Skepticism ought to be the default position for human beings when dealing with memory but the exact opposite is true. We all see what happens to the human mind as we age but we all resist admitting it is going to happen to us, or that is it happening to us. My paternal grandmother hallucinated sounds in her later years, claiming to hear noises in the attic. The first time she called me at three in the morning and told me she there was someone in the attic is was frightening. She had called my father, who lived just down the road, and she called 911. In just a few moments my father arrived, assured her no one was else was in the house. Lucid most of the time, she still claimed there were people in the attic even after we all swore to her no one was there. There was a secret door, she claimed, they moved in and out of to avoid detection. The audio ghosts haunted her until she died in her sleep in 1990.
I lived with my father for five months back in 1996. I was trying to buy my first house and had moved in with my father until I could get the house bought. My father had already gone through a very nasty legal battle with his neighbors over their dogs barking at night. In his defense, the people were keeping seven Rottweiler dogs in a quarter acre pen. But while I was there I never heard them barking at night, even those nights he swore they were. On more than one occasion, my father woke me up at night demanding I turn my music off. There was no music, of course, but there was no way to convince him of that. It must have been someone parked outside, who left right after he got up.
My maternal grandmother slipped into and back out of time without warning and sometimes in the middle of conversations. There are those people who believe we ought to try to bring the delusional back into our time, but I think that is futile and confusing. What good comes of telling a woman her husband id dead that all the people she believes she is living with are long dead, and her life is nearly over? Can you imagine the shock you would feel if someone revealed to you the present moment is actually decades into the future? I scolded those who would attempt to drag my grandmother back into a time she had been disconnected from by her brain. Play along with it, I would tell them, whoever she believes you are, become that person, and let her have a decent conversation. Let her be young and whole, if just for a few moments.
Last night, I woke up and thought I heard music. There is no music, I told myself, and I wonder if this was the beginning of madness. Was my brain, which apparently is genetically predisposed to audio hallucinations, beginning the long slow journey into decay? Was this how my father and grandmother felt as they lay in bed at night, hearing nothing at all, but being told there was sound? What else? What else do I see and hear and feel that doesn’t exist at all? With no even so much as a sliver of a moon in the night sky, I could see it was three in the morning, that same time my grandmother called me, terrified of what her brain was telling her. A very chilling thought occurs; what if I’m already ninety years old, and all of this, all what I think is me back in 2009, is actually my brain gone haywire, and any second I’ll return to 2050, to discover my life is gone, and all that remains is madness? Who is there to take care of the crazy old man? What happened to my family? How did they die? Who have I loved and lost since now? The music was faint and impossible. There was no music. This is what it feels like, Mike, and you better get used to it.
During breakfast, I brood upon the ghostly tunes. There are ways to keep your brain younger. Video games that challenge the mind’s reflexes and all manner of puzzles and things like that. Maybe I ought to pick up a guitar and learn to pay. The brain rewires itself to learn music, I have heard, and creates new neural networks. I exercise a lot, and that ought to help, too. There is plenty of time to stave this off as long as I can. The idea I’m already ninety is a powerful and frightening idea. I cannot shake the fear that in a moment I’ll find myself in a chair at a table with strangers around me, and decades dissolved and missing.
As I leave for work, I walk outside and hear music. Someone left a radio on overnight in my neighbor’s barn.