Mouths Wide Shut
“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” -Wittgenstein
ONCE UPON A TIME there lived a man with a fearsome snore. Even the old lady with hearing issues in the neighboring apartment griped about it, so you can only imagine how the man’s wife felt. She prodded and pushed and rolled him over, but nothing worked.
One day, while the woman was recounting her sleepless woes, a friend asked if her husband had ever tried mouth taping. “Mouth taping?” she replied, befuddled. Her friend explained that, odd as it sounds, taping one’s mouth shut before sleep was a miraculous hack to prevent snoring.
That same day, the woman went to the pharmacy and bought a roll of sensitive skin medical tape.
This wasn’t her first attempt to remedy her husband’s snoring. She had earlier proposed he use a sleep apnea breathing machine, but he refused, citing its prohibitive cost (in truth, the Darth Vader aesthetics had put him off). This time he had no excuse. Putting on a brave face, he taped his mouth shut, and lay his head on the pillow.
The next morning, for the first time in recent memory, they both awoke refreshed. There had been no nightlong sawmill thrum, no explosive REM-blighting snorts from sleep apnea.
From that day on, he became a zealous mouth-taper. He wouldn’t even nap without first reaching for the roll. The resulting sleep was just that good.
Our tale may have ended here, had this been no more than a puff piece for mouth taping. But we are neither salesmen nor life-hack consultants, so hang on, for there’s more to this snoring business than meets the ear.1
First, some background: this couple, you see, were as torrid out of bed as in it. Lusty disagreements often broke out into fights that, at their most vitriolic, involved projectiles, miscellaneous destruction, and occasional minor bruising. They regularly and blithely exchanged the vilest epithets that would have capsized genteeler couples even as one-off incidents.
At the same time, despite these altercations, or maybe because of them, their relationship never stagnated or corroded in a festering grievance. This inclination to vent rather than suppress was even a matter of pride to them; it kept the flame of their passion alive. These fearless descents into gorges were precisely what allowed them to ascend to new heights. The plains were not for them.
Couples who never experienced bouts of discord, let alone tooth-and-fang fights—those who never argued, who never contested one another, who never retorted with even a hint of irritation or acerbity—these couples to them were papier-mâché replicas of the real thing. Any semblance of matrimonial ease and consensus was a façade, a castle of sand built on a foundation of hypocrisy, discontent and, if not outright lies, delusion.
And so the pair continued locking horns. But as the months and years passed, their fights grew more venomous. Squall after squall erupted, most triggered by some mindless comment that inevitably spiraled out into a hurricane of misunderstandings.
In each of their minds, past arguments rose and lined up and fell like dominoes, establishing irrefutable proof, as each saw it, of his or her respective righteousness. They glared at one another in open spite, consumed by a hellscape of resentment and wrath, vowing privately—and sometimes aloud too—that it would be a thousand times better to be alone.
They were in trench warfare, and it was clear there would be no winners. Close friends feared for the health of their relationship and warned them that they were engaging in a form of hate speech that was creating an unsafe culture for their marriage.
The couple experimented with various measures. They devised “Bomb Defuse” safe words for when matters got too explosive, they took up meditation (and considered medication) to cultivate equanimity, they advocated deep breathing in moments of rage, they vowed to listen and empathize and give each other space.
But a single snappy retort was all it took to raise their hackles and send the air crackling with violence, rendering all conflict resolution tactics moot. And so they warred on like Furies.
One morning, after an especially brutal row, the woman turned to him, her face wan from the savagery of their exchange. “Maybe we should try mouth taping during the day.”
“You mean, like… right now?”
“I mean like whenever we’re awake. It stopped the snoring, didn’t it? Nothing has worked. Time to go straight to the source.” She made a zipping motion across her lips. He nodded solemnly.
And so they each tore off a strip and, with a lusty kiss to seal the pact, taped each other’s mouths shut.
The rest of the day proceeded uneventfully. It took more adjusting for her, as she had never used mouth tape before, but she quickly acclimatized. She even slept with it, and deeply too, as she wordlessly conveyed with a thumbs up in the morning.
The days passed without drama. Whenever the tape lost its stickiness, they replaced it. If they ever ate together, they did so swiftly, eyes averted, with the uneasy, almost shameful haste of adolescents disrobing in a pool locker room.
A quietude settled upon their relationship. Being all-or-nothing sorts, they also refrained from writing messages. But they adjusted to the silence and inwardly lauded themselves on their liberation from idle chatter.
Naturally, this period was not without challenges. Meaningful glances and crude hand gestures can only take one so far. And certain time-honored acts of physical intimacy were obviously closed off to them. But they found workarounds, they found reach-arounds.
A week passed. There had been no squabbles, and even if irritations wordlessly arose, they no longer snowballed into bloody clashes. And how could they? There was no longer any snow.
The decision to remove the tape was spontaneous. A tap of the tape, a raise of the eyebrow, an exchange of gaze—these were enough to convey that the time had come. With trepidation, each removed the tape.
“Hello,” he said. “Well, hello there, stranger,” she replied. There was an oddness in their tone, a familiarity yet also remoteness. They had both expected a torrent of words to spill forth, a sharing of revelations, but nothing much happened. They shrugged and went about their day.
They exchanged few words until the evening. Then they discussed the peculiarity of the past week’s experience, but only briefly. They had little to say.
The next morning, they began to quibble over something trivial. It wouldn’t have even registered on their Richter scale, and there was little feeling behind it. But then, out of nowhere, she swung around and slapped him violently across the face.
They both froze. She was as stunned as he was by her sudden assault.
“We didn’t wait long enough, did we?” he said, raising a hand to his reddening cheek.
“I’m so sorry.” She looked down at her hand in shock and confusion. “I… No, I suppose we didn’t.”
It was time to eradicate the problem once and for all. They resolved to tape up for a full year. After sealing the pact with an awkward peck on the lips, they muzzled themselves.
The year proceeded uneventfully. They fell into a mild, comfortable routine. Without speech to differentiate and distinguish them, their identities began to blend over time. As with long-time dog owners and their companions, the two even started to resemble one another.
At the end of the year, at the predetermined deadline, they stood before one another. With unease in their eyes, they began to remove the tape.
They looked at each other, two overly familiar creatures. They waited and waited and waited, but nothing happened. It was no different than when their mouths were taped.
They had nothing to say.
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AUTHOR’S DISCLAIMER: I do mouth-tape, but only at night.