I Hear You

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Prologue - David Keen

May 1st, 1997 - David Keen

When I first volunteered for the study, I thought it would be a good way to make a quick buck and I needed the money. The first time I saw the poster it was a last resort if none of my interviews worked out. But soon it seemed like the only viable option with deadlines for bills closing in.

I glanced down at the tab I had taken from the sign I had spotted on a bulletin board. It had an address and phone number. I had called and inquired about several questions I had. The pay, the details of the experiment, the consequences, etc.

They explained the experiment was to help people who are born or have hearing loss due to accidents, I obviously had perfect hearing, so I was worried I would be rejected, but they explained they needed people who could hear to test to see if it was working, the drugs were supposed to restore hearing apparently, so if my hearing became better, it was working. It sounded simple and the risk seemed minimal, and it paid decently. I needed to make rent and buy food.

“Where are you going?” Tyler, my boyfriend, asked before I left the apartment.

He was standing at the stove cooking lunch. He was tall, with short dirty blond hair, short facial hair around his lips, and on his cheeks. He also had bright blue eyes.

“Another interview, I should be back in a few hours,” I replied giving him a smile.

I didn’t want him to worry, considering it had come to this. He stepped back from the stove and laid a hand on my chest and leaned in to kiss me. I returned it gently, still smiling. His hand moved from my chest up through my dark brown, curly hair.

“I love you,” I murmured looking down, still a little embarrassed.

“I love you, too,” he replies, tipping my chin back up so I look at him.

We both smiled again before pulling back. I will forever treasure that last ‘I love you’ that I heard from him before leaving that day. It would never sound the same again.

He stood there as I slid my shoes on and opened the front door, I smiled at him one last time before shutting it behind me.

I snapped back to reality on the street in front of the address of the lab that was doing the experiments or trials or whatever you wanted to call them. I took one last deep breath and approached the front door. I pulled it open and slipped inside. I glance around the front desk where there was a receptionist and several chairs only one of them was filled by a woman in her late twenties with dark brown hair and brown eyes, she looked to be of native descent, with a clipboard, filling out papers.

“Excuse me,” I started approaching the receptionist’s desk.

She looked up at me.

“I’m here for the experiment,” I continued.

“Ah, yes. Dr. Quincy said you’d be coming,” the receptionist replied, his almond-shaped blue eyes lighting up, he looked excited and young. Like fresh out of college, young.

“You need to fill out some papers and sign the contract, read it carefully before signing and then we’ll take your vitals and start the experiment,” he started holding out a clipboard of papers to me.

“Okay,” I replied taking the clipboard.

I took a seat and looked over the documents, filling out name, sex, age, medical history, family and emergency contacts, allergies, etc. I looked over the contract, everything seemed alright and accurate to the poster and explanation from the person who had answered my questions over the phone.

The woman in her late-twenties got up and handed her clipboard back to the receptionist and sat back down.

I signed the contract and went over everything one last time to make sure it was correct, and accurate before getting up and handing it to the receptionist. He got up and disappeared into the back with the two clipboards. I and the woman waited patiently in the waiting room.

I began to get nervous, it was just nerves though, right? I wished for once I had listened to my nerves, I had no idea what was coming.

The receptionist came back, “Ms. Hollander?” he called. “Please follow me this way,” he replied nodding back to the hall.

He led the woman in her late twenties to a room and disappeared inside for a few minutes, I could hear the beeping of a blood pressure machine and some muffled voices. They emerged a few minutes later and he led her around a corner further down the hall.

My phone buzzed causing me to jump. I pulled out my phone and looked at it. I was still getting used to being able to text Tyler and not having to call him every time I wanted to say something.

Good Luck. Tyler had sent me.

I smiled and started to type Thank You.

“Mr. Keen?” I jumped a bit when the receptionist spoke distracting me from my phone.

No one ever used my last name.

“Yes?” I replied looking up.

“Follow me, please,” he said with a smile.

I shut my phone and figured I’d text Tyler later. I got up following the receptionist into the first backroom he led Ms. Hollander to.

“Sit,” he said gesturing to the chair.

“David Keen, thirty-six, born March 8th, 1961, right?” he replies looking over the clipboard.

“Yes,” I reply taking the seat.

“I’m going to take your weight, blood pressure, listen to your breathing, and then were going to go to another room and test your hearing, okay?” he explains.

“Okay,” I reply.

He put the cuff around my upper arm and turned the machine on and it tightened, he wrote down the results on the clipboard and then took the cuff off.

“Lift your shirt,” he stated.

I did and he placed a mildly cold stethoscope on my back.

“Deep breath in, deep breath out,” he stated.

I did as he requested.

“Okay,” he replied removing the stethoscope after a few minutes.

“Stand up, remove your shoes and step on the scale,” he continued.

I removed my shoes and stepped up onto the scale, the numbers came to rest around 145 pounds.

“Good, okay. Bring your shoes and follow me,” he replied writing the numbers down again.

I followed him to another room around the corner from the waiting area.

“We’re going to have you listen to a series of sounds to gauge your hearing first and then we will take you to another room for the actual experiment,” he continues.

“Right,” I replied.

“There are some things you shouldn’t be able to hear due to your age, it’s completely normal, so don’t worry if you can’t hear anything at times. If you can hear it just click this button,” he replies holding out a button to me.

I take the button and sit on the edge of a hospital bed they had against one wall.

“I will be right outside, but I must leave to make sure I don’t skew the results by making noises, okay?” he continued.

“Okay,” I reply.

There were speakers in each of the corners of the room. The receptionist slipped out of the room.

“We are going to be starting, okay?” his voice came through the speaks.

“Okay,” I answer.

I hear silence for a few minutes until I begin to hear humming and click the button, the sounds begin to grow until it’s a piercing shrill scream, and I almost feel like I might damage my ears. It goes silent again.

“Okay, that was great. Just leave the button and you can come out of the room,” his voice came back.

I set the button down on the bed and approached the door, he was waiting outside with another man, the second man stood at six feet tall, a lot taller and more intimidating than the receptionist, his name tag read, Dr. Quincy.

“Thank you, Yaw, go back to the desk and check any other participants in and do the tests again, Mr. Keen follow me, please,” Dr. Quincy stated.

“Yes, sir,” Yaw responded and ran off back around the corner to the waiting room.

Dr. Quincy led me away to another room with a hospital bed.

“Lay down, we’re going to put you under for a bit to administer the drug, it’s very unpleasant otherwise. Your ears may feel sore when you wake and they may be ringing, both are completely normal and should subside eventually. If you have any second thoughts now would be the time,” he stated.

I considered everything one last time, but I didn’t want to lose my apartment with Tyler, my only safe haven from the world that didn’t understand us.

“I think I’m ready,” I replied.

“Okay, change into the hospital gown and lay down and one of my assistants will be back in a few minutes,” he replied.

He slipped out, I removed my clothes and put on the gown, I glanced at Tyler’s text on my phone one last time before laying it on the chair with my clothes and laying down on the bed.

There was a knock on the door a few minutes later before an assistant entered with a rollaway tray with anesthesia administer.

“Try to relax,” the assistant insisted.

I nodded and laid back and tried to breathe. They hooked me up to one of the heart machines in the room. It began to beep incessantly.

“You still sure?” the assistant asked one last time.

I didn’t hesitate this time.

“Yes,” I replied.

The assistant lifted the administer and placed it over my nose and mouth and I slipped off soon enough.

When I woke up I could feel the soreness and ringing in my ears, I shifted my head causing the pain to spread but I spotted what looked like Ms. Hollander but her long brown hair had been shaved off her head and she had bandaged patches all over her scalp. Her eyes were fluttering like she was having a seizure. I noticed handcuffs on her wrists.

What had happened?

She shifted causing the handcuff attached to the bed frame to make a “Ting!” noise. It sounded like someone was playing the piano outside the walls of the room. It wasn’t an organized symphony either.

“Ah, you’re awake,” spoke a voice.

I looked around and spotted speakers in the corners of the room again.

“What’s going on?” I asked by my speech was slurred and it sounded like I was underwater.

It sounded like my hearing had gotten worse if anything.

“The experiment,” Quincy continued.

“Is she alright?” I question.

Watching Ms. Hollander shake and her eyes flutter open and shut sometimes exposing her iris and pupil and other times only the whites of her eyes.

“She’s fine, it’s a side effect, nothing major,” he explained.

Seizures are caused by miss firing in the brain, I knew, my sister had epilepsy when she was younger. Death by seizure was rare, especially in people who have no medical history of previous seizures or don’t have epilepsy. I was still concerned. Had I had seizures?

I slowly lifted myself up so I was sitting in the bed. I looked around, everything was awash in red light, the room was lit up, poorly, by red light bulbs.

What time was it even? Where was my phone?

“Is the experiment done?” I question.

“Yes, but we have to monitor you for a bit,” he replies.

“How long?” I asked.

“A few more hours,” he replied.

Tyler was going to kill me when I got home and told him about this place. I was never doing this again.

“Can I have my clothes and phone?” I asked.

“They’re in your bedside table,” he responded, matter of fact.

I turned and looked to the other side of the room away from Ms. Hollander and the door to see a nightstand and six other subjects lying in beds, passed out. Their heart rates all seemed normal.

“We will be giving you phone calls in the following weeks Mr. Keen to see how you are doing once you leave here, if you have any concerns in that time just call us, thank you for participating in our experiment,” Quincy said with too much cheer in his voice.

I was creeped out. I pulled my clothes on and phone out of the bedside table. My phone was dead. Great, just great. I pulled on my clothes quickly and looked around to see if there were any phone chargers around. None.

I guess I was waiting to call Tyler. I just wanted to go home. I tried the door at the left end of the room, locked. I could hear the piano better the closer I got to the door. The hours ticked by and the piano grew louder.

I love classical music as much as the next person but this was too much.

“Can you stop playing the piano?” I exclaimed.

I heard a click then. It came from the door and then one of the heart machines behind me started blaring. I glanced back and forth between Ms. Hollander’s flat line and the door. I pushed through it and once I was through it the piano sounded like it was right next to me. I stumbled through the halls and following exit signs until I burst out into the street. It was night, pitch-black out with only the moon and street lights to illuminate the streets of Lincoln, Nebraska.

I couldn’t hear the screeching, jumbled piano anymore but I could hear a violin, a guitar, and other instruments. Was there a music festival somewhere nearby or a concert? I covered my ears and tried to gather my bearings and figure out which way home was.

I ran, trying to follow street signs and not get hit by cars.

“Hey! Watch it!” someone shouted at me.

As I got closer to the apartment building the noise and music became unbearable. Why was it so loud? And why wasn’t anyone else complaining? I located our apartment window, I glanced at my phone before hurling it at the window. It hit it and bounced off and fell back to the ground, breaking in half.

The curtains moved and I placed the hand I used to throw the phone back over my ears. I saw Tyler look out the window. He seemed to be gesturing for me to come up, but I shook my head, if it was loud and my ears were hurting here I could only imagine what going inside the apartment building would do.

He held up a one, as if to say give me a minute, and disappeared.

I went across the street and sat against the building, at this distance the apartment building’s noise was just bearable. I took my hands off my ears, they were bleeding, I tried to breathe.

I heard a metal door squeak open and slam shut. I glanced up and I saw Tyler running over to me.

“David, where have you been? You’ve been gone for three days. You didn’t answer my texts or calls,” he exclaims.

It sounded like “Wonderwall” by Oasis was emanating from him.

“Can you hear that?” I question.

“Hear what?” he asked.

“That music, it’s so loud,” I exclaimed.

“Music, no one’s playing music, it’s almost midnight,” he replies.

“My ears hurt,” I continue.

He looks at them.

“You might have a perforated eardrum, you’re bleeding, too. We should take you to a hospital,” he replies.

“Okay, okay,” I replied.

“I’ll go get the car, just stay here, alright?” he replies.

“Yeah, okay,” I reply taking a deep breath.

He patted me on the shoulder and ran off back toward the apartment building, Wonderwall disappearing with him. Was the music coming from people? Had that experiment enabled me to hear it? I rubbed my arms and tried to calm my thoughts. They didn’t say anything about that in the experiment, it was crazy, it was a side effect, it would go away when my eardrums healed.

Tyler came back with the car. He helped me up and into the front passenger seat.

“What happened?” he asked honestly once we were on the road toward the hospital. “Did someone jump you? Do they know?”

“This has nothing to do with us,” I replied wincing as another wave of pain came over my ears.

“You tell me you’re going for a job interview, you tell me you’re going to be back in a few hours, you don’t text me back, you don’t come back in a few hours, in fact, you disappear for three days, three days, David and you give me nothing. I thought you were dead, or they’d locked you up or something,” he exclaims.

“I applied for an experiment, rent was due in four days, we needed the money,” I replied.

“What kind of experiment?” he questions.

“I don’t think their explanation was accurate, it was supposed to improve your hearing, I mean I can hear things I couldn’t before but I don’t know if that’s an improvement and sometimes it sounds like things are underwater,” I reply.

“Why David? You know how dangerous things like that can be, I can pay rent. They just hired me for another writing gig, I can pay. You should have told me, they could have killed you,” he went on.

“I’m sorry,” I reply.

I can hear Wonderwall in the background again.

I wince again as we near the hospital, maybe it was people. The apartment building would have been full of people this late at night, and so would a hospital in a big city like Lincoln.

Tyler parks the car.

“Come on, David,” he says gently.

I shake my head and cover my ears. I wanted the blaring music to stop.

“What’s wrong? They can help you,” he replies.

I lean away from him and the hospital against the door of the car pressing my palms to my ears.

“It hurts and it’s loud,” I repeat.

He sits there as if trying to think for a second.

“Wait one minute,” he says getting out of the car, his voice is muffled through my hands and all the noise.

He gets out of the car and goes to the trunk of the car. He comes back around the passenger side of the car and opens my door. He kneels down beside me.

“You trust me, right?” he asks.

“Of course,” I reply.

“Come here,” he replied.

I leaned forward cautiously towards him. He reached up and took my hand off of one of my ears and placed an earplug into the ear.

“How’s that?” he asks.

My ear was still sore but I couldn’t hear screeching music sounds anymore.

“Better,” I replied quietly.

He removes my other hand and places the other earplug in the other one.

He reaches past me to where there’s a pad of paper and pen and starts writing.

Still Loud?

I shake my head. He smiles.

Let’s go inside and get your ears checked out, okay?

I nod.

Well my eardrums were damaged I shouldn’t have been hearing music the doctors explained, an array of painful tests was done, they said there was odd structuring to my eardrums. They recommended I keep the earplugs in 24/7 or terminate my hearing indefinitely if I didn’t want to be in pain and it would most likely be the end result with the damage being done to my eardrums by whatever I was hearing.

It was devastating. The doctor also said I should learn ASL (American Sign Language) to communicate once I lost my hearing completely. I sat in an isolated hospital ward because that was the only way I could be in the place and be comfortable. Tyler visited every day, he brought his writing scripts and worked on them well they did tests and made suggestions.

Wonderwall followed him around, it was definitely coming from him. I had learned some other songs, the doctors and nurses I saw frequently. I heard an electric guitar creeping in the background of Wonderwall that wasn’t supposed to be there, I couldn’t put a name to it and I never would.

“Are you sure I should do this?” I ask him.

He looked up at me.

Hearing is valuable but lots of people live without it. You can learn to live without it. He signed.

“I won’t be able to hear you say ‘I love you’ anymore,” I murmured.

You don’t need to hear it to know it. I love you. You should know that by now. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. He signed.

He reached forward and took my hand. He smiled at me.

“It won’t be the same though,” I continued.

Things change, I’m not going anywhere though, okay? He signed.

“Okay,” I replied.

Tyler and I had been together for eight years by now, if it had been legal at this point, I’d like to think we would have been married. It was never easy, hiding it all. But we’d tried living the status-quo and it hadn’t been for either of us. We couldn’t lie, day in and day out like other people did.

They put me under, did the procedure and I woke up to silence. No music, no noises, nothing. Tyler was sitting by my beside me, writing. I couldn’t even hear the scratch of his pen on the paper.

I lifted my hand and moved it across the mattress until I touched his long-sleeve button-up shirt. He glanced up from his script at me. A smile spread across his face. He put his paper and pen down.

Good Morning. He signed. Can you hear anything?

No. I sign.

He gives me a sad smile.

They said I can take you home in a few days. He continues.

I spot a newspaper sitting on the bedside table with a picture of someone who looks like Ms. Hollander.

Can I see that? I ask Tyler pointing to the newspaper.

He reaches over and picks it up and hands it to me.

It’s her obituary.

Jacinta Hollander, 27, died May 4th, 1997, she will be greatly missed by her family, friends, and coworkers. Funeral services will happen on June 1st, everyone is welcome.

So, she was dead, the experiment had killed her, the side effects or drugs or procedure had gone wrong. Was I in danger of dying?

What is it? Do you know her? Tyler signs.

She was at the lab. I answer.

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