Tuesday, July 31, 2007

My mother the rose turns the music down

Trying just to tell the story.

This is the story that came before I came here.  This is the book I wanted to close.

It's easier for me to write sometimes when I have music on.  It's like the sound drowns out everything I don't want to think about and lets me just write what I need to.  I'm listening to some strange stuff right now that Cam brought home from work.  A local group, women's voices.  Very pretty and very angry.

I listen to music with headphones on even when nobody's around to not want to hear it.  I always have.

When I hear that one song that just clicks for me, I want to get to know it.  I listen to it again and again, and really loudly. I know you're not supposed to, especially with headphones on.  You could damage your hearing, you'll be deaf by the time you're thirty, okay, okay; but if it's not going right through you, it's not music.  It's just background noise.

I could be dead by the time I'm thirty, too, and then what good will all that pristinely preserved hearing do me?

The first few times I listen to a song, I can barely understand the words.  I'm just listening to how the whole thing sounds. Then I start hearing, bit by bit, what's being said.

That must be what it's like before we learn to talk -- before we learn what language is at all. All those spoken sounds falling at us gently like balloons, and we just smile and reach up our hands for more.

Music has colors and shapes, but each note moves so quickly that it's gone almost before you can see it.  That's another reason I need to relisten to one song so much.  I want to see what it looks like.  It ripples by like water and all I know is that something was there and I want it back again.

I wouldn't want to be able to stop it long enough to really get a clear look.  That would be like killing a butterfly so I could stare at the pattern on its wings.  

I don't remember what music I was listening to that afternoon.  I remember the song seemed like a lot of tiny arcs caught inside one great one, all silver and crimson.  

Whoever was singing was saying exactly what needed to be said, and I was happy to hear it. It was one of those songs that feels like it'll never wear out no matter how many times you play it.

The sun was piercing through a gap between my bedroom curtains at that angle that always looked like a celebration.  Probably because it only looked that way in the late afternoon, when I was safely home from school and wouldn't have to think about going back until the next day at least.

I sort of knew my mother had come home, but it wasn't something I was particularly thinking about.  I knew she was downstairs, just as I figured she knew I was upstairs.  

When I was younger, when my mother or father or I came home, we'd check in with whoever was already there.  If you were the first one home, you were supposed to leave a note.  

Sometimes my mother would pick a rose instead and leave it on the table.  That was her name, so she got to use it as her signature. You could tell how long she'd been waiting for you by how much it had wilted.  

I used to save those roses.  I dried them so they wouldn't rot.  I'd never pick the roses from the garden -- she didn't like anyone else to touch them -- but I could keep one if she'd already taken it.

On the rare occasions that my father got home before either of us, he would leave one of his business cards.  I never knew if we were supposed to be his clients, or if it was some quaint Victorian leave-your-card-for-the-ladies-of-the-house gesture.

I usually drew a picture, of something from whatever I was reading or something we'd learned about in school.  Food, if I was hungry. Something I really wished they'd buy me, if there was a holiday coming up.

Whoever got home and found a note was supposed to go and find the person who'd left it; check in with them, talk to them for a minute.  My mother said that was how civilized people behaved.  You could even just say hello, but you had to say something.

Lately, we hadn't been doing that any more.  My mother would get home from work and just go about her business, like she had roommates rather than a family.  My father had been staying later and later at work; a lot of the time I'd be in bed by the time he got home.

They still talked to each other, but they talked at me rather than with me.

I was too afraid to ask what had changed and why, so I waited and hoped for it to change back.

That day I had some reading I was supposed to do, and some reading I wanted to do.  I was putting it off just a little longer.

Sometimes I read while I'm listening to music.  It makes it more intense.  But it has to be a book I've read a million times before, and the song has to be just the right one.  

Today I was just listening.  It was all I could do to soak in the sound.

There's plenty of music I like; but there are some songs that make me fly.  I don't even know why one song will strike me as that much better than another.  Maybe it's not even the music itself, or all by itself.  I was happy that day, I know that.  No reason; I just was.  And I was ready to be made happier.  So maybe the song had stopped by at just the right time.

Every time I played it I turned it up a little.  I really wouldn't have been surprised to open my eyes and find myself nose to nose with the ceiling.

There was a banging noise that didn't have anything to do with drums.  Jagged and angry.  And my name being shouted.

"Will you please turn that damned music down!"

My mother at the door. Which was still closed, fortunately.

I pushed "stop" and sat frozen, holding my breath.

"Thank you."  A pause, as if for an answer.  I didn't say anything, and she went on.  "Please try to remember that you aren't the only person who lives here.  Not all of us share your taste in music."  That last word pronounced very sarcastically, as if music was the last word she'd use to describe what I listened to.

I didn't answer, and there was the sound of her footsteps moving deliberately down the stairs.

When I could move again, I pulled my headphones off and looked at them.

They'd been on the whole time.  Plugged in. There was no other way for sound to get out of the player.

No one else should have been able to hear it at all, unless they were standing in the same room and heard that horrible hissing sound that other people's headphones playing other people's music give off.  And even that wouldn't be so loud that somebody downstairs would come storming up demanding not to have to hear that hideous din any more.

I knew the answer, of course, and it had to do with why they'd been avoiding me so much.  

It was coming from me. It was me.

The music had been pouring through me, and I let it.  I sent it.  

I should have kept it to myself, but I didn't.  Because if I sat and concentrated on making sure that no one else could hear it, that was admitting that there was something I could do that I shouldn't have been able to.  

I didn't need speakers to make the world hear music.  I didn't even have to open my mouth to talk.  

I wondered how long it had been since I really had talked.

1 comment:


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