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White Noise

I'll start with an apology: white noise, you don't deserve my animosity. I love being soothed to sleep by you. You are a kind companion who gently drowns out the dim yet limitless ringing in my right ear. White Noise, old friend, dense and impenetrably soft voice of the mountain river on whose tame shore I learned to walk run and swim. Sonic baseline of my childhood who wordlessly nudged me to raise my voice over the rumble. You were the invisible tutor who taught me to speak loudly without effort or exertion. I owe a lot to you, White Noise. I just wish you wouldn't ruin all the good flavors and smells.

Granted, some flavors I simply don't recognize without you. I can enjoy raspberries in all the mostly-quiet places of the world, but they seem a flashy imitation of the raspberries I ate by the riverside as a kid, barefoot and new to this world. Not until I eat one in your presence does my memory sprint backward in time. When you've stripped the berry of its red-fruited simplicity and injected its pulp with decaying leaves and the faint scent of beetles, only then do I feel the sudden flood of nostalgia.

I just can't help but be mad at you when you replace the funky berry of my kombucha with the flavor of hard old lemons mixed with tea that sat on the counter for a couple days. Or when you strip my girlfriend's fruity coconut drink of its fruity coconut, leaving behind the flavor of white gummy worms that were forgotten for months in the back of a closet. I know you didn't fabricate these aromas- they were there already, subtle and shy in the background. Rather, you seem to expose the flavor of decay that hides in the background of all the sweet things.

Or perhaps that's just how I've come to see the world after all these years with you in my life: that the scent of decay hides behind all the sweet things, waiting for White Noise to come along and pull back the curtain.

You are the source of my fixation with the lack, my habit of saying "I can't taste this" when you're busily stripping my wine. Of course I can taste what you've left me, but I only notice what's missing. The words "I can't" played on loop in the back of my mind for many years before I finally learned to reclaim my agency by exploring all the sounds that unlock new aromatic experiences, and to block out the sounds that disable me with earplugs. I think, in light of that, a common human experience underpins our relationship.

In our modern world, you are everywhere. Your unwelcome ghost haunts all the fans and air conditioners. Every well ventilated building vibrates with your soft hum. You lurk in the static speakers and the drone of descending jet planes and cars on the freeway. Any time I'm in a moving vehicle, you're there where I can't escape you. I drink coffee in the car like everyone else, but with the satisfaction of caffeine there comes a sense of deprivation. I'm jealous of all the people whose coffee tastes fresh and vibrant on the morning drive to work.

I'll admit you've done me a few favors over the years. You've eliminated some unpleasant odors from tainted wine. You are the reason I'm the last person to notice somebody farted in the car. Each small gift ironically reminds me how much I'd like to be rid of you.

But there are times when we walk together in peace, and I don't mind you much at all. When I pace the Lithia Park pathways that parallel Ashland Creek, sipping hot cocoa made with almond milk, you accompany me as a thin, cool rushing sound, and the fruity earth of the cocoa ducks behind your veil, leaving the pale taste of milk made from plants. This low-intensity experience feels good after a long and stressful day. When the stimulus is lessened, the load is lightened. There's something soothing about that gentle combination of mild flavor, cool sensations, and creek song.


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