Growing up in the city, you are accustomed to noise. Car horns, laughter, construction, fighting. Noise is such a part of life that you barely notice it. The symphony of construction sounds—jack hammers, cement trucks, wrecking balls—hold little significance. You don’t think about it, that is, up until the moment that you do.
I remember the exact moment it became apparent to me, the implications of our noise. I was talking with a friend about life in the city, complaining about my proximity to to the L.
“Do you ever think about leaving?”
“No. At least not seriously. I don’t think leaving would solve anything.”
“What if you found somewhere silent? Somewhere without noise?”
It had not, before then, been something that I had considered—a place without noise.
“How do you find silence?”
His expression was soft, but his grey eyes were clouded, his eyelids heavy. “It’s simple. You just leave. You disappear. You don’t say anything to anyone; you just go.”
“What do you mean ‘just go’? Go where?”
He opened his mouth to respond, but my phone rang. My sister’s name glowed on the screen, and I held up a finger to indicate to my friend that the conversation was far from over.
“Hey!” My sister spoke jovially, and the darkness in his eyes lifted. The creases of contemplation that had formed between his eyebrows disappeared, and his expression turned from one of deep consideration to casual apathy. Confused by his fluctuating intensities, I turned my back to him.
“Hey. What’s up?”
“Are you still coming over tonight?”
My watch read 6:00 PM, 30 minutes past when I was supposed to visit.
“Something came up, Mags. I’ll have to reschedule.”
I heard her sigh on the other end of the line.
“That’s okay. Just give me notice next time.”
“Okay. Sorry. Love you.”
The line disconnected. When I turned back around, the space my friend had occupied was vacant. My phone buzzed.
“Go. Find the silent place.”
Frustration built inside me. What does that mean? My phone buzzed again.
“Don’t think. Just go.”
The sounds of traffic flowed through the open window of my apartment. Someone in the distance was yelling. I looked at his text again. Find the silent place. Suddenly, I became aware of everything I was hearing. Being in my apartment, forcibly listening to the noise of human life, became so unbearable and deafening that in a moment of panic I dropped my phone, grabbed my keys, and left.
I drove northwest out of Chicago until I passed through the Twin Cities, then Duluth.The farther away from the cities I got, the clearer everything became. The trees blurring past me became a Van Gogh masterpiece, and I could no longer distinguish my heartbeat from the song of the crickets. At some point between the paintings and the crickets and my heartbeat, I lost track of time.
It was morning when I finally pulled over. The sun christened the Earth with its angelic glow, and soft wind rustled through the leaves. I parked somewhere near Lake Vermilion and walked along the rocky shoreline. The pine trees were reflected and distorted on the lake’s glassy surface, their images breaking and reforming as the waves ebbed and flowed. I inhaled deeply, letting the brisk fall air sting my nostrils. I reveled in the corresponding burn. I had always found the smell of fall charming, the pungent scent of rotting leaves marking the idyllic transition into a new reality, an earthly rebirth.
The air was cool and harsh as it whipped against my uncovered skin. I wore the same old t-shirt and jeans from the previous day, and goosebumps spread across my flesh. Balancing on an unsteady rock, I bent over and dipped a finger into the water. Small concentric circles formed around it, and in that moment, my mind quieted. Nothing existed except my body and that cold, still, quiet lake.
I stood after a while, stretching out my sore body, and started to walk. The sun was high in the sky, casting a warm glow across the water. Birds chirped from the skies to remind the world they were alive. I sat on the cool surface of a rock, running the skin of my palm against its surface, and listened to my heartbeat. I listened to its slow, melodic rhythm. And it dawned on me that this was it. All of my life had been in anticipation of this great and total release. The peace I had searched for so desperately was here, where it felt like no other human had ever ventured. Comforted, I closed my eyes and fell asleep.