My Life Without Headphones

I can hear the typing from the cubicle across the way. The mouse clicks from the cubicle next door. I can hear the shifting of fabric. The creaking of a chair. The sounds of breathing and sniffing and coughing. The hum of the air conditioner has always been a comforting blanket in the background of any work environment and it makes me feel at ease. I stand up to ask a question and see that everyone else has headphones.

The honking of horns – near and far – accompanies the roar of the engines of airplanes just taking off. I can hear the wrappers two cubicles away as somebody opens a snack. The lid of a water bottle twists off and releases with a rush. A young woman starts up a conversation with another young woman, or maybe herself. Footsteps falling on carpet become tapping sounds on linoleum as somebody enters the kitchen.

There is a melody of dings, beeps, buzzes and chimes as messages flow in and out with the tide of information. Musical ring tones play and abruptly silence with familiar greetings. “Hello? Yes…”

Nameless, faceless voices exchange pleasantries and work ideas and lunch orders. Sometimes, it’s personal information. I don’t mean to overhear. Will they be offended if I am the silent third party in the conversation? I don’t mean for it to be that way, I just don’t have headphones. The woman on the other side of the wall – we’ve not met in person – but I know the pain and sorrow and venom in her voice over her divorce. I know the love and tenderness, too, for children and family. I hear her heart. Even though I am not meant to listen.

There is motion in the air and I hear the waves passing by my ears bringing messages. Sometimes there is something deep and sweet beneath the layers of the sounds. It feels different from sound – more like a pressure. A vibrant, alive sort of thing, that reminds you of something deeper than noise. The most powerful of tools that allows for being and such a rare commodity. Silence.

“Bethany, can you do this training? It’s online.”

“Oh. I don’t have any headphones.”

“You’ll need headphones. How can you work without headphones?”