When I finally noticed it, store it sounded like a dripping faucet. A dripping faucet dripping at an uneven tempo, ambulance speeding up, slowing down, speeding up again. But it was far far away, it sounded like it was outside the house, maybe that outdoor faucet that I’ve never bothered to fix was leaking again. Or maybe some leaves were dripping water onto the roof. But had it rained? I didn’t remember any rain. I told myself to ignore it. I am always too tired to fix things, and although I knew I wasn’t going to go to sleep, I also didn’t want to get up to try to find the annoying little sound. And it was annoying, but it was also so quiet that the only way to hear it was if I lay completely still. If I moved my hand under the pillow, or if I adjusted my body in the slightest, the sound of my body against the covers would be loud enough to obliterate the other sound. And once I lost it, it would take minutes before I could hear it again. Not only did I have to lie perfectly still, but I also had to quiet my mind’s incessant chatter to be able to hear it. So only as I was about to fall asleep would I then hear the tapping again and wake up, again.
It was such a quiet sound that I wondered if it was the sound of my blood rushing by my ears or the sound of my nerves crackling and popping as I relaxed in preparation for sleep. When I sleep I sometimes tap my fingers in rhythm to some mystery music going on in my sleeping brain. Every woman that has seen me sleep tells me this. Maybe I was now starting to hear the rhythms that made my fingers tap on their own.
I wondered if maybe these tapping noises had been there all along and I just hadn’t been paying attention, or my hearing loss had finally reached the right balance between the frequencies I could hear and those I couldn’t to notice this particular set of frequencies, tapping away around me. It was a possibility, but I thought I should double check that it wasn’t a leaky faucet. So I surprised myself by actually getting up and walking to the kitchen. And not only where those faucets not leaking, but the tapping faded away as I left the bedroom. Or was it that the sounds I made as I moved covered up the tapping sounds? Because when I went back to the bedroom, I could no longer hear the sound either. But, of course, as soon as I laid down in bed again, and pulled the covers over me, and settled myself comfortably enough to try to sleep, and started to fall asleep… there it was again. Tap. Tap. Tap. Taptaptaptap. Tap, tap. Taptaptaptaptap. Tap… Tap… tap tap tap, tap, tap: tap – tap! tap! Tap? There aren’t enough punctuation marks to convey the variety of rhythms this sound was making.
For an instant I thought about recording it, before I realized that, even if it wasn’t in my head, it was just too quiet of a sound to be picked up by anything but the most powerful microphones to which I didn’t have access. So I quickly dropped the recording idea.
Instead I chose to ignore it. If it was that quiet, then surely I could just ignore it the way I ignore crickets and dogs and cars and air conditioning noises that I sleep through every night and which are much louder than this tapping noise. But this tapping was persistent and very demanding of my attention. I started thinking about Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, wondering if someone had buried a drummer’s heart under the floorboards. Wondering if I was loosing my mind or if I was unaware of some guilt that was manifesting itself as a slightly annoying tapping sound. I was, after all, raised in a Catholic country, in a Catholic family, going to Catholic school, and if I was going to be honest with myself (God forbid), then I would probably have to say that, after all the sinning I’ve gotten used to doing, the remnant of Catholic guilt left in my system at this advanced age, would probably sound like a very faint and annoying tapping noise. Thinking of Catholicism is the most surefire way I know to fall asleep, so soon I had fallen into a dreamless sleep and forgotten all about the tapping.
The next night when I went to sleep I wasn’t even thinking about the sound, but as soon as I laid my head down, and started to fall asleep… there it was again. You would think that at this point, I would’ve gotten up to try and find where the sound was coming from. After all, I still had a feeling it was some water leaking somewhere and that would probably mean an outrageous water bill at the end of the month. But no, once again, my horizontalness won me over and I just laid there, “enjoying” the puzzle of this annoying little sound, so quiet, so barely perceptible, and yet so rhythmically complex. Much easier to try to figure it out from the comfort of my bed than actually getting out of bed, on a cold winter night, at one in the morning, to try and find the source of the sound. Plus my Catholic upbringing had also trained me well to handle tedious repetition.
By this point, I had decided that the sound had to be in my head, no natural event could be making such complex and quiet tapping rhythms. Something must have broken in my head and now some strange set of brain-fingers were tapping random beats one after the other in non-stop succession.
I thought about waking up my wife to ask her if she could hear it. But this would confirm whether the sound was in or out of my head, and I was afraid this would mean I would have to get up to fix something. On the other hand if it was in my head, I could just continue to lie in bed, even if I wasn’t sleeping.
Thinking that this was happening in my head, did not worry me. I’ve heard about how aneurysms and strokes can be heard as they are happening, but somehow I was certain this wasn’t either of those. Well, as certain as I could be not being a doctor or even someone slightly interested in biology or anything to do with illnesses or medical knowledge. I don’t’ especially like it when my brain decides to start acting like someone tapping their fingers as they wait for me to show up for an appointment I don’t intend to keep, but as much as I don’t like it, the sound just didn’t bring any physiological concerns to mind. It seemed to be of a more psychological nature. Maybe an aural hallucination, I thought.
I am familiar with aural hallucinations. I went to many a Counterball and I saw the Butthole Surfers live at their peak. My brain has puzzled me before with sounds that don’t seem to be coming from anywhere in the real world. Usually, however, these aural hallucinations don’t happen in a vacuum of silence, but happen amongst a myriad of other sounds. So if this was an aural hallucination then it was a new one, and a very subtle one. And thinking like this, I fell asleep the second night.
This went on for several nights, and you would’ve thought, insanity would ensue and I would slowly go crazy and eventually start tearing at the walls or floorboards or at my own head with a screwdriver or a knife, or an even simpler solution would’ve been to get out of bed and go look around for the sound. But no, nothing of the sort happened. During the day I would completely forget about it and only think about it once I was almost asleep in bed and was again able to hear the sound. So I would just lay in bed night after night listening to the tapping until I would fall asleep exhausted.
I spent several weeks trying to detect a repeating pattern in the tapping, but the pattern seemed truly random. So one day I decided to learn Morse Code, not because I thought the tapping was a secret message being sent to me, but because I wanted to have it conform to some structure that I could understand, and I figured in Morse Code, it would certainly spell something, even if the words it spelled were meaningless.
My wife thought it was just me being eccentric again, like the time I learned Ecclesiastical Latin or the time I made my own crayon collection with colors like Menstrual Red or Black-Eye Black. I didn’t tell her the reason I was learning Morse Code. What I wanted was to surprise her with a magnificent message that my brain was delivering from my subconscious in Morse Code. That would’ve been something.
As it turns out Morse Code is not all that easy to learn. The basics of it may be simple, but becoming fluent enough to turn a rapid succession of taps into words is another matter altogether, especially if the taps are as random and as quick as the ones I was hearing. But what was I going to do? The tapping kept going and going so it was like falling asleep every night while listening to foreign language tapes, in Morse.
So I spent the last several months since I first noticed the tapping, practicing with a Morse Code book from the 1930s that I found in our local used bookstore, and slowly but surely, I started to be able to put letters to some of the tapping in my brain.
At first I just detected little things here and there in the tapping, but still the majority of it was going too fast for me to be able to make any sense of it. I could catch a “one” here and a “was” there and an “it” over there, but the tapping was always going too fast for me to make sense of more than a word here or there, certainly too fast for me to make sense of any message. Not that I was expecting a message, as I said I was raised Catholic, not Flake. But I figured I had about the same odds of finding a coherent message as anyone who plays an Ozzy Osbourne record backwards, or forward for that matter. So I kept at it, and then yesterday, in the same way that those pixilated paintings suddenly become a picture when you unfocus your vision, in the same way, last night, the days and days of learning Morse and listening to the tapping in my brain suddenly all fell into place and I could perfectly understand every word my brain was tapping. Gibberish suddenly turned to meaning, and although the meaningfulness of it all is highly questionable, something is definitely being said by my brain.
As I lay in bed last night, I listened to my brain tapping and this is what it said. And by this I mean this text you have just been reading is exactly, word by word, what my brain tapped last night as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep.
“When I finally noticed it, it sounded like a dripping faucet. A dripping faucet dripping at an uneven tempo, speeding up, slowing down, speeding up again…”
And then I noticed the cable box had been left on, the TV which we never watch was off, but the cable box was on. For how long? I don’t know, but as soon as I turned it off, the tapping stopped.