In my twenties — many years before I had children — I spent a considerable amount of time in very loud places. I stayed out late with my friends in trendy bars and nightclubs in Hollywood and New York City, attended concerts I’m sure caused some kind of irreversible eardrum damage, where thumping music blares from giant speakers at an amphitheater or those you stand next to in a bar, sound vibrating through your rib cage with a gust of wind, sound that leaves you temporarily deaf at the end of the night, where you start asking your friends to repeat sentences and try to fall asleep to ringing in one ear, or both.
I lived out loud back then, quite literally. And it was fun. The kind of fun you remember for a lifetime. The kind of fun that found you accidentally locked in bathrooms of underground parties in Paris all alone, giddy and tipsy off too much champagne. Parties so loud, your friends couldn’t even hear your very loud knocks on the door to get their attention, over the sound of very loud French lyrics blasting out of very loud speakers.
Back then, it never dawned on me that one day I’d seek quiet. I used to love being in a loud room or restaurant, voices competing with each other, lively laughter stacking on top of each other like bricks, creating a rhythm all their own. Being surrounded by noise meant I wasn’t alone, even if I still felt alone in a crowd. I craved sound — any sound — music, laughter, dinner conversation, the clink of champagne flutes celebrating a loved one’s birthday, the raised voices of friends debating politics, the cacophony of New York City traffic noise, horns honking, taxi cab drivers shouting with diverse accents, the bass line of a hip-hop anthem blaring from a passing car on a Brooklyn street.
Noise made me feel alive. Quiet made me feel lonely.
So many years later, the days of loud music in sweaty NYC nightclubs, dancing until the sun greeted us the next morning, or the volume cranked up as far as it could go on my car stereo dial while driving solo to the beach on a hot summer day, moon roof peeled back, are long, long gone. So long gone.
The noises of my twenties have been replaced by the noises of my thirties, the wails of newborns needing diaper changes and feedings, the whines of toddlers pleading to have their way, the screeching of “Mo-om!” from the bathroom, requesting some item that always seems to be needed at the most inconvenient time, the conversations of animated characters on the television I somehow know the names of (like I used to know the names of all the hotspots in the exotic cities I traveled through), their exaggerated voices intertwined with those of my children, taking on personas all their own like extra family members: Elmo, Barney, Olivia, Caillou, Dora.
Don’t get me wrong, the sound of my children’s voices is by far the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard — their laughter, the baby’s contagious giggles, my three-year-old’s adorable voice reciting his numbers or singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider, my seven-year-old confidently reading to me from his Diary of a Wimpy Kid books like a pro.
Yet still, where I used to crave noise, these days, all I want is quiet. The kind of quiet that doesn’t even include tranquil, new age music in the background, or birds chirping in trees, or crashing waves on a solitary beach.
Just pure, uninterrupted silence.
Quiet no longer equates to loneliness for me. Quiet is the peace I feel I have less of these days, caring for the demands of all these tiny, yet very loud voices who need something, right now, right away.
Admittedly, I yearn to have quiet back. If only for a few hours.