By Michele Filgate
To not know sound is to know it, because sound is all I’ve ever known. The not knowingness of it is what I live inside of; where I explore. My fingertips on the insulation that keeps the world from being too loud. The acoustic foam is spongy; my head is like the recording studio below my childhood bedroom, where my father spent countless nights searching for answers inside of the vibrations of percussion and loud guitars.
Listen to me, anyone says. And I can’t remember what they’ve just told me. Their voice brooms through my mind, pushes the dirt and dust from one side of my head to the other.
That’s because I’m seduced by the possibility of silence; something I see as evasive and confrontational, sure, but with the possibility of eroding my uncertain self, until I’m as smooth as a stone. Even when telling myself to focus on the space between the noises around me, I am afraid of those spaces. I hide behind noise.
A screen door opens and slams shut in my mind, over and over and over again.
But there are some sounds I squeeze myself into; I want to be held hostage, I want to be blindfolded so that I’m surrounded by nothingness; opened up by sudden thunder outside of my window, clean rain bouncing off of the peeling deck, hissing, warm, cloud tongue on earth, dirt becoming saliva.
My sneakered feet on the pavement one of those hums I suck on. Because sweat and breath and ground take me away from the void of sameness and stillness. I take air like someone who stayed underwater for too long, greedily, hungrily, as if it’s what will save me. During a run, I kite myself down sidewalks and up sloping hills. I am the wind and the stillness, I am the tug on the string. I am also the tree I get stuck in.
Hope smells like the glossy spelling books I had in third grade; the bold ink fucking its way into my consciousness; sweeter to my nose than pencil shavings and chocolate milk.
Onions in the frying pan, turning translucent in all of that heat and steam, are the smell of hungry nights, growling belly waiting for sustenance, November air so sharp it can cut you, keeping the window open anyway, hoping the neighbor gets a whiff of the comfort that cooks in my home.
The smell of silence: smoky, vaporous, tinged with blanket breath, shadows underneath my bed.
To see is to hunger for something. Sunlight slanted, stretched wide on a lake. A baby snapping turtle swims near the shore; it’s head is no bigger than a dime. I cup it in my hands; its feet tickle me as it lazily circles around.
I read at dusk, eyes following the alluring trails of sentences into the evaporation of light. Words so faint they are almost ghosts floating before my eyes. On nights when the moon is full, I move a book back and forth underneath the window, rope the luminescence for my own purpose.
I live in a windowless bedroom for several years. I sleep with the door cracked open, muted streetlight licking strange patterns across the dusty wood floor and parts of my soft navy blue blanket.
In a photograph from the late 1980s, I sit on my mother’s lap in a plaid dress. Her arms around me, the entire world.
To taste sound, you have to whisk the cookie batter around the metal bowl, clanging it against the sides, swirling sugary maple syrup and raw eggs together, thickening it.
I spoon the dough onto the cookie sheets and put some in my mouth. I run my wet fingers around the bottom, scooping up the goodness, eating more. I like the firmness of the chocolate chips, the way the batter dissolves on my tongue.
To taste silence, you must make a cup of very strong, very black coffee and sip on it slowly. Birds will chirp, cars drive by, toilets will run, but coffee means intention. Hyperaware focus. Bitterness and relief.
To touch sound I have to live inside of it for a while. Vibrate myself into existence. Womb-woven by unspoken words; origin stories and recreation myths.
I crave contact with materials; the relief of the mat underneath my hands as I go into child pose. Curling into myself while stretching away. Rooting myself into rubber. Wanting to be as flexible as it.
To touch breath with balance. I hold the weight of it in my hands, when all I want to do is make breath bloom.
All of these noises and not-noises a steady soundtrack in my life. A song I was born knowing. A song I have yet to learn.
Michele Filgate is a contributing editor at Literary Hub and VP/Awards for the National Book Critics Circle. Her work has appeared in Refinery29, Slice, The Paris Review Daily, Tin House, Gulf Coast, The Rumpus, Salon, Interview Magazine, Buzzfeed, The Barnes & Noble Review, Poets & Writers, The Boston Globe, Fine Books & Collections Magazine, DAME Magazine, Biographile, The Brooklyn Quarterly, Time Out New York, People, The Daily Beast, O, The Oprah Magazine, Men’s Journal, Vulture, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Capital New York, The Star Tribune, Bookslut, The Quarterly Conversation, The Brooklyn Rail, and other publications. For seven years she worked as an events coordinator at several different independent bookstores: first at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, NH; then at McNally Jackson in Manhattan; and finally at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn. Michele was the producer of a segment for the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric called “Assignment America” and has also produced literary segments for “Word of Mouth” on New Hampshire Public Radio. She teaches creative nonfiction for The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop and Catapult.
Featured image by Tiffany Lucero