My dad had Misophonia. That meant he couldn’t stand random noises, especially the little ones. Soup slurping. Knuckle cracking. The sound of his own children’s laughter.
He was also a construction worker, with hands as big as bear claws.
I remember once me and Anthony are having a giggle fit over our ravioli. Dad doesn’t say shut up, but the muscle in his jaw twitches, which was all the warning we ever got.
I accidentally snort food down the wrong hole and start coughing, and my dad hauls off and smacks me across the mouth. Blood all over my Snoopy pajamas. While I’m wailing all snotty in my booster seat, dad just takes his dishes to the sink and dumps them without scraping them. Then he heads to the den and I hear Hogan’s Heroes start up. I still hate that show.
Our ma was a night nurse, and even though she tried to make things as smooth as possible by having dinner hot and ready before he got home, tried to limit the time we were alone with dad, these things happened. Think I asked her once why she didn’t divorce him. She was raised die-hard Catholic, so I kinda knew what to expect going in. But her answer still threw me. She said it was because he needed help.
Yeah, help. He needed 1000 CC’s of Thorazine and a burly medic to hold him down.
Thing is about Misophonia, every person who has it gets set off by different noises. Worse, they generally stand the noise from their family even less than from other folks. The way Tony put it, dad had to work all day with guys burlier than him, with a bunch of drills and hammers and metal scraping on metal, then came home to us, soft little noisemakers. It was simple math, Tony said.
You should see him now. Lip rings and a tongue stud that click against his teeth when he talks. I can understand. I go in for brass jewelry, bangles that clank against each other whenever I move.
I remember when I noticed it start to go south.
We’re all on the couch, watching reruns of Dick Van Dyke, and out of nowhere dad turns to me and lays a wallop across one of my thighs. The handprint was wider than the span of my leg. I remember gulping back tears, because sometimes crying set him off even more, trying to puzzle out what I did. A second later, Tony gets it in the shoulder. Now I’m confused, because he was literally doing nothing, lying like a limp sock in the arm of the couch. Dad grunts “taught you,” and gets up to microwave himself a burrito.
Dinner that night. Ma had a night off. Dad chews with quick, angry strokes. Finally, he slams his fist down on the table, making everyone’s glass of tang jump, and tells ma to keep us quiet for fuck’s sake.
Ma’s pale. I haven’t seen her this worried in a while, being the queen of compartmentalization. She asks him what noise he means.
“What else?” he asks, “that goddamn chewing noise.”
The dinner table goes silent. We have to wait for him to finish and get up before we can eat. I mean, who the hell eats without chewing?
TV later that night. My dad throws the remote at Anthony for smuggling a candy bar and eating it while people are trying to watch TV. Anthony near up and cries, pulling his mouth open with both hands to show he’s got nothing. Me? I haven’t opened my mouth since dinner. Dad casts a mad glare at ma, who’s watching him like a cobra. He gets up from the couch and stomps off to bed.
Six in the morning, he ousts us from bed and beats us both black and blue for chewing in his ear when he’s trying to sleep. We try to tell him we were asleep too, but we’re crying too hard and the words won’t come out. When dad leaves ma puts her arms around the both of us and says daddy is going to see a doctor.
The hell he will, he’s a working man whose family doesn’t respect him. He ain’t no mental case.
But it was a mental thing, that we could tell. Sometimes he’d see weird colors and smell chemical things. Once he dropped his hammer seven stories and near killed a man. Didn’t remember doing it. He was grumpier now, and frustrated all the time. He accused us of hiding things from him, and switching around doors. I seriously contemplated running away at this point. Life with junkies and bums had to be better than this.
One night ma sat down across the table from him and held his hands as she told him to get checked out or she was getting a divorce. Dad nodded his head in a weird way, I think he was having trouble focusing at that point. Ma went to bed, relieved. I woke up at three in the morning to the sound of the TV still on. I crept out and dad was on the couch with the most peaceful look I’d seen on his face in a while. I asked him if he was going to bed. He was only a little surprised to see me, not angry or anything.
He pointed to his ear and smiled. “Chewing’s stopped.”
I told him that was great and went to bed. We figured he must’ve gone to bed not too long after, because by the time ma woke up at 5:34 and rolled over, dad was already there. She said she saw this red dirt on the pillow, and went to lift his head up.
Her scream woke us.
I was afraid dad was hitting her. She told us to go back to bed, daddy was a little sick and she was going to call the doctor now.
Of course we came in. Ma was wiping her hands on her nightgown and sobbing. Dad was facing us. His face was still kind of peaceful, but lopsided. And there were ants on it. Under his eyelids, in his nostrils, boiling out of his ear. They didn’t care where they went, and neither did he, anymore.
We sold that house and moved up near my gramma. The new place had no public pool, but a killer library. Mom developed Osmophobia, smell sensitivity, like people get towards lady’s perfumes. Only it’s just for one smell, the smell of formic acid. The kind ants use to mark a trail.