I am falling off my bicycle, a violin strapped to my back. My arm pulls the case around to my stomach. I land, spine-first, in the gravel ditch.
Sound is made up of vibrations; at least that’s what the scientists say. The brain translates, taking those vibrations and reformatting them into audible sensations. Basically, humans make sense of movement by hearing.
But not all movement, and that’s strange isn’t it?
I don’t hear rocks shoving through skin. In the moment I feel thick heat. But the memory isn’t physical. When I think of it later, I will hear the sound a wave makes as it slaps the shore, a splashing of skin on stone.
The brain doesn’t just move invisible waves into sound, it also ties those movements to memories. It’s another translation from sound into a method of grasping the past. My family’s footsteps make up the underlying beat of my childhood. My bedroom underneath the living room led me to audibly define the role of a father as sliding steps accompanied by two pulses of a crutch, of a new toddler as grace notes. The staccato of rain was heavy quilts covering my chest. The squeak of a door the frigid feeling of walking on snow when the air is a certain type of cold.
Eventually, sound starts mixing into physical sensation, into sight, into taste. When chocolate pretzels start to taste like jazz, when running feels like a Boccherini piece and sarcasm sounds a lot like early 2000’s pop without lyrics, you might question the assumption that hearing has the same status as the other human senses.
I was fourteen, lying in bed and feeling the kind of helpless anger that only teenagers understand. I happened to wrap my hands around my wrist. The tendons were the same size as violin strings. G D A E, the strings were all there, built right into my arm, as if to point out that here, here was a physical clue that pointed toward a connection I couldn’t understand.
It became a way to cope. During confrontations at work, in the midst painful breakups, in long lines at grocery stores, I still find myself going back, reaching behind my back to play scales and songs that only I hear.
I am walking downtown when I hear them. They’re just kids really. Some guy with a suitcase and foot pedal, a cymbal on a stand. His friend has a guitar plugged into an amp and they’re playing choruses from top songs of the decade. A friend calls me to a corner where others are listening. We clap and yell, urging these two on. The drum kicks in, and the guitar pulls us off the wall, onto the sidewalk.
We dance, badly, but on the beat. Our hands wave as our feet and hips roll and slide. In rhythm, we recognize each other and move into the present. The moment is full: just us in music. And that's enough.
Kaitlyn Nicholas is a writer with an office door that says "Writer", which is how she knows for sure that it's true. She is interested in the ways language shapes and alters perception and how storytelling reaches different audiences from one medium of presentation to another. Kaitlyn is a firm believer in there always being more than two answers to a question and hopes you realize she's right about that. She wrote her way into a degree from Montana State University in Bozeman and now lives in Billings.