Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Katie McMahon: What we hear when we are listening

“Listen to this!” he would say. And the turntable would start turning and the room would always fill with a sound I had never heard before. And sometimes I would love that sound because I loved him so much.

And sometimes I would hate that sound because I hated him so much. His face above my face, staring into his closed eyes and hoping they would open.

It would keep on blaring through the room and I especially loved it when I was sitting on the cold, hardwood floor, gulping down big gulps of whiskey and ginger ale. I hated it most when I was curled up in bed, sleepy from too much food or too little food and too much booze. I would use my fingers as earplugs to push some of it away, while he sat on the floor and the light from the television fell upon his hair and face, like a tanning bed’s rays, except he never wore those tiny little goggles to protect his eyes. Then, the television light would mix with the sunrise and I would unplug my ears while he rested.

As he slept, I would stare at his nose which was connected to his face, and his eyelids which were shut tightly, like tiny, crooked window blinds. He looked like someone else when he slept. Maybe someone I knew a bit better or... Well, he never looked cold. If he had, I would’ve warmed him up with blankets and sat over him until he stopped having that cold look that a person gets. But he never looked cold.

I would sneak out into my car that was parked facing the wrong way on the street and hear and see the children walking to school. The school bell would ring and everything would suddenly become silent. My face freezing and dry and my hair greasy and stuck to my forehead and the sides of my face. Dark circles under my eyes. Cigarette burns in my coat. Bad breath from cigarettes. Missing socks from sex and sleep.


And I remember every song you would put on every CD and how much I longed to listen to the bad ones over and over again. The CD we tried to listen to that got stuck inside the CD player and did not play. Would not play. Will never play.

I know most when I am in love because I will listen to these songs over and over again, until it does not matter what they are, but they are a part of you so I want them to be a part of me too. I know most when I am not in love because I will say, “I do not like this song,” or “why did you think I would like this song?” or “can you make me something else?” or, simply “thank you, this is fantastic” and then never listen again, leaving the CD somewhere I can easily forget, to collect dust and lose its coloring and its purpose.

And then I remember listening after months and months of not feeling you or seeing you or understanding who you were and I remember hating every song. After all, most of the songs weren’t even very good. You didn’t consider something important when choosing them. You seemed to always forget that part.

So when I drive back and forth, to and fro, east to west, west to east, I always hear something different. There are few songs that get played again and again to remind me of where I began and where I might go if I keep driving. There are songs that make me laugh because,
really, how could I like this song? There are songs that make me cry just a little cry because, really, how could I have gone on so long without this song?

Then, if there are other people in my car, they will fall asleep because the song is too boring or the song is too soft, but I will stay awake. And softly, softly, I will remember you and you and you and you and you. I will think only the sweetest and kindest thoughts:

Holding onto my cold glass while I watched you walk across the floor in your hat and coat. Grabbing your arm so I would not slip and fall on the ice, but mostly so I could be closer to you. Trying desperately not to dance. Dropping popcorn into my mouth, so I would not sing whispers of songs into your ear. My boots clapping slowly up and down the metal staircase. Begging you with every sip of every drink to think I am better than all the other girls in the room. My pants folded and folded and folded and then crumpled up and thrown into the corner.

Driving fast with the windows down as it rains.

“Listen to this.”

We listen to the same sounds, but each hear something that is not at all the same. I keep saying: I am happy for you, I am happy for you, I am happy for you, until one day, I wake up... and I am so happy for you.

Katie McMahon is a lady who lives in the North Hollywood area. She has a bachelor's degree that she keeps on her bookcase and looks at sometimes. She is getting a master's degree to put on her nightstand. Sometimes she takes pictures which you can look at here:, but you don't have to if you're busy right now.


  1. Your writing has a dreamy quality for me. Sometimes so specific and sometimes so vague that the moment can belong to anyone. It's funny and poignant.