Drowning in Sound


Belief in psychic phenomenon was a regular part of my life growing up. My mother and my aunts spoke openly about their instincts, and the way people made them feel. People still talk about my great-grandmother Sadie’s psychic abilities.

Personally, I go back and forth with my belief in the paranormal multiple times a day, even in the face of things that are difficult to rationalize. Let me explain…

I don’t know when I heard the word “psychic” for the first time. It feels as though it’s been a part of my vocabulary forever. I have this reel of imagery in my mind, of going to visit an elderly family member with my mother and receiving a prediction. I question the accuracy of this memory, because I was about five or six years old when it happened, and what I was told was not very encouraging. In fact what was said haunted me for most of my life, and made me feel like nothing I attempted or accomplished would ever matter, because this thing was going to happen, and it would nullify all of my efforts anyways. But in some ways, it also allowed me to be reckless and take more risks than I may have without the insight.

It wasn’t said directly to me. I remember being there, but not being fully involved in the conversation. I was a child, and adults in my life often speak about children as though they aren’t present. The predication was that I was going to die in my 30s, likely around age 31, in March or May, near the end of the month. I would be alone in my home at the time, and it would be sudden, painless, and unstoppable. There were so many more things said at the time, but I’m unable to recall any other details.

I consider this string of images the birthplace of my anxiety.

I thought about what was said daily. For years. It was an obsession. I had limited time to achieve all of my goals. In first grade, I started keeping journals. I would write out ambitions and ways to pursue them with coloured pencils. People began commenting on what a serious child I was, and my mom would respond, “She’s been 30 since she was five.” In hindsight, I wonder if the older people around me thought it was a phase. I’d still go to school, do homework, watch TV … but inside there was always this nagging spark, sending up smoke signals instead lighting my kindling and showing me the way.

What I wanted to accomplish seemed impossible with the timeframe available.

I decided to run an experiment. If I could cause myself to have a psychic experience, then the prediction was real. I would continue trying to live my life to the fullest with the time that I had left. If I couldn’t believably induce a psychic experience, I could focus on being a kid and wouldn’t have to worry about dying young.

No pressure, right?

We had a set of encyclopedias in our basement that my parents bought from a door-to-door salesman. I was obsessed with libraries and bookstores already at that age. I setup a card catalogue system for them and the other books with my older brother. There were stations and stamps setup to sign books in and out. Being in the basement with the books was my haven, and it’s where I did all of my research.

I hit the books.

I started with the words “fortune” and “prediction” and chased my way through the definitions. It didn’t take long for me to find the words paranormal, psychic, and telepathy. The explanation helped me understand the words, but not how to trigger my own experience with the phenomenon. I was eight years old. I was out of my depth. But I wasn’t discouraged.

Out of all of the terms I reviewed, I understood telepathy the most. It was mind reading. I took an assumptive approach to it. Lingering in hallways, and doorways; I’d stare at someone and try and guess what they were thinking. Upon getting caught lurking, or choosing what I thought they were thinking, I’d ask what they were thinking. I’m not sure how long this went on, perhaps less than a week, but my family definitely did not appreciate my constant questioning of their thoughts. It bled into conversations with my classmates, and school teachers as well. I’d ask people to guess what I was thinking, be it limited to colours and numbers or open to passing childish whims.

The guesses were rarely correct.

I honestly don’t know why I kept trying. “Winning” was only going to confirm that I would die sudden and unexpectedly. I could have taken all of my failed attempts, named myself victorious, and written off psychic potential as bull shit. But I’m stubborn and curious (still to this day).

After weeks of trying to read minds, and project my thoughts into others, I tried something new.

One night, the nerve pain in my back was keeping me up and I was hiding over my covers with a flashlight reading a book. I have no idea what time it was. During that period, I shared a room with my older sister, and neither of us had alarm clocks or phones. I often read until I passed out, or my flashlight died. I think I was reading one of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. There was a passage where a vampire was overwhelmed by being able to hear all of the thoughts of humans in the vicinity, including those belonging to people flying in planes over head.

I reread this several times. I stared at the words on the page until my eyes hurt because I wasn’t blinking.

I remember putting the book and flashlight away under my pillow, and settling in as if I was about to go to sleep. I made myself comfortable, and took a few deep breaths. And consciously, I opened myself up for everyone nearby. I willed myself to hear something by repeating a simple mantra in my head. I’m listening. I’m listening. I’m listening.

Maybe it was because it was late, and I was in pain. Or perhaps it was the optimism I had as a child. I kept doing it. Undeterred. My rapid repetition of the thought was an unmeasurable time span. I had my eyes squeezed shut, but kept my breathing low and even throughout. I was tired, but I didn’t let up.

The first sound I heard stopped all of my thoughts, and my eyes flew open. It was a woman’s voice at the trail end of a sentence. -again tomorrow. I held my breath and waited for her to continue. I didn’t know where it came from, or what to focus on. I stayed as still as possible. I was a radio antenna tuned to a signal, unwilling to risk my connection.

I heard someone laugh, I think it was a child. There was a man’s voice that was interrupted by other voices, some of them whispers, others were louder and echoed after ringing out. I remember being ecstatic to hear all of the different sounds and words. How some of them were heavy and slow with emotion, and others were soft and musical from dreaming. I should have been afraid, but I was excited.

More voices joined, and I could picture faces to go with them. Brief, blurry images of people in their homes, in bed, watching television, adjusting their position in a chair. I became aware of where the voices were coming from. Not a specific location, but a general direction. If I focused on a single voice it would get louder briefly before fading away at the passing notion of its originating voice. There were too many to separate, and I found myself getting confused as I tried to listening to a single stream of sound, instead getting a combination of voices speaking over one another without making sense.

And it kept getting louder.

The headache started when I couldn’t pick out individual voices anymore, yet the sound kept growing. Physically, I was still in bed, but I couldn’t feel it anymore. My room was dark, but with eyes squeezed shut I was surrounded by violent spirals of grey mist.

I could feel my teeth clamped together, and my hands squeezing on both sides of my head. Neither of these things helped. The noise had reached a deafening level of ambience. Torrents of sound raked over me as I lay prone to them.

I remember screaming stop it, stop it, stop it with the same fever and insistency that I’d opened myself up by pledging I was listening.

When silence did fall over me, I thought I had lost the ability to hear external sounds as well as my own thoughts. It took a moment for me to realize I still had stop it, stop it, stop it repeating through my head. But it was so desperate and strained I didn’t recognize it as my own inner voice. I didn’t fully realize it was over until I noticed I had the taste of metal in my mouth.

I had bit into the edges of my tongue, and chipped a few of my teeth while clenching my jaw. My mouth was filled with blood. That’s the last thing I remember about that night.

In the years since, I’ve had other experiences that were more unsettling than this one. When I think back on that night, I prefer to believe that I was dreaming. Perhaps this was simply a spell of vivid dreaming with tactile fallback. I did have night terrors as a child, maybe it was a manifestation of whatever fears had had me awaken screaming previously.

There are two things that coincide with this event that make it difficult for me to ignore.

First, I developed an aversion to sounds. In addition to loud sudden noises, the echoing and overlapping of voices in a large space can give me a headache and make me very tense. My mother told me that when she took me to a busy grocery store my eyes rolled back in my head and I became rigid and unresponsive for several seconds while standing. I have no memory of this, and I’m not sure how true it is as no one else has mentioned it to me, and I wasn’t taken to a hospital or doctor after it happened. I do still get uncomfortable when listening to the layered audio of a room full of people. Ambient coffee house noises make me feel physically ill.

Secondly, my parents took me to the dentist and had my teeth capped. I don’t remember going. I do remember seeing the artificial cover on the top of a few of my teeth after they’d fallen out. I asked about it with the tooth in my hand one day, and my father shrugged it off. “You were grinding your teeth at night and causing damage.”

Needless to say, I spent a long time being terrified of that prediction.

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