When you are five years old, your understanding of noise is primarily thus: do not make any.
Around you every day people talk, but you are not allowed to because never can you do it right and you are loud besides. Loud: you might be young and deaf, but you know what loud is, what it means clear as any bell you have yet to hear. Loud is what comes out of you when you try to weave together words. Loud is what makes your mom and dad drop their heads all sheepish in stores—loud is what your teacher frowns about, and loud is why your lips are forever chapped and raw and weeping red. All the time you bite them from the inside to keep yourself from opening your own mouth. To keep yourself from being loud.
Sometimes—alone in your room with the vast collection of creepy nude bejeweled troll dolls bequeathed unkindly unto you by your older brother who never wants you to get a good night’s sleep in your life ever—you practice conversation. You make a tent under the thickness of your bed’s blankets: you cram your face into your hand and you mouth your palm, ma-ma-ma-maha-mahaama, dah-dah-dah-duh-dee-daaahuuhdee, air whispering woolen through your fingers. Your attempts are itchy on your nose, twisty-wrinkled sheets glowing green in the gleam of your nightlight.
One night your family piles into the car. You are squished between your brother and your brother’s best friend in the back seat. They smack at each other over your head, hands flapping; silent as you can get lest you’re scolded, you sit still and watch the night blur by through the windows. Your dad drives to a place you’ve never been before. It’s a huge sprawling square of grass. There are lots of cars and lots of people, but no one seems to be going anywhere. Next to you a group of guys lounges around in the bed of a pickup truck, knocking the necks of brown bottles. Some of them are shirtless. It’s warm out. Your brother peels off his shirt too and flexes in front of you, biceps and triceps dusted velvet in the dark, and you hang onto his arm to feel the firmness of the muscle in it. He swings you up, back and forth, letting your feet dangle.
You wonder why you’ve come here, all of you, and you’re still wondering when the answer blows its burn through your chest, blazes bright across the purple-black stretch of the sky above you. Earlier in the summer your dad painted the kitchen. His brush dripped paint on the counters, little white explosive star-shaped spatters. Your mom was not pleased.
The tattoo of lights overhead is like those paint splatters, gangling glitter splaying out its prongs. It is pink. It dissolves and there is another punch-boom behind your ribs: a second skyflower not a breath later, fanning brilliant silver such that it whites out the stars. Fireworks.
You feel them: they come rumbling up through your feet, puddling in your belly. They blare offbeat alongside your pulse. They throb in your teeth, your temples and they are loud, loud-loud-LOUD, and your mouth drops open and you shriek mamamamaMAMA before you can stop yourself. Instantly you are—well, not afraid, but you’re sorry, you’re so sorry, and you look furtively up at your parents but—
But they’re not looking at you. Their eyes are trained on the fireworks.
You stare. In the next moment you shriek again, this time experimentally. (“Dah-dah-daaah-dahhhdeeee!”) The sky is full of riotously colored lightsmears and no one shushes you, not now. No one shushes you because—
Because, for the first time ever, they can’t hear you.
You are so happy you could scream, so you do. Over and over. No one notices.
When you are five years old, your understanding of noise is primarily thus: do not make any unless something else is making it first.