While walking over the empty lakebed, we stopped dead in our tracks. A potent silence stilled us, and without saying anything to each other, we understood. We stood for a long moment, looking to the distant horizons, the void of sound filling us. In those few seconds, there was peace on earth.
Silence is sacred.
Dad left. Mom got a new husband. Stanley never got a chance to acquaint himself with the man who now lived across the hall. The man across the hall had a few opinions about how Stanley should carry himself, in spite of the newness of their relationship. Stanley didn't agree.
Drinking helped. On Fridays it was Alejandro with the bottles of White Wolf, concealed in the shadows of a public park. Saturdays he drank forties in Jack's mom's basement. Jack's mom gave up her opinions about how Jack should carry himself as an offering to her despair. Sometimes he could even smoke weed down there.
One time a kid came by that Stanley didn't know. He was kind of dirty, kind of weird. He was holding ecstasy, and shared it with them as he told stories about the whispers in the canyon.
It must've been the drug talking. Stanley had heard these stories before. He couldn't bring himself to believe there really were voices out in the canyon. Yet this dirtyweird kid spoke with the conviction of a prophet, and weren't all prophets met with dismissal by the less imaginative.
I used to cover my ears whenever loud music was near. As a child my favorite song was "It Ain't Easy Being Green." Anything noisier would send me crying to mom. I was sensitive to any kind of music that pursued chaos, dissonance, or abstraction. I couldn't imagine anyone who could listen to such music voluntarily.
When the loudness arrived, it came like a flood. Distortion and feedback, drums and guitar, songs that bled and peaked and roared like thunder. I loved the songs that were too big and too noisy for their own recordings. I sought the kind of music that made me worry for my headphones. This fear was justified, I lost many pairs of headphones to the explosion of sound passing through.
Mom, with a background in Deaf Education, has always been especially worried about my hearing. It can't be good for you, all that noise. Once you lose it, it's gone for good.
I lost it. It's gone for good.
They arrived at a glade of aspen in the belly of the canyon. Some other kids had set up couches and mats to lay down on. Stanley settled into the couch and listened. The voices were real. They said things to him. At first it seemed they were speaking directly to Stanley, he wondered if everyone heard their own personal voice. Then the voices told a joke and everyone laughed. Each laugh charged with surprise. Everyone else was hearing it too. They were all here, experiencing it together.
On their way back to the car, Alejandro noticed some older kids sitting on picnic blankets, listening to radios. Stanley could hear the whispers coming through the radio speakers. He asked them why.
"You really shouldn't go down there and listen to them like that," said an older kid. "You can tune into them on a radio if you're close enough. I heard that bad things happen to people who listen to them in the trees."
Jack got in the car and just started laughing. Stanley and Alejandro joined in. Pussies, said Stanley.
Communities on the internet have gathered for people with tinnitus. Reactions vary from "I have tinnitus, it's not that big of a deal," to "My ears won't stop ringing, should I just put a bullet through them?" At times I can relate to both.
Sometimes I can ignore the ringing. Other times, particularly when I'm thinking about it, the volume rises to match the level of silence in the room. Right now, as I'm writing about it, it's screaming.
Stanley spent his days wondering where the voices came from. Alejandro liked to think they were the voices of long gone Native American teenagers, while Jack believed they were aliens just trying to connect to anyone in the galaxy who could relate to them.
They graduated from high school and visited the glade all through college. When they encountered the odd visitor on the outskirts, listening to the whispers on the radio, they nodded and said hello.
Stanley wondered if he should at least try it their way. A lot of people were reporting weird things happening to them. Stanley threw those thoughts onto the pyre he had previously constructed for the rumors of the whispers in the first place, back when they just sounded like the ramblings of a teenager who took too many mushrooms and went nuts. It was easy kindling to warm Stanley's mounting fears. Still, he couldn't bring himself to do the radio thing. It just wouldn't feel the same.
Why didn't I just wear earplugs, you ask. I don't know, why don't you floss? Maybe you do floss, and I'm the sucker yet again. Well, do you always consider your health, no matter what you're getting into? Still yes? Well, fuck me, I guess.
This was definitely not normal. He usually stopped hearing the whispers when he left the canyon. They had never followed him home before.
At first, it didn't alarm him too much. They were still just telling stories, singing songs, writing poems. When he crawled into bed they started to sound different. They sounded lower, like someone talking in their sleep. They called Stanley by name. They told him how mother's husband thinks about you, Stanley, whenever he gets his cock in his new bride.
Covering his ears only seemed to make the voices louder, more intimate. He didn't tell Alejandro or Jack about it for weeks. He asked Alejandro if he could buy him some White Wolf. Alejandro said, yeah, dude, I'll be right back, then after he parted the whispers teased Stanley for his weakness to alcohol. They started to sing a song about how Stanley wished a white wolf could come to chase the whispers away.
At dinner, as mom and her new husband talked about politics, the whispers asked Stanley which he thought would hurt more: to stick his fork into his own neck, or to pull it out.
Depression feeds tinnitus. They say the more depressed you are, the worse it gets. Then the noise has the added effect of making you more depressed, at the realization that you gave yourself this condition. The cycle begins. The deeper the depression gets, the louder the noise becomes. The louder the noise becomes, the deeper the depression descends.
Now to wait, until the silence returns.
Thanks for reading. Leave a comment below if you have a similar experience to share. When we listen to each other, we get better.
Check out howlsroad.tumblr.com if you are so inclined. Or Tweet @HowlsRoad. It'd be nice to hear from people who are reading.