It is nearly time for the train to depart, and naturally, I am running a bit late. The sound of my pace is something akin to a cat walking across the keys of a grand piano. It is a stark contrast to the pleasing cacophony of brass and percussion contentedly humming and swelling around me, and it never fails to turn a few heads; not in admiration, but in some incredulity that I am interrupting their revelry. Today, my pace is so hurried that I nearly run headlong into the boarding doors of the train as they open with a dramatic arpeggio. At this, I sigh a small tune in relief; I truly did not need to embarrass myself further today.
As I step onto the train, the conductor looks behind him, then taps his baton at the podium below him to test it. When he is satisfied with the quietly buzzing gleams of electric life it gives off at his touch, he raises his arms slowly, then with a flick of his wrists, the doors of the train slam shut with the bravado of a great gong being struck to alert passengers of the depart. The wheels of the train slowly groan into motion with the moving intensity of a powerful orchestra, progressing ever further into an epic war song. Just as this battle symphony is about to become too overwhelming, the wheels grind into rotating faster and faster, giving off sparks of blue and green, and the train moves at a steady clip with the satisfied back-and-forth of a passionately played violin. The conductor plays the train forward, and the transportation is his grand symphony.
These are the facts of the world I belong to. Our lives are controlled by sound, and our days move along by the sound of music. It is woven into the tapestry of our everyday lives; our morning commutes, our work, our play, and our love. A desk job entails the clacking of a keyboard corresponding to synthesised pianos singing their words onto a
computer screen; the swings at a playground hum with the childlike up-and-down of a flute; without a song being sung, a confession of love would simply not be so.
But I have never taken to any of it myself. It is an unavoidable background drawl to my life, and I do not consider it necessary to my contentedness. In fact, I prefer to drown out the noise as much as possible — which is why the scared-cat piano walk barely registered to me as something out of place. It was simply something that drew attention to me, and that, too, is something I do not much care for. I am most content when I am alone doors closed and windows shut, able to focus on my work, speakers muted and ears plugged. My solitude is silence, but to say so would be sacrilege.
There are others like me. I recall one day around age eight, when another student came to school wearing something resembling the earmuffs you would wear in the wintertime, but larger and clad in plastic. When asked about it, he beamed and explained they were “noise-cancelling,” and helped him to focus better. Noise-cancelling? Why would you ever want to cancel noise?
The students were bewildered. Their whispers droned on like a cacophony of a thousand bees. The teachers tried to keep peace, but they were clearly bewildered, too, and treated him differently. The joy left that boy’s face in an instant. The next day, he returned without the device. I do not remember seeing much of that boy after that; looking back on it, he was probably pulled out of school. Symphony brings succor. I remember having to stand up and repeat that line every morning before school began. Silence is sacrilege. That was the second line, frequently gone unsaid. It was implied; it did not need to be spoken. Everyone knew it.
I knew that boy was like me. I had never been able to focus on much of anything for the noise. And that day, I learned that shutting out noise was something you could not do, if you wanted to live free of judgment. And so, I began shutting it out privately. When I was old enough to move out on my own, I found an apartment high above the ground, so that the music from below was little more than a dull, high-pitched hum, and the singing of the birds was easy enough to shut out. I went looking online and found that I could purchase a sort of noise-dampening material to put on the walls; apparently film sets use it to be more choosy about the noise they let in. I ordered enough it to cover every wall, and painted over it so it would be less noticeable. I also ordered the noise-cancellers I saw that boy wearing; apparently they’re mainly used by construction workers. It seems that noise-cancelling is perfectly fine as long as you’re doing it for work.
And so, home became my solitude. There was no noise, save for the occasional pattering of the rain against my bedroom window. For the first time in my life, I could focus. For the first time in my life, my life’s question was not, “How can I get out of this?” For the first time, the answer to that question was, “There is no need. I am home.”
I would like to seek out others like me. I dream of seeking out others to enjoy the silence with me. I have found one person; a woman whom I now call my wife. I occasionally wonder what became of that boy in my class. Could he be discovering his own way, carving out his own peaceful existence? I can only sincerely, genuinely hope. And extend to him, and anyone else like him, that he has kindred spirits, those who will love and accept him. Let us be your home.