Our secret word for the day

I’m terrified of making noise.

Maybe it comes with sleeping in the same room as my older brother for a large part of my formative years. His music always took precedence, I had to wear headphones. When he moved to China, my sister told me she thought I was a very considerate housemate, since I always listened to things on headphones. That was nice of her, but my politeness wasn’t really through choice. It had gone from being a habit to a part of my very nature.

My dad hated noise too. I was worried about making too much racket for fear of incurring his wrath. It seemed to happen without reason, and there seemed to be no consistent acceptable level of noise, so I got used to making as little as possible. When I was 10, I accidentally turned the cassette player on at full volume to listen to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band, and the whole house seemed to shake. I was so scared I ran upstairs to apologise, whereupon he told me he hadn’t noticed. I just couldn’t figure out the limits with that man: they seemed to change by the hour, and it made me a very anxious person, because I never knew how much I was allowed to enjoy myself before he’d come crashing in my room.

This hasn’t affected my life too much, but it makes me nervous at social events, especially in people’s flats if things are getting a little rowdy. Even something as harmless as putting a CD on can make me edgy. My friends might have noticed I will, from time to time, ask them to turn it down a shade, and I would no doubt continue to do so until it’s barely perceptible. I know this because I do it even when I’m alone, reducing the volume in tiny increments until even I can’t hear it if I leave the room. I become convinced a flatmate is going to angrily swing the door open to berate us, or there’s going to be a hammering at the door from angry neighbours, which has happened more than once – not, I might add, as a result of my volume. On one memorable occasion, a man ran into my friend Marie’s flat and threw me against the wall, screaming that he’d wrap my guitar around my neck. I admit that I was the one singing at the time, but I wasn’t very loud. I think he just grabbed me because I was the most prominent agent of noise at the party, but it certainly didn’t help my anxiety.

I also get agitated when I hear noises coming from other flats. Voices and music are fine, but if I hear banging doors or crashes, my heart rate leaps and I find myself checking behind me every five minutes to make sure no-one’s crept into my flat. Someone who lives downstairs slams their door shut so decisively that I can feel the vibrations in my feet. It’s been slamming for the past hour, twice while typing this sentence. It scares me.

All I want to do is put some music on and really hear it, and feel it occupy the space around me, instead of injecting it straight to my ears. Music isn’t supposed to be heard that way. It’s goddamn unnatural. All I want is to play my guitar a bit louder, to sing at a reasonable volume so that I might practice the songs I’ve written. But I can’t, not because my neighbours have hyper-sensitive hearing – I’m sure I could make twice as much noise as I currently do and no-one would hear me – but because my nervous disposition won’t let me.

So if I’m round at your flat, and everyone’s having a good time, and I suddenly go quiet and seem restless, now you’ll know why: because I think my dad or that guy in Marie’s flat is going to burst in and ruin our fun.

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