When I look at my phone I want to vomit—
in the evening, it’s the worst. I spend all day
moving letters around a screen and listening
to metal, the kind with vocalists who sound empty.
It makes sense that music, too, would make me feel
like vomiting. Around this time, I discover funeral
doom. We age in the interval between notes.
The bands growl 20 minutes at a time. I listen
on broken headphones—everyone sounds far away.
At my office, the conversations are faint.
I scratch my scalp and hear it in the base of my skull.
I tilt my head to listen to a chorus of mucous.
Digital music is not for me—my preference is vinyl.
I buy my records online. Sometimes, I scroll
through Discogs until I get motion sickness
then my hand covers my eye or rubs my brow. There
are days I’d prefer not to talk. I schedule a telehealth
appointment. I schedule an in-person appointment.
At work, I interview an architect, who summarizes
an architect meme by repeating the text. Without
an image, there isn’t a joke. His voice is like a tongue
in a nightmare. I don’t listen to music. My headaches
intensify while I move letters around. I impress
my coworkers. For two-hours a day, I open
my jaw rhythmically but my ears don’t pop.
The pain drives me to pour a tincture in both ears.
It doesn’t work. I wait for my appointment.
The nurse is nonchalant as he asks me routine
questions. When I answer I, too, am surprised
at my honesty. The doctor wears a rainbow pride pin
and asks if I have trouble hearing. I ask him
to repeat, and he almost does before laughing.
He shines a light into my ear. It is as he expected.
A very long time ago, I watched pharmacy students
train to be empathetic. They were stuck in a room
with a person who pretended to be a patient,
one of my friends did this. She was the best fake-
psychiatric patient in Kansas City. I remember
when we hung out after she took mushrooms.
I felt so close to her. We didn’t talk about gender.
We were both boys then. In the exam room,
the doctor says my ears are clogged with earwax.
He removes chunks of it before leaving the nurse
to irrigate my ear canals. As he squirts water into me,
he says, oh here it comes. Just like that, oh here it comes, like
I’m giving birth. He tells me I have to listen to music.
I just have to listen to some music—now that I can
hear. The last time I saw the best fake-psychiatric
patient in Kansas City, I was with a woman
who loved music, who played saxophone. She had
been losing her hearing for six years. It was genetic.
We were no longer in love, and in a few months
no longer together. My friend was busking at a corner,
and then she was in Colorado or Wyoming, or in—
who knows? I don’t know where my lover ended up
either. I got in my car and turned the volume down
as low as it could go. It was raining, but I could still hear
the dirges pouring from the speakers’ hidden mouths.