Towards the end of her life my paternal grandmother suffered from severe audio hallucinations. Unable or unwilling to accept the fact that her mind was creating sounds, her mind then invented a narrative to go with the illusionary background noises. The results were a story that a family had moved into the attic and they came and went through a secret door. She believed this to be true so much to the point that anyone trying to talk her out of what her mind told her was part of the conspiracy. The people in the attic were biding their time and waiting to come out and take over.
The woman died peacefully in her sleep when she was 90. I say “peacefully” for it comforts me to think that she just fell asleep and never woke up again, but I have no idea what she thought she was seeing or hearing in her last moments. I can remember her calling me and whispering that the people in the attic were there again and I told her that no, no there was no one in the attic, and I called my father who once again went over to check. Sometimes I wonder if she invented the people in the attic so that someone would come to check, just to have some sort of interaction.
She called me one night just to talk and halfway through the conversation she realized that she had called twenty minutes earlier. I wasn’t going to say anything to her about it, and I think the fact that I didn’t say anything made it worse once she realized what she had done. I understand now that she must have wondered how many times it had happened before and I also wonder how many times she paused, hand over the phone, wondering if she had just spoken to me. It only happened the once, but how many times does a person have to know their brain had quit on them? Once a person reaches a certain age then age is only reason anything goes wrong anymore.
When I was a child I actively hallucinated. Objects, everyday things, and the periphery were all haunted by my inability to conceptualize reality the way that everyone around me did. Perception is an average, a mean, a medium, the sum of all perceptions divided by the number of people who happen to be there and that’s how we define what is real. If a group of people see something out of the ordinary they will discuss it until they come to a conclusion as to what they all saw. They vote on if they saw a bird or a plane but that doesn’t change what they saw or what anyone else might have seen.
Let a human being get off on their own and then that’s when things get either very weird or very real. Most people cannot handle being alone. I’ve always been a Hermit and as such, I’ve never had a support group for reality. I see things that I know that aren’t really there and it’s cool, I’m okay with it. I know what is “supposed” to be there and that helps, but I lack the touchstone most people have. Genetically speaking, I’m pretty much screwed. My father also had audio hallucinations.
My father heard music at night and that’s pretty common from what I understand of the phenomenon. My new ceiling fan makes a new noise and my brain translates this into music that is coming from the outside. But my father never looked inside for the source of strange sounds so he was constantly blaming someone else for the “noise”. He started a petition drive in his neighborhood to get rid of the dogs that lived across the street. The dogs barked all night long, he claimed, but no one else heard them. Of course, seeing how there were seven Rottweilers you’d understand why his mind might take up the idea of large dogs making large noise, but that simply wasn’t the case. Evidence for a thing is not proof of a thing, you see.
Back when I was in my late twenties I was in love, very much in love, hopelessly and madly in love, with a woman whom I fit more tightly than a glove. In the very darkness night, without a light in the room, I awoke and for a second was disorientated. I was at her house, in her bed, but for an instant I couldn’t figure out which way the room was pointing. I stopped trying and listened; her breath was strong and deep in the dark. Her life was the only sensation in the room at the time. Her breathing was the sun and moon and the stars and the sky, the earth and the heavens, and she was mine. I remember waiting, hesitating, and then slowly putting my hand out to touch her, to test the waters of desire yet again, feeling that moment of realization, or excitement and passion, when she realized why she had been awaken, and by whom.
In the beginning I was told that I could not come over on a week night, because she had two sons and she was not going to entertain on school nights. Then she allowed me to come over in the middle of the week, but herded me out of the door right after dinner. There was a night when it was raining very hard and she let me stay on the sofa, but in the middle of the night appeared, undressed, to lead me into her bedroom. She fought against us both, her desire and me, and she very slowly lost. The night she allowed me to stay she tried desperately to maintain some sense of balance but the rising tide of passion engulfed her and it did me. Finally, at last, the sun rose one morning to find me still beside her and her sons awake. I took a step towards many things that morning and never really perceived any of them until it was far too late.
I can still remember the way her thigh felt under my hand that black night. Or can I? The memory is true, the night did happen, but how much of it is now tainted by time or a brain willing to commit forgery in the name of memory? If she doesn’t recall that night, or won’t, the majority does not exist, does it?
If you write fiction, or if you paint, or if you somehow create something from your mind that others can see, or cannot, you are operating in a minority position. To be accused of madness is the best you can expect from the rest of the world and even in that, you cannot hope or pray they will allow it only to go that far.
I have spent the better part of half a century alone. Easily discarded, often forgotten, and once again in the company of a species that is not my own, I can only offer you what I see, and hear, and touch. Now, after all these years, I can hear the sound of the wings of birds as they pass overhead. Surely, certainly not, I do not hear these feathers in the wind, for age creeps up upon me but I look up as my ears tell me there is sound and in the sky there are winged animals, be they pigeons or sparrows, I believe, that I can hear them.