I live in a different house now, on the other side of campus, surrounded by many of my dad’s books, the chessboard he made, his banjo and 12-string, all of which I had to take far sooner than I would have wished. Many of Mom’s things are here as well, upstairs, or in chests in other rooms. Their bodies are in Nashville, in the family plot — I need to go there before too long, although I know only the bodies are there, and although I trust that their selves are in a better place than I can imagine. By 11:30 tonight, it will have been seven years since the murders.
At my brother’s trial, not quite three years ago, I was asked to explain what my life is like now. What I told them, I now tell you.
If you’ve ever been to a really loud concert, the rest of the world seems muffled for a while afterwards. You don’t hear some things at all for half an hour, an hour perhaps, and the rest of the world trickles back in and things get back to normal.
When something like what happened to my parents happens, it is the loudest noise you can possibly imagine. For a time, you’ll hear nothing else, and even when you’re forced to listen to the rest of the world — which does, of course, continue to exist — those sounds will be indistinct, those few you hear at all.
Over the years, I’ve been told that time makes this better. I disagree; what it makes this is quieter. I can hear the world again, and can even hear the music that is in it, but I no longer hear it as I once did. I can hear the beauty of music or running water, but they aren’t the same — they’re changed by the harmonics, the echoes of the Big Noise, which is always there. And eventually, you understand that you will live your life with this emotional tinnitus. When you wake up, your ears will ring. When someone else speaks, you may have to ask them to repeat themselves. Sounds will get lost in the background — you’ll know they are sounds, but they won’t be things you can distinguish as you once could. When you go to sleep, your ears will ring.
This does not render your life unlivable; neither does it destroy all the beauty of world and friends. It merely makes it different, and that different life always has an undernote of the Big Noise. Some days — anniversaries, birthdays — the Noise will be louder than others, and other days, you will be sufficiently used to it that an outsider won’t know you hear it at all. But you do.
As of 11:30 tonight, the Big Noise will have been part of my life for seven years. Four hours later, it will have been seven years since I first truly heard it, vast and numinous. It echoes now, and will until (as some of my friends believe) I can hear nothing at all, or until (as I trust) I see my parents again.
As I awoke this morning, I read of others who have entered the world of their own Big Noises. Doubtless by the end of the day there will be still others. I pray for all of them as they learn to navigate amid their new and strangely echoing worlds.