“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 who listened.
“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 room.
“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 pepperoni. Figures.
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 your name?”
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 something.
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
“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 listening!”
“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 ears.”
“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
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 dad.”
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.
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