I cursed myself for it, it felt as if I had cursed you. First words were always the worst. First words meant having to add another name to my spiral notepad. First words were the first steps to the last words. First words with strangers are something I’ve dedicated my whole life to avoiding. But first words had never filled my heart with glee, caused a smile like the one you gave me, one impactful moment, to this day it almost felt worth it. Almost. That first word became a second, which became a third, leading to a fourth. One the first leak in the dam cracks through, the rest peak out after not soon after. In a way it was kind of like a guilty pleasure, at the time, at the time; you were still a stranger then. So much unknown about each other, so much mystery. Yet all I wished to be was completely transparent with you. I knew I shouldn’t be speaking to you, but just like others that come and go I figured I got let a few slip out, here and there, before I cut you from my life and I disappeared from yours. I decided I would set a limit to thirty; thirty words with the cute girl down the hall. It was the closest I came to flirting, I suppose. I didn’t want to be selfish or greedy. It’s your life we’re talking about. Later, in the unpredictable future, those words were the ones I regretted the most. The wasted words. The meaningless words. “How’s your day?” “Nice weather” “Take care” Once tallied onto your page, they never left, there forever. They could have been saved for better, more important words. You told me that, without them, we might have never got so close for that tally to matter, but I could never be so sure. Sometimes a simple “you okay?” Can mean so much, yet some days it can mean nothing at all. Words can hold all the meaning in the world, or be just absent and empty. Even then, something about you seemed to know how important those words were. Maybe something in my tone of voice gave away how precious and guarded they were, how fragile I made you seemed. As always you just would say you were a talker, but every little question has got large answers. You’d describe every detail of your day as we walked up the five flights of stairs, or the same in the lift and then killed time in the hallway. My nods enough of a contribution to our interactions for you to keep going. Little by little, you became the closest thing I’ve ever had to a best friend. So that’s why I had to tell you. Again, I couldn’t tell you why if you put a gun against my head. I never knew the reason for why, or how. But something about you compelled me to write a note to tell you everything, the reason behind the quietness. Why I would never say more than a few words to you in our ‘conversations’. How it had cost me my parents, family members, two teachers and a dozen school friends. I felt stupid, foolish and a selfish human being to ever endanger you by talking to you in the first place. I wrote this all down on a note, spilling all details, only the truth. Before I could second guess myself, I slipped it under your door during the night. You thought it was bullshit at first, of course, anyone would. Absurd as it I still persisted, all I wanted for you to know was the truth. You asked me if it was a joke, saying there were easier ways to say I didn’t want to talk to you anymore. That meant more than anything to me, that it was talking to you. But I didn’t want you to think I was planning you out of my life, I couldn’t blame you. So, I showed you my parents obituaries, along with teachers and classmates. How they had all died in their sleep, with no real explanation to how or why. No previous symptoms or health issues. I explained everything to you using notebooks and written words; for the first time, you were quiet, and I couldn’t stop talking. When I had finished, I was certain you would get up and leave. Instead you asked me if this meant I had spent my whole life alone. When I nodded, you took my hand and told me I shouldn’t have to.