Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sound Memory

Emphasis on "sound." Sounds that trigger a gut reaction of some kind, in other words.

I have a little white-noise sound machine next to my bed. Brother Bill gave it to me for Christmas in 2002. I remember the date because it was a very bad time for me. Lowest I've ever been - well, lowest until a couple of other near-fatal blows hit a few months after that - but an ugly, ugly season. A couple of dastardly betrayals, unrelated to each other (I think), slammed me outta nowhere.

'Nuff said on that. Back to the noise machine. Running up to Christmas of 2002, a good night's sleep completely eluded me. It was hard enough to keep breathing in and out and get through the day on some level of mechanical functioning that by the time I hit the bed, the stuff I'd been avoiding all day poured into my head and wouldn't drain out (figuratively speaking, of course). So, no sleep. I was a shell of a woman, I tell ya'.

My family wasn't aware of any of this, so the fact that Bill gave me a little noise machine was completely coincidental. The gizmo has several noise options - rain, waterfall, rippling stream (all make me wanna pee), summer night (makes me wanna kill crickets), heartbeat (makes me feel like I'm in the middle of "Inner Sanctum"), and ocean waves (thaaaat's the one). So miracle of miracles, once I turned on my own private ocean, sleep came quickly and easily. I was still sore inside, but I could sleep again. I used that little machine for months and months, until one night I forgot to turn in on and slept anyway.

"OK, get to the point!" I hear ya' screaming. OK, here's the point. Last night I turned on the ocean-noise machine just for the heck of it as I settled into bed. As the "waves" repeatedly hit the "shore," a soreness returned. Not a sharp pain, more like an old bruise or deep wound long-healed. The sound triggered a memory - mentally, emotionally, and physically - of the time when I had to have the ocean lull me to sleep.

It hit me how much our sense of hearing is tied to experiences in our past. With me, it's usually music, which isn't hard to decipher - songs are reminders of childhood, first dates, parents. But I do recognize the ability of other sounds to pull out a feeling of place and time.

Living intown Atlanta, one memory-trigger sound that I'm always aware of is a train whistle. Train tracks run throughout Atlanta, so I hear the whistles several times during the day. But it's the night whistles that put me right back to age 5 or 7 or 11, trying to stay cool on my aunt's sleeping porch on a hot summer night - before air conditioning - windows open, faint breeze ruffling curtains, trains blowing horns to make their presence known. So now, the train whistles I hear every night always bring a sense of kid-like wonder about big city life (I was a Chattanooga girl, remember, and Atlanta was very big city to me as a child) and what life will be like in the future. It's a hopeful, nostalgic sound.

The sound of the ocean-noise machine is hopeful, too. Though I felt a little bruisier (is that a word?) hearing it last night, its sound was a reminder that I survived the pits of hell and emerged triumphant. Hope-full. So I left the machine on and went right to sleep.

What sounds trigger memories for you?


Unknown said...

Offhand I can't think of any except perhaps the start of 'Like A Rolling Stone' - that takes me back to mum and brother Bow being alive in 1966. Most times it brings a tear to my eye.

Smells also strike a chord with me - perfume for instance - again allied to thoughts of my Mother.

Wow, it's making me sound like a Mummy's boy ....

LBH said...

It's smells more than sounds for me.

In particular there's a certain type of air freshener which my French Exchange's mother had in her car. When I went to France I was about 15 and had never been abroad before. I got really homesick and my french was rubbish which meant it was very difficult to communicate with the family (who, with the exception of the daughter, spoke no English).

Whenever I catch a whiff of that smell, I'm back in that car again, feeling all lost.

MaryB said...

I should have stated in the post that most folks - me included - have very strong memories connected with the sense of smell, and we don't often thing of sound as evoking memory. I think that's what struck me so the other night when I set the noise-machine. I wasn't expecting it to dredge up such remembrances.