Even to this day, noise made by people makes me nervous. Growing up, we couldn't close the car door hard enough to get it to shut because the noise of car doors shutting really bothered my father. Now and then, a friend would slam the car door shut before I could warn her and my father would seize up like an unoiled lock and then he'd scream and then he was fine.
Both my parents described people by the way they shut car doors. "He's smart, he shuts it with barely a tap," my father whispered to my mother who nodded approvingly.
Clicking on a light or worse, the snappy noise when you turned it off sent both parents into spasms. "A light switch can't be used over and over like that".
We often sat in the dark, trying not to make any noise. Sometimes we'd build a fire in the fireplace. The crackling noise of burning kindling was fine--no people involved, hopefully. We faced the fire, squeezed onto our old red sofa, except Dad, who lay motionless on his back right next to the fire. My eyes were glued to the flames as they wrapped around the shifting pile of logs. I was scared, imagining the logs barreling out of the grate through the metal mesh fireplace curtain, setting ablaze my sleeping father who looked like an unwrapped mummy, listening in his sleep to the cracks and pops of this out-of-control indoor bonfire. Finally, I screamed as the logs rushed out and his white office shirt was covered with orange jewel-like bits of fire.
At one point, we decided that as a family we would only whisper. My father thought that the human voice was too unpredictable and that if we always spoke in hushed tones, he'd know what to expect. Unfortunately, our friends weren't allowed to play with us anymore because their mothers thought we were all sick.
Somehow time became as big a problem as noise. Managing, controlling, actually expanding time became our mission. Five minutes can equal an hour if you really try. This theory was tested in the grocery store, mainly. The four of us kids were dispatched throughout the store right when we got there; my father immediately got in the shortest available check out line. We ran frantically, whispering to ourselves the items we were to retrieve. Cornflakes, Pop tarts, cottage cheese, Wonder Bread, Fruit Cocktail, Jell-O--any flavor, Miracle Whip, Olive Loaf, Glad Wrap, and so on.
As Dad got closer to the cashier, we panicked; our grocery cart was only half full. We sped like little cartoon characters up and down the aisles, sometimes crashing into each other. We weren't allowed to get freezer items until Dad had begun unloading our food onto the conveyer belt. He was desperately afraid of the frozen food melting. I used my arms like a basket as my sister tossed frozen juice cans at me. Hunched over; using my chin to keep the cans from spilling out of my numb, tingly arms, I waddled as fast as I could down the aisles. My sisters were behind me with stacks of ice cream, Popsicles, frozen peas, etc. Dad was already bagging up the food. He threw the money down, got his change and bolted out of the electric door like he'd been shot from a cannon. We followed, wheeling the groceries out and loading them onto the floor of our Chevy Bel Air. He drove with an urgency most people reserve for emergencies. But this was an emergency, he muttered to himself, "the ice cream is melting".
At home, we grabbed the bags out of the car and crashed through the screen door. We formed a receiving line at the fridge. The freezer and fridge could be opened no longer than 20 second which Dad timed on the stove clock. We tore through the bags for the cold stuff, throwing them into the fridge. Once the door was shut, it couldn't be reopened for hours, Dad said.