You come into the room where the orchestra is already seated on stage. They follow you with their eyes, smiling, as you walk to the front row and sit down. The musicians focus, eyes on the conductor, bows to strings, lips to mouthpieces. And they begin. You see the hairs rising on the arms of the man next to you. His face is folded in wonder, almost moved. On your other side sits a lady whose eyes are already teared up. Her cheeks quiver and she swallows hard to keep the emotions back. You look back at the orchestra. You look and look and see them lifting their arms, gasping for air, banks shaking in rhythm, the back of the conductor’s jacket moving like a stormy ocean in front of you.
But you hear nothing. Well, you do hear their breathing. You hear the fine hairs on their bows hitting the strings, you hear the fabric of their white ironed shirts rubbing against the chests, as their arms work frantically with the instruments. But you can’t hear the tones, the frequencies, the emotions. You can’t hear the harmonies, the crescendo, the pizzicato. You can’t hear the music. And therefore you feel nothing. You are stunned, numb. Where did the music go? This can’t be real. So strange. Why can’t I hear the music, you think. So very strange. You stare and stare at the musicians, see how hard they work, such focused and intense eyes, heaved eyebrows, wrinkles and skinfolds shivering, blushed skin. You know the piece they’re playing – by heart, you can hear the opening in your mind, the intermezzo. And you remember how it makes you feel. And you recognize that emotion in the faces of the people surrounding you. You imagine the most beautiful moment and chills suddenly cover your skin. The light from the music fills you up completely and vibrates in white all through your body. But in the same instant as you consciously register that feeling, reality catches up and you know it’s just a memory. You didn’t actually hear it. It was a glitch, your body believed the memory and reacted to it, but it wasn’t real. And the moment disappears as suddenly as it appeared – and leaves you breathless on the edge of the cliff, as it dissolves before your eyes.
You are torn away from your thoughts by a dark, rasping tone behind you. Confused you turn your head and seek the source of the sound. Or sound? Noise, rather. It howls and whispers at the same time, completely unrecognizable, unidentifiable. It reminds you of a chair being dragged along the floor, but not quite. The deep horn of a cruise ship, but not exactly a cruise ship. The tiny clinck of a needle dropped in a porcelain cup. Or is it the crack of an ice cube? The noise shoots through your body and brings on a strong feeling of discomfort. Anger rises in you, who is making this noise? You turn your head from side to side, but no one else seems to be bothered. They can’t hear it. You want to shout at someone, but dare not raise your voice in fear of bringing shame upon yourself. But the noise is so loud and suddenly it changes color and becomes dark green and your hands lift themselves to your ears and cover them hard to protect you. To shield your poor soul. But it doesn’t go away. Because the noise is inside your head. Inside your brain, inside you. You have created it all by yourself without knowing it. Without intention, because who would want to inflict such pain upon themselves? The crowd breaks out in applause. You look at the orchestra. They are done playing and look at you, asking: did you like it? How was it? It was…nice, I suppose, you reply quietly. Unsure. You get used to not hearing the music, just hearing all the sounds outside and surrounding it. You get used to the noise too. It’s color shifts often, from bright blue to pale pink, dark green and sometimes pitch black. You don’t think about the music as much as you did, don’t yearn for it the same way you used to. You are busy with the colors and their ever changing mode. They become your friends somehow. They are with you every waking moment of the day, from morning till the last conscious thought before you fall asleep. All right, so today is bleek purple, you wake up thinking some days. You still listen to the radio, hear the news and commercial breaks. Watch the music videos on YouTube and the shows on Netflix, although everything besides the dialogue is quiet. Because you need to feel like you’re still part of this world, even without the music. Your brain still needs to be fed. — This is what living without a sense of smell is like. “The music” is scent. Millions of millions of different scents our amazing brain can identify and process. Anosmia is the name of the disorder. “The sound” of everything outside the music is the sense of taste. It’s still here, the nerves to my tongue still function. But it’s so small compared to what it used to be. Like a stage prop, like something extra.
“The noise” are my phantom smells. They occur in my brain because the neurons misinterpret the signals (due to a malfunction in my brain caused by head trauma). Phantosmia, they named it. It can take over my life on days when the “color” is black. They leak out of my brain, run down my nose and drip into my coffee like red food colouring in a cup of water. They stain everything I eat or drink that day. Make all things undrinkable, uneatable and just black. So, so black. Only sleep can push them away, pause it. Other days the colors are almost invisible. They kind of feel like a comfort then. If an unpleasant or potentially uncomfortable situation arise, my emotions don’t react the way they used to. I’ve become more relaxed, feel more at home in my own self. And yes, there are several dreadful smells from the real world that I don’t have to take in anymore. Which makes it quite easy to visit a public restroom, do very dirty, makes it comfortable to sit on a bus with tons of other people or be at a festival and have a beer spilled all over me. And it even makes it easier to resist temptations like fresh pastry or McDonalds food. I just stroll on past the stores and don’t even thinking about stopping. But it’s also a risk. Because I can reek without knowing it. Do this jacket need a washing? When did I last change the bed sheets? Has the dishcloth gone sour? Did I put on deodorant today? Has this ham gone bad? Did I forget something on the stove? Has the cat peed inside? Does my breath smell bad? Is my house on fire? I don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t hear the music, so I don’t know.