The House I Heard
Anyone who associates with me in cyberspace probably knows about my love of bright, bold colour and pattern and would therefore tag me "a visual person". I am. I am a visual learner. All attempts to teach me verbally are wasted. I must see you do 'it', I must see a picture of 'it' being done, or I must read the explaination. Anyone who knows me in person knows that doesn't make a whit of sense. My eyesight is terrible, but my hearing is painfully, strangefully acute.
Soul Food's Box of Chocolates contained an article about abandoned buildings and some corresponding descriptive exercises. I was hesitant at first to consider going back home again; it wasn't usually a fun place. But then I 'saw' my brother as a young boy, when he was still my best friend instead of a resentful stranger. And it wasn't the activities and events that I remember today, but the sounds. All my contented memories of home are sounds. When I think of playing with my brother, I hear the sound of the checkers clicking on the board. I hear the sound of the plastic game wheel clicking and whizzing on the board of Life. The whooshing hiss of the Sorry! gamepieces sliding back a gagillion heartbreaking 'moves'. I hear the thud and sharp echo of the soccer ball bouncing back and forth on the linoleum-on-concrete hallway in the basement. I hear the toy cars rattling down the upstairs linoleumed hallway between my bedroom at the end and his bedroom by the living room.
Those were the day sounds. I miss them. But even more, I miss the night sounds. I was born with a sleep disorder characterized primarily by chronic insomnia and night terrors. We children were put to bed at appropriate bedtimes for children our age and my siblings quickly drifted off to a restful slumber. I learned very young to consider lying in bed listening to the puttering of my parents a form of comforting entertainment. The sound of mother reading the paper in the living room. Her green mug of decaffeinated coffee clicking on the coaster as she set it down. The ice clinking in dad's glass as he read Mickey Spillane and sipped a scotch whiskey. By listening for hours on end, I came to know my parents more intimately than my siblings. I knew what they read, what they drank, what they ate and when they ate it, what they talked about, the tones of voices reserved for each other in private, their endearances never made public.
But those were the sounds of life. No one in that house knew the house itself more intimately than I. I listened to my parents after my brother and sister went to bed, and I listened to the house after my parents went to bed. Throughout the night there was always an intermittant creak and pop in the floor under the carpet in the living room. The sound of the furnace turning on and off. The boom and then the whoosh of heat forced through the vent. I listened to it and envisioned myself being enveloped by warmth, by the love and loyalty of a home that knew I knew it well. I knew its rythm like I knew my own breath. And I knew every minute that clicked past on my brother's clock with its flip-style numbers. I knew who was rolling over in which room by the peculiar creak of each boxspring. I knew the position each one lay in by the different sounds of his or her snoring. I knew them when they weren't aware of themselves. The house and I. We listened and we cared even though no one knew but us.
When I was twenty-one, we all moved out and my parents sold the house. I was bereft. I cried and cried. My sister guffawed at this and shouted incredulously, "But you HATED it there!" Yes. My hell was in that house, but the house itself was a haven. That's a difficult one for others to understand. The behaviour of the people in the house was something to be endured, but I took solace in the house itself. The hurt of angry, unkind words was soothed every night by the house I heard. Never since have I known such sound solace.
Today, I sleep with earplugs in to shut out the distractions of the traffic and the fishtank pump and my husband's snoring. During the day, I wear earplugs to shut out the distractions of cartoons and music and kitchen spills and workshop tinkering. The only sound there is no stopping is the sound of "then" scraping up against "now".