"Tinnitus! That's it!"
"Tinnitus, that's the name of it."
"That's the name of what?"
"That's the name of this thing I have."
"That's the name of what thing you have?"
She never listens. No one ever listens. I will die
believing that I definitely could have been a better man than the
man I've been if only there was someone, anyone, in this world
"It's the name of this sensation, of this buzzing,
ringing sound that I've got in my ears that isn't going away."
"How did you get it?" she asks.
"I don't know."
"You don't know?"
She asks me this rhetorically, I suppose, and then
crinkles the bridge of her nose in this annoying way that
Danielle has of crinkling the bridge of her nose so that I can
never be sure if she's incredulous of what I'm saying or if there
really is something in the room that stinks.
I'm not happy in this relationship anymore. All of
the fun feelings are out of it and I no longer have the
willingness or even the energy to convince Danielle of anything
or to even be bothered clearing any malodorous scents out of the
"No, I don't know how I got it," I say.
Danielle goes on talking but I'm not listening
anymore. I simply stare straight ahead. The only sound that I
concentrate on is the ringing sound in my ears. I focus on the
sound to make sure that this new thing, tinnitus, is still there
and that it hasn't gone away after I've struggled for so long to
remember the unique sounding name of my affliction.
I cling to my tinnitus because it is mine and mine
alone and I don't want to share it. I cling to it because it
drowns out the sound of Danielle's talking.
What is she talking about?
"So then at work Latisha wants to start a fight…"
I don't know what the hell she's talking about. It's
something about work. It's something about how she nearly started
a fight with one of the black girls at work. Danielle is
forty-three years old. She's always starting fights with the
black girls she works with because most of them are in college
and nearly two decades younger than she is. Danielle doesn't seem
to either realize or to care about that fact, or maybe she does
in fact realize it, and that's why she's always starting fights
with the girls she works with. I don't know.
That isn't the only thing I don't know. I don't know
why I have tinnitus or where it came from. And I don't know why
I'm sitting here in this studio apartment with this woman that I
don't even like anymore.
Danielle is fifteen years older than me, but she
doesn't realize that. Maybe that's the real reason why she's
always starting fights with me just like she always does with the
girls that she works with.
She approached me once, what seems like ages ago now,
but what I think was really only maybe about a year ago. I was
waiting in line at the supermarket. I can remember that I was
buying a gallon of milk, car washing fluid for my then brand new
Nissan, and a one pound bar of Hershey's chocolate.
Damn! I can't believe that this happened only a year
ago! It seems much longer. I was still living with my mom and dad
at the time and Danielle came up behind me on line at the
checkout. She was carrying a TV Guide and a stick of
Danielle isn't bad looking. At least I didn't think
that she was while I was standing in line at the checkout. I
mean her hair is a little wild, a little apt to fly off in any
random direction in a sort of endearing, very Einsteinian, sort
of way, but she's good looking enough that even the most
rigorously trained psychic probably couldn't honestly guess that
she's forty-three years old.
I know that I couldn't. So when she came up behind me
in line at the checkout I gave her what I thought was a
surreptitious glance out of the corner of my eye to check her
out. Maybe I was too obvious about it. I don't know.
She must have seen me I know it, because almost
instantly she said with a big smile, "Hi, I'm Danielle. What's
What's your name? I mean-What's your name? I still
can't believe that she introduced herself just like that, but she
did. She introduced herself like we were two four year old
preschoolers meeting in the sandbox for the first time or
And I bought it. I completely bought it. I turned
around with a goofy smile of my own pasted onto my face and said,
"How you doing Danielle? Nice to meet you, I'm Brian."
Women over forty years old with no husbands, no
boyfriends and not even any ex-husbands to loathe and detest do
not waste any time with preliminaries in these sorts of
situations. "Hi Brian, maybe we could go out for drinks or
something sometime," she said.
"Sure," I said.
We talked for a little in the checkout line,
exchanged phone numbers, texted each other back and forth to make
sure that we both had one another's numbers properly entered into
our phones, and then Danielle asked if she could cut me in line
since she had so few items.
I obligingly stepped aside for her to cut me in line,
and the rest as they say, is history.
It wasn't until a day or two later when we did go out
for that, 'drink or something,' that I learned that Danielle was
fifteen years older than me. She brought up some anecdote from
1984 involving her mother and their pet dog that she found to be
particularly funny. I don't remember laughing once at the story
that she told but I do remember asking her in the dim bar-light,
"What year was that you mentioned again?"
"Nineteen eighty-four," she said emphatically.
"Oh," I said as I stared into the murky depths of my
beer, "I was born in the eighties."
And the next thing I know, I'm living in this studio
apartment with her and she's complaining about the black girls
that she works with.
"You're not listening," she screams at me. Strands of
Danielle's auburn hair shoot off in all directions.
"Huh?" I say as I wake from the reverie of the
memories that I've just been retelling to you.
"I said," she screams at me again, "that you're not
"Sorry babe," I say this time as I give it my best
effort at damage control. "It's this damned tinnitus. I can't
concentrate on anything but this ringing and buzzing sound in my
"Don't give me that bullshit Brian!" she yells at me.
"You don't want to listen to anything I say!"
"Oh c'mon Danielle, you know that's not true. It's
just this tinnitus in my ears is rea-"
"Now shut Brian," she interrupts me, "and listen to
what I'm telling you about Latisha at work."
Danielle carries on talking about some perceived
injustice to her womanhood that this Latisha has inflicted upon
her at their workplace.
I don't hear a word that she says. I focus on my
tinnitus. I concentrate on the ringing the buzzing sounds and I
try to hold onto them. I attempt to possess and to own the
painful sounds and to let them be mine alone.
I watch Danielle gesticulate wildly, arms and legs
flailing left and right like a grotesque pantomime, as her work
story reaches what appears to be quite an impassioned crescendo.
And then for reasons I'm afraid that I'll never be
able to explain, I blurt out the words, "Danielle, I want to
break up. I think I'm going to go move back home with my mom and
After I say this I could swear that for a split
second, aside from my tinnitus, there is complete silence inside
our studio apartment-an extremely rare occurrence for any
dwelling place that's inhabited by Danielle.
But instantly after this split second of silence the
place explodes like a black thunder cloud filled to bursting.
"What! What! What! What the fuck are you talking
about!" Danielle thunders again and again.
Unmoving, sitting still on the secondhand sofa, I say
as calmly as I possibly can, "I'm not happy in this relationship
anymore Danielle. I'm going to move back home."
This only makes things worse. Danielle's screaming
harangue becomes even more frenzied, even more profanity laced,
to the point that it becomes almost unintelligible. She begins
launching thrown projectiles in the direction of my head from
across the apartment. I try to sit as still and as stoically
there on the couch as I possibly can.
I stop listening or even trying to listen to what
Danielle is screaming at me. I focus on my tinnitus. I
concentrate on the buzzing sound and the constant ringing in my
ear canal. I try to possess the tinnitus and to hold onto it and
let it be mine and mine alone.
As the heel of a particularly heavy boot hits me just
behind the left ear, I suddenly think of all the things that I
will need to pack in the morning for my move back home.
The ringing and the buzzing sound in my ears is
getting worse and worse.