by Marin Sardy
The room is ringing. It begins gently, then rings louder. I look up from my reading, look around. I can’t tell where the sound is coming from. A low, smooth tone like the sustained note of an old bell, with just a hint of a buzz, it fills the space, seeming to have arisen out of nowhere. It hovers in the air in front of me. I glance at my dog to see if she hears it. She doesn’t react, and for a moment I feel a wet, electrical flash along my spine. Fear.
It’s happening, I think. What if it’s happening? My mind darts about, looking for ways to corroborate this sound. My fiancé is out of town. No one is here. I have no way of confirming what I most need to know: if it is real. Or if I’m hearing things. If the onset has begun, if my senses are betraying me, if I’m hallucinating.
I have read accounts by people with schizophrenia who speak of asking their spouses or parents if a sound is real. “No,” one man’s wife answers him, “there is no marching band passing by outside.” I have noticed the moments when my mother has paused, head cocked, listening for a distant voice or call or echo. And I have heard nothing. And she has not asked—has never asked except once—if I hear those sounds. If I ever hear those horses whinnying, those men laughing, those children crying.
For a moment I am inside that life of uncertainty, that inability to trust one’s own senses. The insecurity, so fundamental, that touches every aspect of my mother’s being. I know these moments happen to everyone—when sensory confusion feels like a warp in the fabric of space. But I can’t shake what always follows: This is how it begins, I think. With small things. A ringing room.
How lovely, though—the idea that a room can ring. And it’s not a harsh sound, not difficult. Only strange, otherworldly, vibratory. It seems to be seeping into me so that I begin vibrating too, and the feeling is remarkable.
I think of my mother’s most compelling delusions. The image she offered me once, of an ocean of fire-capped waves. “Can you imagine?” she asked, enthralled. Or the time she wrote in a letter about a light that came into her bedroom at night. A peaceful, gentle light. “I decided to be quiet for it,” she wrote.
I am 37 years old. As I get closer to the age my mother was when she descended fully into psychosis, at 39, I find myself in these moments more often. Feeling a sense of doom. A sense that it’s coming, it’s coming for me.
The thing is, I don’t really believe that will happen. I know that by the time my mother was my age, she had been dipping into a delusional world for over a decade. She had been showing signs of intense, nonsensical paranoia for years. I know there’s no reason to think it will happen to me. So I tell myself. So I remind myself that this is New York. That all kinds of sounds can come from any direction.
But I’m still listening, and the room is still ringing. I turn my head to one side, then the other, trying to triangulate with my ears, to find a source, to pinpoint an origin so I can say, Oh, it’s just …
And as softly as it began, the sound drops away, overcome by blaring sirens. I hear trucks come near, passing along the avenue—fire trucks. The sound, now suddenly, obviously, a building alarm, fades away.