I Hear You

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Septemeber 2020,

I sat down in the rehearsal room all by myself, the music teacher had given me permission to be here after hours until about 5:00 pm normally and 7:00 pm on game nights, basically, until the doors were locked up by the janitors.

Half the time I wasn’t practicing pieces that had any relevancy to school, they were songs I liked listening to and wanted to learn. Mr. Yaw, the music teacher, knew I was talented from the moment he met me back in ninth grade just like my mother did at seven years old, even though they both knew I was special as well.

I liked playing after school because it was quiet. People weren’t around as much and if they were, they were far enough away that it didn’t bother me as much. People aren’t noisy for me in the normal sense of their voices and movements, you could stand completely still and still be noisy for me.

I hear what I like to call “life” and “death” songs. I have no other explanation for them. A person’s life song, if they are early on in their “life” is normally louder than their “death” song, and vice versa for if they are near death. At first, I thought everyone could hear the music other people made but when I mentioned it, everyone thought I was crazy or had a very wild imagination when I was young. Sometimes I wish it faded with age, but it never did. It wasn’t until I was ten years old that I could tell the difference between the two songs either and what one being louder really meant for the person.

My mother was driving me to one of my music lessons, we were on the freeway to the public school I used to go to until about three years after the incident. Some car behind us was speeding and rammed us into the lanes beside us until we hit the concrete barrier between the north and south opposing highways, my mother died on impact, but before she died I heard one of her songs getting louder and louder. Deafening, as we were pushed towards the concrete barrier.

I ended up in the car, which was in the ditch against the concrete barrier, with minor cuts and bruises. I could have warned her if I knew, but she may not have believed me anyway.

I sat at the piano with the music sheets to “I’m Already There” by Lonestar. I settled myself and listened to the silence before lifting my hands up and pressing them to the black and white keys and playing the symphony. I practically had the song memorized already and the only reason I looked up was to look at the lyrics above the music notes on the pages.

My mother and father played this song at their wedding, years before I was born, but I had seen videotapes as they danced, arms on shoulders and waists. It also reminded me of her life song which sounded similar but without words.

In the end, I wish I’d been born deaf so I couldn’t hear her death song get cranked up and then fade away as we slammed into that concrete barrier. It haunted me, that rhythm. Like a horror movie or climbing action scene. Except it was accompanied by the crunching of the front of our car and her bones.

I remember being pulled from the car still covering my ears and crying. My glasses a shattered mess left on the floor of the car, everything blurry regardless of the lenses or tears being the reason.

My father wanted to put me in a mental institution after I told him. But they mentally assessed me at the hospital and other than the whole “music coming from people”, I seemed to be of sound mind. I wish I was labeled crazy and given pills to get the music to go away but they didn’t. I was diagnosed with a learning disability though thanks to the loudness of the music coming from people in a classroom, because of the number of them and told I could wear headphones once I learned to read lips and use sign language just like a deaf person would.

In the end, I was grateful to not have to listen to people dying or living for that matter. I was always an outcast, being a band kid, and having a “learning disability” as they called it, I was often left to my own devices after the curiousness of kids wore off and it became weird and my mother died.

It was hard for me to play competitively without becoming distracted or confused by people’s songs playing in the background and making me get out of sync, I normally wore earplugs and followed the conductor.

I’m the whisper in the wind, and I’ll be there till the end. Can you feel the love that we share? Oh, I’m already there… Oh, I’m already there… I beat out the last few lines on the piano before stopping.

“Nice piano skills,” someone spoke.

I jumped and spun around to see who it was. I wasn’t used to people sneaking up on me because it was nearly impossible with your songs following you around. Unless I was in a crowded space, had earplugs in or headphones on, or you stood at one end of a basketball court and I at the other, I normally knew you were coming.

I didn’t recognize the guy. He was taller than me so it was hard to tell if he could have been in my classes or younger than me. I caught my breath, but then I realized it was still silent. This guy had no songs, it was like being in the car with my dead mother, but this guy was clearly alive. Breathing, moving, looked pretty alive.

His hair was ink-black and his eyes reminded me of dark chocolate, his skin was pale and he had a light dusting of black facial hair.

“Sorry to startle you. I’m Porter,” he introduces himself.

He was a big guy, not necessarily height-wise, but he looked like he played football and tackled people.

“What are you doing here?” I question.

It was 5:30 pm, didn’t he have better places to be? Like with his friends or playing video games?

“Trying out for the football team, I want to be the forward,” he replies pointing in the general direction of the main gym. “I heard you playing the piano and thought I’d check it out.”

I was right.

“Why?” I ask.

He was a jock, I was surprised he didn’t bring some of the other “try outers” with him when he came, maybe they just laughed at him when he said he was going to check out the kid playing the piano. They probably snickered as he walked away, whispering about the crazy kid who heard “songs” coming from people. He’d think I was crazy, too, if he knew. Sometimes, I thought I was crazy myself. My father sent me to this private school when he couldn’t handle any more of the crazy and couldn’t get me admitted to a mental institution because I posed no threat to myself or others.

“Can you play "The Forgotten" by Green Day?” he asks stealing one of the seats from the other instruments and sitting down next to me and the piano.

“Why?” I ask.

“I want to hear you play more,” he replies leaning his elbows on the edge of the piano.

I looked back at the door to the music room, expecting the twelfth graders who bullied me and were on the football team to show up and call me "Pied Piper" and laugh if not throw a few punches. Sharing a last name with the guy did not help, at least he could control sound waves, I only heard things. Things I didn’t even understand why I heard.

“What’s the catch?” I ask, scooting further away from him and the door to the other end of the piano.

Maybe he already knew I was crazy.

“What do you mean?” he asks looking confused.

Not that fake confused look that bullies give you when you accuse them of something that they then deny they did but actually confused. I had the urge to reach out and touch him now to make sure he was real and not some lost soul or ghost or hallucination my crazy mind has finally conjured up but I resisted, knowing him if he didn’t know I was crazy, he might have at least heard the rumors that I wasn’t straight.

The effective label I identified with but that nobody cared about was bisexual, even though they all thought I was gay.

“Don’t you have friends to hang out with or something?” I ask, bitterly.

“I’m new, so no, not really. are you going to tell me your name or if you can play "The Forgotten?” he asks.

Wonder why he was sent here in the middle of his high school career.

I slid back to the middle of the piano and set my hands on the keys ignoring the sheet music above them now.

“It’s Ryker,” I reply and start playing “The Forgotten” by Green Day.

When I finish I go straight into playing “The Riddle” by Five for Fighting.

I can feel Porter’s eyes fixed on me as I play, like a kid hearing music for the first time, maybe this was his first time hearing it live. I was grateful I could play myself because I certainly couldn’t attend concerts with my condition and actually enjoy the music.

It was also why I liked playing by myself after school, I could actually enjoy the music without having to wear earplugs and follow a conductor.

I stopped after I was done and starred at the keys for several seconds before looking up at him.

“That was beautiful,” he replies.

“Uh-huh,” I reply sarcastically, getting up and going to the window. I slid it open and looked across the courtyard to the classrooms. The dorm rooms laid on opposite sides of the school depending on your gender. The girls were to the west if you exited out the back of the music and arts building and the boys were behind the main subject classrooms and gym across the courtyard.

“What?” he asks. “Why are you up here by yourself playing music at 5:30 pm? Shouldn’t you have gotten supper and gone back to your dorm by now?”

Had no one seriously told the new guy? Had they cast him out, too for being new or something?

I look back at him.

“I’m trying to be nice,” he continues.

Yeah, how long would that last once he knew?

I walk back to the piano and take my sheet music and put it in my bag and turn back towards the window.

“I’m not the kind of person you’re supposed to be nice to here,” I reply stepping back towards the window. There’s a balcony above the courtyard that this window leads to, I didn’t feel safe taking the normal halls and this would be quicker than taking the stairs.

I lift one leg over the ledge of the window holding my bag on one shoulder.

“Why?” he questions.

I glance back at him.

“You’ll know soon enough,” I reply swinging my other leg over and setting it on the balcony.

I walk around the balcony to the other side of the courtyard where the classrooms are. I can feel Porter’s eyes follow me until I’m out of sight. I was saving him the trouble of becoming an outcast like me if he wanted to have friends, that was. I walked through the hall, down a staircase, and outside to the boys’ dorm.

We all got our own dorms thankfully, I didn’t have to deal with an asshole of a roommate. I climbed the stairs to the top floor where they placed me, the furthest away from most of the other male students so I could sleep in peace. This also isolated me, I was a floor away from anyone else. While the rest of the boys’ dorms had been renovated two years ago the top floor wasn’t mostly because it wasn’t used.

The floorboards were oak as opposed to the carpeted floors they’d put in the rooms below. My walls were white and gray compared to the yellow and green walls installed in the lower levels. I set my bag by the door making sure it was locked so nobody could come in and prank me or beat me. I took off my sweater and hung it on the back of the wooden door. This was the only place I got peace and quiet in the whole of Copper Cove Academy aside from the private music rooms after school. I opened my window to let in the autumn breeze from outside. I took my glasses off and let my environment blur around me and lay down on my bed.

I opened my bedside drawer and pulled out some chips and a chocolate bar I’d bought at a vending machine a few days ago. Porter was right about one thing, I should have gone to the dining hall to eat.

I laid on the bed for a few minutes enjoying the complete silence when it was interrupted by a knock. Now what? I sat up fishing for my glasses so I could actually see out the peephole. I got up and went over to the door, moving my sweater aside I looked through the hole in my door on the balls of my feet because my growth spurt had stopped me at 5’7”.

What do you know? It was Porter. Wonder who had told him I was up here and if he had made the choice to come up here with good intentions or if it was a prank to get me out of my room so the others could ambush me. I almost didn’t open the door because of this.

“Ryker, please open the door,” he said politely.

I looked back at my room making sure it was decently clean and anything I didn’t want him to see was out of sight before opening the door.

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