The Day the World Changed
The scream in his ear woke him. Groggily, he tried to focus. “Wha … What’s goin on?” The screaming continues and he finally realizes it must be coming from the phone he has next to his ear. “What’s wrong … Who is this?” There was so much noise he can’t hear anything except screaming. Harry remembers talking to Jena until he fell asleep. Is Jena screaming? “Jena, Jena? Are you there?” He is yelling by this time. “I’m hanging up now. I’ll be right over.”
He grabs his clothes from the floor and jumps into them when he realizes that he still hears the screams and all kinds of other sounds, too. He can’t tell where the sounds are coming from; the noise is everywhere. How is he hearing it? Is it coming from the street or a television? As he yanks on his sneakers, he calls to his parents and dashes downstairs. Just as he gets to the front door he sees his parents standing on the stairs. Their mouths are open, but he can’t hear anything but noise. He feels as if he is in the filled school auditorium with everyone talking at once. “What’s going on? ” he asked. He realizes that he can’t even hear his own voice speaking. “I’m going over to Jena’s - she was screaming and I don’t know wha… Where is all this noise coming from?” His parents don’t seem to be able to hear or understand him. Perhaps they hear the noise too?
Something very strange is going on. He runs back and gives his mother a hug. She looks as if she is saying something but he can’t hear any words. “I’ve got to go – Jena – needs...” He heads out the door at top speed, jumps on his bike and two minutes later is at Jena’s. It is four AM, but there are lights on so he knocks. There is no answer - he walks in anyway. The noise is as loud as ever. Her family is in the hall – Jena, her two brothers and her parents. Jena and her mother were crying while her brothers and father were scowling and looking helpless.
Jena steps into his arms but her sobs must be too loud because he can’t understand her. He realizes that he hasn’t heard any words since waking up. Is this a dream – nightmare, really? “Stop, I have to think…” The noise is so loud Harry can’t even hear his own thoughts.
Suddenly it hits him. He can’t hear Jena, he couldn’t hear his mother – hell, he doesn’t even hear himself. God – he can’t hear his own thoughts. Has he become deaf? Impossible! The sounds of screaming woke him – he can still hear them – and all this noise. Can someone think without being able to hear his own thoughts? This is crazy. Harry feels as if he is on a roller coaster – one where the tension builds until its passengers jump overboard to escape. He keeps trying to think but the noise is too distracting. Suddenly he has a brainstorm. He starts yelling, “Quiet! Quiet! Everyone keep quiet! Just stop speaking, stop crying, stop yelling, stop thinking! STOP everything right NOW.” The noise level goes down – not gone, just less. He mentally hollers, ‘I can’t hear myself think. Be Quiet Now! That’s better’, he thinks as loudly as he can. ‘Listen up – anyone who can hear me. I don’t know what is happening or why, but we need to have everyone stop thinking or talking. At least think softly if you have to think.’
He tried to think about what to do, but instantly heard yells of ‘Be Quiet. Stop thinking!’
‘Uh oh, we really are in trouble – how do we figure out what to do if we can’t think about what to do? Anyone hear me? Do any of you have any suggestions?’
The noise level rises abruptly as the voices begin to comprehend the difficulties ahead. Gradually it quiets. The sound of a truck horn causes Jason to rejoice, at last he has heard something. Instantly there were a raft of ‘quiet’s. Softly, he responds “sorry, it’s hard to get used to not thinking.’ Finally there is silence. Harry feels as if there is a universal “Ah” followed by numerous “Aw Shit’s” and “Not again” and “this is too hard”, then he hears “why? Why? WHY?”
Harry reaches for Jena, who has stopped crying. He pulls her into his arms and kisses her. He whispers “Feel don’t think.” She nods and he smiles thinking “that worked well”. “Quiet, no thinking.” yells inside his brain.
Harry is beginning to feel very put out. Why are all these unknown people yelling at him? Why does he have to be the one to solve this mystery? He reaches for some paper and starts to write… Again come the yells of “Quiet. No thinking.”
Softly he thinks, “I hoped that writing wouldn’t make the same amount of noise.” Once again silence fills his mind as the implications begin to sink in.
Not thinking is hard work, draining, exhausting. Still holding Jena, Harry gestures to her parents and walks to the sofa. Dropping onto it, he stretches out with Jena next to him. Her parents move into the room and sit on the recliners. Trembling, her mother gets up and joins her husband in his chair. The physical closeness feels necessary.
After the strain of the night, they fall asleep too rapidly to move from the chairs. Minutes later they are jolted awake. The noise is terrible. It seems frightening in an unknowable way. Once again Harry begins thinking “Quiet”. But people are frightened and keep asking, “What happened? What was that? What’s going on?” Jena looks at him questioningly and he shrugs in response. “Do you think we can whisper without thinking?” he says into her ear. His words don’t invoke a response so perhaps it is ok to whisper. As his thought continues, he hears (feels?) the chorus of “quiet” begin. “It’s hopeless” he whispers, “we can’t think, we can’t write, we can’t sleep. How are we supposed to live?”
The silence of discouragement fills him. Jena looks as if she is about to cry again, and her parents and brothers are shaking and touching each other. Harry’s mind goes to his own family – if only they were here – he needs them here. He whispers his plan to go home and bring them back with him. Jena’s parents smile and nod.
At home his family is huddled together looking puzzled and unhappy. He hugs them and they begin to almost smile. He whispers, “I love you.” Wondering why he doesn’t say that more often, he hears voices saying “quiet” and “why don’t you?” It seems impossible to function without thinking. His mother starts to speak, but the chorus of “quiet” stops her. Jason whispers “Come over to Jena’s with me. We all need to be together. I’m not sure what’s going on, but together maybe we can figure it out.”
While Jason is away Jena’s mother prepares lunch for everyone. She welcomes his parents and leads them to the table. The smells and are the food seems enhanced by the inability to talk. Jason feels his sense of taste is enhanced by the subtlety of the herbs and spices and he wants to express his gratitude for the delicious food and hospitality she has provided. He isn’t sure how to go about showing her without adding more noise to their heads.