White Noise

It was a sound that should not have been there.

I arrived at work about the same time as usual, unpacked my things, sat in my chair, and prepared for the day ahead. It was quiet on the far end of the hall where my office is in the mental health center. Quiet, still, and until folks from the parallel hallway start to go back and forth to the bathroom or the ice machine or medical records, mostly devoid of people at that time of day.

It took me by surprise. You might say it startled me.

Dr. B had died less than a week before, just ten days after leaving us for another job that he was very much looking forward to. He had planned to live in a house by the lake, have his wife and dogs come to stay with him while he worked, and enjoy the holidays with his family. I had told him goodbye when he left, carting the last of his office furnishings out to the Prius in preparation for the journey back to Georgia. I had told him goodbye, but not goodbye.

Yes, there was no mistaking it. That low, tuneless drone in the hallway. It was there, all right, but why? It should not have been. He was not here, after all. Or was he? I felt a little involuntary shiver go up my spine.

“Stop it,” I heard someone that sounded suspiciously like me tell me. “Get up and see where it’s coming from.”

Dr. B came in each morning, backpack or satchel or bag of some sort with food, golf clothes or other such items in tow and plopped them on the desk. He then immediately retrieved his white noise maker, a little off-white, round, plastic disk that was plugged into the wall inside  his office but that lived outside in the hallway, one door over from my office, every day. It happily provided the screening soundtrack for his day, and by extension for mine on the days I worked in that office. He set it outside the door, less than a dozen feet from mine, and the day began.

I heard that noise maker this particular morning, clear as day.

I thought of him, and of us, and of the fleeting nature of working relationships, and of life.

I got up, poked my head out into the hallway and halfway expected him to be standing there, scowling at me.

Then I saw it. The little off-white box was  outside the door, whirring away as it always had. Not outside, his door, but the door of a new telepsychiatrist I had hired just before Dr. B’s death, up the hall to the right.

I stopped, smiled to myself, and turned to sit back down.

Holiday seasons tend to bring all sorts of reminders to the forefront for us. Sights, sounds, and smells reactivate thoughts and feelings and emotions that we thought were long-since dead and buried. Memories, both good and bad, come flooding back. We are sometimes overwhelmed at how fresh and raw the emotions are as they wash over us like a cold winter rain. We feel them, we breathe them in, we dance with them. They take us over for that brief time that is memory, that is re-experiencing.

Then, just as the visible vapor that is our breath on a cold shopping day, they swirl and fade away, as quickly as they came.

Holidays of old, partners, children, spouses, teachers, work associates- we know then that they are really gone. That we will never see them, speak with them, give them gifts, argue with them, make up with them, or look for their return again.

Of course, that does not mean that we will  ever stop caring about them, remembering them, smiling at the thought of them, or loving them.

That will never change, no matter how many holidays come and go.

They will always be a part of our memories, just as we are all, now, a part of the future memories of those we cherish.

Happy new year, dear readers.

Make this the best year ever.