Demons at my Door


In times of high stress, or insomnia-induced exhaustion, I hear phantom noises. They range from a hiss or a tap, to loud pounding and deafening voices. Other times they’re at such a natural volume that I think they’re real; so I’ll check the door for a visitor or seek out the speaker with my eyes.

Several people have tried to convince me that this is tinnitus. From what I know about tinnitus, it occurs at regular ongoing intervals, the origin of the noise can be pinpointed inside the body, and while the pitch may change, the volume does not.

I have experienced tinnitus; high pitched ringing occurs a few times a year in one ear or the other. After a concussion that affected my left eardrum I heard clicking and popping for over a week. It was constant. Relentless. Nerve wracking.

When I hear the phantom sounds, they’re situated outside of my body. Knocking seems to come from the front door. Tapping from behind a wall. The doorbell rings from its mounted chime. Whispers spoken from behind my ear, as though there’s someone standing at my back and leaning over my shoulder to divulge a secret. It feels like it’s aimed at me. As though I’m seated at the centre of a circle of invisible speakers.

I never considered these noises unsettling until I realised that no one else could hear them.

When I was a child, our home environment was very loud. Even before the additional children were added. I remember listening to my parents party in our basement while trying to sleep on the second floor in a room I shared with my brother. At one of the parties, my father danced on top of the coffee table, and it broke. That sound woke me, but the laughter that followed pacified my fear.

My mother was thundering. Even when she wasn’t trying to be. Her voice was imposing, it demanded attention. It carried all over the house. In our environment it was routine for people to scream at one another from across across the room or different floors if they needed something. I don’t recall being asked to go summon anyone. Everyone shouted. At all hours.

Loud voices remind me of that period of time. Especially abrupt, unexpected shouting.

Tapping behind the walls I started hearing when I was eight. Sometimes it sounded like drumming fingernails. Other times like the timid knocking of a small child. Thinking about it gave me nightmares. I would dream about a boy boarded up behind the wall of my bedroom, or a woman with long fingers lovingly stroking nearby my form behind the plaster. I’d wake up screaming, and get told there was no noise. It was in my imagination. I haven’t heard noises like that since moving out of my parents’ house. I have heard it again during visits there.

Despite my late-night fears, I would play along with whatever was tapping during the day. Holed up in my room, I would drum my fingers back at it, and rap my knuckles in the rhythm with the disjointed cadence.

The house was settling. Echoes came up the vent from the dryer in the basement. There was probably someone in the next room. Rationality wins out over imagined darkness. We all want to be comfortable in our homes. Placated. Unafraid.

No amount of logic makes the sun rise faster.

The heart-stopping bangs and crashes… So loud I think someone’s broken into my house, or a shelf has fallen over… Those are the worst. The most jarring and intense. Sudden noise so powerful, I can feel the vibration in my bones. Especially when it wakes me in the middle of the night. I wish I didn’t have personal reference for those sounds. I wish when I woke I wasn’t afraid that I was 16 again, home alone, praying my parents would come back.

The insulated steel door on the side of our family house was riddled with dents from fists and boots. Which were from my brother, and which were from my sister is anyone’s guess. A few even belonged to mother.

Being on the other side of that door when one of my siblings was high or strung out was harrowing. I was left to babysit while my parents went out for the evening; with no intention of returning until after 2:00 am (when the bars close), even on weeknights. We’re not going far, you’ll be fine. Back by 11:00. Promise.

None of us had keys to our own home, and the rules were if you weren’t in before my parents went out, you wouldn’t be let in later.

I considered it a fair rule. After all, I was the one that got pushed into walls, or punched if I opened the door. But it was hardly ever followed.

Hours after saying “don’t open the door for anyone” the frantic banging would start, and threats were shouted through the barrier. I was faced with that at least once a week. During difficult periods, it could happen multiple times a night. Frightened, I’d phone my absent support system, only to be told to let them in.

From the phone: How long have they been there? What’s wrong with you? Do you want someone to call the police? Open the fucking door.

From my side: When you open this door I’m going to kick your teeth in, you stupid cunt. Open the fucking door.

I have this re-occurring dream where I’m standing in front of a door. It looks like our side door, but there’s nothing else there to support it; no walls, or frame. Everything surrounding it is black. The door pulsates in place from the force its being impacted with. There is a voice on the other side, but it’s barely human. Snarling, hissing, and growling is all I can discern. The closer I get the louder and more visible the collisions become.

I open the door.

I’ve allowed demons in my life, why not my mind as well?

Once I awoke in the middle of the night at an old boyfriend’s house because I thought I heard pounding, and someone screaming my name. When I opened my eyes and sat up there was silence. I was fully prepared to dismiss it as one of the phantom disturbances, until he grasped my shoulder and asked who that could be. Then it happened again.

Like the dream, I moved myself mechanically towards that door, feeling the reverberation of each blow buffeting within my chest… and I opened it.

I know what you’re thinking… What the hell is wrong with you? I agree, it wasn’t a smart decision. I cannot justify that. I can’t even explain it to myself. I knew who was there, I knew what state they were in, and I still opened the door.

I was more concerned about how my brother’s drugged out presence would affect the man I lived with than what could happen to me as a result of inviting an unstable person inside my home.

At around 3:00 in the morning, I got dressed and left the house to go to a party down the street with my older brother. Everyone I encountered was some degree of intoxicated. Somehow, in his unclear state of mind, he was able to piece together that he was close to where I lived, and rushed over to confirm it. The house was in rough shape, empty cans and bottles spilling off of surfaces onto the floor. Several kinds of drugs being passed around or openly consumed. Cigarette butts being ground into the carpet by people with their shoes still on. There was activity in every corner. He led me to the backyard, where about twenty people were gathered around a large bonfire that singed the leaves of a tree branch overhead. We tried sitting on a couch in the living room, but between the music, misplaced guitar player, and people shouting over the noise, it was a lost cause. The kitchen was standing room only, where people imbibed fervently.

As he led me from room to room, trying to find a place for us to sit, he seemed to become uncertain. He rubbed at his face, and gave wary looks to the things he saw. He started leading me by the arm, and insisting that I shouldn’t go off anywhere on my own. He persisted so strongly with this notion, that he wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom by myself. Yet as he guarded the door, a polite knock came, and he promptly forgot about me to open it.

It was a very surreal occurrence. The entire time I felt disconnected from my body. As though I was simply a pair of floating eyes taking a peek inside someone else’s life.

When the sun was rising, people began to leave. I told him goodbye, and went back to my house. After that, I didn’t see him for a few years.

As unconventional as that incident was, I wasn’t afraid at the time. I’ve been in more difficult predicaments in my life, and while comparisons are not a healthy coping mechanism, compartmentalisation keeps me sane.

The riotous racket still wakes me at times. I still get up to check the door. If my old demons seek me out again, I hope I have the strength to leave them in the cold.

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