SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
January 29, 2012

The Little Voice Inside My Head is Unspeakably Unkind

 

I awoke Wednesday morning to find my right ear clogged tight. At some point during the night I mustíve rubbed it and everything just stuck together. I could hear my teeth clacking like coffee mugs inside my head, and I could hear myself swallowing, but through the right ear the rest of the world had been reduced to a throbbing, muffled buzz.

†††††††This was not exactly cause for panic, unless it turned out to be the work of one of those brain-eating earwigs (and I didnít think it was). No, it was just another damn wax clog. Happens every couple of years. Iíd get on the train and ride forty-five minutes to the drug store (I refuse to go to the one a block away from my apartment), get some damn ear drops and take care of it.

†††††††Still, though, every time this happens a slow and unfounded fear settles into the far back reaches of my head and stays there until I get the ear canal dredged out again: what would happen if I really did go completely deaf?

†††††††Blindness is a pain in the ass, no question, but going deaf on top of it? Jesus. I might have no option but to decapitate myself. Build a guillotine, hire a neighbor, whatever it took to just lop the fucking thing clean off.

†††††††Friends have commented to me in the past that they hate the thought of losing their hearing simply because it would mean not being able to hear music anymore. I can understand that fear completely, but thatís not my major concern. Love music as I do, I donít think Iíd arrange to have my head removed because of it.

†††††††When we think about people who are both deaf and blind, people living, as Werner Herzog put it, in a land of silence and darkness, the big question seems to be one of making contact with the outside world. How do you communicate and get around if you can neither see nor hear? And how long before you start living like an animal, snatching food off strangersí plates?

†††††††Yeah, I donít see that as being my major concern either, at least not while I still have a couple of my faculties about me. I still hold tight to Jean-Paul Sartreís punch line in No Exitónamely that hell is other people. Iíve had enough of them already, and not being able to see or hear would make them all that much easier to ignore.

†††††††No, Iím more concerned with the opposite problem, and what, for me, represents a much bigger hell.

†††††††If I were to find myself both deaf and blind, Iíd be trapped inside my own head with no escape from my thoughts. Thatís a much deeper, more profound, and more terrifying hell to me than simply not being able to hear my Mentors records anymore.

†††††††I spend most of my waking hours in a desperate search for distractions from whatís going on inside my head. As long as I can keep that at bay I can keep myself under control, and so long as I can keep myself under control, everything will be A-OK. To do this I use music, movies, audio books, white noise, booze, cigarettes, whatever I can find. Iím not picky, and they all do the trick. Even writing something like this is a distraction, because it allows me to focus on something other than whatís screaming in there right now.

†††††††Itís not other voices or anything like that. Hell, I wish it was other voicesóthey might say something unexpected, something I havenít heard too many times already.

†††††††As it is, I wake up in the morning knowing itís going to be another day-long fight, and looking forward to nothing more than going back to bed that night. At least when Iím asleep (even though Iím plagued by miserable dreams) I can almost shut things down for a little while. Itís being conscious of the silence that gets me.

†††††††About a decade before he died, Hubert Selby told me that itís only when you take away the booze and the drugs, when you lose those buffers, that you come to recognize just how dark you really are.

†††††††Itís very true of course, but itís something I knew already, and finding out landed me in too many hospitals and too many madhouses. So I drink, and have no plans to quit now. Iíve learned time and time again that my head is a terrible place to be, so I do what I can to stay out of it.

†††††††Even though Iíve turned finding distractions into an art form, the silence does inevitably catch up with me now and again. Over the past several months Iíve fallen into the unfortunate habit of waking up wheezing for no clear reason at three a.m. Itís always three a.m. Thatís when things tend to get me. Thereís very little sound in the bunker unless itís sound I arrange myself, so at three a.m. the silence has a strong foothold, leaving me alone with my brain.

†††††††Thatís when things start to spin, an inchoate, broken, inescapable kaleidoscope of regrets, bad memories and humiliations I tried so hard to wash away, all the paranoia, all the things I should or shouldnít have said or done, the failures, the panic, the hatred, the potential violence and just plain ugliness. And it all repeats and swirls and screams around in there and thereís no way to stop it unless I can find some cheap distraction.

†††††††But I can keep it all at bay simply by putting on an audio book or record, no matter how awful they are.

†††††††If my hearing were to go that option would be gone, that final door slammed, and there Iíd be alone in the dark with all those monsters, at least until I devised a way to decapitate myself. Until then Iíd spend my days clutching my head and shrieking.

†††††††So I went and got some ear drops, and tried to forget about all that, at least until the next time I woke up with a clogged ear.

 

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