It started when I was very young. Both my parents were musicians. When Mom went to choir practice, Dad played records for my brother and me. The “Largo al factotum” was very big on the dad playlist, and we were good at the Figaros. “Peter and the Wolf” was regularly featured. Listening was the game. My ears had a sharp growth spurt.
In kindergarten, I started piano lessons. In sixth grade, organ. Listening stretched from two hands on eighty-eight keys to both feet, manuals, stops, foot pedals. My ears grew muscular.
Piano study continued for about sixteen years, and my ears became Olympian in stature.
One day I discovered I was alone with Mom’s cancer and Dad’s dementia. And I also discovered that most other people did not have ears. They could not — or would not — hear about caregiving.
Meanwhile, I heard: the sounds of caregiving built up within me. They were relentless, soulless sounds, from all the rookeries where razor-beaked anxieties bred: hospitals, doctors’ offices, midnight vigils. I was the trapped, the carrion. I couldn’t get away from it. Suffering, dying, fear and sound. Endless sound. Televisions, loudspeakers, tapes, videos, medical machines, floorboards, plumbing in eternal crescendo.
Do you think I exaggerate? Then you don’t know about caregiving.
I didn’t realize until after the deaths how deep the damage. Sound, especially music, suffocated me. I’d have to get away from it, get out so I could breathe. Or I would focus all my energy on not running, unable to concentrate on anything else.
Caregiving had made sound intolerable, and I couldn’t not listen.
I’m better now but not all right. Ears remember.