Misophonia Primer or How You Hear Sound

Jenny Sadre-Orafai



Your favorite sound is a small airplane in an even smaller suburban sky. It reminds you of living in the Houston suburbs and too much sky and garage sales and listening to Motown on a radio outside. Even now when you hear a tiny airplane above you, you put your pointer finger up, interrupting what feels like everything, so you can hear the plane making its way somewhere else.


Breaking Spells

You've tried hard to understand why you're this way. What you come up with is that you're rarely present. You speed past moments so you can get to the future. Noises break that spell. Sounds remind you that you're missing this moment, and you don't like being told which space to be in. When it's quiet, when you're in your own special spell, a swell in the ocean, you can be anywhere but here.



You've mostly lived with dogs and the dogs you've known are mostly quiet. But then you live with your fiancé and his two cats. You're reminded that cats are serious cleaners. They groom their bodies incessantly. The sound of scratchy tongues raking through fur is a sound you can't hold for long. You ask them to be quieter or just stop. If it doesn't work, you leave the room. Most times they stop only long enough to watch you get up and go.



The first sound you remember hating was your grandfather's dentures. They slid around when he ate, and when he bit down on his sandwich cut in half, it sounded like two dominos slamming into each other. You felt bad that you hated his noise. It wasn't his fault. You tried to not be around when you saw him heading for the kitchen. You don't know if this is related to a recurring dream of your teeth breaking into your hands.


Eating Out

You were a shy eater before the sounds of other people eating started to bother you so much. Eating is a private act for you. You're the quietest eater. The people who say they love you try hard to make soft noises around food. They know your most hated sound is when silverware hits teeth. Sometimes their mouths forget and they bite their forks or spoons. You lean your ear into the heel of your palm.



You read somewhere that cats don't like to drink near their food. It has something to do with their hunting and killing instinct. You buy the cats a fountain. You set it up in the bathroom. At night it's the only sound you hear. When you first got it, you thought every ceiling was leaking. You stood on the bed and touched the top of the room. The fountain makes a choking noise when the water gets below a certain level. It sounds like churning. It also sounds like any machine. You're always first to hear it.



You were twenty-two when you heard your first and last real gun shoot. You thought someone blasted fireworks off outside the club. It was night and you looked up at the sky. Your boyfriend at the time asked, What are you doing? Get down. Someone's shooting. You weren't scared though. You were disappointed mostly.



Every time you and your sister took a bath your mother would tell you both to flip your heads over, the wet dripping on the floor. She put towels around your heads and gently dried your hair. It never lasted long enough. You pretended you were in a tunnel. Your favorite part was when she touched your ears through the towel and sounds would come in and back away from you.



Your father isn't afraid of noise. The only sound he can't hold is ice. Ice when he pulls it from the freezer and puts it in a blender for your cantaloupe shakes. Ice in someone's munching mouth. You weren't afraid of ice until you were. Now it's another sound that breaks the spell, that fills the room and steals the air.



Your mother wore large earrings. Sometimes she put on necklaces too. But she always slipped on three thin-notched yellow gold bangles from her mother-in-law, who bought them in Iran. You loved hearing your mom mix batter or clap her hands at a symphony or turn the steering wheel around a curve. When you became an adult, you bought some cheap bangles and wore them. They didn't make sound the same. Sometimes you pull them out and wear them. You slowly wave to no one when you miss her.



Your entire family has loud knees. Knees moan when your father goes to sit on the floor to play with you. They sing again when he stands up to make tea. Your own knees make sound when you push your body into different shapes in yoga. The sound is a knob turning and it doesn’t scare you because your mother’s there too with her ankles that move in circles, chattering when she’s watching TV.



You know sound is measured in decibels. You know there are different levels of sound. You know sound vibrates. You know a whisper in a library is thirty decibels. A snowmobile is one hundred decibels. Pain begins at 125 decibels. You think pain comes before then.



You learn online that misophonia is the hatred of sound. You learn that this is real. A psychiatrist tells you in her office, Yes, this is a disorder. She says, Neurological. It's soft airplanes in an even softer sky. You know that it's rare, but that it's you. You don't know what to do with the word. You think of swaddling it in bubble wrap and then worn blankets and then in pillows from your childhood bed.



Nighttime is for parties and talking and movies and loud. Your best time is 5 AM. You feel like you're the only one awake. No one else is making noise. Every sound is a soft echo of quiet. It's too early to hear dentures snapping at bacon on a sandwich or ice broken down in a mouth. The cats aren't ready to clean themselves.



You've been in the woods before even though you've never been camping. You do well when you're out there and with trees on every side of your body. Since you're quiet and nature's mostly quiet, you stand still and listen to the way oaks moan to themselves. You almost say I know.



Going to see a movie is difficult for you. Most people eat popcorn even though you don't, and when they do, they do it loudly. Action and horror movies aren't your favorites, but they're loudest. You go so you won't hear everyone eating. If someone sits next to you and isn't quiet, you miss important things because you can't hear the movie. There's nothing in the world but what's beside you.



There are people who find the quiet stifling. It makes them squirm and they don't know how to move in it or breathe. There is almost nothing you love more than quiet places—like libraries. You can hear your own breathing and probably the breathing of your neighbor.



When you were small, your mother put your hair in a ponytail and she reached into a drawer filled with loose ribbon. You tried to look to your side, like a rabbit, to see which color she chose. She shimmied the rainbow ribbon around the elastic and you loved the way it sounded wrapping around your hair again and again. Every time you looked at the ponytail you heard the noise.



One of your parents thinks she can trace your sound sensitivity to when you didn't feed your body. You ate crackers and drank water. You wanted to make your body so small and noiseless. You know that the sound of eating is what you dislike most.



Your home has three TVs and you never turn them on when it's just you. You find them loud and distracting. When the home has anyone else in it, the TVs are never turned off. You work in the quiet. Your fiancé works in chaos. You make words and he makes images, So it's different, you tell him.



The person you love most in the world who isn't related to you told you once that his favorite sound is rain on an umbrella. You have an app on your tablet that will play city rain, rain on a window, rain in a forest, rain on a tin roof, rain on a tent. You tell yourself that one day you'll record your umbrella. You don't tell him that your favorite sound on there is blizzard wind. You can't tell if it's real or not because you've never been inside a blizzard.



You've always thought that the violin makes the saddest sound an instrument can make. You don't know if it's the way they're held—like crying babies—or if it's just that they make you think of a wedding in a garden in a desert and you were the bride. You thought then that the violin was an alarm, so you didn't listen to it. You focused on the other instruments shining in a fickle sun. The sitar. That's the best instrument sound you've heard. One of your friends had a sitar at her wedding and you almost lay down on the floor.



Next to small airplanes, there's water. Large bodies of water are best, but you'll take a lake or even a stream if you have to. You watch it fold into itself sometimes. You hear a landscape that doesn't suffocate you. You let it pet your hair. You know whatever it says it will always be good news.


X-ray Hearing

Sometimes you think your sensitive ears are some kind of superpower like x-ray vision but with hearing. Maybe you're supposed to hear something that no one else can hear. You wade through every sound until you do.



Loud yawners are rare but you find it hard to be around them. They sound like they don't know what sleep is or like they are so relieved to stretch their mouths. They usually come out on airplanes because their bodies need more oxygen and now. You've written the word yawn and yawned but your yawns are quiet even if you've missed so much sleep.



Sometimes you think you're in a different zone than everyone else—one that amplifies every sound through some invisible megaphone. You don't know how to leave your zone yet. You think you'll be here your whole life, listening to it all.