Step inside my pet peeve nightmare, shall you?
My daughter Madeline has just flounced into the studio at the local kids’ gym for her tap class. My son Drew has discovered a new friend, the older brother of one of Maddie’s dancemates, who entertains himself with a bucket of Lego pieces until his own sports class begins in an hour. I nestle into a hard blue chair, where I plan to alternately fade in and out of faraway thought and keep one eye on my six-year-old’s shuffle-hop-steps through the wall-length window. It’s a frowning, drizzly day, and the parents’ waiting area could use a bump-up in temperature, so I pull my sleeves over my eternally frigid hands and snap back the tab on the plastic cover of my afternoon DD hazelnut with extra skim and two Splenda (Splendas?). Gingerly, aware of my surroundings, I wrap my lips over and under the rim of the styrofoam and tilt the cup slowly to wash my tongue in the elixir. It sits in my mouth for a moment then slides away, down the hatch to warm my heart and bones.
The noise ripples through me with the insidious sting of arsenic (or what I imagine arsenic would feel like). God! Seriously?
I shake my head involuntarily. No. No! My shoulders spring up in a self-protective move and I squeeze my eyes shut. Damn—it’s going to be a triple threat, isn’t it?
I’m ducking like a fifth grader under her school desk during an air raid. It takes a decent minute for my chest to stop shuddering.
“Are you okay?”
My left eyelid peels open. Another mother, fairly stylish with her platinum-blond pixie-cut hair, sits one chair away in almost the same exact position as mine, coat cuffs insulating cold hands, one of which holds a medium white cup. Such a delicate frame. She doesn’t look capable of producing such an offensive series of noises. I widen my eyes and straighten my torso, realizing that I must look pretty odd.
The uncouth sprite raises the cup to her mouth again. I brace myself, then cough roughly a few times so as to drown out her swilling and swallowing. There is no reason, no reason at all, why I should ever be forced to listen to any sound that comes from inside the body of someone else. It’s not too difficult to sip a drink without making a big production out of it. As I tell my husband, who often commits the same horror in our household, “There’s no need to suck the liquid toward you when you’re drinking. If you tip the glass and just be patient, the liquid will come to you.” Furthermore, constricting your throat muscles at just the right times and intervals can help you to avoid the irresponsible gulping that happens when, inevitably, you swallow too hastily and take in extra air in the process. And finally, is it fully necessary to herald your enjoyment of a beverage with an exaggerated “Aaaahhh” afterward? Keep that incredible sensation to yourself. Relish in it. Quietly.
“Hi,” she says to me.
Oh, no…I’m sorry. You see, you and I could never be friends. One coffee date would drive me out of my mind. Already, this encounter has proven much too intimate.
“Hi,” I reply. My eyes meet her gaze. I lift my cup and model for her what it means to have manners.
The extent of my sound affliction became clear to me only a few months ago. I found some article online last year about Highly Sensitive People, took a diagnostic quiz, and realized that I was staring at a biography of myself. Do I hate it when others look over my shoulder when I’m doing something, like writing an e-mail? Yep. Does being really hungry totally ruin my concentration and my mood? You betcha. Do I blow up at family members or friends who try to get me to do too many tasks at once (don’t even think about trying to mouth things to me while I’m on the phone)? Definitely. And the clinching questions: Are you easily overwhelmed by sensory overload? Does the blare of a fire engine siren make you want to jump off a bridge in agony? Do you get startled easily? (The #1 reason why I’ve never liked Les Misérables? A gunshot goes off. I can never remember when it’s coming, so I spend the entire first act gripping the armrests of my chair.) In conclusion, yes, I do believe I’m a Highly Sensitive Person.
Most people are majorly sensitive about something. But I think I might have a problem.
The following noises, in addition to slurping, gulping, and celebrating the taste of a good coffee with gratuitous exclamations, make me a more overwrought individual:
1) The crisp clack of a soda can opening, followed by the breathy fizzing of carbonation upon its release;
2) The scattered slapping of applause;
3) The hollow clop of the white cap of an orange prescription bottle trying to fit itself on the mouth of that bottle;
4) The tuneless whistling of my daughter;
5) The thwacking of rubbery flip-flop soles against bare heels;
6) The sticky squishing of rigatoni mixing with marinara sauce and cheese, which clings to the pasta and then peels itself away with moist protest when a wooden spoon pushes everything around the bowl;
7) The weird, low “hwooo” of one of those Native American wooden flutes (I don’t hear this one too often, but when I do, I can’t stand it);
8) The self-indulgent murmuring of my students who turn their heads to talk to their friends when I’m attempting to explain a life-altering assignment;
9) The rapid swishing of chocolate milk, like mouthwash, back and forth, back and forth, in the caverns of my son’s little cheeks;
10) The splitting pop of an apple’s skin being pierced by teeth and the scraping of those teeth against the meat of the apple.
I could go on, but I’m already twitching. I will transport to my happy place, and think of the lilt of Kate Winslet’s voice (yes, that’s right) and the hush of the house once the kids have gone down with the sun.
What is your pet peeve nightmare?
When was the last time you read “The Miller’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales? I think it would kill you: “Spek, sweete bryd, I noot nat where thou art. / This nicholas anon leet fle a fart, / As greet as it had been a thonder-dent, / That with the strook he was almoost yblen”