There is a constant hum that is the score to everyday life now. It grows louder when I catch sound bytes of the day's or week's local, national, and global death toll; louder when I glance at a briefing by a politician heralding new closings and social limitations. Louder when I receive another update from our school districts about how to prepare for the week's distance learning as another "new normal."
When I began dating Heath seriously and became a fixture at his (large) family gatherings, I noticed that I was becoming more sensitive to sound, particularly noise. Despite years of teaching in high schools, where rowdy teens squeal, scream, growl, and shout, where the clanging, crowded cafeteria is my nightmare, where attending football games or Homecoming parades means holding my ears amid the cheering, I was now aware that with each party and holiday gathering, my inner ears ached.
Apparently, this is a thing. It's gotten worse over time. There's nothing that can be done. According to researchers at the Swedish Karolina Institute,
Women suffering from stress-related exhaustion exhibit hypersensitivity to sounds when exposed to stress. In some cases, a sound level corresponding to a normal conversation can be perceived as painful.
Literally speaking, there is little quiet in this house. Our kids are 7, 9, and 11 and love each other so hard that what often starts out as a hug devolves into wresting on the floor within seconds. A somewhat choreographed "routine" on the trampoline, which usually begins by resembling a circus of flying squirrels, becomes an unholy chorus of screaming because what are trampolines for, if not knees in backs and feet in faces? Playing is yelling and laughing and scream-laughing and scream-ecstacy. The exquisite relationships our kids share with one another is best summarized in this sentence, overheard just the other night when one boy yelled to his brother: I SWEAR IF YOU PEE IN THIS TUB I WILL NEVER EVER TAKE ANOTHER BUBBLE BATH WITH YOU FOREVER!
It is quiet when they are asleep. Not a moment sooner nor afterward.
Five weeks ago when our shelter-in-place began, I'd hoped to (finally!) start a yoga regimen. I like yoga, and since I've been nursing some plantar fasciitis, this would be something like exercise. So: I found my yoga bag (in the garage), dusted it off, and opened it to reveal a very sandy yoga mat. I couldn't remember why there was sand on the mat, nor why there
were five very smooth, palm-sized, flat stones in the bag, until it dawned on me that I hadn't down-dogged since summer, when a friend invited me to a class on the banks of nearby Lake Ontario. I told the kids that their every need, whim, and injury was now to be tended to by their dad, and snuck into the basement before they could ask what "wrath" and "solitude" meant. I unrolled the mat, pressed play on the laptop, and began a 40-minute yogic workout. It was to be an island of quietude in an otherwise chaotic day.
The next day, I thought I'd developed the flu. Or worse. I couldn't get warm; my upper body ached so badly I squinted through the pain. No fever, no chest pressure. But: It hurt my whole body to make coffee. It hurt three days later. Was this the price of solitude? Was this the wrath of my musculature, pissed for having been neglected for three seasons?
No symptoms. So: no rest. No quiet.
Like loads of other parents hoping to stave their kids from watching hours of "Five Minute Crafts," I created and then scrapped and then re-created and revised a schedule (but mainly so that I had quick answers for What are we doing today?).
Quiet time was to follow lunch; one hour of downtime, when we could each find a corner and be alone with our thoughts, read, write, build Legos, or (please Lord) nap-- which did happen, once. Quiet time was supposed to let me decompress, rejuvenate for round two: the afternoon.
The kids actually know to go upstairs around 1 p.m. and let me have some peace. But it's not just about that. This has become 45-60 minutes when I have to deal with that background noise--the other, nagging noise that can't be quieted.
Who is dying right now, while my kitchen is filled with sunlight and I can smell fresh coffee?
Who is feeling achingly alone right now, while I hear my children giggle to each other between their bedroom walls?
Is my husband safe going to work every day? Are we safe when he comes home?
Who is next?
When will this end?
This cacophony doesn't hurt my eardrums. It makes my heart ache.
Oddly, what quiets my insides are these things:
Music that makes me feel like it's my own soul screaming.
Reading that roots me in someone else's real world.
Virtual dates with friends.
Until we can emerge and be together, I have to try to maintain an equilibrium. When finally we can walk alongside each other, smile at each other without a screen between us, we will mourn every soul who we lost but couldn't weep for together. We will look a little longer at each other's faces because we will be beautiful all over again to each other. And then we'll celebrate living. We'll party. And I won't mind the noise.