Do you know what’s the hardest thing to bear?
The silence. The godforsaken silence. The aliens in Doctor Who. The Silence. Capital T, Capital S. It inhabits you. It holds you close, it permeates your pores.
You don’t know quiet. You only think you know what its like to be quiet.
Imagine your house, right now. Now listen to the background. The hum of your refrigerator, the power supplies of your computer and power strips. Your cable boxes and console games. Your feng shui water fountain in the corner of the room, gurgling away.
Now imagine you are suddenly in a blackout. Nothing makes a sound. Now your house is quiet, truly quiet. But your neighbors are in an uproar so the silence is still broken by conversation and grousing about the failures of the power companies.
Move yourself toward the quietest place you know in the wilderness. The darkest most remote mountain forest, with the smell of old pine needles rising up as you walk through a place no one has seen. You stop moving, realizing there is no breeze. It’s late in the year, there are no insect sounds, no animals. Just you and the mountain. A stillness that aches within you.
Alone in your coma, your inner stillness is deeper than that.
And deeper still when there is no one on the ward. No machines near you. No lights on. Not in your room, if the door is open, not in the hall. That familiar hum which tells you the fluorescent lights are on above you. All you might hear is the squeak of the heel of a nurse at the very far end of the hallway, nothing more.
You strain your ears for any sound. The whisper of a fan, the creak of a door, the muted unintelligible sound of a distant TV. These sounds, when you are craving to hear them, and you didn’t know you would miss them, become more precious than gold. Move valuable than water in a desert, slaking thirst.
These are the sounds which hold you to the idea, there is even a reason to be alive. There must be a reason I am here. What am I learning? For the first time in my life I realized learning was for moments like these. It would fill the silence with science, with reason, with an effort to understand the real meaning of life, as best I could without research materials, wise words from ancient scholars, I would have to pare back reality to find truth on my own.
These were the worst nights. Nights when the silence couldn’t be countered with reason. Couldn’t be countered with silent rage filled tirades against my family, against my gene pool that cursed me with this immobile hell.
Why didn’t I just die? What is the evolutionary benefit of living as a vegetable? Was this a sign my ancestors had cared for an ailing relative for longer than they should and he managed to spread his defective genes? Or was this some congenital failure bred into the family line by accident, by mutation, by natural selection, reducing the lesser quality gene combinations until only superior specimens survived. Oh, and me.
I am in tune with nature.
I looked forward to visiting day. But for you to understand, know it wasn’t because my family were consistent visitors. God, knows they weren’t. But I loved to hear the sounds of relatives when they visited the coma ward. They would talk to their loved ones, voices quiet, talking of old times, young children, favored past times. Sometimes, I would hear illicit conversations with the spouses of those who had not come to grips with their loved one’s condition.
They might talk of lost passions and sometimes of renewed passions for someone new. There would be begging for forgiveness and then the quiet mathematical curve of reduction in their visits. In the time they would stay, the number of visits per month, what they would say while they were there.
After a while, I knew when the last visit would be. The curve would dip down in conversation until they would eventually come and say nothing the entire visit. This meant they had reached the resolution, the acceptance of the condition, that the person didn’t hear them, couldn’t hear them and would never hear them again.
They realized no words were necessary, nor would they matter.
They would make two two three more visits. Speaking a little more each time, tidying up, closing down the relationship from their end. Undoing their bridge that connected them to the person. They will go back, but at this point it will be when they felt obligated. When they felt guilty about being happy in their new life.
When their new life wasn’t happening.
I wept on the day of silence. When a visitor came and did not speak, I screamed out in pain. “Talk to me. I need you. I wait for you to come. I want to hear your voice. I don’t care what you are talking about. I just don’t want you to stop.”
They sit quietly. Sometimes I imagine the uncomfortable silence. The rustle of the clothing. The awkward downward staring, shoe string wondering, how long before the urge to leave, overpowers the obligation to sit, just a bit longer. On the day of silence, I want to scream at them. “How could you leave them? They need you. They loved you. You can’t go on with your life. You just can’t.”
It’s probably good no one can hear me. I eventually realize I’m wrong. They deserve to get on with their lives. How long can they live their life on hold?
How long can you live without sight?
As far as I can tell I stopped really seeing things in my mind after the third year. In the beginning I could still see everything like it was right in front of me. My spatial skills were always good. In my architecture class, 3D visualization, the ability to see a space from a blueprint was consider a great skill to have. I didn’t have the heart to tell my professor it came from years of playing DOOM and running through virtual dungeons.
Better that he thought I was a genius.
This power stood me in good stead in the early years. I imagined my route home from every location I had ever been able to roll over in a car. I would replay the journey from the house to the school to the market, to grandma’s to the hardware store, to my buddy Paul’s house, to the arcade, to the ice skating rink in the snow, in the rain, the burning hot summer, reflecting off the blacktop, heat ribbons distorting the distance into a visual curtain obscuring the future.
I miss those. It has been a long time since I could visualize an entire journey in sense-around 3D. After the fifth year, my distance vision faded. The breath of my visual illusion faded, my 160 degrees narrowed to 120 degrees and eventually to 90 degrees. I had to concentrate harder to maintain my sense of where I was, what things looked like, I had to focus on how to get there and nothing else.
It took longer. I got lost. Soon, I couldn’t see anything . I could, like a strobe light, see things close up, for a brief second in high relief, and then everything turned black again. I could make it home less and less often. My dreams, if I started in the hospital could never take me home again. If I woke up in home, I was okay. I could still see my house. I was more familiar with it than any place else in the world.
Eventually I gave up trying to drive home and just visualized myself in the house without the journey. I ultimately realized I would lose those memories if I didn’t use them but after seven years, I decided to conserve my mental energy for what was most useful.
I didn’t travel any more. I just teleported where I wanted to be. Closed my mental eye, visualize where I was going and bang. I was there. If I was stupid enough to open a door, there was nothing out there but blackness. Or super-bright whiteness, which can act just like black.
I was able to travel to these virtual places for another year before the only place I could remember was home. It had been eight years before I began to forget things in the house. A lamp here. A trashcan there.
By Christmas of the eight year, I could no longer remember anything about my home, except my family and a small brown and yellow teddy bear. My first teddy. Teddy.
Christmas Day, Carl, Kalie and Mom came to visit collectively for the first time in two years. I could hear it in their voices, something unspoken, still unresolved and contentious, their voices were strident, sharp, cutting and angry, even while they pretended they were having this conversation without rancor.
Once I got over hearing their voices, I listened to what they had to say and the most important part was that I would be moved into an inner city hospital where I would become a ward of the state.
I tried to be stoic. How much worse could my life be?
Part 2 of 3 – Jump to part 3
Listening as the World Walks By © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved