Summer is coming to an end once again. The nights are getting cooler and our front tree’s top is becoming ominously orange. Soon, all around us, will be the colors of poisonous snakes and frogs from afar, hissing down from above. People will come from miles around to observe the sure death of all that’s green and warm. We’re off, heading to the mall for school shopping. I’m stuck in the backseat with Gum Smacker. Why can’t he chew with his mouth shut? My whole body is cringing from his smack, smack, smack. I’d like to just smack, smack, smack his face. I open the window all the way down, turning my face just right so the incoming wind can tornado deep down into my right ear. I stuff my finger as far as imaginable into my left ear, teasing my eardrum with never mending damage. But I don’t care. Maybe my life would be better if I couldn’t hear at all. Every smack of Gum Smacker’s gum jeers a tingling pain up into my head. The tingling is nothing new, though. I first noticed it in the second grade.
I’m stuck next to Emma in class. She’s ok. That is, ok from a distance. All the other girls like her. But me, I have to sit next to her. All day. And all day long her tongue becomes a suction cup, suctioning up onto her mouth rooftop and snapping down. A wet, suctiony snap. I might as well walk up to the chalkboard and—well, you know what—with my fingernails. All day long. Over and over again. It wouldn’t bother me. But then, well, at least maybe then she would know how it feels.
We’re finally at the mall and Mom is telling me I’d better fix my hair. The noise muffling wind has taken its toll. I quickly grab my brush from my purse and swipe my brown frizzy locks down over my ears, my last defense against Gum Smacker. Abby is already here waiting for me. Mom let’s us go on our separate way; we’ll meet at the food court in an hour. She and Dad will help Jeffery with his Kindergarten shopping while Abby and I head out for fashion!
“What happened to you?” she laughs, obviously observing my whirlwind hairdo.
“Brother love,” is all I have to say. We head into the first store and Abby is already eyeing the jeans rack.
“Too long…too blue…too…” she mumbles under her breath, fingering through the selections. This is why she’s my best friend. No one is more intensely picky than she is, than I am. She doesn’t think so, though. She says I have no fashion sense. I search and search through the same racks as she does. She knows the new season’s style before the runway models can stretch their long legs down the aisle. She’s now holding up a size 1 to her toddler sized waist. I know what’s next as her slanted hazel eyes size me up and down. Her teeth are beaming out her satisfaction as she lifts off the rack an identical jean, just, well, a few sizes bigger. She doesn’t even have to ask my size.
“Come on!” She grabs my wrist and takes the lead to the dressing rooms.
In my dressing room the smile shudders off my lips. I look inside the jeans and meet my dread. It’s all there—the long scratchy seams stemming from the bottom of the ankles all the way up to the waist (Why not just line the jeans with cactus?, I think). And then there’s the tag that will never cut off no matter how close I could ever possibly cut it. Even if I could, it would leave little prickly strings in its place. I would surely cut and pick until there was nothing left but a hole. Would anyone notice the draft in the back of my seat?
I undress and stare into the legs of the jeans once more. Maybe I can wear leggings under them. I wish I had some leggings right now. My head prickles. I scrunch one foot carefully into the opening. The seam is already rubbing the side of my foot; cactus needles spray up my leg and into my spine. I have to move faster. I yank the jeans up my leg, gasping in a breath, but I can’t breathe back out. My body convulses. I force my breath out. Now the other leg. It’s no easier, but I jerk them up quickly. My body has become the body of the cactus. Stiff, prickly, fierce. I’ve gotten the jeans around my waist, but I can’t button them—not yet. My fingers grasp the back of my underpants and yank them up protecting my un-expectant, exposed skin from the shock of the tag. Finally, they’re on. I look in the mirror. My face is pale but the jeans are perfect. Why do they have to be perfect?
Dr. Angle once told Mom that I have tactile dysfunction. Or, in Mom’s words, sensory issues. Me, I just say it how it is: I was the infant who they thought was colicky; I cried for hours, never giving in (not until winter ended and summer began, when it was too hot for my once-too-many-times-washed, scratchy polyester PJs). I was the toddler, bursting through the yard, leaving a trail of clothing behind me, shrieking and laughing, my naked butt shining in broad daylight for all to see. I was the pre-schooler, sprawled across the classroom floor in a full-fledged kicking and thrashing tantrum, refusing to put back on my bunchy, toe seamed socks over my air-gasping feet. And I was, and still am, the girl who will only wear cotton clothing, with minimum seams touching my body, who wears certain clothes inside-out, who cringes at even the thought of the wrong material touching my skin.
Abby peeks in on me now with her glowing cheeks. She whips the curtain open and poses her runway pose in her identical cactus torture.
“Love ‘em!” her voice gleams. “We have to have them!” I manage to smile back. She is my new shopping mom, picking out clothes that I secretly loathe, and then there’s me, faking a smile and pretending to agree.
Mom, Dad, and Jeffery are already waiting at the food court as we arrive. Dad’s checking his watch. I know his irritated frown all too well. And worse, his sickening teeth sucking habit that goes along with it. Ever since I can remember he’s had this habit, a memory I wish I could forget.
The kitchen tiles, new, opal swirled, glazed with wax under bare muddy feet. I leap, intentionally, square to square. My prints, perfect—symmetrically placed. So I think. But not him. A sound is coming out from within his tightly pinched lips. Lips that are thin. Lips that are curling unnaturally down. A noise that offends my ears, even though it is not a word. Air where there is no air. Only teeth. Only tongue. Open your mouth. Let in the air. No. Only the noise. His eyes are burning into my art upon the floor. I want him to yell. I want him to whip his hand across my butt. Breathe! Open your mouth! He does. I do not care what he says. I am better now. The sound is gone.
My feet start to slag in anticipation. A sharp pain is jabbing at my right temple. Abby stops to look back at me.
“Come on, Jess! Your dad looks pissed!” I try to walk faster.
My feet make it but I can’t make out his words. All I hear is tongue on teeth. Anger. Tongue. Knives piercing my skull. Is the anger his or mine? I can’t comprehend my own mind.
“Sorry Dad. We lost track of time.” My voice doesn’t match my emotion. My eyes drift to the ground, far away from the grimacing sound of his mouth. How can anyone look at him? Now Jeffrey’s at my feet laughing, poking my side with his finger.
“You’re in trouble! You’re in trouble!”
Abby’s slanted eyes are no longer slanted. I never knew they could grow so round.
“Jeffery, that’s enough.” Mom grabs his hand pulling his chanting body away from me. “Do you have another headache, Jess?” My eyes won’t meet hers, only the floor.
“Yeah.” If that’s what you want to call it.
I don’t know if Dad is still sucking his teeth, but the noise is engraved in my brain, grinding my temple, sucking my lifespan out through my ear canals. I need to plug them shut. Now.
“I’ll make you an appointment with Dr. Angle,” Mom decides.
I don’t respond. She doesn’t understand. How could she?
15-year-old Jessica believes that she is going crazy. Small, everyday sounds, like the sound of her brother chewing his food, or of a classmate clicking his pen, have suddenly begun to trigger within her an instant feeling of rage. She is afraid to tell her friends, her parents, or anyone, including the long list of doctors that her mother drags her along to, what is going on inside of her head. She is afraid that if she does, that they too, will then believe that she is, in fact, going crazy. Sound is a year long journey, from doctor to doctor, and of self discovery. While her life suddenly spirals out of control from her unknown disorder, Jessica also finds herself reexamining her relationship with her best friend, allowing into her life the older boy that she had always avoided, trying to cope with her grandmother’s sudden illness, fighting to stay in school, and secretly wishing to recapture her long lost relationship with her dad. But out of all of these things, there is only one thing that she can ever really focus on. The sounds. The rage. Wanting it to stop. Wanting to escape. And that, maybe she’d be better off deaf.
Sound by Kelly Bruno is a Young Adult novel on misophonia. It can be found on Amazon.
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